Archive for June, 2018

Service of Too Good to be True II

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

Photo: depositphotos.com

I’ve followed highlights of the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos criminal case for a while in newspaper and radio coverage and a few things nag at me:

  • How did high profile investors, partners and board members get duped by a machine and service that never worked?
  • Even though “Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Theranos Inc. founder Elizabeth Holmes and the blood-testing company’s former No. 2 executive,” news focus brushes over life-changing damage done to patients who think they are OK when they’re not.

The charges allege “that they defrauded investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars and also defrauded doctors and patients.” This quote and the one above made up the lead to John Carreyrou’s recent Wall Street Journal article.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

“The blood test machine her company created doesn’t work — and never has,” Scott Simon wrote recently, capturing an interview with Carreyrou on NPR’s Morning Edition that he hosts. “She raised almost a billion dollars from investors, including Rupert Murdoch, Carlos Slim Helú, and the family of Betsy DeVos, and signed contracts with Walgreens and Safeway, by lying to them.” Carreyrou’s original coverage led to the 2½ year investigation.

He also wrote a book about the scandal, “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” and the test that was expected to revolutionize the industry by costing less and using blood drops from a finger pin prick.

Simon continued quoting Carreyrou: Holmes and “Sunny Balwani, who was the number two of the company, knew as they were rolling out the blood testing services in Walgreens stores in California and Arizona that the blood tests were faulty, and yet they still went ahead with the rollout. And there were, I came across personally in my reporting more than a dozen patients who had health scares because they received bad results from Theranos.”

Photo: pehub.com

This was the most in-depth comment I could find about the patient victims of the scandal. Others mostly referred to them though in his New York Times coverage, Reed Abelson wrote that the so-called tests endangered lives.

So how did Holmes get away with bamboozling five star board members along with all the rest? Carreyrou told Simon “she capitalized on this yearning there was, in Silicon Valley and beyond, to see a woman break through in this man’s world in Silicon Valley.” In addition, he said, the investors based their decision on the Walgreens contract, figuring the company had confirmed the accuracy of the tests. This was a false assumption. Holmes refused to show the equipment claiming she was afraid the competition would discover the secret sauce.

About venture capitalists Abelson shared the prediction of Lakshman Ramamurthy, a former FDA official, now with Foundation Medicine, who “is not certain investors have learned their lesson. Companies like Theranos, which offered little hard evidence that its tests worked to its investors, ‘have their own rules,’ he said. ‘That hasn’t changed. The Silicon Valley hubris remains.’”

According to Ken Sweet’s AP article, referring to Holmes and Balwani: “If convicted, they could face prison sentences that would keep them behind bars for the rest of their lives, and total fines of $2.75 million each.” At one point the company, built on lies, was worth $10 billion +. I wonder if the fine covers the damage to investors sufficiently.

Surely lawsuits will follow should patients prove they were harmed either because they weren’t properly diagnosed or were damaged because they were given harmful medicines they didn’t need. Are you surprised that such high profile businesses, canny investors and high profile board members were deceived by the old “I can’t show you the goods” trick so soon after Bernie Madoff played the same card?

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Service of Nosey Smart Speakers That Gossip

Monday, June 25th, 2018

Photo: quora.com

I’ve never wanted live-in help, not that I’ve had that option. I couldn’t relax or have an argument in peace. Unless I needed round the clock nursing, I wouldn’t want a non family member around all the time to observe my habits.

For this reason I cannot imagine inviting into my house a smart speaker like Amazon Echo or Alexa, Google Home, Home Mini and Home Max or Sonos One. The speakers allow voice commands to control tech elements in a home, office or hotel room. Fans consider them as helpers; I see them as potential giant eavesdroppers by total strangers.

Photo: literallydarling.com

Amazon Echo boasts 15,000 skills. It can buy stuff on Amazon while it supports smart home devices. I’m perfectly happy to log on to Amazon if I need something or open Facebook on my smartphone, but I’m clearly alone. According to techcrunch.com, 39 million Americans own one.

Strangers already know far too much about us. In “What the Airline Knows About the Guy in Seat 12A,” Scott McCartney wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Airlines know a lot about you, from date of birth and home address to travel patterns, vacation preferences, beverage purchases and whether your last flight was good or bad.”

