Corporate organization in the modern age.

Spoke to a friend who manages a big technology group and is working on end of year evaluations. HR has set him up with a system where there are fixed percentages in each bucket e.g. %5 underperforming, 20% fair, %40 good, %20 excellent, %15 promotable or something like that. What’s remarkable is that people who come up with evaluation schemes like that are not immediately fired. Obviously, a well run group may have nobody in the 5% bucket and a bad (ordinary?) group may have everyone in that. And maybe a really good group could contribute a bunch of higher level managers and technical people? While a bad group should get no promotions at all?

This is a great example of corporate procedures that are designed to minimize work and risk for internal managers.


Most of the diplomatic messages released by Wikileaks have been traced to a US defence department network, known as Siprnet, used for the exchange of classified information, media reports say.


It is thought about 2.5 million US military and civilian personnel have access to the network.

However, Siprnet is not recommended for distribution of top-secret information.

Siprnet uses the same technology as the internet, but has dedicated and encrypted lines that are separate from all other communications systems, according to a defence department users’ guide.

The system is protected by a series of security measures, the guide adds:

  • All users must be approved and registered
  • Passwords are complex, and must be changed every 150 days
  • Only accessible from specially enabled computers in secure location
  • Computers must not be left unattended
  • No linking to civilian internet without prior approval
  • Media storage devices become classified at secret level once connected to Siprnet-enabled computers
  • Audit trail of all users, including identity of all persons accessing Siprnet

However, the guide says that technological advances in storage devices have made it easier to remove classified information from secure areas […]

It is alleged that an online security system to detect suspicious use of Siprnet was switched off on computers used by the US military in Iraq following complaints that it was inconvenient, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reports.


So you release data to 2,500,000 human beings scattered around the world and are surprised when your (expensive and annoying) security measures don’t work.


The internet as we know it

Comcast demanded a “recurring fee” from Level 3 “to transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast’scustomers who request such content,” Thomas Stortz, the chief legal officer for Level 3, said in a statement Monday afternoon, seemingly alluding to the Netflix service. The action “threatens the open Internet,” Mr. Stortz added.

Comcast did not immediately respond to the company’s claims. A spokesman for Netflix declined to comment.

The clash appeared to expose a new battleground in the delivery of Internet video. Companies like Netflix, which streams films and TV episodes to millions of paying customers, are encroaching on the terrain of incumbents like Comcast, which is eager to protect both its subscription television business and its emerging video-on-demand business

Copyright in a networked world

So I’d suggest that WIPO start examining how the copyright system might enable and support the development of robust, efficient copyright information systems that everyone – owners, users, governments, and the public – can use to facilitate frictionless transactions related to copyrighted works. There are many possible ways to accomplish this. It should be open to all kinds of legal mechanisms – such as voluntary agreements, public-private partnerships, regulations and even statutory amendments – whatever might help create systems that serve the public interest in making copyright more accessible, more sensible and more effective in the Networked World.

That ends my brief presentation to the technocrats in the room. Coming from Microsoft and being here at Stanford in the heart of Silicon Valley, let me now distill it for those of you who are not only technocrats but also techies. Looked at in terms of copyright, the Digital World was perceived as a bug. The ease of copying led to rampant infringement that harmed creators. In contrast, again looked at in terms of copyright, I submit that the Networked World should be embraced as a feature. The ability to create new works and share them with a vast audience across a multitude of platforms via a network creates great opportunity for creators.

via Lessig

And two quotes from Mark Twain.

Only one thing is impossible for God: to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.

Honesty is the best policy – when there is money in it.

Branchless banking/micro-finance and wal-mart

Two Microsoft related sites discussing something similar from very different perspectives

Only about one-quarter of households living in developing countries have any form of financial savings with formal banking institutions. Even in countries that have experienced substantial development over the last decade or two, this statistic remains stuck stubbornly at a level that would not be acceptable for any other measure of socio-economic development: 10% in Kenya, 20% in Macedonia, 25% in Mexico, 32% in Bangladesh.

Access to financial services –whether in the form of savings, credit or insurance— is a fundamental tool for managing a family’s well-being and productive capacity: to smooth expenditure when inflows are erratic (occasional work, seasonality of crops), to be able to build up purchasing power when expenditures are lumpy (school fees, buying seeds), or to protect against emergencies (natural disasters, death in the family).

But in the same way as access to clean water is more than being able to buy a bottle of water, access to finance is more than being able to get the occasional loan. Much like the national grid, access to finance really involves being connected to a national payments system. Once I have a transactional account in a “payment grid”, I can receive and repay loans, save up and withdraw from a savings account, and use the proceeds to pay for what I need. This transactional account gives me a financial history, and is the basis from which I can manage my financial life.

Ignacio Mas

But imagine for a moment if the world’s biggest retailer put the pricing squeeze on one of the world’s more profitable businesses: financial services. Who would pay the price? Perhaps:

  • Mortgage lenders who surprise their borrowers with last-minute junk fees.
  • Banks that nickel and dime their small account holders to death.
  • Auto lenders who add discriminatory surcharges on loans to black and Hispanic buyers.
  • Credit card companies that use every excuse to jack up rates.
  • Check cashers and payday lenders that levy usurious charges on their customers.

Wal-Mart’s relentless push for ever-lower prices has revolutionized retailing and is sometimes even credited for helping to keep U.S. inflation low. It’s not hard to make the leap into imagining the retailer bringing similar price discipline to an industry grown fat on escalating rates and fees. (Fee income now comprises half of banks’ total income, according to investment banker R.K. Hammer.)

