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Golden Oldies: Hate, Intolerance and Responsibility

Monday, September 5th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time. It’s been four years since I wrote this, but it could have been anytime in the last several decades. The time difference wouldn’t have been that noticeable, except that what I described just keeps getting worse. I find it both sad and disgusting that we humans seem incapable of growing and, instead of moving forward, we move backwards. Read other Golden Oldies here

my-way-hwyAnyone reading the news—local, national or global—knows that hate and intolerance are increasing at an alarming rate everywhere.

Also, because there have been/will be so many elections around the world this year ‘leadership’ is in the news even more so than usual.

What responsibility do leaders—business, political, religious, community—bear in fostering hate and intolerance?

A lot.

Not just the age old race and gender intolerance, but the I’m/we’re-RIGHT-so-you-should-do/think-our-way-or-else.

The ‘we’re right/you’re wrong’ attitude is as old as humanity and probably won’t ever change, but it’s the ‘do-it-our-way-or-else’ that shows the intolerance for what it really is.

And leaders aren’t helping; in fact, they are making it worse.

During my adult life (I missed being a Boomer by a hair) I’ve watched as hate and intolerance spread across the country masked by religion, a façade of political correctness or a mea culpa that is supposed to make everything OK, but doesn’t.

Various business, political, religious and community leaders give passionate, fiery talks to their followers and then express surprise and dismay when some of those same followers steal trade secrets, plant bombs, and kill individuals—whose only error was following their own beliefs.

We are no longer entitled to the pursuit of happiness if our happiness offends someone next door, the other end of the country, or the far side of the globe.

I remember Ann Rand saying in an interview that she believed that she had the right to be totally selfish, where upon the interviewer said that would give her freedom to kill.

Rand said absolutely not, in fact the reverse was true, since her selfishness couldn’t impinge anyone else’s right to be selfish.

Leaders aren’t responsible; we are, because we go along with it—as did the Germans when Hitler led them down the hate and intolerance path.

That about sums up my attitude

What’s yours?

Image credit: Street Sign Generator

If the Shoe Fits: the Wrongest Way to Close a Company

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn June we learned the right way to close a company and last month we got a lesson in the wrong way to do it.

Right, wrong; what’s left?

(Allegedly) crooked.

How crooked?

Penny Kim is a marketing professional who relocated from Dallas in July to work for WrkRiot (formerly known as 1for.one and apparently also known as JobSonic) for $135,000 a year plus equity and a $10,000 signing bonus for relocation expenses,

It ended with her dismissal in August after she filed a complaint with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement over failure to properly pay her

If you wonder whether she’s just another disgruntled employee, she’s not.

Not when the CEO gives everyone faked documentation of wage payment.

“Thursday, August 4th was D-Day … That afternoon in the office, Michael emailed each employee a personalized PDF receipt of a Wells Fargo wire transfer with the message: ‘Here is the receipt. It has been calculated for the taxes on your semi-monthly salary and signing bonus. The money is arriving either today or tomorrow. I am sorry about the delay.'”

But the receipts were fake.

Al Brown, former CTO and one of the founders, confirmed much of her account, even the most outrageous accusation: The CEO she dubbed “Michael,” whose LinkedIn profile identifies him as Isaac Choi, gave employees fake receipts for money wire transfers to convince them the company had paid their back wages when in fact it hadn’t.

Not even a good fake, since the photoshopped receipts said 2014.

Even after that two employees lent the company an additional $65K.

All told, Choi burned through $695,000 (his own initial $400,000, Brown’s $230,000 and the borrowed $65,000) in less than a year.

A comment on Hacker News should serve as a bona fide caveat emptor for everyone in the global startup world, not just in Silicon Valley.

“Welcome to the club. It’s pretty much a rite of passage here to spend some time with a psychopath VC, a completely self absorbed CTO with a rich investor dad that fuels his fantasies, or an idiotic CEO with an ego problem, and to pay the price for it (just time if you’re lucky, time+money if you’re not).”

This isn’t a warning not to join, just a note to do so with your eyes open.

There’s a reason it’s called “due diligence” and it’s as much for employees as it is for founders and investors.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: Business, Responsibility and Ethics

Friday, April 1st, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAs a founder, do you have an ethical or moral responsibility to consider the ramifications of your product on society — globally, not just locally?

In Numbers, a TV show that ran from 2005 to 2010, the central character, Charlie Eppes, was a young, prodigy mathematician. One storyline forced him to question his long held belief on his responsibility in innovation.

I always believed it was my duty to develop numerical tools and someone else’s to use them wisely.

Is that what you think?

In your drive for sales would you sell to any who could pay or would you scrutinize them to assure ethical usage?

