Monthly Archives: March 2018

Facebook’s Short-Term PR Has Longer-Term Consequences

23 March 2018

From Medium:

In her eye-opening piece this week, The Guardian’s SF reporter Olivia Solon opens the curtain on the draconian efforts by Google, Facebook and others to muzzle their employees from speaking publicly about their company’s doings.

Aptly titled “‘They’ll squash you like a bug’: how Silicon Valley keeps a lid on leakers,” Ms. Solon opens with one employee’s tale of his performance review meeting when he was ushered into a room and ambushed by Facebook’s security team armed with incriminating evidence of private correspondences he had had with a journalist he knew.

“It’s horrifying how much they know,” he told the Guardian, on the condition of anonymity. “You go into Facebook and it has this warm, fuzzy feeling of ‘we’re changing the world’ and ‘we care about things’. But you get on their bad side and all of a sudden you are face to face with [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg’s secret police.”

As with any publicly traded company, the importance of controlling material information is crucial. Virtually all centralize their external communications through their PR and IR departments, working alongside legal and the C-suite. On top of that, nearly all have clear employee policies dictating what’s acceptable and what’s not on social media. The New York Times, whose reportorial staff is not shy about weighing in on Twitter, just made news by updating its guidelines:

“In social media posts, our journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.”

. . . .

Over the weekend, Facebook’s security guy Alex Stamos thought it was a good idea to opine on Facebook’s latest dilemma wherein a conservative billionaire-funded company Cambridge Analytica hired a Russian professor in the UK to abscond with the personal data of 50 million (!) Facebook users and weaponize it to denigrate one and elevate the other Presidential candidate.

. . . .

I therefore would have to wager that Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg not only had advance knowledge these initiatives, but purposely dispatched Messrs. Goldman and Stamos — the company’s ad and security leads, respectively — to tweet about them in a well-intentioned, but ill-conceived effort to set the record straight.

And therein lies Facebook’s PR problem. Rather than get out ahead of this potentially reputation-damaging news, the company waited until the news was upon them before taking remedial action. The lede from Axios sums it up:

“Facebook was caught flat-footed again Saturday as it scrambled to deal…”

You can see this short-sighted PR approach again with the company’s decisionto suspend Cambridge Analytica from its platform. Good move, right?

Link to the rest at Medium

PG says it’s an unwritten article of faith in Silicon Valley that the founders and early participants in major tech companies are the smartest people in the world. The chief evidence of this intelligence is the success of the companies they started.

Of course, this is silly. Very smart people can make stupid mistakes and do so all the time. In addition to intelligence, luck may also be involved, particularly in the early success of a company that has experienced rapid growth.

The other problem is that a great deal of intelligence is domain-specific. The genius programmer with no social skills is not hard to locate in any tech company ghetto. The genius programmer with some social skills has risen to the top of more than one successful enterprise.

The recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica disaster certainly came out of left field for Facebook’s management. However, competently-managed large and valuable companies understand that left field exists and that preparation for an intelligent response to surprises is one of management’s responsibilities.

Facebook has over 25,000 employees. Starbucks has over 250,000 employees. Each of these companies is going to have employees who leak company secrets. The difference is that nobody cares very much about Starbucks’ secrets.

Despite all the non-disclosure agreements in the world, some current and former employees of Facebook are going to talk about what happens inside the company. Trying to discover who these people are is a reasonable response, but it’s far from the most important response to leakers. (And if Facebook employed the smartest people in the world, corporate security would never be able to track down who the inside leaker was.)

The most important response is to be prepared with an honest and proactive explanation of whatever the subject of the leak is. Plus actively working with any press organization that is covering the story. Pulling up the drawbridge is pretty much the worst thing a company can do. It’s an indication of management failure.

By now, regular visitors to TPV are wondering how this relates to books and authors.

One of the ways in which Amazon is an extraordinary company is that it has never experienced the type of negative media storm that Facebook is having and that is something a great many large companies experience.

The Seattle Times and others have tried to create some exposés, but they haven’t really gained much traction in terms of having any real impact on Amazon’s finances. A great many people are currently deleting their Facebook accounts or vowing to stop posting, but PG is not aware of any big bumps in Amazon’s revenue growth arising from stories about exhausting work in Amazon’s warehouses.

Amazon was ranked #2 in Fortune magazine’s 2018 list of the world’s most admired companies (Apple was #1).

