Tale of Two First-time Senate Testimonies (and One More)

Testifying before a congressional committee for the first time.

Today (April 10, 2018), Mark Zuckerberg testified before a Senate committee for the first time. “His performance will be critical to the company’s future,” writes Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times

Twenty years ago last month — on March 3, 1988 — Bill Gates made a similar first-time appearance before a Senate committee, described by the Times’ Steve Lohr as “a spirited defense of his company’s business practices…and portrayed Microsoft as the standard bearer of the nation’s high-technology economy.”

Unlike Zuckerberg, Gates, who was 42 at the time, left any corporate remorse in Seattle.

If you can recall that era, it was during the time when Microsoft was defending itself against an antitrust suit by the Justice Department and a rising chorus of criticism that it was abusing its considerable power in the marketplace.

Quote from Gates to the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“Will the United States continue its breathtaking technological advances? I believe the answer is yes — if innovation is not restricted by the government.”

Compare that quote to Zuckerberg: “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry.” Zuckerberg said. But pressed on whether Facebook should be regulated more, Zuckerberg said only the “right regulations.”

A lot has changed since March 3, 1998.

For one thing, Gates became a full-time philanthropist and seems to have become a more likable guy. And the specific sins of Microsoft that brought about that hearing — and a later settlement — seem less important considering that Microsoft wasn’t a very good creator of browser software.

But history doesn’t seem to recall all the startups Microsoft killed on its journey to becoming, well, Microsoft. Those companies could have taken us in all different kinds of journeys. Or who knows?

Zuckerberg says that regulations will be okay as long as they are the right regulations.

That’s sort of what Gates said, but without that part about regulations being okay.

And how about this for an absolutely irrelevant sidebar

It’s easy for me to recall the day Gates first testified before a congressional committee. That’s because it was my first time to testify before a congressional committee, also. And it was the same day in the same building. And yes, I wanted to leave the hearing I was in to go see the hearing that was getting the same kind of coverage Zuckerberg is getting today. There was no line waiting to get in our hearing room.

I testified before the Senate Banking Committee. (See photo below.)

I was speaking as a small business owner who couldn’t understand why a small business couldn’t earn interest on money in a checking account. At the time, banks could pay interest on individual checking accounts, but not on a business checking account.

I don’t think Bill Gates had ever heard of my issue. Frankly, not too many small business owners had either.

I’m holding that stack of papers — nice touch, huh? — to show that it was easy to “sweep” money back and forth from checking and business accounts, but the accompanying mailing and paperwork was ridiculous.

I don’t recall exactly how that issue was ever resolved but I think it had something to do with Microsoft software.

March 3, 1998, Senate Banking Committee

Is Amazon Bad for the Postal Service? (Spoiler Alert: No)

The USPS has major problems, but the specific deal the USPS has with Amazon is a winning proposition for the Postal Service.

If you are reading this sometime in the future (say, anytime more recent than April 4, 2018), you may recall a week in 2018 when, as described by NYTimes.com reporter Nick Wingfield, “President Trump has pointed his Twitter arrows at Amazon over what he insists is a bad deal for the United States Postal Service.”

Trump, who, granted, is never a stickler for facts, has been blasting the U.S. Postal Service for the way they charge Amazon, “(that costs) the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy.”

While the details about the Amazon-USPS deal are not public, some of the available evidence suggests that Amazon has been a boon to the Postal Service.

As Hammock Inc. has managed, on behalf of our clients, the mailing of millions of individual magazines and other material during the past 27 years, I have been an interested observer of the challenges and woes the USPS has faced across that era.

Ten years ago, the USPS handled the shipment of 212 billion pieces of mail. Last year, that number had dropped to 149 billion. (Look in your email inbox or text message client and you’ll understand why.)

The reality is that the specific deal the USPS has with Amazon is a winning proposition for the Postal Service. Bloomberg has one of many articles that explain why.

The short version is this: While email has crushed snail mail, the business of package shipping, including Amazon orders, grew to 5.7 billion packages last year from 3.3 billion in 2008.

Several years ago, the Postal Service added Sunday delivery for Amazon packages. Do you think the USPS loses money on this? No way.

But there is no doubt that the USPS loses money — like $2.7 billion on revenues of $69.6 in revenues in its last fiscal year.

