Pittsburgh to Erie Bike Trail

It's an exciting time for bike trails, they're sprouting up all around the country (generally the rail-to-trail variation). Here's a map of the proposed Pittsburgh-to-Erie Bike Trail:




There's a great trail website, and also a growing Yahoo Group.

This will be a great thing. It'll open up a lot of small communities to tourism, it'll make the overall network more valuable (there's a cross-Ohio trail under development that'll end near Erie), and it'll make Pittsburgh bicycling more visible.

EDIT 12/06: This trail also connects to the Presque Isle network, including a 13.5 mile bike trail which is a National Recreational Trail.

Speaking of which (Pittsburgh bicycling), the Pittsburgh Dirty Dozen was held this morning, looks like they had nice weather for it. Photos will appear here.

"Roethlisberger" : Pittsburgh's Number One


Pittsburgh Schools Lead Nation In Ability To Spell 'Roethlisberger'

Way, way down at the bottom of the long, long list of things I am thankful for, I am thankful for the Onion:

"If you look at the data, our students were correctly spelling Roethlisberger only 43 percent of the time during the quarterback's rookie season," said Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who called the 2004 statistic an embarrassment. "In just five years, we have increased that number to 92 percent. That's 54 percent better than students in California, 35 percent better than those in Oklahoma, and 96 percent better than those in the Cleveland area, who tend to spell Roethlisberger by adding the letters 'u,' 'c,' and 'k' after the letter 's.'"

"The bottom line is the Pittsburgh school system is giving its students a leg up on the competition, not only in America, but throughout the world," Ravenstahl added. "Our kids correctly spelled Roethlisberger 12 times more often than all the students in Europe and Asia combined."

Hessians and Whores, Consultants and Contractors

I was not a very good student of history when I was young, and history is a lot like religion- if the last time you studied it you were in the 5th grade, then you probably are left with a 5th grader's perspective.

I first read about Hessians in 3rd grade, and here is what I remember: George Washington attacked the Hessians on Christmas morning while they were sleeping in their barracks after drinking on Christmas Eve. The Hessians were mercenaries, and the teacher explained that mercenaries were people who fought for pay; they didn't care about the issues, they just wanted to get paid. I remember thinking, stupid Hessians to get surprised like that.

When I was in 5th grade I heard about whores. I was hanging out on the corner and the older guys were referring to a whore, which their Brooklyn accent pronounced as "who-ahh". The next morning I asked my Dad, "what's a who-ahh"? He asked why I was interested, I explained, and then he said, "It's a lady who's not very nice. Leave it at that".

Sunday we went to my Aunt's house for a great big dinner - lots of relatives and kids, all in the big finished basement. I've always had a visceral dislike of screamers, and there were quite a few present. I was reflecting on how unpleasant this arrangement was, and there was an uncharacteristic silence in the roar. My Aunt started in with her shrill voice and I saw fit to announce, "Aunt ----, you are such a who-ahh."

This caused quite a commotion. I knew I needed to get out and started for the stairs, but my Dad got to me first and gave me some kinetic energy. I raced him to the front door but I had to stop to work the two locks, and he caught me and he was an instant from back-handing me when I said, "But you said..."

I am, to this day, amazed at his restraint. He put his hand down and said, "tell me exactly what you mean". And I replied, "You said whores are not-very-nice ladies, and you can hit me again but your sister is not a very nice lady!" He quietly told me to go wait in the car, and in a few minutes my family came out of the house and we went home. That night my Dad explained to me that there was more to it than he'd explained. His sister was, of course, a nice lady and a good Mom, maybe a bit loud. I thought I'd mention the story while we're on the topic.

Hessians and Whores are people that we pay to do ... essential tasks which we would normally induce others to do willingly. Relying on Hessians and Whores generally indicates that you're in a compromised, weak position, unable or unwilling to find support among your own people, so you're left to hiring mercenaries.

The Mercenary's Tale


Are mercenaries as reliable as having your own people willingly do these chores? Generally not. The role of the mercenary is not new, and neither are questions about their effectiveness and reliability. Niccolo Machiavelli dealt with mercenaries in The Prince, Chapter 12:
I wish to demonstrate further the infelicity of (mercenaries). The mercenary captains are either capable men or they are not; if they are, you cannot trust them because they always aspire to their own greatness; but if the captain is not skillful, you are ruined in the usual way.

And if you say that people will act in the same way, whether mercenary or not, I reply that when arms have to be resorted to then the prince ought to go and perform himself as the captain, and the republic has to send its own citizens. Experience has shown that princes and their people make the greatest progress, and mercenaries do nothing except damage; and it is more difficult to bring down a republic armed with its own people, than it is to bring down one armed with mercenaries. Rome and Sparta stood for many ages armed and free. The Switzers are completely armed and quite free.