Liz Weston at MSM money


They also offer M-PESA services. There is already a queue outside. A group of about twenty villagers are crowding the entrance. “It is always like this,” the shop-keeper complains while pointing to the crowd. “Since we have become M-PESA agents we have no time to rest. This thing has even over-run our other business”. He then holds up a packet of sugar. “We have not sold any sugar in months. They only want M-PESA”. Not just the Bukura agent has seen a great demand for M-PESA services. Since its introduction in March of 2007, the M-PESA application has had great success all over Kenya. There are currently over 2.3 million registered users. Over 18 Billion Ksh had been moved through the system, via person-to-person transfers.

from Jim Rosenberg at CGAP

Airbus computer and electrical problems

Whoops! From Aviation Week

According to a bulletin issued by the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), an electrical fault led to a series of display and control problems. These included the intermittent failure of both pilots’ electronic displays and the uncommanded application of left rudder trim.  [..] The crew also reported hearing “chattering” from the circuit breaker panels. During the incident the crew flew the A321 manually, referring to the standby instruments which continued tofunction normally. The problem was rectified after the crew switched off the No. 1 generator in response to an ‘ELEC GEN 1 FAULT’ message on the Airbus’s ECAM warning display, says the AAIB. The cause has been traced to an electrical problem and the AAIB says that Airbus indicates that a reset of the Flight Augmentation Computer, caused by an electrical power interruption, can result in incremental offsets in rudder trim.

Free and Open Source Licenses

Interesting discussion here.

But many FOSS-based transactions are not commercial in the foregoing sense. Instead, software subject to a FOSS license may come into a product without the producer knowing that this has happened or, in any realistic way, assenting to the terms. Also, the software often comes from a non-commercial party. An engineer downloads software from an academic’s site and uses part or all of it in the company’s newest product. This is fine if one of the truly free, non-restrictive licenses is involved, but it creates potential havoc where one of the falsely labeled free but more restrictive licenses purportedly governs.

I’m certainly not an advocate of free software, but if you are going to take other people’s work and put it into your product, you should try to get permission. No?

Once I got a very angry email from an engineer who was an advocate of free software.  Well I got a lot of those, but while this particular one contained the usual explanation that our use of patents and copyright – for our own work – was grossly immoral and unethical and so on, it came from a company that I had noticed in the USPTO web pages. I wrote back, noting that his employer was a significant filer of software patents. “Yes” he replied, “but we’re a commercial company”.

Sam Johnson, once said “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money“.  To me, a lot of the complexity of software licensing is due to a kind of falseness about who gets what. The engineer who downloads someone else’s code should see what limits are placed on his or her use of the code. Just because software was written by an amateur or a student or a teacher (or a small business ), doesn’t mean it belongs to whoever wants it. In our world, everyone is commercial to some extent.

Corporate Law and Programming State of the Art

Big companies that want to use our software but don’t want to use our standard EULA keep sending proposed sales contracts that include a really peculiar provision. The provision asks us to guarantee, to represent, to warrant and all that stuff something which everyone knows is false: that our software has zero bugs or errors. So now I need a disclaimer: this is just some ruminating, no offers to sell, representations about anything, warranty or representation, no pledges, no sacred trusts or secular trusts, no nothing is promised here – and I’m talking strictly for myself, not for any company, union, secret society, religion, political party, or other institution or group of any sort.

They are not asking us to say we don’t know of any problems or that we have made efforts to limit them, they are asking us to guarantee as a matter of contract that our code is perfect. Our software is pretty good. It’s tested well beyond what we see as the industry norm, written by experts, and designed to be testable and rugged. But it’s not perfect. In fact I cannot imagine a single type of engineering for which such a guarantee makes sense.

There is a good reason why the Deming Wheel is a wheel and not a straight line: quality is an iterative process. Engineering is hard. Software engineering suffers from both the staggering complexity of software objects and the immaturity of the field. It’s worth another post on why software is so tough a problem – to me, it seems to be more about the complexity of the interfaces than anything else. We have deliberately designed and developed so that an upfront investment in quality can reduce support and modification costs.  And experience validates the method. But free of errors?  That’s a ridiculous demand, but an interesting one

What prompts the demand for guarantee of zero defects? It’s easy to suppose that ignorance is the cause, but that seems dubious because you’d think ignorance like that would be rapidly corrected. It may just be a pure power play by big companies who want to be able to hold a threat over vendors, but my sunny nature makes it hard for me to imagine that people are so nasty – well, it may be true. A third, more likely possibility is that the demand is a symptom of the disordered incentives of large firms. The interest of the firm is to balance closing the deal rapidly, with getting a good price, and with avoiding legal risks and the risk of vendors who might fail to deliver or make unreasonable demands once the firm becomes dependent on the product.  But the incentives for the people who generate and negotiate contracts in a big firm often are weighted only on the last risks. If the deal happens and the vendor disappears after entangling the purchaser in an ugly IP lawsuit (and how often does that happen?), the people who structured the deal for the purchaser will look bad. But if the deal never happens or takes a long time or bloats costs, they can’t be blamed. Indeed, for the outside counsel generally brought in to this type of deal, that means billable hours and no risk at all. So the part of the business that actually carries out the core functions of the firm becomes weighted down with people who have every incentive to prevent them from succeeding. This seems to happen in many large firms where internal signals drown out any data about customers, revenue, and all that other minor stuff.