Some companies do just that.

Data analysis powerhouse Palantir has been ultra-careful since it was founded.

Palantir can afford not to sell to just anybody — you have to believe in its values, too (…)  Palantir once turned down a partnership with a tobacco company “for fear the company would harness the data to pinpoint vulnerable communities to sell cigarettes to,” CEO Alex Karp told Fortune.

Jad Saliba, Magnet Forensics’ founder/CTO and ex-cop is emphatic on the subject.

 “The two areas I care most about are combating terrorism and child exploitation,” he says, adding that he hopes to keep his company on the side of the angels. “We spend a lot of time validating who we sell to … We sell to people who are going to use it ethically.”

Big Data in all its forms has enormous potential for good — and even larger potential for abuse.

And AI even more so.

From man’s earliest days, every new discovery has been a two-edged sword — fire can bestow life or death.

And while the final, future outcome of an innovation can’t be predicted, it should still be the responsibility of its creator, whether individual or company, to work to assure whatever it is is used responsibly.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Do People Count?

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

800px-The_protectors_of_our_industries

I’ve written a lot about the 1099 economy and its poster boy Uber; none of it particularly flattering.

Why?

Because the way the drivers are treated they are not “independent contractors” as described by the Feds.

They are revolting in the best way — by becoming the competition.

That was back at the end of February and in tech three weeks can be a lifetime.

The new news is that Talmon Marco founder of Viber six years ago and sold for $900 million two years later, is the guy behind Juno, Uber’s newest competitor — but a competitor that values it’s people.

“What Uber left out in the process of building their company is that they completely and totally forgot about the people who do the work, the drivers. Imagine a company where all the employees hate management; that is not a good place to be.”

And there lies the problem for most of the 1099 crowd.

Unlike most other 1099 businesses, full-time Juno drivers will be employees, not contractors, receive stock quarterly and have the potential to build  “as much equity as the founders.” according to Marco.

Remember the robber barons of the late 19th-arly 20th Century?

A robber baron is a wealthy, powerful businessman who employs practices including exerting control over natural resources, influencing high levels of government, paying subsistence wages, squashing competition by acquiring competitors, creating monopolies and raising prices  [emphasis mine], and schemes to sell stock at inflated prices to unsuspecting investors.

Even the inflated stock seems familiar when you consider that Uber’s unicorn valuation is based on funds raised, not revenue, and it’s losing hundreds of millions each year.

Robber barons indeed.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Ducks in a Row: You Get What You Pay For

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/37254648@N07/5000767635/

The way you treat your employees affects more than your retention rate.

It can have a major impact on your company’s trainsecurity.

Banks are an excellent example. They are notorious for the low pay,  haphazard training and opportunities and iffy managers that frontline employees, i.e., tellers, endure.

But it is the pay that is especially erroneous.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for tellers in 2014 was $25,760, a salary that prosecutors say does not match the high-risk nature of their jobs.

Raising a family and paying bills on $25K a year is beyond difficult, which increases temptation, yet these are the people who have the most access and opportunity to rip off customers.

And many of them are doing just that.

Rich and elderly bank customers are particularly at risk, prosecutors say, when tellers and other retail-branch employees tap into accounts to wire funds without authorization, make fake debit cards to withdraw money from A.T.M.s and sell off personal information to other criminals. Accounts with high balances and those with direct deposits of government funds, like Social Security payments, are especially coveted.

If you haven’t already guessed, the banks don’t want to spend to fix the problems.

Despite their importance, tellers and many low-level bank employees are not subjected to rigorous background checks. (…)  Kevin Streff, managing partner at Secure Banking Solutions, a security consulting firm, said the sluggish controls came, in part, from banks’ outdated view that tellers handled only low-risk transactions. (…)  Despite the warnings, progress has been slow. “There is a reluctance to provide real oversight, rigor or even security training because it costs time and money,” Mr. Streff said.

What will banks do?

Reimburse you for money actually taken, but that does nothing if your personal information has been shared or sold.

Based on their actions, as opposed to their words, executive attitude in many banks, insurance companies and others in the financial services industry seems be one of keep costs low, bonuses high and caveat emptor for customers.

That attitude is deeply embedded in their cultural DNA, which means changing it isn’t going to be simple — or quick.

Which means you had better embed caveat emptor in your DNA.

Flickr credit: Daz

The Long Tail of Arnnon Geshuri

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2016-01-13/News_and_notes#/media/File:Arnnon_Geshuri_-_January_2016_by_Myleen_Hollero.jpg

Some bad actions seem to have a much longer tail than others and are more personal.

The length of the tail also seems related to how much the breach affects “people like me.”