And now I would discuss Italy, which has been ruled for many years by mercenaries. The first to use mercenaries was Alberigo da Conio. From the school of this man came Braccio and Sforza. After these came all the other captains who have directed the arms of Italy; and the result of all their valour has been that Italy has been overrun by Charles, robbed by Louis, ravaged by Ferdinand, and insulted by the Switzers.

The principle that has guided them has been, first, to lower the credit of infantry so that they might increase their own. They were unable to support many soldiers, so they were led to employ cavalry. Affairs were brought to such a pass that, in an army of twenty thousand soldiers, there were not to be found two thousand foot soldiers.

They did not attack towns at night, nor did the town garrisons attack encampments at night; neither would they campaign in the winter. All these things were permitted and devised by them to avoid both fatigue and dangers; thus they have brought Italy to slavery and contempt.


Mercenaries are not going to put themselves at risk for the client; their priority is (first) to look out for themselves and (second) to keep their good thing going. The only people who'll give their all for an organization (country or company) are people who have married their futures to the organization (ie, citizens, career employees).

Modernity: Consultants and Contractors


In the modern world, of course, we never use mercenaries (except for in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we use Blackwater and Halliburton). Today, rather than Hessians, organizations use Consultants and Contractors to do the things that they should rely on their own people to do.

Consultants


Consultants are generally hired by management to do something they don't understand or can't deal with. Often, the consultant is a hired gun brought in from the outside to reduce headcount, or replace the company's people with other mercenaries. The consultant's highest priority when they get inside the business is to identify their next consulting opportunity. They have completely different priorities than management, and yet often management hands over the reins to them.


Of course, when I talk about consultants I don't mean the people on consulting teams - the one or two grey-beards who understand the business, or the half-dozen fresh young graduates who make and mouth the powerpoints - I mean the corporations who pretend to be honest brokers but who are really there for the money, and for next year's money, too. If the consultant's idea doesn't work, they do a study (billable hours, of course) and discover: the fault is elsewhere! The organization is resistant to change!

Contractors

Contractors are mercenaries who are brought in to do parts of the work that the population used to do - in the work environment, they replace a portion of the workforce. Contractors will say that this allows the Company to "focus on their value-adding core competencies", but the employees that remain will tell you that it's a headcount game that replaces a full colleague with a limited contractor, who has their own priorities and expectations.

Please do not confuse what I'm saying with an ad hominem attack on individuals who work as contractors. Pursuing my "whore-metaphor", the John is the organization who has a need they cannot satisfy, and the Whore is the Contractor (the corporation) that offers to do certain things for certain prices, knowing that there's an upsell and a re-sell (and maybe a cross-sell) in the near future. The John suspends his own disbelief to convince himself that this is going to be the real thing, and becomes invested in the "good or better" narrative. The Contractor is going to take the agreed price and discover more and more needs which all must be filled, and maybe find some jewelry in the process.

I'd like to revisit Machiavelli: you're never going to get mercenaries to give you the same performance as your own self-motivated people.



Here's this week's example, all from the national news outlets: The Story Behind the Flight-Plan System Crash. At one time, the air traffic system relied on a robust, redundant series of dedicated phone lines that had backup power supplies, backup routers, etc. This 24x7, bullet-proof system was a crown jewel, and it was not inexpensive.

A Consultant suggested Uncle Sam could save money using Contractors and off-the-shelf systems. In 2001, the Bush Administration gave a Contractor (Harris) a $2.4 Billion dollar contract to run the Federal Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI), and they're responsible for keeping the system working.

When the system went down on Nov.19th, it took hours for Harris' technician to drive out and replace the network card that caused the failure. If it hadn't been an outsourced system, it would have been fixed in minutes.

Of course, the contractors aren't taking any blame. The press releases blame the outage on old equipment, but the real blame should fall on the decision to outsource maintenance of a critical system.

If this was an in-house system, accountable people would have gotten the system back online within minutes, and there would not have been a national impact. As an outsourced system, the Contractor has a cost motivation to keep staffing trimmed, and is committed to the contract more than to the organization's mission.

Most of the nation's airline system was delayed because of a Consultant's idea and a Contractor's priorities. Neither will be held accountable. Let's pay attention before the whole business goes over to the Hessians and Whores.

A Failure We Might Learn From

I believe in studying failure rather than success. My favorite wall poster (I have a copy both in my office and in my home) is Minart's chart depicting Napoleon's failure in Russia. Napoleon was such a smart guy, and yet he projected himself directly into this whopping failure.

As I've written before in my review of "The Logic of Failure" (excellent book, btw), there's a lot of failure out there and it's often well documented.

Success, on the other hand, is talked about more but often wrapped in myth and obscurity. Success sells - if you look at the "management" section at a bookstore, there's a lot more "success stories" then "debacle diaries™". It seems like nobody succeeds because of "good luck", usually success is driven by the right blend of personal virtue, a shoeshine, and a ready smile.

