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Comment I Am a Market Signal (Score 4, Interesting) 430

I feel it's my economic duty to provide accurate and useful signals to the market, so my dollars go to the most efficient and cost effective source that meets my requirements for quality, selection, availability and price. If I need something immediately or I need to touch it before buying, I choose a local supplier offering those benefits. If I don't need those things, I select on the remaining criteria. To choose vendors on arbitrary 'feel good' sloganeering deprives me of the best value and deprives the, perhaps distant, vendor that worked hard to meet my mix of needs of the sale they deserve. It also sends false demand signals to local vendors. However these false signals only serve to distort the market temporarily but otherwise are pointless gestures that, in the long run, achieve nothing and help no one.

Comment How to get high quality and maintain good sync (Score 4, Interesting) 96

I've played around a lot with this stuff for more than a decade. Skype can be okay if the remote system is powerful, well configured, has excellent broadband, a good external webcam and good lighting. However, those necessary things will only rarely all be present, particularly internationally. If you want high quality and a high degree of future-proofness for the video assets you are going to so much effort to create, there is a counter-intuitive alternative.

There are truly amazing small consumer camcorders now available for $500-$700 that work great in low light, capture excellent 1080p, auto focus on faces, auto iris, auto WB, etc quite well. I shoot with high-end pro gear and these little consumer cams deliver an unbelievable picture for the price. Ship one of these to your remote location with a small AV clamp that will mount it to the top of the monitor next to the webcam. Do your live interview via Skype through the webcam but have your remote location turn on the HD camcorder after the Skype session begins. The camera will beep when it starts recording and you can use this beep to later sync the Skype recording with the HD camera recording. After the interview, the remote location can plug the camera in as a USB device and Dropbox the recorded file over to you in non-real-time (AVCHD peaks at ~24mbps but is often much smaller). Or if it's not as time sensitive, you can get the file off the SD card when the camera comes back.

This also gives you the advantage of providing a handheld camera to your remote location. Even rank novices can shoot 'B-Roll' type footage of remarkable quality. The handheld image stabilization on these cams is impressive. If you give your remote amateur "crew" a simple shot list and ask them to first watch a ten minute YouTube tutorial on basic camera handling and shot composition, the results can even rival semi-pros. This way you'll have something to intercut with the talking heads to further elevate your production value.

Yes, this implies that you are actually editing your final product. Basic editing will again double your production value over raw webcam recordings. It doesn't have to take too much extra time, particularly if your remote camcorder has it's time-of-day clock set roughly right. Your handy intern can be making a shot list of good/bad clips and restarts on your end during the interview and reference this via TOD + clip offset time during subsequent editing. This saves a lot of hunting around inside the clips. With practice you should be able to do a basic edit with canned intro/outro, standard title overlays, B-roll cutaways and some still graphics (logos, product shots) in about 3X the total running time of your output. Note: that's just active work time, not unmanned background clip downloading or final output encoding, which you can batch up and leave running unattended.

Finally, as we say in TV land, audio is more than half the picture. Sending a basic wired clip-on microphone will do wonders for your production value by reducing machine noise and ambient room echo. If your remote location is in North America you can send them the Radio Shack part number for a decent clip-on mic that they can pick up themselves for $25. Regardless, if sound/video from your end is going to be seen then you should use at least use high quality mic and camera on your end.

Comment ATT has been doing this for years (Score 3, Interesting) 426

Here in Wisconsin, two years ago ATT came to the Capitol with more than a dozen lobbyists and started handing out campaign contributions. They picked a conservative Democrat and a Republican from the Senate and Assembly who would play ball. They handed them a "bill mill" draft of how they'd like to revamp Wisconsin's cable television laws. They did not invite anyone else to the meetings. They didn't invite the over-the-air broadcasters, they didn't invite the cable industry, they didn't invite the community television stations. They listened to ATT. They removed local city control and oversight of cable franchises and replaced it with a state-level franchise system with little to no oversight. They assigned minimal regulatory powers to the department of financial institutions - not the existing Public Service Commission that handles all other telecom. The only powers they assigned were to accept the annual $5,000 franchise application. They were not given any powers to reject any applications. They sunset the ability of cities to assign a surcharge on bills to fund their community television operations. All this, in the name of allowing ATT to be able to cherry-pick which neighborhoods would get U-Verse, without having to offer it to entire communities.

