October 7, 2015
When you think of paid content, eggs are probably not the first product you envision. However, the Guardian reveals, “US-Appointed Egg Lobby Paid Food Blogs and Targeted Chef to Crush Vegan Startup.” Apparently, the American Egg Board’s (AEB’s) efforts began when Silicon Valley startup Hampton Creek began gaining traction with their egg alternative. Fearing encroachment on its territory, the AEB is reported to have paid food bloggers up to $2500 to insert their talking points into recipes and other content; to have slammed publications that wrote positive articles about Hampton Creek; to have attempted to recruit celebrities to push real eggs; and, my favorite, to have purchased Google ads that returned AEB-sponsored content when users searched for Hampton Creek or company founder Josh Tetrick.
There is a slight problem: these tactics appear to violate U.S. Department of Agriculture rules. Reporter Sam Thielman tells us:
“The scale of the campaign – dubbed ‘Beyond Eggs’ after Hampton Creek’s original company name – shows the lengths to which a federally-appointed, industry-funded marketing group will go to squash a relatively small Silicon Valley startup, from enlisting a high-powered public relations firm to buying off unwitting bloggers. One leading public health attorney, asked to review the internal communications, said the egg marketing group was in breach of a US department of agriculture (USDA) regulation that specifically prohibited ‘any advertising (including press releases) deemed disparaging to another commodity’. Tetrick called for the USDA to clamp down on the food lobby, as thousands of petitioners called on the White House to investigate the USDA itself for ‘deceptive endorsements’. ‘This is a product that has been around for a very long time,’ the Hampton Creek founder said. ‘They are not used to competition and they don’t know how to deal with it’.”
That’s one way to look at it. It seems that Tetrick’s company, however, is not beyond reproach. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently told them to rename their main product, “Just Mayo,” because mayonnaise, by definition, contains eggs. There also seem to be some issues with their methods and work environment, according to former employees. See the article for more details on this culinary rivalry.
Cynthia Murrell, October 7, 2015
October 5, 2015
Humans are sight-based creatures. When faced with a chunk of text or a series of sequential pictures, they will more likely scan the pictures for information than read. With the big data revolution, one of the hardest problems analytics platforms have dealt with is how to best present data for users to implement. Visual analytics is the key, but one visual analytics is not the same as another. DCInno explains that one data visual company stands out from the rest in the article, “How The Reston Startup Makes Everyone A Big Data Expert.”
Zoomdata likes to think of itself as the one visual data companies that gives its clients a one up over others and it goes about it in layman’s terms.
“Zoomdata has been offering businesses and organizations a way to see data in ways more useful than a spreadsheet since it was founded in 2012. Its software offers real-time and historical explorations of data streams, integrating multiple sources into a cohesive whole. This makes the analytics far more accessible than they are in raw form, and allows a layperson to better understand what the numbers are saying without needing a degree in mathematics or statistics.”
Zoomdata offers a very interactive platform and is described to be the only kind on the market. Their clients range from government agencies, such as the Library of Congress, and private companies. Zoomdata does not want to be pigeonholed as a government analytics startup. Their visual data platform can be used in any industry and by anyone with the goal of visual data analytics for the masses. Zoomdata has grown tremendously, tripled its staff, and raised $22.2 million in fundraising.
Now let us sit back and see how their software is implemented in various industries. I wonder if they could make a visual analytics graphic novel?
Whitney Grace, October 5, 2015
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
October 2, 2015
The article on Reuters titled France Rejects Google Appeal on Cleaning Up Search Results Globally explores the ramifications of Europe’s recently passed Right to be Forgotten law. The law stipulates that search engines be compelled by requests to remove information. Google has made some attempts to yield to the law, granting 40% of the 320,000 requests to remove incorrect, irrelevant, or controversial information, but only on the European version of its sites. The article delves into the current state of affairs,
“The French authority, the CNIL, in June ordered Google to de-list on request search results appearing under a person’s name from all its websites, including Google.com. The company refused in July and requested that the CNIL abandon its efforts, which the regulator officially refused to do on Monday…France is the first European country to open a legal process to punish Google for not applying the right to be forgotten globally.”