Curiously, a lot of failures are attributed to "bad luck" or to other people, and very few failures are assigned to personal flaws, hubris, or bad decisions. You'd think that luck would have a balanced 50/50 impact, but in the literature it seems like luck only causes failures. Anyway, I like to study failures. Here's a true story of a failure from this week's news:

In 1995, a registered nurse named Susette Kelo bought a small, pink, 100-year old clapboard house in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Connecticut. New London was (and remains) a deteriorating town that has seen a long time pass since its glory days with the whaling industry. A big fiscal problem for New London is that most of its land is held by three tax-exempt colleges.

 

Hoping to improve the city, New London created a "New London Development Corporation" (NLDC) which planned to seize a 9-acre neighborhood in order to induce Pfizer to develop a 26-acre industrial park. Pfizer would also receive an 80% discount on their real estate taxes for 10 years.

Under the threat of seizure, most homeowners sold to the NLDC. Seven homeowners resisted the seizure in the courts. Susette Kelo became the spokesman for the holdouts, who argued that eminent domain was appropriate for public works — highways, trains, and public health — but not for economic development.

In Kelo v. the City of New London, a 5-to-4 Supreme Court majority opinion held that promoting economic development met the “public use” clause of the Fifth Amendment and supported the condemnations. The NY Times editorial board, by the way, really liked the Supreme Court decision.

In a dissenting opinion Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, “Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded.” Justice Clarence Thomas called New London’s plan “a costly urban-renewal project whose stated purpose is a vague promise of new jobs and increased tax revenue, but which is also suspiciously agreeable to the Pfizer Corporation.”

The houses were destroyed, the families forced to move, and the neighborhood was erased. A local citizen bought Kelo's condemned house for $1 and moved it to another location, where it now bears a sign indicating its provenance:


This is what the peice of land that Kelo's house occupied now looks like:


After the houses were destroyed, nothing happened. No R&D complex, no gentrified condos, no influx of high-net-worth PhDs. Nothing. This week brought news from Pfizer:


Pfizer announced this week their intention to abandon the project and close the offices it has in New London; the homes were razed but the research park and office complex was never built. What happened? There was a change; Pfizer acquired Wyeth for $67 billion, and the NewCo had surplus office space. The corporate priority had shifted. They didn't need that land anymore. From the NY Times:
For its part, Pfizer said it had no stake in the outcome of the Kelo case nor any interest in the development of the land that was acquired by eminent domain, according to a statement provided by a spokeswoman, Liz Power.


Remarkably, Pfizer's exit from New London is synchronized exactly with the expiration of their tax discount. Where are they going? Across the river to Groton, where the discount persists.

From the 11/13 New York Times:
From the edge of the Thames River in New London, Conn., Michael Cristofaro surveyed the empty acres where his parents’ neighborhood had stood, before it became the crux of an epic battle over eminent domain. “Look what they did,” Mr. Cristofaro said on Thursday. “They stole our home for economic development. It was all for Pfizer, and now they get up and walk away.

I mention this for at least these reasons:
  • I really am a student of failure, I think failure teaches more than success.
  • I think this shows what happens when you deal with Corporations. With businesses you can do your due diligence and rely on them; there's often a real person who's name is on the shingle. Generally people are trustworthy if you build the deal right. Corporations, on the other hand, are amoral legal entities chasing continually evolving definitions of profitability, strategy, and their market. Businesses have skin in the game; corporations don't. I'd like to restate this into an expression you may see here again: Business people good; corporations bad.
  • I think this shows what happens when Government (in this case, the City of New London) set up quasi-agencies to do hard things. Government is accountable; the voters select the players, and the voters will fire them at the next election if they screw up. The development corporation had the opportunity to take action at no personal risk, without accountability, and - by the way - they're only successful if change happens. That's a recipe for a crapshoot, and usually these situations are not amenable to those odds.
  • I see echoes of USAirways in this.

This has always been the Holy Grail (pun definitely intended!): To design an application using just object-orientation as the paradigm, and to have persistence, a service interface and a sensible user interface all generated for you automatically. In other words, just define the core behaviour of the application's objects, and you have a working web application with non-visual service interfaces to boot. This is the Domain-Driven Design dream (DDDD?)

Spring Roo has been talked about for a while, but Grails beat it to market. However, it's better late than never for the product from the SpringSource stables, and Release Candidate 3 is now available.

For a teaser on what Roo can do, see this video. It's a third-party video based on RC2 (and you'll see some syntax differences when you start to play with RC3), but the spirit is the same.

Exciting stuff!

Update 17/11/2009: I sent the video link to a friend and colleague for his feedback. He 's a senior architect and based on his experience, he believes Roo needs to provide an Eclipse-based graphical interface rather than (in addition to?) a command-line interface. With that, he believes it's a winner.

Consigning Ayn Rand to the Dustbin of History

I believe I am now done with Ayn Rand, but before consigning her to the dustbin of history*, I'd like to present a light-hearted retrospective of her work, lest we be all sturm und drang .