Comment Re:EXPLANATION: How the MMPI test works (Score 1) 547

Personally, I'm a skeptic of these kinds of tests. I think they may work to some degree in some scenarios with some people but there will be other scenarios or people for which the test will largely fail.

I believe that prohibition is wrong, but if the laws weren't there, I wouldn't use drugs.

When I wrote the line above about being a skeptic of the test, I was pretty much thinking of someone like you. You have have a principled political/ethical belief system that is not mainstream, but despite what you believe you feel even more strongly that breaking laws isn't the right way to behave. From what I understand about the test (and I'm only a half-hour 'Google' expert), it doesn't rate 'druggie' as a characteristic and I don't think it would peg you as a liar (at least based on these answers). What I think it would do is more subtle (and perhaps no less evil), it might rate you very high on rebelliousness and/or non-conformity. Taken out of context I wouldn't view either of those two as a problem - but I'm not like most people. If the test is interpreted by someone who spends five minutes on it, then the employer isn't looking for 'subtleties' and someone like you isn't getting the job and that's a huge fail for the whole idea of tests like these.

Apparently some psychologists believe that a test like this is really only valid if taken as a precursor to them spending an hour talking with you, where they are able to hone in on the 'why' of some of the indicated traits. If done that way they believe the scenario above wouldn't happen and that the final assessment (written by a trained human psychologist) would be that you are a highly principled person with a consistent set of non-conformist beliefs who would not extend those beliefs into actions if they were in conflict with laws or expected work behavior.

The issue in my mind is that even that seemingly accurate outcome could still be a problem because the ultimate decision makers wouldn't take the time to even think through that assessment sentence and what it means. Ultimately, I believe the real problem is that it is dangerous any time we try to assess people as potential employees based on thoughts and beliefs instead of actions. I've worked with people that believed some absolutely bat crazy shit, but they were really good at their jobs and entirely functional citizens. It's not a problem if the person has the self-awareness to know that what they believe isn't what everyone else believes and they have the maturity/self-control to moderate their actions as appropriate to work well in their environment. Then it doesn't matter what they think internally, only how they behave externally. So, the bottom line for me is that I think background checks (criminal, legal, employment references) can be a good idea. Personality tests for this purpose are too likely to yield false positives and false negatives.

Comment EXPLANATION: How the MMPI test works (Score 5, Insightful) 547

I noticed several posts pointing out some of the seemingly silly questions (ie "My hands and feet get cold"). They may in fact be silly but there is reasoning behind them. I went and actually did some reading up on how the test is supposed to work. There are 8 different major scales measured and several other more minor ones too. For example Scale 1 is essentially looking at Hypochondria, a person's tendency to be really focused on (and maybe whiny) about every little ache and pain. The test understands that everyone has some stuff wrong with them and certain physical peeves too, so you're supposed to mark some of the stuff "T". But if you look at the questions, there are a bunch about this physical stuff and they are all over the place. If you put a "T" by a whole lot of them, then the test scores you higher on this scale. If you put an "F" by all of them, the test basically scores your "truthfulness on test questions" lower because these are things that everyone should complain about a few of.

The issue of test validity is a big deal and dealt with in different ways including checking for truthfulness by asking the same thing in a different way in different parts of the test. There are a bunch of these question pairs and there are some set up for consistent answers being "T/T", "T/F", and "F/F". There are also question sequences in the back half of the test designed to detect if the user is just starting to mostly randomly check or barely skim questions. Too high on this and the test is reflected as invalid.

Gaming the test is not as easy as it might seem at first glance. Some questions can be taken at face value, like "I sometimes think about killing myself". If you check that one "T" along with some other similar questions then you may well be suicidal. However, there are other questions that state mildly negative personality traits that most people have. If you refuse to admit to any of them then the test scores you as either trying to present an unrealistically positive image or as having an unrealistic self-image/ego. Answering some of those type questions with a "T" will get the test to paint you as a self-confident personality with a healthy self-image that feels no need to hide common human foibles.