Photo: buffered.co

In the same newspaper, Laura Stevens wrote: “Echo home speakers mistakenly recorded a private conversation and sent it to a person in the owners’ contact list, an incident that raises questions about the security of such voice-operated devices.” The title and subtitle of her article say a lot: “Amazon Alexa-Powered Device Recorded and Shared User’s Conversation Without Permission–Amazon said the incident involved a series of misunderstandings, with words being confused for commands.”

Kim Komando, the computer/digital lifestyle expert, shared a news brief on WCBS radio last week announcing that as a result of a deal between Amazon and Marriot-owned hotels, there will soon be an Alexa smart speaker in every room. You can ask it to have housekeeping bring you more towels, make dinner reservations and have easy access to all hotel amenities. It’s a sales win for Amazon but not so hot for your privacy. She didn’t sound so tickled about the “advancement” either.

Stevens concluded: “‘The privacy side has not been fully fleshed out with digital assistants,’ said Gene Munster, managing partner at Loup Ventures, a venture-capital firm specializing in tech research. Digital assistants still need more training to interpret commands and language more perfectly, he said, something that consumers should consider with the devices in their homes. ‘Eventually we’re going to get it figured out’ but it’s not there yet, he said.”

Do you really want a cake on your airline seat should you be traveling on your birthday or would you find that creepy? Do you mind giving up privacy so you can say, “Turn on my TV” or “Get me more towels,” instead of clicking on the remote or picking up the phone in your hotel room? Would you be tempted when the technicians have a better handle on ensuring that there would be no glitches in transmitting your commands or would the privacy issue still prevent you from jumping in to join the smart speaker craze?

Photo: mai-assoc.com

Service of Meditation That Makes Me Nervous

Thursday, June 21st, 2018

Photo: careerbuilder.com

Of all the people I know I could probably most benefit from daily periods of meditation to calm down. But Ellen Gamerman’s Wall Street Journal article, “Competitive About Meditation? Relax, Everyone Else Is Too,” made me nervous.

Gamerman wrote “Type-A people are descending on the ancient practice of meditation and tweaking the quest for inner peace to suit their hard-charging needs—racking up streaks and broadcasting their running tallies to the world. The result, for some: Meditation has never been more stressful.”

Photo: medium.com

There are apps, like Headspace and Calm that keep track of the straight number of days subscribers meditate—or practice mindfulness–and subscribers compete. “Headspace and Calm report roughly 30 million and 26 million downloads of their apps, respectively.” Gemerman explains “Meditation, which can mean different things to different people, is a more focused state than mindfulness, which is a state of calm attention to the present.”

Members of online groups such as Mindful Makers can post daily and others can compare streak rankings. They live around the world. Another, Beeminder, tracks goals. Subscribers are fined if they don’t meditate. One paid $810 because he didn’t practice mindfulness an hour a day for a period of time.

“Streaks are big business for Headspace and Calm, which sell access to audio-guided meditations and other features for $12.99 a month, or less depending on the package. But pursuit of a streak has its risks: Customers can become discouraged if their runs end abruptly and might ditch the app or stop meditating altogether. Even a completed streak can potentially diminish enthusiasm: The only thing harder than the 365th straight day of meditation, some say, is the 366th.”

Photo: engadget.com

To change behavior, people buy devices, like wristbands, that feel like a bee sting when they shock. Pavlok sells them for from $145- $245 [photo left].​

I admire successful entrepreneurs and tip my cap to those who identified and addressed a need for people to quantify their calm times and pay for gadgets to nudge or sting them to meditate or otherwise change their behavior. Much of this counting and prodding seems counterintuitive, adding more to busy schedules and raising adrenalin to win, which makes sales victory in this space even more intriguing. However, it doesn’t inspire me to meditate—and you? What techniques do you use to calm down?

Photo: finerminds.com

Service of When It’s OK to Steal

Monday, June 18th, 2018

Photo: pinterest.com

When smoking was in style, some restaurants and bars had fantastic looking ashtrays that found themselves in customers’ handbags. Many venues considered it a way to get their logos into homes–a reminder of a great meal or fun evening and the cost of inspiring future meals. Others would stop guests as they were leaving to ask if they wanted to pay for the ashtray. [I know someone who was stopped!]