It's just ludicrous to me that people would justify dismantling the world's finest air traffic control system based on Ayn Rand's thoughts -- and if this is the best justification they could identify, then perhaps there really isn't any justification for it.

I'm going to stop beating this dead horse now, and move on to discussing the corporate greed and practical implications of Corporatizing the ATC system.

* that's a quote from Trotsky, I thought it was appropriate.

Ayn Rand and ATC Facilities

I've written previously about the cult of Ayn Rand, and I've also written about the Reason Foundation's NextGen marketing campaign to invest in new technolgies by moving ATC to a Corporate model.

I'd like to, if I may, take the time to connect the dots between Ayn Rand, her disciples, and the air traffic control system. And then I'd like to wrap it into a philosophical meta-question and ask: who do you trust more, Government or Corporations? (Or perhaps, who do you distrust least?)

The United States currently has the finest aviation system, and the finest air traffic control system, in the world. It routinely accomplishes tasks that other ATC systems cannot. It handles a volume that no other system can.

The primary challenge to the existing US air traffic system (the world's finest, I'll repeat) is Corporatisation, a ten-dollar-name for moving the ATC function out of government and handing it over to Corporations. The choice of words is always critical - are you pro-abortion or pro-choice - and so the industry chooses to use soft terms like "Privatise". I'm going to refer to it as Corporatise.

The aviation-industrial complex sees a high-value-added government activity that the industry would prefer to have as their own profit center. They see that there is profit to be made (money taken out of the population), and currently nobody is taking that profit. They want it.

The industry has rented a think-tank to generate a plausible rationale for their takeover. As this blog has discussed earlier, the role of a think-tank is to generate messages (propaganda) that move the Overton window, moving things that were once unthinkable into the range of the acceptable. Think tanks do this by planting marginally extreme messages that make the previously unthinkable seem reasonable by contrast.

The ATC industry's mouthpiece is the Reason Foundation and Robert Poole. Robert Poole is the poster child of Corporatization, and the industry funnels money into him so that he will do their work. The Reason Foundation and Poole are shills, advancing the industry's message under the guise of putting America back on track.


Ayn Rand was a Hollywood novelist who wrote epic fictions of heroic individuals, bodice-ripping romance, and a marriage-free, childless future driven by amoral, selfish self-interest. She was an illegal immigrant, an atheist, and perhaps the original Cougar. (NTTAWWT). Let me be clear that I have nothing against novelists, but I wouldn't use Richard Bach to develop an essential safety system, and I wouldn't use Ayn Rand's books either.


Within Rand's worldview, government should have very few functions (defend the borders); individuals should decide what's best for themselves. For instance, Rand felt that the government shouldn't staff police departments as it gave them a monopoly on the means of legal violence; she preferred to leave it to individuals to make their own arrangements (ie,militias). Also, Rand holds that government should not establish paper currency because it's an intrusion into the private arrangements of individuals. (I'd like to know how many Randians are eschewing their government-developed flu shots on principle.)

As Whittaker Chambers said, "Since a great many of us dislike much that Miss Rand dislikes, quite as heartily as she does, many incline to take her at her word." Rand condemned so many bad things (Communism, Stalinism), you begin to think you agree with her. But when you look at what she advocates, there's often no common ground.

In this YouTube video developed by the Reason Foundation, Robert Poole explains how Ayn Rand's version of extremely limited government drives the "philosophical" justification for the Reason Foundation:



Robert Poole identifies Ayn Rand's work as the basis for the Reason Foundation's claim to legitimacy. The temptation is to regard that as a point that might be examined and discussed, and if the Reason Foundation were a true well of discourse that would be true. I believe, however, that the Reason Foundation is just a useful front, and that the sloppy Randian rhetoric provides a dense intellectual cover for their corporate takeover of an inherently government function.

I think we should keep Ayn Rand and Robert Poole out of our ATC facilities.
(Hat tip to Don Brown for the video!)

Cisco Buys Jabber - What Does It Mean?

Cisco has bought Jabber (another of those purchases of Open Source companies that make no sense to me - what are they really buying when the IP is public?)

What it does indicate to me is that the Presence and Instant Messaging protocol pioneered by Jabber (XMPP) is now becoming a more widely adopted standard. GoogleTalk and Avaya have been using XMPP for a while now, and Cisco has just joined the bandwagon.

My idea of a Unified Communications architecture is something that leverages SIP/SIMPLE, XMPP, HTTP and the open email protocols, rather than a vendor-proprietary stack. Microsoft and IBM have interesting stories in the UC space, but I would argue that this would be precisely the wrong time for an organisation to go with a proprietary suite of products. There's no such thing as a free pair of handcuffs.

I had drawn up this architecture diagram on UC some time ago but didn't publicise it because it seemed a bit theoretical at the time. But now it seems to be more relevant with the strengthening of XMPP and SIP/SIMPLE.

