Friday, November 30, 2018

Perils Of Hype 

Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, is widely acknowledged to have the most advanced self-driving technologies for vehicles. So, if Waymo is having troubles keeping journeys autonomous and safe, what can be said for the rest of the industry?  That is the question that has arisen since Waymo put safety drivers back into its vans.  Hype would have it that we are on the cusp of an automotive revolution in which we settle back and let the car find its way safely from point A to point B or beyond.  It turns out technology is not ready for every eventuality a driver is likely to encounter.  There are bizarre occurrences that an experienced person can negotiate but a system cannot.  It gets confused or it misses critical events completely.  Yet, the public is waiting impatiently for these wonder vehicles that will allow one to text safely or remain on the phone or become otherwise engaged with hands off the steering wheel.  It seems they will wait longer, and skeptics think they might wait forever.  It would have been better for Waymo and its competitors if they had been underestimated.  No one would be surprised by occasional failure. But the hype got ahead of itself as it often does.  

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Another Loss 

First it was Comdex.  Now it is CeBIT.  Places for computer and software vendors to show their wares continue to disappear.  They are victims of declining attendance.  The huge crowds that used to show up have thinned.  One wonders why, and one answer is that they choked on their success.  They were overwhelming and one never had a chance to see everything nor to spend much time when there was an interesting technology that surfaced.  The cost of the exhibits and their yield wasn't there.  It took months for companies to prepare and the result was more tire-kicking than sales.  So they started to withdraw and that was it for the two shows.  Venues remain but they are not as large as CeBIT. Maybe that is a good outcome.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Is It Enough? 

The CEO of Delta airlines works hard to inspire and motivate employees.  He meets with them frequently.  He stays after meetings for dozens of selfies with starstruck personnel.  He is an unabashed rah-rah executive who believes in his people.  All that, however, might not be enough to keep the carrier successful.  Inexorable costs are dragging profits down.  There is only one way to offset them at the moment -- flying planes full.  That, however, might not be enough if another recession hits and business class pulls back.  The CEO is compensating partially by entering international routes where fares are more stable and returns better, but even that might not be sufficient.  He is faced with two challenges -- keeping employees focused and finding new sources of profitable revenue.  Both are difficult in a business where profits are rare and employee unrest frequent.  That he has succeeded for the moment is not enough for worried investors.  He might need to spend more time communicating with Wall Street.  It is tough to be pulled three ways at once.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Possible But Not Probable 

The conflagrations of California with tens of thousands of structures burned has opened the question again of building for wildfires It is possible to design and construct a structure that won't go up in flames, but there is little chance of that happening.  There are too many vested interests in traditional construction.  So, if houses are erected on the scorched earth again, they are likely to be stick-built wood and sheetrock with flammable roofing material.  It would take a major publicity campaign, a change in zoning laws and contractor requirements to prevent future destruction.  At this juncture, while citizens are digging through remains of their homes and searching for whatever was not destroyed, it might be too early to act.  People are grieving for loss of loved ones and possessions.  But there isn't much time before citizens will seek permits to rebuild. It is then local authorities must be ready with new requirements.  

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Thousand Words 

The cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words proves true once again.  The photo of a barefoot, diapered toddler wailing as she flees from tear gas at the Mexican border has gone viral. It has provoked condemnation of the Trump administration and its hard-edged policies toward migrants.  It has given a hot issue to Democrats as they get ready to take over the House.  It has sparked revulsion.  For all that, Trump seems unconcerned and blames the refugees for their troubles.  There have been many words spoken and written already about this photo, but the difference will come if legislators decide to act.  They would have to take on the White House, which would be difficult, but it can become a campaign issue for 2020.  The message is clear.  This is not who we are. American is a nation of immigrants.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Step By Step 

NASA has scheduled the first SpaceX flight with a Dragon crew capsule on board.  It is a test.  There will be no astronauts aboard.  The space agency is taking progress step by step, leaving little to chance.  When there are humans involved, there is little room for experiment.  NASA learned that lesson the hard way after losing crews in its early days and during its time with the shuttle.  It is a matter of credibility.  SpaceX has to prove that its capsule can do the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the international space station.  If it does, NASA need no longer to rely on Russia for transport.  Russia for its part lost a bit of credibility when its most recent rocket failed with a space crew on board.  They landed safely, but it was scary.  

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving 

It is frigid on the East Coast and the Macy's Thanksgiving parade participants are shivering.  When I awoke at 8 this morning, the temperature was 16.  That might not seem so bad for those who dwell in the upper Midwest, but it is more than enough for the Tri-state area.  

