Frequent Flyer Fairness

Heading back from Newark last weekend, at a flight delay in Chicago.
A Southwest Airliness frequent flyer was ranting at the gate clerk, because a clerk at a different gate had told him that he would be first on the standby list for the flight, and he was now #4. American Airlines frequent flyers had bumped ahead of him. Apparently, Southwest does not do this.
Perhaps the first clerk should have read him the fine print. It’s something American Airlines customers know. I’m a sucker for it — I’ll pay a bit more for AA flights because I know that as a frequent flyer, if there are delays and overbooked flights, I’ll get on the airplane.
Both sets of rules have merit. It doesn’t seem like one set of rules is fairer than the next, so long as you know the rules.
p.s. Mr. Irate got on the plane. Apparently so did a number of others on standby.

Grokster and statutory licensing

So, Grokster and Streamcast make money from advertising. It seems like a much better solution than suing them out of business would be a statutory license that took some of the revenue and provided it to artists.
This approach was used with player pianos, and with music played in bars and restaurants, where some of the revenue needs to be shared by law with copyright holders.
Statutory licenses have been proposed before, but one problem was that there wasn’t anything particularly relevant to license. One proposal was to impose a tax on all broadband connections, whether or not the user downloads any copyrighted content.
The beauty of an advertising business model on peer to peer is that it is a logical target for a tax. The ad server could even measure the content that was being downloaded, and use the data to allocate the money proportionately.
Back in the day, when Congress extended statutory licenses to music played in restaurants and bars, were they wiser and more foresighted? Or was there a closer balance between the power of the music industry and the power of the bar and restaurant association?

Brand X and Grokster

There’s one main theme in the Brand X and Grokster Supreme Court Cases yesterday. Incumbent industries own much of US technology policy, and use that power to keep out competition and suppress change.
BrandX, the ruling that exempts cable companies from sharing their lines, is a defense of the FCC policy to offer incumbent carriers relief from competition, in exchange for unsecured promises to build out broadband. The policy is obviously failing — the US is falling behind the rest of the world in broadband access. See Cathy Yang’s Business Week commentary, “Good for Cable, Bad for America” for the case made clearly.
Grokster applies an “inducement standard” to technology products and services that can be used for copyright violations. In practice, according to EFF’s Fred Von Lohmann, this will encourage content industry lawyers to rummage through the memos and emails of technology innovators, looking for any sign that the company intends the product to be used for copyright violation.
The content companies didn’t get exactly what they wanted — the technology itself hasn’t been criminalized. But they got enough to make it riskier to develop new technology, and to push more technology innovation outside the US.
The US will either find a way around the incumbents’ ownership of the law or become a second rate economy. Empires fall.

Social protocols for instant messaging

One of the keynote panels on at the Collaborative Technologies Conference focused on the battle for instant messaging technology in corporations.
And yet the long question and answer session focused on the emerging social customs around the use of instant messaging in the workplace — the relationship between IM and productivity, and then tension between usage patterns and traditional IT protocols.
One audience member asked about the distraction factor — how email and instant message harm knowledge worker productivity. The panel responded that the answer is social protocols for the use of the technology.
Anoop Gupta: Just because you have a colleague’s cellphone number, doesn’t mean that you call colleagues continually over the weekend.
Melanie Turek: “Remember when everybody did used to work in the same location? There were colleagues who would stop by to chitchat, office birthday cakes, and other in person distraction. This is just a different way of getting interrupted.
Gordon Quinn: It’s good to use the practice of a “quiet period”, and manage “away messages” to communicate when you’re available.
Another series of questions focused on IM blurring the lines between the organization and the outside world, and between parts of the organization.
People use consumer IT tools in the workpace in part because they want presense available outside the enterprise.
Anoop Gupta of Microsoft believes that the policies are going to be set by IT. Just as IT controls the company directory, and defines standard group mailing lists according to the organization chart, so IT will control who is visible to whom using instant messaging.
Gupta also talked about “whitelist” and “blacklist” controls that enable individuals to manage their own experience. Hopefully this means that individuals will be able to create their own presense groups in the organization.
In my experience, valuable people in an organization are the ones who are able to bridge functional groups and organizational boundaries in order to get things done, regardless of the org chart. A functional role can help define repeatable processes and support mentoring, but actually getting things done entails finding resources and making connections across an extended network.
Using yesterday’s technology, these people always know who to call. Using today’s technology, these people have key contacts on IM, too. The connectors will find a way to route around barriers.