Clarifying Veteran's Day vs Memorial Day

Veteran's Day and Memorial Day have become conflated, merged to the point where their differences are lost.

Memorial Day commemorates our war dead, even though for most citizens consumers it's mostly about the beginning of summer, parades, and sales at Sears. This is what Memorial Day should be about:


Veteran's Day celebrates our survivors of military service. Originally called Armistice Day, the holiday was created to celebrate the end of hostilities in WW1, The Great War, the War to End All Wars. Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. From Wikipedia:
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. A 1938 Act made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday; "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'."
This is what Armistice Day was once about:

This is a 1982 photo of WW1 vet Joseph Ambrose. The flag he's holding to his chest is the one that draped his son's casket after he was killed in Korea.


This is what today's holiday is too often about:



This holiday started off celebrating the end of World War 1 (trench warfare, machine guns, and mustard gas), just as in the 1940s we celebrated V-E and V-J day.

If I may be contrarian: as the memory and significance of the Armistice dimmed, politicians and marketers saw fit to repurpose the holiday to their own needs; it was not an act of political courage to be pro-Veteran in 1954.
In 1953, an Emporia, Kansas businessman had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans. The Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Education supported closing to honor veterans. Emporia's Rep. Ed Rees moved a bill for the holiday through Congress. President Eisenhower signed it into law on May 26, 1954. Congress amended this act on November 8, 1954, replacing "Armistice" with "Veterans", and it has been known as Veterans Day since.

Vannevar's Theory of Holidays

I'd like to suggest my Theory of Holidays (TOH). I believe there's a sort of utilitarian Holiday Darwinism - in a complicated world, with multiple voices clamoring for attention, Holidays survive over time only if they are supported, and we can categorize them by their support. How do we categorize holidays?
  • If Hallmark sells cards, or if stores advertise sales it's Commercial. (New Years, Washington’s Birthday, Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas.)
  • If there are parades, it's Political. (Martin Luther King Day, St. Patrick's Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, 9-11, Columbus Day, Veteran's Day.)
  • If there are no sales, no parades, but church services, it's Religious. (Easter, Yom Kippur.)
The relative distribution of these events (Commercial 7, Political 7, Religious 2) is probably significant.

Value of a Theory

Like any good theory, its value comes in two parts: (1) does it explain what you observe, and (2) does it help predict the future? As Karl Popper teaches, (3) you can't prove a theory, you can only falsify (that is, disprove) it.

We Love A Parade

Parades are opportunities for politicians to posture and generate press coverage (free advertising); show me a parade that doesn't have politicians in the photo op. Kids get a day off school, Macy's has a big Foundations sale, and military recruiters staff the parades because they need next year's youngsters to meet their quotas.

This is what Veteran's Day should be about:


Joe Lieberman's Doctor


Senator Joe Lieberman, a fellow traveler with the Democratic party, has announced that he intends to invoke his prerogative as a Senator to prevent the health care reform legislation from ever coming to a vote unless it's in the format he likes.

You know that when he was a wee little tyke in short pants, he probably threatened to hold his breath until he got his way.

Bloomberg reports that it's a question of conscience: As a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote” if the public option remains, Lieberman said. Lieberman’s state is home to health insurer Aetna Inc., based in Hartford. I admire a person with a conscience. Pinnochio had Jiminy Cricket. Joe Lieberman has Aetna. It's all good.

What intrigues me is the situation this presents to his health care providers.
Joe: I can stop the legislation if I want.
Dr.1: I can stop your heart if I want.
Joe: I'm serious.
Dr.1: Me, too.

Joe: I can work the schedule to delay legislation indefinitely.
Dr.2: Speaking of schedules, today's your colonoscopy. Come here, Joe...

Lieberman has told the American Medical Association that they won't get the legislation they prefer while he's in the Senate. That is to say, while he's alive and well. Kicking and breathing. I wonder if that was wise.

Pessimal, Baguette, and Metrotextuals

A potpourri of small amusements:

New Word of the Day (WOTD): Pessimal adjective : Describes a situation that is the least favourable or advantageous (the opposite of optimal).




The Large Hadron Collider has been thwarted again, this time by a bit of sammich baguette, possible dropped by a bird or left by time travelers while they were sabotaging the device.






We've been told of metrosexuals - narcisstic, ostensibly hetero men (OHM) that are comfortable using skin care products and who are open to concepts such as manscaping - think David Beckham as the poster boy - but now a London study brings us metrotextuals. Metrotextuals are ostensibly hetero men who are comfortable signing "kisses" in text messages to other men.

xxxooo
Vannevar

Titular Economy: Buying Jobs and Titles

There's been some buying of jobs and titles.
  • for $30,000 you can buy the title of Co-Pilot with Gulfstream Airlines (see previous post)
  • The New York Yankees have bought another World Series title.
  • New York City's Michael Bloomberg has bought the title of Mayor for a third term, after buying his way out of the term limits law. We await indications of whether Hizzoner prefers to purchase a fourth term.
I am struck by this new business model of buying titles or jobs that were once earned. Why would somebody buy a job? Because the experience or influence is worth much more (to the buyer) than the salary. It's a corrupt situation ripe for exploitation. For instance, for $30K you can be a co-pilot on a Continental Connections flight with Gulfstream.