May you and your families have a happy Thanksgiving and enjoy your time together.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Tragedy Of The Commons 

One might think with the immensity of space there would be no tragedy of the commons where everyone uses orbital elevations and thereby wrecks them.  But, that is how experts are seeing an upcoming SpaceX launch with 64+ Cubesat satellites.  The charge is that SpaceX is cluttering the space commons.  It turns out there is only so much room circling the earth and already with hundreds of satellites and associated launch debris up there, tracking new objects is difficult and dangerous.  What is to prevent future satellites from being obliterated by fast moving objects?  This could prove to be a PR problem for SpaceX sooner or later.  There isn't enough room for everyone.  One would need to clear dead satellites and junk before sending more in their place.  That, or wait until they fall and burn up in the atmosphere, which could take years.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Future PR Crisis? 

Pharmaceutical companies are going to Third World countries to test drugs.  Part of their protocol is to infect volunteers with a disease then test treatments on them.  So far, there have been no complaints from those who have been experimented on, and companies have been careful to explain to potential subjects the risks and rewards. But this could change quickly.  It takes only one unethical operator to create a PR crisis.  That is why drug companies are stepping carefully to avoid charges of exploitation.  There is good reason for them to be in these locales.  It is where the diseases are and where populations have developed different immune responses based on proximity.  But the temptation to pay subjects little and to expose them to greater risks is ever present.  It is almost assured that someone will take an unethical action at some point then all pharmaceutical companies will be brought to the bar.

Monday, November 19, 2018


A company shouldn't issue a threat lightly.  It draws a public line which cannot be crossed without jeopardizing the business' credibility if it doesn't act.  That is why this threat has implications for the EU.  If the Union imposes a link tax on Google news, the company says it might shut down the service to member countries.  This in turn will diminish the reach of news reporting to internet users and publishers.  There is good reason for Google to worry.  The EU has been particularly strong in regulating internet companies, and there is no hint of them pulling back anytime soon.  There is a question of who would get hurt the most if Google ends the service -- Google or the EU?  One could argue the issue either way.  The company would save money.  It does not sell its news service.  On the other hand, it would lose millions of clicks a day.  EU news readers would lose a convenient central source to update themselves.  Google has acted once already.  It cut off Spain after that country imposed a link tax.  Now time will tell if the rest of the EU goes dark.

Friday, November 16, 2018


What credibility does one have if he is put in charge of something he has never done?  This is the quandary facing Japan's new minister of cybersecurity.  Not only has he never worked in protecting computers, he has never used one.  Never.  Not once.  He says he gives instructions to his aides for what he wants done.  I suspect they print out his email and he pens responses on paper.  Predictably, opponents in parliament are mocking him mercilessly and well they should.  He should never have been put in charge of something so vital.  It is a measure of the government's concern about the issue that he was given the portfolio.  Clearly it doesn't care that much.  We will now have to wait until Japan is hacked to see what happens.  And hacked it will be, if it is not being done already.

Thursday, November 15, 2018


Politics can be cynical and often are without a moral center. This is not the first time a bogeyman has been raised to boost an election, but it is so obvious Trump isn't getting away with it.  He painted the migrant caravan as a monstrous, evil invasion of US territory.  He sent troops to protect the border.  He inveighed at one campaign stop after another against the people walking toward America.  Once the voting was over, he dropped the issue and little has been heard since.  Perhaps he was hoping the public wouldn't notice.  The media did and are nicking him for it and well they should.  The bulk of the migrants are fleeing violence and are harmless.  They are coming to the US because it is a "promised land."  If America held true to its principles, they would be processed and let into the country to find work and rebuild their lives.  But, the president is having none of it, and they will be turned back when they get to the fence.  It is disgraceful, but that is the reality in which we live.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Faux Pas 

The National Rifle Association is nothing if not pugnacious.  As a result, it committed this faux pas in putting down doctors. Telling them to "stay in their lane" and stay out of the gun control debate was a stupid mistake.  Doctors are the ones saving gunshot victims and frequently failing. Physicians see the damage caused by bullets, the torn tissue, the spilling blood, victims never the same again.  Had the NRA taken but a few moments of reflection, it would have realized the medical profession was a group that should not be targeted.  But in its desire to defend its view, it plunged ahead and as a result, miscommunicated.  This is not the first time the NRA has erred.  In its zeal for guns, it takes on anyone and everyone. There is no possibility of a rational conversation with the organization.  The nation will move toward gun control over its objections and eventually,like the smoking lobby, it will lose power over Congress.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Smart PR 

Google and The New York Times are engaged in smart PR.  They are digitizing the Times' photo archives, some 5 million images dating back to the late 1800s.  The effort will make available pictures that have been stored in file drawers for many decades and were nearly lost when the Times had a water pipe break that flooded its basement.  This store of photographs along with their captions is an immense historical resource for the paper and for the world.  The Times already has put out a special edition in which it printed long-ago photos of California.  Look for more editions on different topics in the future.  It would be interesting and valuable if more newspapers put their photo archives online, especially periodicals like the Daily News, which prided itself on being a picture tabloid.