Personally, I'm a skeptic of these kinds of tests. I think they may work to some degree in some scenarios with some people but there will be other scenarios or people for which the test will largely fail. This particular test is also susceptible to interpretation error. Some evaluators tend to focus in on individual scales but what I read says that that over-simple approach almost always yields skewed results. To get an accurate scoring the evaluator must consider the scales together. In large scale testing of different populations, the experts in this claim to have identified different groupings, for example two particular scales elevated while a third specific scale is lowered may represent a certain personality trait (ie rebelliousness or conformity). It's also said that the evaluator *must* have accurate background info on the subject (ie record of physical violence, manic behavior, etc). These factors can apparently change the assessment significantly.


Submission + - NASA to scientists: Reveal sex history or lose job 1

Markmarkmark writes: "Wired is reporting that all NASA JPL scientists must 'voluntarily' (or be fired) sign a document giving the government the right to investigate their personal lives and history 'without limit'. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists this includes snooping into sexual orientation, mental & physical health as well as credit history and 'personality conflict'. 28 senior NASA scientists and engineers, including Mars Rover team members, refused to sign by the deadline and are now subject to being fired despite a decade or more of exemplary service. None of them even work on anything classified or defense related. They are suing the government and documenting their fight for their jobs and right to personal privacy."

Submission + - Amero Sentencing delayed...again

i_want_you_to_throw_ writes: "For a while it looked as if legions of IT pros might descend on Connecticut like a plague of locusts however, short attention span syndrome has pushed the case to somewhere below, "iPhone.. ooh, shinny" on the radar of most geeks. To recap, Julie Amero has hung in limbo since January waiting for the Connecticut DA to either put up ( and put her away for up to 40 years ) or shut up and let her return to picking up the pieces of her shattered life. Her conviction on 4 felony counts came after an unprotected classroom computer running Windows 98 began spewing porn pop-ups."

Comment I could lose my house because of this law... (Score 3, Interesting) 527

Having actual lived (and suffered) under this rule as a smaller manufacturer operating on a national level for decades. It has a real and, in some cases, severe financial impact on my life.

This rule caused us lots of harm and prevented the growth of our small, self-funded entreprenuerial business. As a manufacturer, having local resellers is a less expensive alternative to hiring our own sales force. The distribution channel is essentially a way to outsource sales, which if you are a small start-up is often a key enabler to getting your business off the ground. Resellers are crucial to us because they call on customers, demonstrate our products, answer questions, do local support and even run local ads. That's why they are worth the ~30% margin I build in to our business model to pay them. Dealers also assume credit cost/risk and aggregate a bunch of onesy/twosy orders into volume purchases that our small company can handle. To me that 30% is a necessary cost of making and selling my product just as much as parts and assembly. If the dealer didn't make that investment on my behalf, then I would have to raise that much more money and pay to do that work myself. That's the beauty of a distribution channel. I don't have to fund that pre-sales and distribution expense upfront out of my pocket. My reseller partners essentially go into business with me, do the work and get paid for their work by adding that cost downstream of me. It's a wonderful enabling option for me as an entreprenuer - except it doesn't work because of this law. It makes it so that I can't ensure that my reseller will actually be repaid for their investment and work to build our mutual business.

The problem is that as soon as my product starts to get any momentum, an internet or mail-order 'box house' buys a little inventory from a distributor and marks the product up only 15%. Prospects still learn about the product from the local sales calls, ads or shows our 'real' dealers invest their money to do, and prospects still phone the 'real' dealers for pre-sales questions and demos but then many of the prospects buy from the box house because it's cheaper. But it's only cheaper because those box houses 'cheat' by not doing the market development and support work that we need them to do (and built into the margin to pay for). In that case I'd rather lower my product's selling price and split the difference directly with the consumer. The problem is that then I don't have anyone doing local demos, sales, support etc. Some products need those things to succeed and those products (like mine) are harmed by this law.

When I design, cost-estimate and raise capital to build a product, I always have a projected ASP (Average Selling Price). This is what we think a typical consumer will typically pay for the product. We use this to figure out if the product will be a good competitive alternative in the market and if enough customers will actually buy the product. We balance the bill of materials, advertising, cost of sales and customer acquisition costs. In our ASP there is an average expected reseller margin which is there to pay the resellers to do the work we need them to do to make the product successful. Those box houses are essentially 'leeching' the value of the pre-sales work and investment I asked my 'real' reseller partners to make. It sucks that I make this product by my own hand and the "sweat of my brow" so to speak, but then this law limits how I bring my product to the marketplace, how I implement my distribution partnerships, and how I grow my business.

In my view the law is a government intrusion into my right to enter into certain kinds of mutually agreed contracts with my distribution partners. It also quite literally limits what products I can consider creating and offering to consumers. I have to stay away from products that I feel need a lot of face-to-face explanation, demonstration and support to succeed. There's no way I can justify raising the capital from my investors to fund local sales offices and this law makes it very risky for local resellers to go into partnership with me, front that investment on my behalf, provide that service and have any expectation of being fairly compensated for doing so.

Apparently my only alternative is to shift my business, capital structure, staffing and core competency to sell direct to consumers. Only then am I actually free to set the price an end-user pays for the product I make. But what if I don't want to operate on Dell's model? What if that model doesn't fit my products, market and customers? While it appears that I am free to outsource my manufacturing to the most efficient method, if I dare outsource my distribution to what I think is a more efficient method then I get a bunch of government meddling in my freedom of contract with my "sales outsourcing" providers. Yes, I can decide not to sell to certain dealers, *but* it's illegal for me to use the markup a dealer adds to the final customer price as one of the criteria for choosing my distribution relationships.

This seems so incredibly unfair that when my lawyer first told me this many years ago, I got a second opinion from another lawyer because I couldn't believe that my freedom as an inventor/businessperson was so limited in this country. The result is that the resellers that are actually helping me build my business by investing their capital to our mutual benefit by funding local sales, support and product knowledge (such as flying their staff to my training seminars)- they start to lose money and then drop our products. Then demand falls because no one is investing locally in generating demand and then of course the 'box houses' drop the product because no wants it (not that they carried much inventory to start with - many of them don't carry any product - they only order when you do). The final result is that we, the entreprenuerial company, are harmed or grow more slowly. To me it appears that the government is keeping me from doing what I think is best for my company and customers. Whether it's the best way (or not) should be for the market to decide. I'll lose my house if I screw up either way. Since I'm putting everything on the line as an entreprenuer, it seems only fair that I be set free to succeed or fail without artificial distribution/pricing limitations on how I bring my products to consumers.

Manufacturers can have a legitimate need to set selling prices by contract so that they can ensure a margin that gives an adequate ROI for valuable services provided by their distribution partners. Of course I want that margin to be as low as possible because I want to sell more. In fact, I'm always working to squeeze every penny possible out of the total cost a final consumer pays for my product - from parts, and assembly to advertising and reseller margins (because it helps me be more successful). At the same time, each of those costs in the final dollars you pay is paying for something that I designed into my product, including the pre-sales and dealer support that I chose to build into my product and its price. In my business it's the same kind of design choice (and trade-off) I make as the choosing the price/performance of any other component. How well I make those trade-offs is my business (and often the key to my success). That's why I want the freedom to evaluate the market need and then set adequate reseller margins to fund the local sales, support, advertising and demo costs that I've chosen to make part of the product I'm creating.

My last point is that resellers being free to set any price works the other way too. When I bought my car it was selling way over MSRP because it had gotten great reviews. The manufacturer (Acura) didn't have enough to meet demand in the first year so the dealers were jacking up the price an extra $5,000. I actually complained to Acura and they said they hated it but they couldn't "fix" the price. It was bad for Acura because they didn't make any more money from the increased demand, the dealer kept the windfall (even though it was Acura's work and investment that created the extra value) and Acura also got a PR black-eye as well as having to live with an inaccurate price perception in the market.

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