The proof of this is happening right now and playing out in social media. It started with the addition of a Wikipedia board member.

Nearly 200 Wikipedia editors have taken the unprecedented step of calling for a member of the Wikimedia Foundation board of directors to be tossed out. (…)  “In the best interests of the Wikimedia Foundation, Arnnon Geshuri must be removed from his appointment as a trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation Board.”

Geshuri played a central role in the “no poach” scandal (where a number of top companies, like Apple and Google, agreed not to recruit from each other) that has had lasting effects on countless careers.

Although I’ve said many times that past performance does not predict the future and I firmly believe in second chances there are caveats.

One is that the the person agrees it was wrong, takes responsibility for their share of the action and accepts some kind of punishment — whether a monetary fine, jail time or just a public statement.

When it’s an ethical lapse, as in this case, I consider if the person should have known better — which Geshuri should have.

However, this wasn’t just an ethical lapse; both the scheme and his actions were illegal.

And there is no question that as a high ranking HR professional he did know it was both illegal and unethical and was in an excellent position to assess the long-term damage it would do.

Geshuri was actively involved along with facilitating others.

Therefore, I tend to agree with the editors that he doesn’t belong in an organization that runs of pure trust.

But I am just as sure he still has a great career path in most of corporate America, where they would understand (and in some cases even condone) what he did, as well as in politics, where both the criminal and civil breaches would just be business as usual.

Image credit: Myleen Hollero / Wikimedia Foundation

Entrepreneurs: Apple Values in Action

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cjscott69/664989150

Have you ever thought about a very basic difference between Apple and Google and Facebook?

All are highly profitable.

All have a laser focus on their customers.

But only Apple honors its customers privacy.

Apple CEO Tim Cook sat down with NPR to talk about privacy, and described it as a “fundamental human right.” The comments come after Apple updated its website to make its stance on privacy clearer, something Cook describes as “a values point” not “a commercial interest.”

Whereas Larry Page’s recent comments when asked about the new name Alphabet indicate a totally different mindset.

The point, according to Larry Page, the Google co-founder who will be Alphabet’s chief executive, is for the separate parts to be independent and develop their own brands. That would never happen with all of them under the Google banner, given that many associate the name solely with a consumer search product. Many of the companies operating under the Alphabet umbrella, artificial intelligence and robotics, for instance, may never be consumer-oriented.

Mr. Page, in a blog post announcing the move, took the opportunity to note some wordplay in the name. “We also like that it means alpha‑bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark),” he wrote, “which we strive for!”

At least Google finally dropped the words Don’t be Evil from its values, which is good, because it abandoned the attitude in the name of profit long ago.

The article claims that the difference can be explained by the fact that Apple sells things, while Google and Facebook depend on ads, but Amazon (which is not mentioned) generates its revenues selling stuff and still tracks (stalks) its visitors.

Flickr image credit: Chris Scott

Apple and Your Personal Information

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/5816482161/“You can make money without doing evil” is number 6 in Google’s 10 point corporate philosophy, but ‘evil’ is a fluid term.

Obviously, invading your privacy and stalking you on and off-line in the name of targeted marketing, AKA, making money, doesn’t count.

Mark Zukerberg of Facebook exhorts you to share everything in your life at the same time he bought all three residences surrounding his home (last paragraph) to assure his own privacy.

Many social sites now track your location and make it public.

93% want control of their personal information, but are resigned that it isn’t going to happen.

Once again, Apple is flying in the face of its tech brethren.

“I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”  (…)

“We don’t think you should ever have to trade it for a service you think is free but actually comes at a very high cost. This is especially true now that we’re storing data about our health, our finances and our homes on our devices.”

“We believe the customer should be in control of their own information. You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for god knows what advertising purpose. And we think some day, customers will see this for what it is.” –Apple CEO Tim Cook, honored for ‘corporate leadership’ during EPIC’s Champions of Freedom event in Washington.

So the next time you sign in to Facebook, Google, Square, Twitter, etc., keep in mind that they aren’t selling their souls to make a buck, they are selling yours, your family’s and your friends’.

Flickr image credit: westonhighschool library

The Chimp & I

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

I often claim the label of Luddite and am know to my friends as a digital dinosaur (I spent the weekend upgrading from Office 2003 to 2007).

I’m not a lover of the Internet of Things, because I believe anything/everything can be hacked. (If you have evidence to the contrary, please share).

To me, the idea of hackable self-driving cars is a nightmare and drones make me cringe.

Obviously, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

It seems my revulsion is shared by my distant cousins.

However, if I react the same way I would probably be sued and possibly jailed.

The problem, of course, is that technology is light years ahead of society, not only on a moral/ethical level, but on a consideration of consequences — of which there seems to be none.