Monday, November 12, 2018


Misuse of antibiotics worldwide has become a crisis.  Some countries employ too few to control bacteria and some use too many, thereby increasing resistance to their efficacy.  It is an issue of availability and communication.  The World Health Organization has put out an alert, but it needs to be transmitted to individual doctors worldwide who then need to change their prescription practices.  That is the hard part.  There are hundreds of thousands of physicians, each of whom needs to get an appropriate message.  Some will rein in their habits right away and some not at all.  Nature won't be accommodating, however.  Bugs are evolving constantly and developing tools to fight back against antibiotics.  It only takes one noncompliant doctor to keep progression going.  That is why it is urgent to find new antibiotics to replace those that have been compromised.  

Friday, November 09, 2018

Good Publicity 

The memo Google's CEO sent to employees about sexual harassment was good publicity. Only time will reveal if it was good PR.  The reason is that public relations is what is done and not what is spun.  Google's employees know the difference, and they will keep close watch on the actions of the company.  Any lack of promise fulfillment and/or back sliding will be noted and protested.  Google, especially, has to worry about this.  Its employees are outspoken, and they take their case to the media.  There is little the company can get away with, and that is as it should be.  One wonders if more corporations should be under the spotlight as Google is.  There would be less tolerance for managerial misbehavior.  It would never be perfect, of course, because humans are as variable as the weather.  There will always be someone who violates rules and attempts to get away with it.  But, with increased employee vigilance, perpetrators will be brought to heel more quickly.  

Thursday, November 08, 2018


A pitiless human responsible for dozens of deaths and industrial-sized drug trafficking is petitioning a Federal court to be allowed to hug his wife. It seems he needs a little tenderness.  The court would be within its rights to deny the request.  The prisoner, notorious drug king, El Chapo, has escaped prison twice, and one could well be suspicious that a hug with his wife might be an attempt to go on a lam a third time. American authorities have made a show of guarding him to prevent another mishap.  They are keeping him in solitary confinement.  They are moving him under heavy guard.  They are watching him every second.  Hugging his wife would be a break in the routine.  The US wants to communicate to traffickers that if they are brought here from Mexico, they will get a fair trial and if convicted, prison.  It will be harder for them to bribe jailers or to fashion new escapes.  It is not unreasonable that El Chapo will be held in solitary for the rest of his life for his own protection and to prevent him from hatching new schemes.  If so, the message to South American criminals is not to mess with the US.  

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Puff Piece 

It is not often one reads a puff piece for a hot dog stand.  Here's one.  A celebrity chef has parked a cart outside an exclusive hotel on Manhattan's upper east side.  He is selling $6 dogs with all the fixings.  The reporter liked the one he ate better than a $4 dog purchased from a typical street venue.  So, what is assuredly a publicity gimmick has paid off for the chef.  The reason appears to be that the more expensive meat was better prepared in its bun with fillings.  In other words, the chef is making sure the product meets his high standards.  That is smart PR.  

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Too Much Publicity 

There are situations in which too much publicity works against an organization.  This is one.  Amazon has apparently decided against one city for its second headquarters and is now considering two.  This knocks the efforts 20 cities have made to gain 50,000 jobs the company has promised.  It's not that Amazon has been publicizing its efforts.  The company has stayed quiet but every scrap of news generates national headlines.  There is overwhelming interest in what it plans to do.  Amazon hasn't been transparent in its search and that is probably a good thing.  There are too many issues to work through, and if it issued updates, speculation would be wilder.  The company doesn't need the publicity it is getting, but it's happening anyway.  Once this process is over, everyone can breathe again.

Monday, November 05, 2018


Democrats are hopeful today but tomorrow will answer their desire positively or negatively.  The ultimate communication from citizens is the ballot box.  If they are unhappy with an administration, they will express their sentiments by voting against it.  So far, it looks as if that might happen to the Republicans -- at least in the House and maybe in the Senate.  If so, Trump's distant relationship with facts and truth will be punished.  He will be boxed in for the remaining two years of his Presidency and left powerless but for executive order.  That would be as it should.  He has been a disaster for the country on the international scene, booming economy notwithstanding.  It is time for voters to render a judgment.  Get to the polls tomorrow.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Fighting Fire 

Facebook is spending huge sums to root out hackers and trollers from its service.  It is a fight the company says cannot be won.  The strategy must be to contain and exterminate inappropriate content as quickly as possible when Facebook becomes aware of it.  This hasn't happened quickly enough for regulators and Congress.  Zuckerberg is promising to do better but he cautions that there is no silver bullet.  He is right about that.  Obvious racist comments and other objectionable material can be isolated quickly, but couched language and subterfuge cannot.  The company is locked in a never-ending battle that it didn't envision when the software was developed.  Chalk it up to naivete and a romantic notion that technologists have about the purity of the online world.  They forgot that there is evil and people who do it.  The human race is flawed. Zuckerberg has learned that lesson the hard way.  

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