Microsoft stores?

I don’t get the logic of Microsoft stores, either standalone or inside BestBuy locations:

Microsoft today announced a strategic partnership with Best Buy and Future Shop. The company plans to build Windows Stores in 500 Best Buy locations across the US and more than 100 Best Buy and Future Shop locations in Canada, launching from late June through September.

This seems more like a case of “Look how successful Apple is. We should do that too.” than a well thought out strategy.

Apple sells a variety of consumer driven products in their stores, and in other retail stores like BestBuy. Someone who purchases an iPod is also a likely purchaser of iPod accessories, an iPhone, iPad, or even a MacBook. The audience is generally the same for all of their products. This similar audience has drive huge follow on sales.

That isn’t true of Microsoft though. You can already buy WIndows PCs, which are not made by Microsoft, as well as Microsoft software, in stores already. But Microsoft wants to lump products like the Surface tablets and the XBox together.

I’d argue that the audiences for these two products alone are very different. And XBox purchaser already has no problem purchasing XBox pretty much anywhere, even someplace like WalMart. But they are not likely the target audience for the Surface tablet. And Microsoft has not phone or music player solution of their own.

So I just don’t see the point of spending money on creating stores where customers can see things they likely wouldn’t ever buy lumped together with things they can already find everywhere else. Does Microsoft really believe that this will help to generate a retail bonanza?

If it were my choice, I would suggest that they create commercials that actually show people working and playing with the Surface tablets, and not just dancing around on tables with them.

Nothing to see here. Move along folks.

I’ve noted the standstill in warming of the earth recently. Even the New York Times had to admit it today:

The rise in the surface temperature of earth has been markedly slower over the last 15 years than in the 20 years before that. And that lull in warming has occurred even as greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere at a record pace.

They even referred to it as global warming. The models don’t explain this at all. They predict increasing warming. But they explain it away with some weasel words:

To the contrary, in a climate system still dominated by natural variability, there is every reason to think the warming will proceed in fits and starts.

Ah yes, the lull is just an example of fits and starts. They throw in a few more possibilities just for good measure, but the conclusion is simple:

So, if past is prologue, this current plateau will end at some point, too, and a new era of rapid global warming will begin.

So we can’t explain what is happening with the climate. We don’t know why warming has stopped. But even though the best scientists admit they just don’t know, the conclusion is “Trust us, it’s gonna get warmer”.

I long for the forgotten days of yesteryear in science, when you actually had to prove your hypothesis in the real world, and not by tweaking a few parameters in a model that doesn’t really model anything.

Taxes by any other name.

The city of Kitchener, Canada has been overcharging its citizens for natural gas:

In that period of time Union Gas, the main private-sector competitor for Kitchener Utilities, charged rates very close to the market rate.

“But our rate averaged out to 90 per cent higher,” Gazzola said.

Last year the city utility’s rate was 125 per cent higher than the average market rate, he said.

That isn’t the overcharging I’m referring to though. This is what I am talking about:

Kitchener is one of only two municipalities in Ontario that retained ownership of its natural-gas distribution company. Kingston is the other one. The local utility pumps millions of dollars into city coffers every year.

Some of that money is used to keep property taxes down and fund the operating costs of the city network of community centres. The revenues from the utility were used to pay for the massive clean up of a large coal tar deposit under the area of Joseph and Gaukel streets several years ago.

The gas utility is intentionally overcharging citizens for natural gas and turning it over to the city. That’s just taxation by another name, and taxation without representation too, because citizens do not get a vote in the operation of the utility. Kitchener isn’t the only one either; the other local cities do this with their electric utilities too:

City councils have hiked rates while spending more than $149 million in electricity cash to build a new City Hall in Cambridge, pay RIM Park debt in Waterloo and build the Kingsdale Community Centre in Kitchener, among other projects.

Next time these municipalities complain about needing more money for the infrastructure deficit, let’s remember that they are already picking our pockets in numerous ways that they don’t like to refer to as “taxes”, but they are taking the money just the same. But the infrastructure deficit doesn’t seem to be improving.

Others need not apply.

The city of Kitchener, Canada wants to rebrand itself Start-up City, and as a means to revitalize its downtown it plans to offer grants of up to $40,000 to tech startups to locate downtown:

The City of Kitchener wants to brand itself Start-up City and the neighbourhoods within a 15-minute walk of Queen and Victoria streets — the future site of a new central transit station — as the Innovation District.

The city’s latest proposal to support startups in the downtown — grants of up to $40,000 each. If the plan is approved by councillors later this year it will be too late to help Litt and Vidyard, but he loves the idea anyway.

I’m in tech myself and, while this is a nice idea, I have to disagree with it on principle. It creates two classes of companies; tech startups versus everyone else.

If someone wants to open a retail store in downtown Kitchener, whether it be selling shoes or sandwiches, they get nothing. But decide to write a mobile app and the city will throw cash at you. Mind you, these are also companies with the potential to attract millions in venture capital funding, not available to the shoe store or sandwich shop.

These companies have decided to locate here and not someplace like Silicon Valley because the costs are FAR lower:

Lake said Thalmic Labs located in Kitchener because operating costs are much higher in Silicon Valley. Engineers are paid twice as much there because of competition from Google, Facebook, Apple and Yahoo! It can easily cost $2,500-a-month for a one-bedroom apartment. Employee turnover in Silicon Valley can be 30 per cent a year.

Since they are already saving so much money it seems patently unreasonable to me to be taking money from the shoe store, the sandwich shops, or local residents to give to a single type of business as a grant. A low or no interest loan perhaps, but not a grant. The city needs to treat local businesses equally.