Caddo Lake

Spent last weekend in northeast Texas on Caddo Lake. Cypress, blue herons, snowy egrets and turtles, it’s a landscape that is common in next-door Louisiana but unique in Texas.

We were staying in Uncertain, Texas, a town of about 150 who mostly host tourists or avoid life elsewhere. The town was incorporated in 1961 because people wanted to drink while fishing. The surrounding area was “dry”, so a group of households decided to form a town to vote in the ability to drink.
We were hosted by the mayor of Uncertain and his wife; they and friends from the area sat around and told tall tales, in a style that comes from the culture before radio, television, and internet.
Uncertain is about 30 miles south of Atlanta and Queen City, which are unwired by the Northeast Texas Wireless Initiative. Lynn Jones of NETWI joined us for the fish fry.
The region has been a hotbed of city-supported wireless. Underserved by incumbents, they’re taking local initiative to bring broadband to town, and were very active in the fight against the Texas municipal network ban.
The mayor of Uncertain was ambivalent about bringing wireless high-speed internet, and I can see why. People come to be off the grid.
The Caddo Lake community been fighting the next town over, Marshall, pop. 25,000 which wants to siphon more water from the lake for a power plant and its growing population. The threat prompted the local people to organize; the conservation movement is championed by Don Henley of Eagles fame, who grew up in nearby Linden TX (another municipal wireless site).
A major water bill, SB3, which would have added protections for “environmental services”, preserving water for rivers and estuaries, failed to pass the Texas legislature this past session. It passed the Senate and house committee, but timed out on the last day to be voted on the house floor.

Blogging on health care

Belated kudos to the superb series by Ezra Klein comparing the health care systems in various other countries, including Canada, Britain, France, Germany and Japan.
Klein’s serices brings clarity to a subject that is usually treated with a mix of ideology, and mind-numbing, detail-encrusted jargon.
The analysis shows that the US is getting a bad deal with our current health care system. The US spends more than $5,000 per person on health care, despite not covering 43 million citizens. Japan covers all of its citizens for $2,000 per person. Germany covers 90% of citizens through its public program for $2,817 per person. Canada covers all of its citizens for administrative costs that are 1/3 of the US costs per capita. The higher costs in the US don’t buy better health. The US comes out worse in measures of preventable premature death.
The systems are structured differently: France has three programs for different occupational groups. Japan has three programs for big business, small businesses, and the retired or self-employed. The programs in Britain and Canada are separate from employment. They also treat private insurance differently. Britain, France, and Germany allow supplementary private insurance, while Canada prohibits it.
They differ in the level of choice: Britain and Canada use a gatekeeper system, where a patient needs to first go to a general practitioner and get a recommendation to a specialist. Japan does not limit hospital or physician choice, and in most cases does require a gatekeeper. Neither does France, although they are moving to a primary doctor system.
The ill-fated Clinton plan was based on the German system. German health care is funded through employer contributions, with half the money coming from the employeer and half from the employee. Germany has different “sickness funds”, specializing by region and occupation, which compete for members. Germany spends $2,817 on health care for its citizens compared to $5,267 for the US.
When the Clinton plan was up for debate, I looked unsucessfully for a clear explanation of how health care systems worked. Ezra Klein has done an amazing job showing the structure of health care systems. And he links to his primary sources, so the diligent can check the facts.
If you want to grok health care in a few short posts, check out Health of Nations.