First I thought: it's terrible, scandalous, unspeakable! Then I realized, maybe I'm just being resistant to change, maybe I should embrace the new perspective. This will inevitably extend into other fields; maybe there's a lot of money to be moved in Jobs for Sale (J4S).

These Jobs-For-Sale can't be jobs where solo performance is crucial. They don't sell the pilot's job, they sell the co-pilots job. The pilot is (theoretically) the grown-up, the babysitter who ensures that the co-pilot doesn't compromise the business. The ideal Jobs-For-Sale position is that of a sidekick or team member - Robin rather than Batman, any of the seven dwarfs rather than the Prince.

I expect that other industries will soon start selling jobs. The trick, of course, is to find a willing buyer with sufficient money. The opportunity must be glamorous. The field will need to have a high cost of entry; in other words, be restricted so that the audience can't easily go out and find the opportunity themselves. It's not going to be "run a lemonade stand" - it's going to be a situation involving scarce equipment, or constrained access.

So there's:
  • an economy that is continually shedding jobs
  • a limited number of jobs that can be successfully sold
  • a great demand for experience and education
  • a wealthy older generation that indulges the younger generation

I think this is the perfect situation for a widescale rollout of Jobs for Sale (J4S) and a bidding war, eventually followed by a classic investment bubble.

To really roll out the Jobs For Sale paradigm on a wide scale, we're going to need newbie-friendly jobs that are attractive in the common culture, jobs which most people can't screw up too badly. They need to be attractive, dumbed-down jobs, what an insensitive person might call upscale "gopher jobs". They're going to be jobs that almost anybody can do, but that very few people can get to.

What jobs could industry probably sell? Remember, they need to be sidekicks, glamorous, attractive to people with money, high barriers to entry, noob-friendly. Some opportunities might include:
  • Attorneys
  • Photographers
  • Journalists
  • Batboys at Major League Baseball games


Kicking it Meta


At a higher level of abstraction, jobs have been bought and sold for a long time but the prices paid were less tangible (and off the books). The producer has the casting couch. The military says: Sell us six years of your life and you'll see the world. The Department Head says: Sell me your loyalty, and you can become Assistant to the Regional Manager. There are opportunities to sell integrity, dreams, and souls. We just need to convert these to cash transactions.

What strikes me about Bloomberg's situation is that he's extended the business concept into the public sector. I think there's a Pittsburgh application here. Pittsburgh has an exodus of younger people who want jobs and who'd prefer to stay here, and we have government that can't afford the payroll and the pension contributions. Ka-Ching! Maybe we can start selling city jobs. Maybe instead of doling them out as patronage, we should recognize the cash value.

I'm just saying. If you're going to sell parking lots to cover salaries and pensions, why not sell the jobs?

If you'd like to suggest a job for the list of "Jobs 4 Sale", please enter it in a comment below.

FST Media Annual Technology and Innovation Seminar Day One (05/11/2009)

I attended FST Media's 4th annual seminar on technology and innovation themed "The Future of Banking and Financial Services" at the Hilton in Sydney.

Some quick impressions:

Don Koch, CEO of ING Direct, delivered the opening keynote and spoke about what customers will want next (answer: who knows?). (Incidentally, every single talk was billed as a "keynote", which leads one to question if FST Media knows what a keynote really is.) He made a number of points but none stuck in my head as anything particularly insightful.

Rocky Scopelliti, General Manager, Financial Services, Industry Development, Telstra Enterprise & Government, spoke next about Gen Y and made some interesting points. Essentially, he was reporting on research by noted Australian sociologist Hugh Mackay. Although Gen Y-ers have a reputation for being difficult to please and notoriously non-loyal, the research suggests that Gen Y-ers are in fact influenced by their parents, the Baby Boomers, who in turn grew up influenced by two opposing forces - on the one hand, abundant and growing prosperity that promised a better tomorrow, and on the other, by the threat of the Cold War and the possibility that there may be no tomorrow. The unique solution to this was the demand for instant gratification - enjoy life like there's no tomorrow. So Gen Y is not really demanding and disloyal; they're just keeping their options open for as long as possible.

I forget whether Koch or Scopelliti made this point, but it was interesting that nowadays, all you need to establish a person's identity is their date of birth and mobile phone number. People tend not to change their mobile numbers, even if they switch providers. More on this later.

David Boyle, CIO, International Financial Services, Commonwealth Bank next spoke about cloud computing at CBA. The interesting aspect of his talk was his call for fellow customers to get together with him and his team to define some basic standards for cloud computing, because he's afraid of the same thing that I am, i.e., that some vendor-proprietary technology will become the de facto standard for cloud computing which will make it unnecessarily pricey.