Today airline passengers paying $thousands for a ticket in first or business class are snitching bigger souvenirs: blankets, pillows and duvets according to Alison Sider and Andrew Tangel. And they boast about it. “Danny Kashou, 53, a business owner in San Diego, was impressed by the soft fabrics and Saks monograms on the blankets on an international trip earlier this year. ‘Heck, yeah, we took it,’ Mr. Kashou says. ‘We didn’t ask. We just stuck it in our carry-ons and walked off,’” the reporters wrote in their Wall Street Journal article “‘Heck Yeah, we Took It.’ Fliers Are Swiping Airline Swag.”

Photo: pinerest.com.uk

They wrote about another passenger who “At home, sips brandy from his favorite British Airways glasses and his children curl up in premium Norwegian Air shuttle blankets. Last year, British Airways began offering a soft, satin-edged blanket from the White Company, an upscale brand. Mr. King has three of them.”

On the trinket side, passengers have taken 26,700 salt and pepper shaker sets from Virgin Atlantic that stamped them “pinched from Virgin Atlantic.” The company reports missing 1,700 lightweight blankets from its A330-200 aircraft.

“So far, airlines aren’t taking a heavy-handed approach to pilfering, hoping to keep things friendly. Premium cabins—first and business class—account for 5.5% of international passenger traffic, but more than 30% of revenue, according to the International Air Transport Association.”

Photo: moneyinc.com

United Airlines sells the Saks designed bedding it uses on its international business class flights because its customers like it so much. A Polaris duvet costs $59.99 and a memory foam pillow $27.99 at United’s online store which it encourages passengers to use.

Sider and Tangel report that Delta flights from LA to Dubai can run as high as $15,000. Surely there’s enough profit built in to cover the costs of the two duvets one passenger saw another stuff into a carryon bag.

Would you feel comfortable snitching something that costs more than a dollar or two? Is it considered OK these days to remove anything used during a flight? Passengers feel perfectly comfortable to brag to reporters about their take–is that normal? Unless encouraged to do so, should rule of thumb be “don’t take anything?”

Photo: traveler.com.au

 

 

Service of Secrets That Burden

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

Photo: rd.com

I’ve covered this topic before. I defended Nora Ephron in one post. Many of her friends had complained when she died “suddenly.” She’d kept her Leukemia diagnosis a secret. I wrote about General David Petraeus’ pillow talk where he was accused of sharing state secrets with his lover and about leakers in business and government.

Elizabeth Bernstein brought up a different perspective when she wrote “Should You Keep a Secret?” in The Wall Street Journal. One of her sisters, Rebecca, asked her to travel to be with her when she had a breast biopsy. She asked her to tell nobody else in the family, one that is chock full of doctors from surgeons to gynecologists. Her sister, an internist who trusted her surgeon, didn’t want the pressure of unsolicited advice.

Photo: theundercoverrecruiter.com

Bernstein asked: “How do you decide whether to keep someone’s secret when there are good reasons to tell?” More later about the repercussions of her decision to stay mum.

She offered other examples: You know the spouse of a person having an affair–do you snitch? What about a secret drinker in the family who needs help? Say you learn that a close friend, who died, had led a double life? “You might want to disclose someone’s secret if it will help him or her in the long run. Or if someone else is being hurt or has a right to know the information.”

According to studies to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology “we often feel closer to a loved one when we know a secret of theirs, but this information can also be a burden. The studies show that the closer a person is to a friend or loved one whose secret they know, the more he or she is likely to think about the secret. And the more friends the two people have in common, the more likely one person is to keep another’s secret.”

Photo: popsugar.com

Bernstein quoted the lead researcher, Michael Slepian, PhD, Columbia Business School: “Just having to think about someone else’s secret makes it harmful to our wellbeing.” In an earlier study Dr. Slepian reported that when people think about a secret, everything seems to be more difficult: “They estimate hills to be steeper and distances to be farther” than people not so burdened.

So what happened to Bernstein? She was still at her sister’s house when her mother called. Mom knew—her sister had told her—and “was angry with me for preventing the rest of the family from supporting Rebecca.” The gynecologist was “hurt that I didn’t seem to value her expertise. Too late, I realized that in keeping Rebecca’s secret, I might have betrayed others. It took me almost a week to get back into everyone’s good graces. By then, we’d learned that the biopsy, thankfully, was negative.”

Had you been Bernstein, would you have told the rest of the family? Do you think anyone has “the right” to personal information and someone’s secret and that you should be the person to share it? Have you felt burdened and sluggish when harboring a dear one’s secret? Have you been in the “no good deed goes unpunished” position, like Bernstein, on the bad end of the stick when others learn you knew but didn’t share? Are there some personal secrets you should never share under any circumstance?

