January 25th, 2012

Comeuppance

Here's a link to coverage in the Washington Post, because I don't like the WSJ:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/industries/uk-watchdog-slaps-11-million-insider-trading-fine-on-david-einhorns-greenlight-capital/2012/01/25/gIQAdYBcQQ_story.html

Einhorn shows up on financial news channels with some frequency, generally saying something labeled "contrarian", and I have him filed under "possibly helping out his own short positions" as well as, "hey, bloomberg, this guy does not need access to your megaphone".

This is the kind of thing that makes me feel like watching financial news is really no better morally (at least for me) than watching a soap opera.

There is a minimum amount of required retail space

From Jezebel:

http://jezebel.com/5879071

Which got it from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

http://www.jsonline.com/news/crime/police-warn-of-online-purchase-threats-e83tlg0-137917273.html

The first paragraph is:

"After a recent rash of robberies involving people trying to sell items on the web site Craigslist, Milwaukee police on Monday encouraged people to conclude their transactions at perhaps one of the safest places in town - the local police station."

In the sidebar:

"Milwaukee police recommend conducting a transaction involving iPads, computer ware or vehicles in the lobby or in front of one of the police stations."

This is not unique to Milwaukee. The comments thread on Jezebel includes people who were using supermarket parking lots, but switched to better lit/more security c-store parking lots. Other people recommended using malls, especially food courts.

There should be a segue here. But there is not.

Ron Johnson is perhaps best known for creating The Apple Store. The Apple Store is brilliant, because it tackles head on the worst aspect of gadgetry and computers: what to do when they stop working -- or not working well -- but are not clearly broken beyond hope of repair. It is particularly brilliant, because there was no one else with a comprehensive solution to this problem although we were clearly headed that way with services like the Geek Squad. He is the CEO of JC Penney's, and rolled out a big announcement today which has received a lot of coverage.

Here is an arbitrarily selected sample:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-25/j-c-penney-to-change-prices-amid-revamp.html

The plan has many features, including rolling back the number of sales. This is important, because when sales are pervasive, there's no motivation to shop at any particular time and it can get really easy to just never shop again. Known Sales (I'm thinking of the old Month End sales and White Sales, often on a particular day of the week, once or twice a month) that aren't lost in the middle of constant sales can get people in the habit of going shopping at that interval whether they need to or not, because they might find a deal. Johnson is doing something along those lines ("“best prices” promotions on the first and third Friday every month").

There has been this idea that retail which involved trying things on in person would survive the shift to shop-online/two day delivery model. I've been skeptical, but it seemed to me that there are probably people who cannot afford either dealing with the deliveries (Amazon Locker notwithstanding) and/or are not shopping at a Prime or Free Shipping price point. J C Penney's would appear to be perfectly situated to benefit from (a) national presence (b) branding (c) conservative customer base (slow to switch to a new shopping model) and (d) value proposition. Also, lots of soft goods that benefit from touch/accurate color perception and/or trying it on. This is of course ironic, given where JCP originated, but let's not go there.

"The retailer will divide entire locations into as many as 100 small shops inside stores" is a return to Old Skool (as in, gone before I was born) department stores. I'm not sure what I think about this, however, it is a pervasive retail trend (Target is going to have mini-Apple stores, Magnolia Home Theater is a Magnolia mini-store inside Best Buy, etc. see and I did that without mentioning Starbucks anywhere).

Getting Ellen Degeneres to do TV spots and roping Martha Stewart into the whole deal indicates Johnson and Morris (formerly of Target, which is where Johnson was before Apple) have identified their demographic as anyone with the taste generally associated with not-particularly-trendy-but-definitely-tasteful women of a certain age.

(If you're wondering what I mean by "of a certain age", I'm not sure, but perhaps you'll find this entertaining:

http://www.nytimes.com/1995/07/02/magazine/in-language-a-woman-of-a-certain-age.html)

Here's the thing. The very first person I ever heard of pushing to fix the whole charger fiasco was Martha Stewart. I read articles (no, I don't know where at this point) about her bringing a tote bag with her full of chargers for various electronic devices and saying, basically, hey, this needs to be fixed, NOW. I don't much care for her aesthetic, but _that_ was brilliant. If she thinks Johnson is onto something, I'm going to track down the nearest JCP and visit it in, oh, maybe three months, to see how this is coming along.

If JCP could manage to put out merch that was consistently a step nicer than Target (or, ideally, two, and maybe force Macy's to up its game) and priced to match, I would absolutely shop there.

Boo! The Google is Going to Get You!

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/01/use-google-time-to-get-real-about-protecting-your-digital-self/251981/

Recently,

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2012/01/google-doubles-plus-membership-with-brute-force-signup-process.ars

Page said Google Plus had a lot of daily users. The numbers looked a bit odd to me, but I didn't really care that much. The Ars Technica coverage was good though; it's worth reading.

