The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Not sure that's a bad thing...

I just saw a comment on a review site listing the following as a "con" for a particular Web-based product:

I really feel like this company doesn't fix problems that only affect a couple of customers. Instead they prioritize fixes that affect the whole system and only fix specific problems when they have time.

Yes. Also, you might be interested to learn that businesses try to make profits by selling things for more than it cost to obtain them.

On behalf of the company in question—a small business in Chicago whose principal constituents are non-profit organizations with budgets under $1m—you're either new to this whole "commerce" thing or you have a magnificently droll sense of humor. Either way, good day to you, sir. I said good day!

Friday afternoon link round-up

While I'm trying to figure out how to transfer one database to another, I'm putting these aside for later reading:

Back to database analysis and design...

Dev Bootcamp shutting down

The Tribune reported yesterday that Dev Bootcamp, an immersive software-development school, is shutting down after their next class graduates in December:

Dev Bootcamp’s final cohort will start classes this month and graduate in December. Campuses officially close on Dec. 8, according to the email, signed by Dev Bootcamp President Tarlin Ray. Graduating students will also get “at least six months of career support,” the letter said.

“(D)espite tremendous efforts from a lot of talented people, we’ve determined that we simply can’t achieve a sustainable business model without compromising our mission of delivering a high-quality coding education that is accessible to a diverse population of students,” the letter said.

Dev Bootcamp was never profitable, Nishimura said. The Kaplan acquisition [in 2014] gave Dev Bootcamp flexibility, but ultimately, faced with the prospect of cutting back full-time instructors and raising tuition, the company decided to shut down.

I have four co-workers who have ties to Dev Bootcamp, including one who wrote parts of the curriculum. They report that Kaplan's aggressive expansion into markets outside Chicago and San Francisco drew resources away from existing programs, driving students and faculty away. For example, one intriguing offering, "Engineering Empathy," which sought to teach budding coders how to work on teams and with clients, got cut during the rapid-expansion phase.

The three alumni in my office are some of the best coders I've ever met. So I'm sorry to see Dev Bootcamp go. I hope that in future someone creates a program as effective as theirs.

Trump-proofing your company

Last week's Economist had a semi-serious "letter from the CEO" on Plan C:

When I left the White House yesterday, after another two-hour round-table with the president, I knew in my gut that it was time to put in place “plan C” for this great company. The boxer, Mike Tyson, had a point when he said “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” But so did Winston Churchill when he observed that “plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” We owe it to our investors, customers and 131,000 employees globally, to have a reset.

It is now clear that dysfunction at the White House and in Congress means plan B is off the table. The markets agree. Sure, equity prices are still up. But after the election, bond yields soared in anticipation of an economic boom, only to give up half of their gains. The “Trump Bump” has faded. Yet life won’t return to normal. Our firm faces many risks. We have to fight back.

That calls for plan C, which has three elements: winning, tackling and the future. I like to use the acronym “WTF”. For a start we have to win profits from our proximity to power.

But plan C also requires us to recognise new dangers coming at us hard and fast. They need to be tackled—stopped and brought down. One of the Wall Street bankers I know likes to say that the president has three personalities: chairman, showman and con man. It is the last two we need to worry about.

If companies are thinking anything like this columnist believes, we should expect economic stagnation for the next couple of years.

Certified Independent Craft Beer?

A group of 800 breweries—including Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada—has joined an initiative to differentiate their brands from the big guys:

The initiative, which was spearheaded by the trade group for independent craft brewers, is intended to differentiate "true" craft beers from those made by the likes of MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch and Heineken.

To qualify to use the seal, breweries cannot be more than 25% owned or controlled by any alcohol company that's not itself a craft brewer. Its annual production also can't exceed 6 million barrels.

Distribution contracts frequently allow major beer brands to dictate where their beer is placed on shelves, for instance. And Big Beer has successfully driven independent beers out of some stadiums, music venues and chain restaurants by asking distributors to stock their craft brands instead of independents.

Brewers say these concerns have only been exacerbated by Big Beer's incursion into craft. The acquisition of independent breweries, they argue, has eroded the few advantages the indies had: higher-quality beers in different styles and a cooler, vastly less corporate brand.

Since 2011, Anheuser-Busch has bought Goose Island, Blue Point, Karbach, Golden Road, Devil's Backbone, Elysian, Ten Barrel, Breckenridge, Four Peaks and Wicked Weed. MillerCoors now owns Terrapin; Heineken has Lagunitas; and Constellation owns Ballast Point Brewery.

We'll see how this initiative fares. Most of the beer I drink qualifies as independent, but Lagunitas still makes some pretty good brews.

Google's Project Zero for laypeople

Via Bruce Schneier (again), Fortune takes a look at Google's security project:

Google officially formed Project Zero in 2014, but the group’s origins stretch back another five years. It often takes an emergency to drive most companies to take security seriously. For Google, that moment was Operation Aurora.