Video credit: Bergers’ Zoo

The Destruction of Community

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

My friend Emily lives in Mountain View, CA.

In spite of all the stories about high rents and corporate bussing not much has been said about companies such as Prometheus Real Estate Group and its ilk that are responsible for much of the actual destruction of community in the name of progress and greed.

They do it by buying up properties, telling the tenants to move, and then doubling (or more) the rents.

Like other Peninsula landlords, Prometheus sets a baseline criteria for tenants to prove they earn more than three times the monthly rent. With that requirement, a household would have to earn more than $144,000 annually to be eligible to rent a $4,000-per-month unit, Scarboro pointed out.

Emily recently sent a letter to the City Council, which resulted in the story linked to above and a report on NBC Bay Area.

And here’s the letter that started it all (edited for length and clarity).

I have been a resident of Mountain View since 1999. Since I earn fewer than six figures I am a low – middle income professional by this City’s standards (and the word in the street is that the voice of folks like me carries little weight).

I am writing anyway because today I realized that if I am not for myself – who will be for me? Certainly not my current hometown.

I live on a private street with 24 town homes and most of us are low to middle income (by Silicon Valley standards). We are teachers, social workers, healthcare professionals, doctors (residents), beauticians, and more. We have patients, clients, customers and businesses in town. We are in our 30-70’s. Some of us have young children. Some are single Mom’s or just plain single. Several younger residents have disabilities. We are a diverse group by skin color, religion, culture, age and education representing what’s great about this City (or what used to be). Many of us were born here or have lived in Mountain View over 30 years. Some have lived on this street for 12 years or more. Our rents are not cheap. They range from $2500-3500 per month for our 1970’s style 2-3 bedrooms. We all pay our bills. Most of us love coming home and we have become a closely-knit community—which is increasingly rare in this town.

As you must already know, Prometheus Property Management’s latest takeover team has informed the 100+ residents on Forest Glen Street and at “Granada”, a nearby parcel with 14 townhomes (purchased at the same time) that we all need to pack up and “permanently evacuate” due to the new renovations allowing them to collect “considerable rent increases” “Feel free to apply as a new tenant but your rent must be no more than 30 percent of your monthly income or three times the new rental price.

That’s requires a salary of $12,000 per month or more at their rental prices.

I used to love Mountain View. Not anymore.

What kind of a City sanctions new owners to displace over 100 residents and literally destroy a diverse neighborhood where everyone pulls their weight and contributes to their City in so many ways? You may consider the 3-6 months notice we were given to be a generous offer (they are not starting to renovate until mid summer) but how truly generous is this when it’s a known fact that there is limited decent housing and whatever housing exists has monthly income requirements that non-tech folks cannot meet? (According to the article, even many Googlers don’t earn that. –Miki)

Since the initial shock of forced displacement many of us have spent days looking at comparable sized apartments in Mountain View (and immediate surrounding areas) only to discover that Prometheus is not alone with their outrageous monthly income requirements at 3x the rent. We have found that most property management companies and individual landlords have the same requirements.

Being the great company they are, however, the Prometheus takeover team urged some of us to apply for apartments that are Below Market Rate (BMR). Funny thing is, “there is no BMR housing in Mountain View and the list has been closed since December” according to the office that manages it.

This is the new Mountain View at its best demonstrating how to ineffectively follow its own guidelines. Preserving and enhancing quality of life for Mountain View residents is only for those with very low income or the top 10%.

A BALANCED City would require a new owner to increase rents and renovate for NEW tenants when current tenants move out. People are moving in and out all the time. There is no rent control. No one is going to stick around forever. Some just want their children to finish their HS senior year with the kids they grew up with.

A FAIR City would have policies in place that keep companies like Prometheus from disenfranchising long time residents who at the very least work in this city. Most of us would happily exist with a rent increase even with our old grouty tiles, stained Formica and fake marble counters and sinks just to be able to continue to more easily drive to work, keep our doctors and run our businesses.

Tell me — how can this once great City of Mountain View look the other way and through sanctioning Prometheus’s business practices- force people with disabilities, in their 60’s or with kids in school to abandon their homes and neighborhood suffering, in some cases, irreparable financial loss and emotional distress. This can’t be legal.

[signed] Emily White Mountain View, CA

New York City and surrounding boroughs instituted rent control decades ago and the city is anything but destroyed; municipals governments work closely with housing organizations to make it work.

Of course, in a country where greed is enshrined in our culture, corruption is legalized in the form of lobbyists and the Supreme Court voted to put for sale signs on our elections, Prometheus’ actions are completely legal — and even applauded in certain circles.

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