There were a few eminently forgettable panel discussions (with the only exception being the one on which Dhiren Kulkarni, joint CIO of St George Bank, was being needlessly competitive and obnoxious towards his fellow panelists. He earned a rejoinder at one stage from Pravir Vohra, CTO of ICICI Bank, which was roundly applauded.)

The next talk was billed as an "International Keynote" and was delivered by the aforementioned Pravir Vohra, who provided a few interesting insights into the growth of ICICI Bank. It's been almost 15 years since I left India, and I didn't know ICICI Bank had become the second largest Indian Bank. I guess it would still be a distant second to State Bank of India, though. SBI has more branches than some banks have customers :-).

Vohra would be the envy of CTOs everywhere, because he says he has 25% of the technology budget to play with. I.e., he's free to invest in various technologies and initiatives. If they work out, he "transfer prices" the benefits to the business units that he can serve with it. I have always felt that a similar system is required for Enterprise Utilities. Neither the "first project pays" model nor a Big Bang enterprise rollout in a single financial year is the right one. We need an accounting treatment for Utilities akin to R&D, with carryovers possible across financial years.

I was very pleased to hear that ICICI Bank only uses OpenOffice, not Microsoft Office. Vohra estimates that this choice saves his bank more than $15 million a year, even more than the projected savings from cloud computing! Who said the Third World lags behind the First? Sometimes they lead the way.

One thing Vohra said that didn't seem quite right was his contrast of consumer behaviour in India with that in Australia - he said Indians change their mobile numbers every six months! Apart from the fact that the Indians I know haven't changed their mobile numbers in quite a while, it seems very counter-intuitive behaviour. Why would anyone make life more difficult for themselves in this manner?

The three sessions after lunch and before tea were uniformly missable.

David Cartwright, Group Managing Director, Operations, Technology and Shared Services, ANZ was probably the best of the lot. He spoke about ANZ Bank's "Journey to a Super-Regional Bank". An interesting aspect was the emphasis ANZ Bank places on its new corporate headquarters in Melbourne that has a 6 star green rating. It resembles a skyscraper on its side and is deliberately designed to have a huge floor area on a limited number of floors so as to maximise interaction between people. Another interesting technology they have is "telepresence", which is very high quality videoconferencing, which gives the impression that remote participants are actually in the room on the opposite side of the table.

The aforementioned Dhiren Kulkarni spoke next, and repeatedly parrotted his boss Gail Kelly's favourite phrase "delighting the customer" ad nauseam. You don't get more patronising, defensive, competitive and humourless than this bloke. Not very good PR for Westpac-St George to trot him out at industry seminars.

Rounding out the boring lot was Darren Covington, Vice President, Asia Pacific Japan, Enterprise Software Applications, Hewlett Packard. He spoke about churn and the desirability of retaining customers because it's far cheaper than acquiring new ones (a well-worn concept), but added no new insights. My cynical reaction was that with the Australian banking sector being as oligopolistic as it is, a customer who walks out the door is readily replaced by another bank's customer who walks in. There are only four banks in the game, so where will customers go anyway? It's not so much churn as a nice merry-go-round.

After tea, we had Randy Fennel, General Manager, Engineering and Sustainability, Technology, Westpac, talking about sustainability, which again was a bit ho-hum.

The last session of the day was by far the best. Phil Hopper, founder of iGrin spoke about peer-to-peer lending. This is an extremely interesting concept that I hadn't heard of before. There have been players like Zopa, LendingClub, etc., who have all fallen on hard times now, both because of the Global Financial Crisis and because of some increased regulatory requirements.

Peer-to-peer lending exploits the big spread enjoyed by the large institutional lenders. Banks borrow from individuals at 5% (the deposit interest rate) and offer personal loans to individuals at anywhere over 12%, sometimes going up to 18% in the case of some credit cards. This means that there is a spread of at least 7% here to be exploited if individuals lend direct to each other. A P2P lending marketplace can take 2%, leaving 5% to be split between lender and borrower, with both consequently better off than by going through banks. Hopper described P2P lending as "eBay for money".

He also spoke about Australia currently operating on a model of negative credit data only, which makes it hard to assess the creditworthiness of most people. But there is apparently some privacy-related legislation due shortly that will remove impediments to acquiring (positive) credit data.

Other points were the subtle differences between microfinance, lending to the underbanked, and prime lending. Hopper pointed out that by ceding a degree of control to customers, P2P lending agencies allowed innovation to happen, such as "blenders" (arbitrage players who use their superior credit rating to borrow at lower rates and lend to others at a slightly higher rate), and people who run Self-managed Super Funds who invest (lend) from the fund into the P2P market and then borrow the money right back. Some of this sounds dodgy to me (and to the Tax Office, I'm sure), but it certainly is innovative.

