Camera Lucida

September 24, 2006

What is wrong with corporate America

Filed under: Society, Software, Uncategorized — CL @ 6:48 pm

At a weblog called The Old New Thing, one of the MSDN weblogs, the author had this to say in a post dated August 2003 about how Microsoft responded to a complaint about its time zone map. Its response highlights a significant problem with how corporate America responds to adversity.

The Peruvian government complained to Microsoft that the border was incorrectly placed. Of course, if we complied and moved the border northward, we’d get an equally angry letter from the Ecuadorian government demanding that we move it back. So we removed the feature altogether.

Why in the hell would Microsoft worry about a complaint from Peru? The best response to that complaint would have been to ignore it completely. The next best reaction would have been a polite comment that “We do not attempt to ensure that this map is entirely up to date at all times”. It was a time zone map, after all, not a world atlas. But removing the feature altogether was the worst possible response. A feature that was useful to tens of millions of users across the world is removed because a couple of people in Peru made a complaint? This is an example of corporate wimpitude of the highest order.

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August 24, 2006

The corner store

Filed under: Society — CL @ 10:13 pm

Andrew Young is in trouble for something he said. In one sentence, he managed to insult Jews, Koreans, and Arabs. In an interview in the Los Angeles Sentinel, Young is quoted:

    When asked about Wal-Mart moving into areas and displacing the “mom-and-pop” stores, Young had this response. “Well, I think they should; they ran the ‘mom-and-pop’ stores out of my neighborhood. But you see those are the people who have been overcharging us—selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and retired to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs. Very few Black folks own these stores.”

In Slate, Timothy Noah tries to explain:

    Various African-American writers, including the estimable Clarence Page and Erin Aubrey Kaplan, have suggested that what Young was trying to say, in his admittedly ham-handed way, was that blacks historically have not owned the mom-and-pop stores in black neighborhoods, and that this is a source of legitimate frustration in the black community. A perfectly valid point, but not, you’ll notice, the one that Young made in the interview. Young didn’t say that more blacks ought to own mom-and-pop grocery stores in black neighborhoods; he said that the people who have owned and operated these stores have “been overcharging” blacks for “stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables” and then “sold out and retired to Florida.” They have “ripped off our communities.” They have done this, Young implied strongly, because they are not themselves black.

This is a remarkable comment – blacks have not owned these stores, and this generates “legitimate frustration in the black community”. I don’t see it that way.

Mr. Young fashions himself a spokesman for African-Americans. Has he asked himself why it is that “very few black folks own these stores”? The Jews came and went. The Koreans came and went. The Arabs came, and someday they will leave. All this time, black people have been customers, but it seems that they never owned the stores. Why is that? At no time in the last 30 years were there any laws that prohibited blacks from buying grocery stores. Indeed, if there had been any such laws, they would have been properly challenged as illegal under any number of laws.

Why exactly is it a legitimate source of frustration in the black community that blacks do not own the stores that serve their neighborhoods? As far as I can tell, the only reason that that is the case is that blacks have not chosen to participate in that segment of the economy. There may be a number of explanations for why that has happened, but lack of opportunity is not one of them.

February 20, 2006

Lost baggage blues

Filed under: Society — CL @ 6:21 pm

There was some attention paid this weekend to a news report that some 10,000 pieces of luggage are lost by airlines every day. Presumably this largish figure includes the pieces that are somewhat delayed but soon returned to their owners. Every traveler, though, can regale us with one or more stories of baggage gone far, far astray.

There is a rather simple technique that could be used to assist with this problem. If every traveler were to attach a special identification card with a barcode to his luggage, and if some central authority were to be tasked to maintain a database of which barcodes go with which names and addresses, the airlines would have a quick way to connect the user with his lost bag. Right now, the only searching is human-driven: a traveler reports that his bag is missing and is asked to provide a description, both sides recognizing that his bag probably resembles about four million others circulating on baggage claim carousels. If the airlines used barcodes and the database to allow the lost bag to also search for the traveler, the chances of reuniting the two would increase exponentially.

January 21, 2006

Political activism

Filed under: Society, Tech — CL @ 3:21 pm

boing boing has a post describing the new Digital Content Protection Act of 2006. According to EFF’s analysis, the legislation would limit individuals’ use of any new emerging technology to “customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with applicable law.” As it notes,

    “Had that been the law in 1970, there would never have been a VCR. Had it been the law in 1990, no TiVo. In 2000, no iPod.”

But the bill does not impose the limit that EFF decries. Instead, it directs the FCC to develop regulations in this area, and it requires that the regulations “permit customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with applicable law”. It does not specify that those are the only uses that the FCC shall allow.

In other words, the new bill would define the minimum, not the maximum level of freedom of action. It would appear that, if this bill passes, efforts to oppose additional restrictions will need to be made when the FCC proposes new rules.

boing boing’s post is similarly misleading. It says that, under this proposal, “digital media technologies would be restricted to using technologies that had been certified by the FCC as being not unduly disruptive to entertainment industry business-models.” That sounds very scary, but I have read the new bill [PDF] (only six pages long) and I see nothing similar to that language in there.

The EFFers should heed one reality of political activism: do not misstate the person or position you oppose. Mischaracterizing what the opposition is up to will likely impair your own credibility in the eyes of the public.

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