In 2009, a cyberespionage group associated with the Chinese government hacked Google and a number of other tech titans, breaching their servers, stealing their intellectual property, and attempting to spy on their users. The pillaging outraged Google’s top executives—enough so that the company eventually exited China, the world’s biggest market, over the affair.

The event particularly bothered Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Computer-forensics firms and investigators determined that the company had been hacked not through any fault of Google’s own software, but via an unpatched flaw in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6. Why, he wondered, should Google’s security depend on other companies’ products?

Says Schneier,

I have mixed feeling about it. The project does great work, and the Internet has benefited enormously from these efforts. But as long as it is embedded inside Google, it has to deal with accusations that it targets Google competitors.

On the other hand, as Schneier's commenters point out (and as he has suggested in the past), better Google exposing the bugs than the NSA losing control of them.

And then there was one

Sears, which CEO Eddie Lampert has very nearly murdered, will have only one retail store left in its home town Chicago this fall:

Sears Holdings Corp. is closing 20 more stores, including a Sears in Chicago's Galewood neighborhood, in mid-September.

Those closings — including 18 Sears and two Kmart stores — follow 150 stores Hoffman Estates-based Sears shuttered in the first quarter of this year and another 66 expected to close by early September.

The latest 20 are among the 235 locations Sears sold to its real estate investment trust spinoff, Seritage Growth Properties, in 2015. Seritage reported the closings in an SEC filing Friday.

Remember, Lampert is destroying the greatest retailer in American history so he can sell its parts for scrap. When historians write about this era centuries from now, Lampert will be regarded as we think of Nero. But as a nihilist Ayn Rand disciple, he really doesn't care.

We're #16!

Real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield has published a list of the top-25 tech cities in the U.S. It turns out, we're not Silicon Valley:

The report’s authors analyzed data from a variety of sources to measure factors such as universities, capital, talent and high-growth companies. The authors evaluated the cities on the potential for tech to affect the commercial real estate business, they wrote in the report.

Chicago’s overall rank, No. 16, placed it behind Portland and New York and ahead of Atlanta and Los Angeles. The authors addressed the low rankings of the country’s two largest cities in a release, saying New York faced a historic lack of engineers — which may change as investment in local universities and tech schools increases — and that Los Angeles’ economy is too diverse for tech to be a driving factor. They wrote that Seattle, home to tech giants Microsoft and Amazon, is likely the biggest competitor to the Bay Area.

The percentage of Chicago’s workforce made up of tech workers is also relatively low compared to other tech cities on the list, at about 5 percent. That places Chicago just behind Indianapolis and just ahead of New York, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Moody’s Analytics. Compare that to Silicon Valley, where more than 27.4 percent are tech workers.

We're still living in the Greatest City in North America. But as far as tech goes, we're a little behind the Bay Area, Boston, and Raleigh-Durham.

WaPo on the imminent demise of Sears

Washington Post retail reporter Sarah Halzack reviews the history of Sears and how it's done the last few years:

Decades of missed opportunities have brought Sears to this. It lost its focus with ventures into Discover credit cards and Coldwell Banker real estate in an attempt to diversify. Then big boxes such as Home Depot and Best Buy chipped away at lucrative product niches. But maybe the biggest whiff: Executives knew as far back as the early 1990s that they had to wean Sears off its dependency on shopping malls — but its many forays into other store formats never quite worked.

As e-commerce moves toward its golden age, Sears is an also-ran.

In this war of attrition, chief executive Edward S. Lampert has said, “We’re fighting like hell.” Lampert, a controversial hedge fund billionaire, has invested heavily in bolstering Sears’s Internet business but has let the retail stores languish. He’s now propping up the company with loans and other feats of financial engineering — moves that may soften his landing if the chain fails.

Halzack summarizes Sears' history well enough but has a lot more sympathy towards Lampert than I do. She acknowledges that Lampert has structured the company so that his own exit will be lucrative, but she says nothing about his management practices and personal outlook that suggest this was his plan all along.

Don't push that button!

British Airways cancelled all of its flights out of its two biggest hubs in London today because of a power-supply failure:

The airline hoped to be able to operate some long haul inbound flights on Saturday, landing in London on Sunday, Mr Cruz added.

The GMB union has suggested the failure could have been avoided, had the airline not outsourced its IT work.

BA refuted the claim, saying: "We would never compromise the integrity and security of our IT systems".

All passengers affected by the failure - which coincides with the first weekend of the half-term holiday for many in the UK - will be offered the option of rescheduling or a refund.

The airline, which had previously said flights would be cancelled until 18:00 BST, has now cancelled all flights for Saturday and asked passengers not to come to Gatwick or Heathrow airports.

Some things never change.