Photo: kbic.com

Service of Respecting Other People’s Time

Monday, June 11th, 2018

Photo: blog.rdi-connect.com

From my first job in PR I got the impression that in addition to the responsibilities I had—to write press releases, speeches, slide show copy, brochures, proposals, activity reports, to plan press conferences, place stories etc.–one of my main responsibilities was to save my clients’ time.

“Obviously,” you say. But it so often doesn’t happen.

Hold Please…A Half Hour ++

Take the other morning when I called GM Financial first thing about a $400+ bill we shouldn’t have received and didn’t owe. I put the phone on speaker and while listening to dreadful music, interrupted by the computer voice telling me to hold on, I finished my breakfast, got dressed, put on my makeup, brushed my teeth and began to read Facebook postings.

How many people with jobs they hope to keep can hang on the phone that long?

License to Steal Your Time

Photo: jalopnik.com

A friend needed to renew her driver’s license and wanted an enhanced version with a chip so she headed down to the Department of Motor Vehicles {DMV} in Manhattan. According to Google, “An enhanced license is a New York State DMV issued document that you can use instead of a passport to return to the US by land or sea from Canada, Mexico and some countries in the Caribbean.”

As with many women who marry or remarry, the last name on her social security document and license–in her maiden name–didn’t match the one on her passport with her married name. The folks at DMV told her that all must be the same. [I have a standard license and in 2011 was notified I had to rectify the discrepancy between the name on my social security and license and was told it was a Homeland Security issue.]

She went to the social security office, changed the name on the document—they didn’t ask for her marriage license, but remember: Her passport was in her married name. On another day she again headed back downtown to tackle with Motor Vehicles. After waiting in line for 45 minutes with revised social security card and passport in hand–all matching–she was told she needed to show her marriage license! She left the office in tears of frustration–nobody told her on her first visit that she needed to bring the marriage license.

The same question: Who has time to go through such rigmarole?

Do you have similar examples? Are there some better times than others to call customer service centers? Must people take vacation days to get glitches resolved? Is it only people in service industries who are aware of other people’s time? Does this happen because of understaffing; sluggish or angry workers or poor strategy by management?

Photo: swimoutlet.com

 

Service of Performance Evaluations: Inequality for Women

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Photo: yourlifechoices.com.au

Words have always mattered, especially to those who make their livings writing, singing, reporting, performing in plays and films, giving speeches and the like. Today most are aware which words hurt or insult and use them with eyes wide open.

There is an area—performance evaluations–in which word choice unintentionally sends harmful or positive signals. The negative impact falls on women and their potential for leadership positions.

Photo: leanhealthcareerchance.com

I wasn’t surprised by the findings of two researcher/professor PhD’s and a PhD statistical consultant who studied the words most used for men and for women—4,000 of them–in 81,000 military performance evaluations. The Harvard Business Review published highlights of their findings.

For men the words were “analytical” as a positive and “arrogant” as a negative. For women, positive and negative words were “compassionate” and “inept” respectively. Any doubt which you’d hire if you were looking for a competent employee—an analytical or compassionate one? Which would you fire first if you had to choose between arrogance and ineptness?

David G. Smith, Judith E. Rosenstein and Margaret C. Nikolov explained why they chose the military as their hunting ground. “The top-down enforcement of equal employment opportunity policies, hierarchical organization by military rank and not social status characteristics, and recent total gender integration in all occupations are hallmarks of meritocratic organizations where we might expect less gender bias in performance evaluations.”

They found no differences in objective measures–grades, fitness scores or class standing.

Photo: helioshr.com

Back to the subjective measures, the focus of their conclusions. “Men were more often assigned attributes such as analytical, competent, athletic and dependable, women were more often assigned compassionate, enthusiastic, energetic and organized.” And to describe negative attributes “women were more often evaluated as inept, frivolous, gossip, excitable, scattered, temperamental, panicky, and indecisive, while men were more often evaluated as arrogant and irresponsible.”