Google countered that while the company was happy to meet the French and European standards in Europe, they did not see how the European law could be globally enforced. This refusal will almost certainly be met with fines and sanctions, but that may be the least of Alphabet Google’s troubles considering its ongoing disapproval by Europe.
Chelsea Kerwin, October 02, 2015
September 29, 2015
Every once in a while a landmark US government funded study answers a perplexing question. Navigate to “Intelligent People’s Brains Wired Differently to Those with Fewer Intellectual Abilities, Says Study.”
The study “proved” that people with well connected brains may do better in life that folks with poorly connected gray matter.
Unbelievable. I thought that user friendly interfaces would allow anyone to get smart via Bing, Google, and Yandex queries.
According to the write up:
The researchers found that “positive” abilities, such as good vocabulary, memory, life satisfaction, income and years of education, were linked significantly with a greater connectivity between regions of the brain associated with higher cognition.
How much did this study cost? I learned:
The scientists were part of the $30m (£20m) Human Connectome Project funded by the US National Institutes of Health to study the neural pathways of the brain.
The net net is that if a person has a lousy vocabulary, poor memory, low income, and other low output characteristics, the unfortunate person may not be a great online searcher.
What happens when the online search systems cater to the folks with lower brain connectivity?
We may need another government study to answer this question. In the meantime, oh, I can’t remember.
Stephen E Arnold, September 29, 2015
September 28, 2015
Facebook supports universal Internet access. Support is not enough from one or two outfits. Facebook wants the United Nations to make universal Internet access a priority.
Navigate to “Mark Zuckerberg Addresses the UN, Declaring Universal Internet Access a Global Priority.” I wonder if peace keeping, food, education, and other priorities of the United Nation will be down prioritized or de-prioritized. If I were hoping for UN food assistance, I would definitely want to be able to check my Facebook. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is obviously wrong. At the top, Facebook.
I also noted this article, “IT Still Doesn’t Understand Its Role in Society.” The author is a self described “IT leader.” The point is, I think:
It struck me, when I opened this September’s edition, just how much things have moved on. This month gives much more space to the changing role of IT and its part in business leadership. That of course lies at the heart of the debate about CIOs and CDOs – the former seeming inextricably constrained by operational IT matters, whether insourced or outsourced, and the latter filling the vacuum created by misalignment between IT activity and business priority. Everyone seems agreed that the role of a CDO is not about the technology. It is about people and process. But it cannot operate without a fundamental understanding about the opportunity that technology offers, and therefore CDOs must work closely with IT professionals.
The word choice is well matched with the imperative to make technology become the source for wild and crazy assertions. I like the use of the acronyms CIO and CDO. I am not sure what a CDO is, but that is not important. The precision of insourced and outsourced, where the outsourcing thing fills “the vacuum created by misalignment between IT activity and business priority.”
Okay, the folks running the business are not exactly sure what’s up with IT. If a senior manager tuned in to Facebook’s remarks about universal Internet access, there might be some furrowed brows.
What’s the fix?
The answer is a new job position at companies. The CDO. (My hunch is that this acronym means “chief digital officer.”) When revenues are stressed, most senior managers will gladly add to the organization’s headcount to get a CDO on the team.
I highlighted this passage:
So we need clever technical specialists, but we also need IT professionals who can bridge the gap between technology opportunity and the benefits that technology can bring society. That is why the goal of BCS – the Chartered Institute for IT – is “to make IT good for society”. That should be the role of IT professionals. This means that IT professionals need to understand the impact of technology, positive and negative, in the way systems and IT tools are designed. It means IT has a significant part to play in the debate about privacy and trust emerging from IT changes. It means we have a part to play in the way systems are designed to benefit society, not just to make profit. And it means IT is a creative, human discipline, not just a scientific and engineering profession.