In spite of the temporary problems faced by P2P players including iGrin, Hopper sees a good future for the concept. There are niches (after the Online Auction itself) that can be independently filled by various players, such as Identity Verification, Credit Assessment, Fulfillment/Settlement (both contracts and statements) and Collections. A bill likely to be passed by parliament soon (the Private Properties Securities Bill) will also allow people to securitise their own assets like their property, enabling lending to become more "secured". Once a secondary market develops, it will be possible for the P2P segment to expand from its personal lending base (with a typical term between 12 months and 5 years) into the mortgage market (with terms of upto 30 years). This is because although the typical small lender would not be willing to enter into 30-year loans, the emergence of a secondary market will make this possible, since debt obligations like these can themselves be traded. Wholesale funds are another step along the development of P2P lending.

All in all, a most fascinating concept, and Phil Hopper did an excellent job of presenting it. It seemed a little too slick, though. As moderator and host Michael Pascoe asked him, I wonder if this is a case of amateurs attempting to take on the professionals. To a more pointed question, Hopper defended the eventual viability of the "amateur" P2P market even against the eventual entry of the "professionals", and Pascoe insightfully remarked that he would rather have had Hopper express a desire to be bought out by a bank.

That was the end of the first day.


New Airline / Flight School In Pittsburgh

The Post Gazette brings us the story of Gulfstream International Airlines, which may reintroduce air service from PIT to Harrisburg, DuBois, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and other smallish cities. They're going to fly 19-seat Beechcraft 1900's, which are really nice airplanes.

No less a person than County Executive Dan Onorato said, "We are thrilled that Gulfstream International Airlines is interested in restoring important regional flights to our world-class airport".

On the face of it, it's more good news. It's evident that people are working hard to attract new airline service, and I applaud that. For instance, the recent incentivized/ guaranteed service to Paris, France with Delta - that was a great move.

The thing is: We know Delta Airlines.
We've flown Delta Airlines.
This Gulfstream Int'l outfit is no Delta Airlines.

Gulfstream flies as a Continental Connection carrier. You remember Continental Connection, the umbrella outfit that outsources airline passengers to low-cost contractors, like Continental Connection Flight 3407 which crashed while approaching Buffalo Niagara International Airport recently. The passenger's tickets said Continental, but the airplane and crew were Colgan Air.

From Wikipedia:
Gulfstream International Airlines has been under additional scrutiny due to three recent fatal crashes that all involved pilots that were trained at the Gulfstream Training Academy (its sister company), the last one in February 2009, where 50 died on Colgan Air Flight 3407 near Buffalo, NY.

In May 2009, the federal government issued a fine of 1.3 million dollars against Gulfstream International Airlines after the Federal Aviation Administration found that it had falsified flight time records, allowing crews fly longer hours than allowed by law, and providing below standard aircraft maintenance. The fine is being disputed at this time.
  • In July 1997, the airline's entire fleet of Shorts 360-300s were repossessed by the leasing company due, in part, to maintenance irregularities that included the welding of hydraulic lines
  • Despite its status as a mere stepping stone in the minds of most pilot employees, the company was able to keep whistle blowing in check through selective disclosure of training documents

It's not just an airline, it's an adventure


Gulfstream is not just an airline; it's a flight school. The Gulfstream Training Academy (check the site, very TopGun) teache$ people to be pilots. It's a flight school. Then the graduates can pay to be copilots on your Continental Connection flight! They pay tens of thousands of dollars, get 250 hours of experience as a copilot, and the airline pays them $8 an hour. They are, essentially, taking lessons with uninformed passengers in the back.

Here's the menu: for $25K they'll declare you a co-pilot (aka first officer) in three months; for $48K they'll declare you a pilot in five months. If you don't have any flying experience at all, for $73K they'll make you all that in 14 months. The brochure calls the time you spend flying around (pretending to be a copilot) the "first officer internship". George Orwell would be proud.

Your family sitting in the back of the Beech 1900? Priceless.

It's really a brilliant "business model". In addition to charging passengers for snacks, drinks, headsets, blankets, and checked baggage - hey, let's charge somebody who wants to learn to be a copilot, and let them ride up front!

From USA Today:
Capt. Marvin Renslow, who was at the controls when a Colgan Air commuter plane went wildly out of control and plunged to the ground on Feb. 12, trained with Gulfstream in 2004 and 2005, according to National Transportation Safety Board records. Colgan Air was operating under contract for Continental Airlines at the time of the Buffalo crash.

The copilot on a Comair flight that crashed in 2006 after trying to take off from a dark, closed runway in Lexington, killing 49 of 50 people aboard, also worked at Gulfstream, according to NTSB records. So did the two pilots on a Pinnacle Airlines flight who were joyriding in an empty jet before snuffing out both engines and crashing in Missouri in 2004.

I really do applaud the people trying to rebuild air service. But I've got a message for Dan Onorato: you'd be better off with MagLev. Or Greyhound. Or anybody where the co-pilot isn't an intern, paying for the experience.



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