One really interesting side note in the article is something I’ve been saying for years. We don’t need a crosstown LRT. We desperately need fast, frequent rail service to Toronto, similar to the BART service available between Silicon Valley and San Francisco:

“Geographically we are the same distance from Toronto as parts of the valley from San Francisco, but we just don’t have that direct transportation link they have down there,” Lake said.

Lake is supported by Klugman, who said: “When we look long-term down the road, that train in and out of Toronto is the key missing piece in the equation right now.”

So why don’t we just take that $818 million dollars for the LRT and improve rail transit to Toronto instead?

 

“The NSA routinely lies…”

A whistleblower has come forward in the story of the NSA collecting the personal data of American citizens:

The source of a series of top secret leaks from the National Security Agency has stepped out of the shadows and identified himself as ex-CIA technical assistant Edward Snowden, saying he was standing up against the U.S. government’s “horrifying” surveillance capabilities.

His best comment is this one:

Snowden claims that the documents he has leaked show that the NSA “routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America.

I wonder if this will cause anyone in congress to start asking questions about what the government is really doing when it comes to the personal information of American citizens.

At some point will the government start to respect the Constitution?

This story doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

You mean they lied?

A couple of days ago the Washington Post broke a story about PRISM, an NSA data gathering operation which nine top internet companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and others) were giving the government access to all of their – I mean your – data:

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

Those companies immediately denied that, all using virtually identical wording.

It seems that the denials were merely word games for effect. They lied. They are cooperating with the NSA and giving them access to the data:

The companies that negotiated with the government include Google, which owns YouTube; Microsoft, which owns Hotmail and Skype; Yahoo; FacebookAOLApple; and Paltalk, according to one of the people briefed on the discussions. The companies were legally required to share the data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. People briefed on the discussions spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited by law from discussing the content of FISA requests or even acknowledging their existence.

Keep in mind when you make data of any kind available on any kind of online service, you lose control of it. And  apparently the claims of the companies and the Fourth Amendment mean nothing either.

 

Dinner. And a show.

After dinner at Thrive Juice Bar this evening my wife and I decided to stop by our local liquor store to pick up a couple of bottles of wine. We live in a relatively quiet part of town so we really didn’t expect anything untoward. Yet when we arrived we were greeted by the sight of two police officers escorting two young men out of the liquor store in handcuffs.  It seems that they might have been a bit inebriated. Which leads me to the thought – if you’re already drunk why do you need to go to the liquor store?

Who says there’s nothing to do on a Saturday night in Waterloo?

Transparency. A word that means nothing.

The New York City Comptroller’s office thinks that transparency is important enough that they built an entire platformCheckbook NYC – to allow citizens to see what the city is spending and how. The platform is now open source and available for other governments to use.

That’s transparency.

Contrast that with the provincial government of Ontario, Canada. They cancelled some power plants to save a few electoral seats in ridings where they might otherwise lose. In order to prevent the public from knowing the costs of those cancellations they deleted emails. They went further. They actually inquired how to permanently delete email backups:

It is difficult to decide which was more ill-advised: a chief of staff to the energy minister violating provincial law by indiscriminately deleting all the e-mails he sent and received, or a chief of staff to former premier Dalton McGuinty going to the head of the Ontario Public Service shortly before power was handed over to Kathleen Wynne, and inquiring as to how one might go about permanently deleting electronic records.

When you preemptively inquire about permanent deletion of information, you pretty much telegraph your intent to do so. We’re not talking about a few dollars here; we’re talking about hundreds of millions. These people may use the word transparent, but perhaps they don’t know what it means. More likely, they just don’t care.

There’s been a scandal going on in the Canadian senate too. Some senators improperly claimed housing allowances or expenses. The numbers are smaller; in the hundreds of thousands. It amazes me though, no company would ever let me get away with claiming expenses without documentation to back them up, but the government seems to have no problem with paying per diem expenses without the need for receipts. Why are the simplest checks and balances that every company on earth uses not used for public service?

Everything is electronic these days. There is no reason at all why governments can’t be completely transparent on everything they spend and how. There is no reason why public servants should not be subject to the same kind of cost controls that any private company would use.

Unless of course, despite all of their protests about wanting to be transparent, they really just don’t want to be bothered. After all, it isn’t their money.

Politicians seemingly went into this to help their fellow citizens. At what point do they become corrupted by the system and completely lose sight of that goal? At what point does transparency cease to matter? At what point does it become ok to violate the law to avoid transparency?

I am not a lawyer but…

…isn’t this a violation of the Fourth Amendment?

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largesttelecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The Fourth Amendment says:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Since the order demands all telephone calls, this can’t be a probable cause situation, and the place, persons and things are basically unlimited, as opposed to being described.

Now when President Bush did this, the media were apoplectic. Yes President Obama has carried on with the process and this is the first we are hearing about it.

I know this is always justified as necessary to fight terror. I’m just wondering at what point the government remembers the Constitution. After all, as Benjamin Franklin said:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I wear a Jawbone UP to track my steps and sleep patterns. Some may find that odd, but I find it useful, especially from a fitness point of view (when the UP works – I’ve had three out of four die). But I think we’ve seriously gone one step too far when we think about tracking the steps our pets take:

Whistle, a startup that makes a wearable tracking device for dogs, wants to help. This summer, it plans to start shipping a $99.95 metal disc that affixes to a standard collar, and promises to go for 10 days on a single charge.

[...]

Owners can then chart their Whistle-wearing dogs’ daily minutes spent walking, playing and resting, as detected by an accelerometer and displayed on a free Whistle iPhone app.

You can certainly argue that pets can’t speak for themselves so this could provide an indication of potential problems. My dog and cat sleep all day, so I’m not sure how beneficial this would be though. And they see pretty vocal when they have a problem anyway.