Okay. But what about the Facebook suggestion to make Internet access universal. Will checking the Facebook obviate hunger and disease? Will information technology move beyond profit to benefiting society.
What’s at stake here? My hunch the focus for Facebook thing and the self appointed expert’s CDO recommendation has more to do with money and boosting the notion of the importance of technology in the modern world.
Was Maslow incorrect? Is Facebook connectivity more important than food? Are companies in need of more headcount in order to make headway in the datasphere?
Nope. Why not sit back and let the Alphabet Google thing do the job? Some big thinkers want governments to be more like Google. No Facebook. No information technology intermediaries. Why search for information when a commercial enterprise and self appointed experts know best what folks like me want?
Stephen E Arnold, September 28, 2015
September 22, 2015
I love HP. I used to use the firm’s laptops. Sure, the hinges broke, but the gizmo was pretty good. The misstep with Autonomy, however, is more significant than a poor hinge design. The management methods of the company are exposed with the Autonomy matter in my opinion. Perhaps HP should bring back Carly Fiorina. Dual CEOs. Whitman and Fiorina. What could be better.
I read “Michigan Sues HP over $49 Million Project That’s Still Not Done after 10 Years.” My thought was that the Whitman-Fiorina duo would have this resolved quickly.
According to the write up:
A new lawsuit filed by the state of Michigan over a $49 million project the state says is still not completed after 10 years. The contract dates back to 2005 and called for HP to replace a legacy mainframe-based system built in the 1960s that is used by more than 130 Secretary of State offices.
Now Michigan allegedly has paid HP about $33 million. The state, in a moment of wisdom, wants the source code for the project.
The write up includes this statement:
“I inherited a stalled project when I came into office in 2011 and, despite our aggressive approach to hold HP accountable and ensure they delivered, they failed,” said Secretary of State Ruth Johnson in a press release. “We have no choice but to take HP to court to protect Michigan taxpayers.”
How does a project drag on for 10 years?
My hunch is that governments, whether national or state level, have a tendency to create Healthcare.gov type situations. Also, large services firms which also sell printer ink are likely to find the mainframe thing sort of challenging. Toss in other variables like staff turnover, and the result can be darned exciting.
Again. Maybe it is time for dual HP CEOs. One can sue Autonomy. The other can manage Michigan’s state government, make the University of Michigan number one in computer science, and probably fix Detroit at the same time. Seems reasonable to me.
Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2015
September 22, 2015
I read “The US Forest Service Is Trying to Bury a Crucial Journal Article.” Who knows if this story is accurate. I find the idea of keeping content away from readers interesting.
According to the write up:
…Science magazine published a crucial and overdue commentary lamenting the current state of wildfire management on US public lands. Among the authors was Malcolm North, a plant ecologist at the US Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station in California.
Now the interesting passage:
…the USFS was none too pleased about the piece or North’s name being attached to it. According to Valley Public Radio, the central California NPR affiliate, the agency has barred North from discussing the paper and had even attempted to prevent Science from publishing it.
It is difficult to search for something if the content is not online or discussion of the content is encumbered.
Perhaps the Forest Service is anticipating seasonal change. Leaves fall. Leaves cover up the ground. You know. Spring is just around the corner.
Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2015
September 21, 2015
I read “How Healthcare.gov Botched $600 Million worth of Contracts.” My initial reaction was that the $600 million figure understated the fully loaded costs of the Web site. I have zero evidence about my view that $600 million was the incorrect total. I do have a tiny bit of experience in US government project work, including assignments to look into accounting methods in procurements.
The write up explains that a an audit by the Office of the Health and Human Services office of Inspector General identified the root causes of the alleged $600 million Healthcare.gov Web site. The source document was online when I checked on September 21, 2015, at this link. If you want this document, I suggest you download it. Some US government links become broken when maintenance, interns, new contractors, or site redesigns are implemented.