Amazon had the same #2 rank in the 2017 list. It was ranked #3 in 2016, #4 in 2015, #2 in 2014 and #3 in 2013.

Facebook did not rank in the top 10 during any of those years despite having one of the highest market capitalizations of any company in the world and close to 100% name recognition.

Although Amazon has impressive technical chops (Amazon Web Services; what is almost certainly the best product recommendation system in the world), Bezos isn’t much like a typical tech CEO. After college, he worked at a telecommunications startup, a bank and a hedge fund before starting Amazon.

Amazon also avoids at least some Silicon Valley groupthink because it’s not located in Silicon Valley. PG understands Bezos initially funded the company out of his own pocket and from friends and family and turned down a venture capital investment, a decision which permitted him to personally control the company’s early business decisions.

It wasn’t until Amazon’s first book-sales website was up and generating increasing profitable sales each month that he accepted a small no-strings investment from a venture fund. PG thinks Bezos’ financial smarts helped keep Amazon away from the types of unwise management decisions that VC’s can force on a small tech company.

None of this guarantees that Amazon won’t someday make a Facebook-style screwup, but PG would bet against it.



Book claims Prince Charles is a capricious spendthrift obsessed with public opinion

23 March 2018

From The Guardian:

An unauthorised new biography of Prince Charles paints a picture of a capricious man who is obsessed with the public’s opinion of him, whose lavish spending reveals a royal utterly divorced from the life of ordinary people.

According to Tom Bower’s Rebel Prince, published on Thursday by William Collins, Charles once “shrieked” and “trembled” at the sight of an unknown plastic substance covering his dinner, only to be told “It’s cling film, darling,” by Camilla. On another occasion, Bower claims the prince brought his own mattress, toilet seat, Kleenex Velvet toilet paper and two “landscapes of the Scottish Highlands” when visiting a friend in north-east England.

The biography also alleges that Charles took a trip on the royal train from Highgrove to Penrith to visit a pub, a journey that cost £18,916; at another time, the prince reportedly complained in his journal after flying Club Class to Hong Kong in a chartered British Airway plane: “It took me some time to realise … that this was not first class (!) although it puzzled me as to why the seat seemed so uncomfortable. Such is the end of Empire, I sighed to myself.”

. . . .

Charles’ army of employees – Bowers claims that he has more than 120 staff – include three footmen to escort visitors to his office, “each responsible for a short segment of corridor”; four valets to help him change his clothes up to five times a day; four gardeners who “lie flat, nose down on a trailer” to hand pluck weeds, because of the prince’s hatred of pesticides; and “retired Indian servicemen … deployed to prowl through the undergrowth at night with torches and handpick slugs from the plants of leaves”. According to Bower, the prince has arrived at functions with his own pre-mixed martinis carried by a police officer, with an aide delivering a bag containing the food he would eat.

. . . .

In the wake of Diana’s death, writes Bower, Charles was “paralysed by guilt”, chanting: “They’re all going to blame me, aren’t they? The world’s going to go completely mad.”

His portrait is of a man discontent with his lot. “Even my office is not the right temperature. Why do I have to put up with this? It makes my life so unbearable,” the prince is quoted as saying to an assistant. Bower quotes one friend describing Charles as “an Olympian whinger”; Charles himself is quoted as saying in 2004: “Nobody knows what utter hell it is to be Prince of Wales.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG does not, of course, have much of an understanding of how residents of the UK view Prince Charles, but, as an American, his most common reaction to news items he reads or views about the Prince is to cringe.

US television and cable networks seem almost always to have a fictionalized history of British royalty running – The Crown, The Queen, and Victoria come immediately to mind. PG thinks we understand it’s not always easy to be Queen, King, Duke of Windsor or Prince of Wales.

However, as a descendant of British colonists (plus some Dutch colonists and Swedish settlers), PG has a general hope that the British monarch will be an admirable person. Queen Elizabeth has certainly fulfilled that wish and done so for a very long time.

On the other hand, Prince Charles has very little to recommend him in this American’s eyes. The Princess Di episode fixed an impression of Charles in the minds of many Americans that is unlikely to be replaced or significantly modified. If Queen Elizabeth is a good argument for the continuation of the monarchy’s role in Britain’s affairs, Charles is Exhibit A in the the case for abolition or substantial diminution.

However, PG supposes things could be worse. If Prince Charles is regularly cringe-worthy, Americans currently have a President who outdoes Charles on an almost daily basis, regardless of one’s opinion of the quality of Mr. Trump’s policies.