The researchers’ wrote that their findings line up with others that also show that women often receive “vague feedback that is not connected to objectives or business outcomes, which is a disadvantage when women are competing for job opportunities, promotions, and rewards, and in terms of women’s professional growth and identity.” Female leaders are criticized for being “too bossy or aggressive” and yet advised that they should “be more confident and assertive.” Other research has shown that “when women are collaborative and communal, they are not perceived as competent—but when they emphasize their competence, they’re seen as cold and unlikable, in a classic ‘double bind.’”

The researchers wrote that when asked, most people think of men as leaders. Their study showed that “even in this era of talent management and diversity and inclusion initiatives, our formal feedback mechanisms are still suffering from the same biases, sending subtle messages to women that they aren’t ‘real leaders’— men are.”

Have you written performance evaluations using different terminology to describe men and women’s qualities and weaknesses? Have you run into this bias in performance evaluations about you or people you know? Do you know women who are analytical, competent, athletic and dependable—the positive words to describe men’s performances–or men who are compassionate, enthusiastic, energetic and organized, flattering words about women?

Photo: businessnewsdaily.com

David G. Smith, PhD, is a professor of sociology in the Department of National Security Affairs at the United States Naval War College. Judith E. Rosenstein, PhD, is a professor of sociology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the United States Naval Academy. Margaret C. Nikolov, PhD is an independent statistical consultant who previously taught at the United States Naval Academy.

 

Service of Using Economic Arguments to Mask Bigotry

Monday, June 4th, 2018

Photo: wxyz.com

I’ve got news for those who fear that immigrants will take jobs from Americans. Turns out there aren’t enough people in this country to handle the work that businesses need as it is. Unemployment stats on Friday were the lowest since 2000—3.8 percent.

That fact doesn’t faze some Republican lawmakers. They demanded “a vote on a bill that would lower legal—not illegal, but legal—immigration,” according to Gerald F. Seib. In his Wall Street Journal article, “An Immigration Debate Distinct From Economic Realities–There is a good case that America’s economy has never needed immigrant labor more than it does now,” he reported that 6.6 million unfilled job openings impact fisheries in Alaska, restaurants in New Hampshire, crab processors in Maryland and farmers. “For the first time in history,” he wrote, “there are enough openings to provide a job for every unemployed person in the country.”

Photo: alaskajournal.com

There were 66,000 travel permits allotted for low-skilled foreign workers requesting H-2B visas in January yet the federal government received thousands more applications. Seib predicted that the feds might add 15,000 more–not nearly enough. “The search for more highly skilled workers is even more urgent. The NFIB [National Federation of Independent Business] says that 22% of small-business owners say finding qualified workers is their single most important business problem, more than those who cite taxes or regulations,” he wrote.

In “Summer is Here. Where are the Workers?” Ruth Simon, in the same paper, reported that last year Congress refused to renew visas for returning workers–each had to start the process from scratch. She wrote that landscaping and food processing businesses are as severely impacted as restaurants. The demand is so great that the government made a business’s “winning” workers the random choice of a lottery because they were 15,000 short six months ago.

Back to Sieb. He wrote that “Demographers think that in the next three decades, the share of Americans aged 65 and older will surpass the share of Americans aged 18 and younger,” and he concluded that even though we “can handle…and may actually need” more immigrants “the climate is more hostile toward immigrants and immigration than at any time in recent memory.”

Photo: buildingacustomhome.com

Sieb attributed the 2016 campaign for moving a political party that generally favored immigration because it energized the American bloodstream to one that is “increasingly dominated by those with a distinctly darker view of immigration.” In addition to jacking up punitive laws against illegal aliens and refusing to offer permanent legal status to Dreamers, the conservative members’ bill would reduce the number of visas by 25 percent, to 260,000/year. The Cato Institute calculated that the reduction “would be closer to 40%, adding: ‘This would be the largest policy-driven reduction in legal immigration since the awful, racially motivated acts of the 1920s.’”

Immigration grinches posit that Americans’ wages should increase as a result though that doesn’t seem to be happening [take a look at last Thursday’s post, “Service of Hourly Work–No Bed of Roses,” as one example]. Seib attributes the true attitude “among many Americans that they are losing control of their country and its traditions—as in economic dislocation. The quest to control America’s borders has morphed into much broader sentiments.”

Stingy immigration quotas negatively impact small business. Would lawmakers take better notice if big business was affected? Immigrants have been absorbed here for decades. How best to allay economic fears of those blocking immigration today? Addressing the fear of loss of control is a bigger challenge: In addition to fighting with better education, any other ideas?

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