My friend A. asked recently a question about making it possible for someone to send her an email from a web page, but without making her personal email public. I sent her some suggestions for setting up forwarding -- they ultimately went with a web form instead, which makes sense -- including one involving a google mail account which she said she avoided google for privacy reasons.

I have a gmail account. I even consciously set up a google plus account, mostly because a bunch of the genealogy bloggers were talking about it and I figured I should at least go eavesdrop a bit (was it worth it? Well, what do _you_ think? You're probably right.). The gmail account is my emergency-backup-I-never-use-it email account. I barely check into FB much less G+, now that I do all my gaming on mobile devices. I do use google docs (because I hate hate hate hate hate, did I mention hate? having to do backups, but I'd prefer not to lose things I care enough about to write down in an organized fashion but which are not blog material). But most of what goes into the google docs is ultimately intended for public distribution, so again, not too concerned about privacy issues.

Back to the Atlantic coverage, which triggered this screed:

"Search, browser, email. These are the most essential tools of an Internet-connected life, and for many of us, Google offers the best of breed."

"Best of breed?" Free, sure. And I do know people who think it is the pinnacle of humor to say that the best beer is free beer. But _best of breed_? Are there Chrome-fans who really think it's better than Firefox?

"Google is compiling its user data across all of its products, resulting in an omniscient, informed, one-true profile of you"

Omniscient? My primary mail is through an ISP which doesn't have a significant national presence and is located across the country from me. I use Firefox. I blog on LJ. Google has my docs and could pay attention to what I search on, and if they can come up with some coherent, useful sense of me as a person, I hope they'll tell me.

Because I sure couldn't. And the quality of recommendations that come from other sources that know a whole helluva lot more about me isn't good enough to lead me to worry about how much they know about me.

"All antitrust concerns aside, the idea that Google is introducing social filters to organize the world's information is concerning to some, and makes Eli Pariser's warnings look eerily prescient."

No. They aren't eerily prescient. They're a paranoid fantasy. When I was born, it was virtually _impossible_ to find out why someone in another part of the country thought and felt the way they did about highly polarizing issues of the day. National news was an hour or so a day on TV. Newspapers were highly regional at _best_ and often far more myopic than that. All of it was filtered through white, middle-aged, middle class _men_, most of them smokers, very few of them having any real contact with anyone substantially different from them. That was Normal. Today, if I want to know what someone somewhere else thinks and feels about something I care about, it's a google search away. And I know of no way to search on a hot button topic that is likely -- never mind guaranteed -- to show me points of view largely in agreement with my own.

"If I'm more aware of my data relationship to Google, I might think twice about entering a search term as innocuous as "incontinence" or as damning as "divorce lawyer.""

Anyone who thinks googling "divorce lawyer" is damning doesn't have a problem with google. The problem they have is much, much more serious. I've been divorced once (prior to google's existence). I've paid for someone else to get a divorce, and googled the firm to make sure they were a reasonable choice. And I've researched divorce lawyers for other people as well as looking up divorce lawyers as part of curiosity sparked by a questions that came up as a result of news coverage. Divorce is not damning. Divorce lawyers are actually not awful people as a general rule -- the ones I've interacted with have generally been diligent, personable people (distinctly unlike lawyers who do other things like estate work or paperwork for small businesses and stick a toe into a divorce to help out a client from another area).

I am in no way suggesting that people shouldn't have private lives, or should live as if the details of their lives would appear on gawker tomorrow. I'm sure no one really wants to know about the problems I have with calluses on my heels or that I pick my nose quite vigorously on occasion, much less anything that courtesy would require me to label this entry NSFW if I started writing about it.

I would be _tremendously_ embarrassed by having certain aspects of my life shared with all and sundry: it would make me feel very awkward and self-conscious. But I wouldn't be ashamed -- I wouldn't feel like I'd done something wrong.

Whatever google is doing with our data doesn't seem to me likely to trigger any embarrassment on my part, as long as the dipshits who have access to all the data for debugging purposes limit their amusement to non-public fora. Google isn't proposing to publicize whatever they think they know about me.

"Google notes that they don't share our data externally except in rare circumstances of court orders. But we know that Google's complying with 94 percent of those requests to date."

That's more interesting. N.B.: don't put your plans for committing a crime up in google docs, I guess, and don't coordinate your criminal activity via gmail. If you're hiding assets, ditto.

The author goes on to say she's going to switch back to Firefox (as well she should! Goddess what was she thinking), but I personally think she really missed out on an opportunity to explore the google-China connection. She's clearly got the right background for that discussion -- and, equally, is not in a safe place to explore it. From her bio at the top:

"Sara Marie Watson is a writer living in Chongqing, China, whose work focuses on issues related to personal data and the Internet."

Maybe when she's not living in China, she'll have something more interesting to say about the data risks associated with relying on google.

In the mean time, I really do not understand all the paranoia about google. I'm a pretty boring person, and there are hundreds of millions of similarly boring people out there using similar services. The service could know absolutely everything about me and no one would care.

Celebrities might want to stay alert, however.