Long live the Queen!

7 Books About Different Writing Lives

23 March 2018

From Electric Lit:

Jenny Boully’s Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life begins with a preface about J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, who is described as “betwixt and between.” She likens Peter’s liminality to her own experience as a writer and the duality of writing about life and writing as a way of living. Her collection is a testament to this between-ness: it’s not quite a guide to writing, but it’s not wholly memoiric.

. . . .

She compares writing to witchcraft, to violent weather, to a sacred place, to kissing. She likens love to moveable type and rough drafts. She’s fascinated by interiority — hidden lives, imagined experiences. These stories cover everything from opera to Roland Barthes to outer space to gardening.

. . . .

Boully’s collection reminds us that there is a story not just on the pages we produce, but for every phase of our writing life, and for every genre, voice and style we pursue. Craft guides don’t teach us all we will go through as writers. We find advice, guidance and support in a wide range of spaces, and rarely do they include the phrase “How To”.

. . . .

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle’s place as a Christian writer is fraught — she believed strongly in the concept of universal salvation, which earned her rebuke from Christian bookstores and libraries, yet at the time of publication, many critics found her books too religious. In Walking On Water, L’Engle probes what it means to be a writer who is also a Christian, while eschewing many of the traits people associate with Christian writers. It’s a book written from a particular and religious place, but as welcoming and universal as her fiction.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

A short story is a different thing

23 March 2018

A short story is a different thing all together – a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.

Stephen King

Insect Photographer Sues Pest Control Company for $2.7 Million

23 March 2018

From Petapixel:

A well-known insect photographer has filed a $2.7 million copyright infringement lawsuit against a pest-control company. He accuses the businesses of using his photos without permission on its website.

Alex Wild is the curator of entomology at the University of Texas-Austin, and his photos have been featured everywhere from the Smithsonian to National Geographic. He allows schools and non-profits to use his photos for free or at discounted rates, but he strictly enforces his copyright when it comes to for-profit uses.

Wild’s website states that his photos can generally be licensed for between $40 and $400 per image, and there are warnings about infringing upon his copyright. Wild shared his copyright enforcement strategy here at PetaPixel back in 2015.

Courthouse News Service reports that Wild filed a copyright infringement lawsuit last month in federal court against Innova Supply, which does business as Solutions Pest and Lawn.

Wild says that after he came across the company using 10 of his insect photos without permission on its website, he had a lawyer send a cease-and-desist letter in February 2017. After that letter was ignored, Wild’s attorney sent a second letter the following month.

. . . .

“I received your letter and did my research into it,” [pest control company CEO] Colander wrote. “It does look like one of our outsourced content writers was taking images off Google. Internally we have a company Shutterstock account and policy of using only that. I am working on getting them all removed.”

But when Wild checked the website months later in January 2018, he found that the 10 photos had not been removed. What’s more, he discovered another 8 of his images being used without permission.

. . . .

Wild then decided to sue the company, seeking statutory damages of $150,000 — the maximum allowed for photos registered with the US Copyright Office — for each of the 18 infringements for a total of $2,700,000.

Link to the rest at Petapixel

PG says indie authors should be careful with the artists they use for their covers.

Note that the photographer sued the company that used his images for commercial purposes, not the outsourced content creator that created the infringing advertisement.

Large commercial stock photo providers obtain licenses from photographers prior to accepting uploaded photos and, in turn, grant licenses to those who wish to use such photos. PG suggests asking cover artists what providers they use for stock photos and politely confirming that the artists have appropriate agreements in place to create, modify and use the stock photos for book covers for both ebooks and printed books. Some photo providers may have different licenses for electronic reproduction and printed reproduction and/or limit the number of printed copies of their photos that are produced without the purchase of an additional license.

As a serious amateur photographer, PG observes that the insect photos shown in the OP required both a high degree of skill and a great deal of patience to capture.


NYT best-selling author talks switching genres and writing in Calgary

23 March 2018

From The Gauntlet:

A little over a decade ago, Steena Holmes began writing in her spare time while working as a receptionist in downtown Calgary. After winning a short story contest, she found herself looking for publishers for her first novel. Holmes continues to self-publish books, including the 2013 novel Sweet Memories, which quickly became a New York Times best-seller.

Continuing to write in Calgary, Holmes’ upcoming book, The Forgotten Ones, is on track for a April 1 release. She’s set to take a first step into the psychological thriller genre with the new novel.