Moreover — and dating back as far as I can recall — the USPS faces mind-boggling obligations related to its retirement pension. In effect, it is bankrupt.

Most analysts view Amazon’s use of the USPS to ship its products as a boon for the service.

Quote from NYTimes.com:

“It is one thing to demand better financial performance from the U.S.P.S., but something very different, in our view, to equate the U.S.P.S. financial struggles with the rise of Amazon,” Colin Sebastian, an analyst at Baird, a stock research firm, wrote in a research report on Tuesday. “If nothing else, the U.S.P.S. was already generating billions of dollars in operating losses well before Amazon became a large customer.”

The Postal Service says all such deals it makes are profitable — and must be by law.

But in one of his tweet attacks, Mr. Trump seemed to dispute whether Amazon was covering the Postal Service’s costs, saying that “it is reported that the U.S. Post Office will lose $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon.”

Where did Trump’s claim come from (other than his hatred of the Washington Post and, thus, its owner, Jeff Bezos.)? See Snopes.com.

Scientists Prove Cyclists Are More Awesome Than Those Who Don’t Bike

Okay. Perhaps that headline is a bit hyperbolic.

Okay. Perhaps that headline is a bit hyperbolic.

However, it does turn out that according to 100% factual news from NPR that Ponce de Leon was looking in the wrong place for the fountain of youth. He should have checked out a bike shop. That way, he would have lived about 400 more years for bicycles to be invented.

Listen to this if you don’t believe me. (Except the article doesn’t mention Ponce de Leon.)

Quote

“What we found in the cyclists was that they had as many of these new T cells just coming out of their thymus as a 20-year-old, which means they should be better protected from all sorts of infections.”

Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing
The University of Birmingham (England)

While it’s a great article, there’s one thing wrong with it:

Reporter Allison Aubrey makes it sound like the word “exercise” and the word “bicycling” are synonyms.

I ride a bike around 2,500 miles a year. (Unless it’s a good year and I ride more.)

Of those 2,500 miles, I ride exactly 0 miles for exercise.

Not even one.

In fact, I only have one rule for bicycling: Never do it for exercise.

For exercise, go to the Y and take a spin class. Maybe throw in a hot yoga session while you’re at it. I once did those two things back-to-back and immediately threw up.

For exercise, maybe you should buy one of those $2,000 Peolotons and then pay $40 a month to have some guy whose muscles have muscles make you ride so hard, you immediately throw up. I did that once, also.

That’s exercise.

There are only two reasons to ride a bike.

1. Transportation.
2. Fun.

When you say you are riding for transportation, it makes you sound like you are doing something productive.

You can say things like, “I can get four bags of groceries in my Ortlieb panniers.”

Or, “I can commute to and from Jeni’s ice cream and eat a large cone with two scoops of milk chocolate and salted caramel ice cream.”

Once I tried riding a bike for exercise, but I soon quit because I’m not a fan of exercising…or spandex.

I have not yet found a reason to quit something as fun as riding a bike.

And since I’m not aging, I’ll probably not quit for a long time.

 

Photo: Some bike-share bicycles in Milan. Note the cobblestones. They aren’t fun to ride on.

Warning: Earworm ahead:

Tweetdecking is Either a New Buzzword or a Doomed One

Tweetdecking, we hardly knew you.

I’ve often said that if you try to game Google for SEO purposes, you are going up against the best engineers in the world. And since the Goose that lays the Golden Google eggs is the quality of search results, anything that is done outside the parameters of what Google approves of is like asking Google to turn you into invisibility.

Twitter seems to be understanding that approach…finally. Seems like they started crushing something called “tweetdecking” over the weekend.

via BuzzFeed:

Tweetdecking, as it’s called, is an explicit violation of Twitter’s spam policy, which does not allow users to “sell, purchase, or attempt to artificially inflate account interactions.”

Still, Twitter has previously struggled to crack down on these accounts.

After a BuzzFeed News story uncovered the practice of tweetdecking in January, Twitter announced new spam-fighting changes to Tweetdeck, including removing the ability to simultaneously retweet a tweet across multiple accounts.

Tweetdecking is over. Our follower gains are gonna diminish,” Andrew Guerrero, a 23-year-old tweetdecker in New Mexico, told BuzzFeed News after Twitter announced the changes in February.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons