Comcast offers super-fast Internet speeds

Comcast Corp. the largest U.S. cable television operator, said on Wednesday it has started offering a super-fast Internet service that allows customers to download a high-definition movie in 10 minutes.

[From Comcast offers super-fast Internet speeds | Technology | Reuters]

Remember the Steve Martin movie The Jerk? He’s working in the circus at the weight guessing booth and he says:

“You can win anything in this general area right in here. Anything below the stereo and on this side of the bicentennial glasses. Anything between the ashtrays and the thimble.Anything in this three inches right in here, in this area.That includes the Chiclets, but not the erasers.”

Sometimes that how I feel about cable and telecom companies. All the cool shit gets rolled out to a neighborhood that is 2 square blocks in North Dakota for testing, and more testing.

Anonymity and Marketing Dirty Tricks

There’s that old saying about how nobody knows you aren’t wearing pants on the web. This often creates a false sense of security that results in people doing stupid things. Take this example from VMware that came about as a result of noticing something interesting in the customer reviews for Fusion on Amazon.

With this context in mind, last week we ran across a couple of negative user reviews on Amazon.com that seemed out of character. They seemed especially out of character given that both posters had posted 5-star reviews of Parallels Desktop for Mac, prior to posting less-than flattering reviews of VMware Fusion. After a little investigation via LinkedIn, based on the user names that the reviewers posted under, we found that these reviews were not from actual users but from employees of a competitor, Parallels.

[From Learning from your Customers in the Internet Age | Team Fusion]

There are two things that come to mind here, the first being that I really dislike anonymous review postings. I make it a point to clearly identify myself on this blog and I almost always post comments, reviews, whatever, under clearly identifiable user names. I don’t have a problem defending what I write, arguing vociferously on any issue that interests me, or being identifiable in my web existence. The point is that it keeps me honest, and I believe it gives me credibility with people who read my stuff because they know it’s me, not me hiding behind a pseudonym.

The second point is that companies need to be proactive about setting acceptable guidelines for employees to follow when representing the company in non-company sponsored forums. With regard to the VMware vs. Parallels post I linked to above, the incident deflected from the legitimate issues regarding products and veered into the tactics that someone at Parallels. VMware won this round because Parallels made themselves look small and deceitful.

Heathrow’s T5, Criminals, and “Teething Problems”

I have written a couple of times about Heathrow’s now infamous Terminal 5 and the reason I find it so interesting is, aside from the usual schadenfreude enjoyed at the expense of overconfident CEOs, is that it’s a perfect example of how the important intersection of people, process, and technology is rarely smoothly paved.

Like most public failures, the truth is found somewhere in between two extremes. I don’t think that BAA delivered a fatally flawed airport terminal system to BA, and I don’t believe that pure incompetence on the part of BA is responsible for the failures to date. It’s far more likely that a combination of poor training, poor planning, a rush to meet a schedule, and finally, systems that were not optimally configured are likely for the failures.

I found this interesting link which points to BA’s dissatisfaction with their new terminal earlier this year, prior to opening. What is interesting about it is that BA focused their concerns on “the backoffice” of airport operations rather than what happens from when you walk into the front door to the checkin terminal, suggesting that they were clearly overconfident about the things that ultimately ended up failing.

However, sometimes you have to approach something like this orthogonally. I recalled reading a story about organized crime at Heathrow and thought this would be something worth poking to see what came up:

Dispatches has obtained a restricted document which reveals just how grave the situation was deemed by ministers to be. As a direct result of this document and Government pressure, the Metropolitan Police formed ‘Operation Grafton’ to deal with Heathrow-related crimes. This operation discovered sophisticated criminal networks which stretched from within the airport to surrounding areas – identifying one village nearby in particular as having a ‘criminal element’.

I asked a friend who is with Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism task force about this, his response was indeed stunning and sobering at the same time. He basically said that while some of the problems at T5 are indeed the mundane kind of things related to a massive new building with new systems, he also suggested that there is another more sinister factor at work here.

It is widely known that organized crime is operating from within Heathrow and that it has gone on for generations. Crime at Heathrow has become institutionalized much like the Mafia here in the U.S. and drug trafficking. For the 3 years that the MP ran their operation at Heathrow they made little progress, and BA’s own security force has been even less effective. A former regimental seargant major with combat experience in Ulster and beyond quit BA Security after being appointed to investigate crime in the baggage handling areas, his resignation believed to be the result of death threats from the criminal gangs operating in the baggage areas.

It is believed that the baggage problems at Heathrow are at least partially the result of a war that is taking place within the airport between the criminal gangs, BAA, and BA. Part of the terminal move included a new screening procedure that was supposed to eliminate, or at least reduce, the criminal element at work in the baggage areas, and it is believed that the gangs are now actively disrupting T5’s operation as part of a guerilla war within the airport to determine who really runs it.

It’s unlikely that BA is willing to adopt an acceptable loss policy to quell the insurrection, so the next few months will be interesting to watch indeed, although I wouldn’t bet on reading much about this angle in the media as they are having well engaged in the narrative that BA’s clumsy handling of the transition is to blame.

Taken to an extreme it is not unreasonable to imagine something akin to the Miners’ Strike of the early 1980’s that resulted in breaking organized labor in British coal mining.

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Tax Policy in Competitive Markets

Billary has proposed a set of tax proposals aimed at encouraging U.S. job creation and stemming the tide of job losses to offshore manufacturing. I certainly don’t have a problem with expanding tax credits for R&D but the problem that exists with all of these programs today, including the much talked about R&D tax credit, is that the accounting and reporting requirements are so steep that very few startups actually take advantage of them.

I have never been involved with a startup that has applied for the R&D tax credit, but considering that startups typically don’t pay income taxes (lose money, no taxes) I never understood the point of linking this tax credit with startup job creation.

Big companies are a different animal, they have both the income structure and the ability to apply and track the tax credit. But at the end of the day if you want to encourage the creation of highly skilled R&D jobs in the U.S. you would propose the one thing that is blindingly obvious, increase the number of visa (H-1, F-1, J-1) that we allocate annually.

Another measure I would propose is the opposite of the two tax code sections that she wants to end, deferred taxes on repatriation of profits and repricing rules for intercompany transfers. Stated another way, create a tax policy that becomes a draw for foreign companies to locate in the U.S., focusing on the payroll, state and local taxes instead. The U.S. is already at an advantage with the weak dollar basically encouraging foreign companies to set up shop here, let’s make it even more attractive. BTW, these two tax “loopholes” that she refers to have been a favored target for Democrats for 3 decades, so this is nothing new insofar as the proposal is concerned.

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