. . . .

Holmes draws on her own past and upbringing for the book, which is set in her hometown of Kincardine, Ontario.

“I was able to use a lot of my memories growing up,” Holmes says. “[I use] the hospital — my mom used to work there and I used to volunteer there. I have fond memories of the cafeteria there, walking the hallways and what not.”

Holmes, a long-time advocate of indie publishing, also reflects on her experiences starting off as a writer.

“I really loved the journey I’ve been on. I started off with small presses and then I went self-publishing. I chose working with Lake Union [Amazon] for specific reasons. I knew that I would be able to find a broader audience than if I just continued self-publishing on my own or if I focused on getting my book into stores,” she says. “But going with Amazon and being able to self-publish, opened doors for readers, which has always been my goal.”

. . . .

“Here in Canada, there’s more of an acceptance to literature [compared to the United States], but there isn’t a lot of cohesiveness or acceptance to writing in general. It’s a lot of, ‘I do this, you do that,’ ” Holmes says. “I just wish there was a little more acceptance to different paths of writing, instead of the assumption that it has to be one or another.”

Link to the rest at The Gauntlet

Hundreds protest college’s proposal to drop humanities for more practical majors

22 March 2018

From Fox News:

Hundreds protested at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus Wednesday over a proposed realignment to the school’s majors — dropping the humanities for an emphasis on more practical courses to lead students to sustainable futures.

University officials have proposed cutting 13 majors, mainly in social studies and the humanities — programs with lower enrollment, the school said.

The 13 programs that could be eliminated are American studies, art, English, French, geography, geoscience, German, history, music literature, philosophy, political science, sociology and Spanish.

. . . .

The university, located about 100 miles north of Madison, also plans to add or expand 16 programs that have a higher demand to deal with declining enrollment and reduced tuition revenue. Those pragmatic majors include marketing, management, computer information systems, graphic design and aquaculture — areas that “have demonstrated value and demand in the region,” according to the school.

. . . .

Vice chancellor for academic affairs Greg Summers last week said reshuffling resources toward more popular majors is necessary because of increased competition in attracting a declining pool of high school students.

Link to the rest at Fox News and thanks to Felix for the tip.

How to Keep Facebook From Oversharing Your Information

22 March 2018

If you’re concerned about FB or the creator of one of the zillions of Facebook Apps using too much of Facebook’s information about you, following is the best summary PG has found about various Facebook settings you can use to limit access to your personal information.

xHow to Keep Facebook From Oversharing Your Info - WSJ (1)

A Short Story

22 March 2018

A short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage.

Lorrie Moore

The Disappearance of Books Threatens to Erode Fine Arts Libraries

22 March 2018

From Hyperallergic:

Public libraries are experiencing a surge in use that few could have predicted even a decade ago. This renaissance has renewed interest in the library as a space for access to books, to technology, and to art. But libraries are no longer solely filled with books. Many are shifting to become multi-use and more digitally driven spaces. Yet as libraries create access to a digital future, the books that have traditionally inhabited them are being displaced at an alarming rate. This leaves many asking: Does acceptance of digital resources mean that the books must go? And what is at stake when artists, art historians, students, and the public can no longer engage in the act of browsing the stacks as part of the process of creating and researching art?

While the philosophical debate over what a library should be rages across the country and beyond, some institutions are shifting from philosophy to action, removing books to make way for other initiatives. At the University of Texas at Austin, around 75,000 fine arts books, journals, and other materials have already been moved by the College of Fine Arts and the University of Texas Libraries, as Hyperallergic reported in December. Many of the removed materials now reside in an off-site location near UT’s J.J. Pickle Research Campus or the Texas A&M joint library storage facility.

At many libraries, the prime real estate occupied by books is being requisitioned to make way for new digital humanities initiatives like virtual reality experiences or “Makerspaces” cordoned off for 3D printing. In the case of UT-Austin’s Fine Arts Library, books and other analog materials were removed to accommodate a new space called The Foundry. As the mission page for the collaborative space notes, this is a joint initiative of the University of Texas Libraries and the College of Fine Arts meant to be available to all UT students, faculty, and staff. Yet the success of such 3D printing labs is often precarious and dubious. As many librarians and digital humanists have pointed out, installing a Makerspace in your library is not a panacea.

Link to the rest at Hyperallergic and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Next Page »