The news story, which is the hook for this blog post, does a good job of pulling out some of the data from the IG’s report; for example, a list of “big contractors behind Healthcare.gov.” The list contains few surprises. Many of the names of companies were familiar to me, including that of Booz, Allen, where I once labored on a range of projects. There are references to additional fees from scope changes. I am confident, gentle reader, that you are familiar with scope creep. The idea is that the client, in the case of Healthcare.gov, needed to modify the tasks in the statement of work which underpins the contracts issued to the firms which perform the work. The government method is to rely on contractors for heavy lifting. The government professionals handle oversight, make certain the acquisition guidelines are observed, and plug assorted types of data into various US government back office systems.
The news story repeated the conclusion of the IG’s report that better training was need to make the Healthcare.gov type of project work better in the future.
My thoughts are that the news story ignored several important factors which in my experience provided the laboratory in which this online commerce experiment evolved.
First, the notion of a person in charge is not one that I encountered too often in my brushes with the US government. Many individuals change jobs, rotating from assignment to assignment, so newcomers are often involved after a train has left the station. In this type of staffing environment, the enthusiasm for digging deep and re-rigging the ship is modest or secondary to other tasks such as working on budgets for the next fiscal year, getting involved in new projects, or keeping up with the meetings which comprise the bulk of a professional’s work time. In short, decisions are not informed by a single individual with a desire to accept responsibility for a project. The ship sails on, moved by the winds of decisions by those with different views of the project. The direction emerges.
Second, the budget mechanisms are darned interesting. Money cannot be spent until the project is approved and the estimated funds are actually transferred to an account which can be used to pay a contractor. The process requires that individuals who may have never worked on a similar project create a team which involves various consultants, White House fellows, newly appointed administrators, procurement specialists with law degrees, or other professionals to figure out what is going to be done, how, what time will be allocated and converted to estimates of cost, and the other arcana of a statement of work. The firms who make a living converting statements of work into proposals to do the actual work. At this point, the disconnect between the group which defined the SOW and the firms bidding on the work becomes the vendor selection process. I will not explore vendor selection, an interesting topic outside the scope of this blog post. Vendors are selected and contracts written. Remember that the estimates, the timelines, and the functionality now have to be converted into the Healthcare.gov site or the F-35 aircraft or some other deliverable. What happens if the SOW does not match reality? The answer is a non functioning version of Healthcare.gov. The cause, gentle reader, is not training.
Third, the vendors, bless their billable hearts, now have to take the contract which spells out exactly what the particular vendor is to do and then actually do it. What happens if the SOW gets the order of tasks wrong in terms of timing? The vendors do the best they can. Vendors document what they do, submit invoices, and attend meetings. When multiple vendors are involved, the meetings with oversight professionals are not the places to speak in plain English about the craziness of the requirements or the tasks specified in the contract. The vendors do their work to the best of their ability. When the time comes for different components to be hooked together, the parts usually require some tweaking. Think rework. Scope change required. When the go live date arrives, the vendors flip the switches for their part of the project and individuals try to use the system. When these systems do not work, the problem is a severe one. Once again: training is not the problem. The root cause is that the fundamental assumptions about a project were flawed from the git go.
Is there a fix? In the case of Healthcare.gov, there was. The problem was solved by creating the equivalent of a technical SWAT team, working in a very flexible manner with procurement requirements, and allocating money without the often uninformed assumptions baked into a routine procurement.
Did the fix cost money? Yes, do I know how much? No. My hunch is that there is zero appetite in the US government, at a “real” news service, a watchdog entity, or an in house accountant to figure out the total spent for Healthcare.gov. Why do I know this? The accounting systems in use by most government entities are not designed to roll up direct and indirect costs with a mouse click. Costs are scattered and methods of payment pretty darned crazy.
Net net: Folks can train all day long. If that training focuses on systems and methods which are disconnected from the deliverable, the result is inefficiency, a lack of accountability, and misdirection from the root cause of a problem.
I have been involved in various ways with government work in the US since the early 1970s. One thing remains consistent: The foundational activities are uneven. Will the procurement process change? Forty years ago I used to think that the system would evolve. I was wrong.
Stephen E Arnold, September 21, 2015
September 18, 2015
The ability of the US government to innovate is remarkable. I learned in “18F’s Federalist Helps Agencies Build Websites Faster.” You, gentle reader, probably know that 18F refers to the street on which the ever efficient General Services Administration, part of the White House’s Executive Branch, works its wonders. In addition to a big courtyard, the 18 F Street facility also has an auditorium which sometimes floods, thus becoming a convenient swimming pool for the tireless innovators laboring in the structure a short walk from the president’s oval office.
The write up explained to me:
Currently in its first phase of software testing, the Federalist [the US government’s Web site builder] “automates common tasks for integrating GitHub, a content editor and Amazon Web Services,” so that web developers can manage and create new static websites on one consolidated platform, 18F said in a post on GSA.gov. The toolkit is equipped with a collection of static-site templates and a web-based content editor, allowing agencies to easily add and create section 508-compliant content while cutting the cost of designing an entirely new site or standing up a content management system.
When I read this, I thought about Squarespace, Weebly, and other services which have been providing similar functions, often for free, for many years.
The write up pointed out:
The platform is intended to be a faster, less expensive and more efficient option for developers building static sites and agencies without the website expertise. According to 18F, Federalist uses the same scalable content delivery strategy developed for healthcare.gov and the recently launched College Scorecard.
Obviously using one of the existing, free or low cost commercial services was inappropriate. The next project will be inventing the wheel and using vulcanized rubber, not polymers. The road map also calls for a multi year study of fire.
Stephen E Arnold, September 18, 2015
August 26, 2015
Big Data is magic. Big Data is revolutionary. Big Data is good consulting angle.
But Big Data is not going to fix government forecasts. I hate to rain on the parade of a distinguished academic and chief economist, but those rain drops keep a falling.
Navigate to “Economic Forecasts in the Age of Big Data.” The passage I highlighted with my sea of red ink colored marker was:
Properly used, new data sources have the potential to revolutionize economic forecasts. In the past, predictions have had to extrapolate from a few unreliable data points. In the age of Big Data, the challenge will lie in carefully filtering and analyzing large amounts of information. It will not be enough simply to gather data; in order to yield meaningful predictions, the data must be placed in an analytical framework. The Fed may have blundered in releasing its data ahead of schedule. But its mistake offers us an important opportunity. In order to improve economic predictions, economists must be encouraged to seek new sources of data and develop new forecasting models. As we learn how to harness the power of big data, our chances of predicting – and perhaps even preventing – the next recession will improve.
I am thrilled with job opening analyses in Boston, demand for rentals in San Francisco, and housing starts in Los Angeles (you know the water crisis city).
However, government economic analyses are not into reality. In Washington, DC, there is a big building adjacent the train station. It is filled with folks who do economic forecasts among other things. There are economic forecasts cranked out by lobbyists. There are super grades in Federal entities crunching numbers. The numbers get reviewed, shaped, and tweaked. Eventually the numbers emerge in a new release which may or many not be widely distributed. The government process for creating economic forecasts is institutionalized. Like an aircraft carrier, the system carries some momentum.
A person who wants to inject real time Big Data into these procedures can go through the normal process. Get involved in an allocation for an initiative. Find a way to work on a statement of work. Compete for a Big Data economic forecast project. Do the work. Have the work reviewed and taken under advisement.
End of the day: The existing system keeps on generating forecasts.
Net net: Economic forecasts from DC and other world capitals drift above real time. Rome had the same problem.
Stephen E Arnold, August 26, 2015