Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Sets, 2008 Rises

Grand Canyon Sunset

Just wanted to wish everyone all the best for 2008 and hope that 2007 treated you well.

From a business perspective, 2007 was a good year for us. Looks like we'll end up right around our bookings target, and we'll have got there with a nice mix of business rather than having to rely on any single large deal. We've upgraded the team and made good progress on developing the technology. The challenge ahead for 2008 will be to accelerate our growth, something we'll need to find a way to fund through taking additional equity capital and/or debt.

On the personal side, the only real black spot on the year was losing Caitlin. She'd been part of the family since we were back in the UK so we lost both a dog and a link back to some very happy times there in the house we rebuilt in Sussex. Aside from that, everyone got through the year largely in good health, and even I've recovered very well after falling off that ladder!

Thanks to everyone for tracking us via these postings and I'll strive to maintain the discipline as we move into 2008.

Happy New Year!!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Twin Trees Topple

I mentioned in an earlier post that in a recent storm the top of a redwood got blown off so we used it as a Christmas tree. Well, it turns out that this wasn't the only casualty.

Right on the edge of our property we discovered that a Siamese-twin pair of trees had blown down, knocking out a madrone and the top of a heavily-rotted pine that woodpeckers had been having a field day with. In doing so, part of the debris had landed on our neighbours' land, leaving us with some work to do in the Spring when things dry out again.

The photos here don't quite do justice to just how big these trees are. Top-to-roots, each must measure close to a hundred feet. I still have no idea quite how we'll tackle clearing this up. In the end, we may just clear the land next door and let nature take it's course for the rest.

The joys of country living are endless and, apparently, have shallow roots.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hello, John, Got A New Motor?

(With apologies to Alexe Sayle)

As BAR reminded me, I hadn't closed the loop on the new car thing.

Yes, we did end up replacing our 8 year old, 140k-miler Acura. After much deliberation on my part - some more unkind types might call it vacillation - I ended up with BMW 335i Coupe. I looked very hard at the Infiniti G37S and have to say I still think it's great value, especially as I hear tales of some people negotiating deals at close to invoice for what is essentially a brand new model that was only released this Fall. (I, it arrives in the UK next year according to evo, after they have rejigged the interior and suspension settings for picky Brits.) However, it's a bit boy-racer - especially as I'd have to go for the sports suspension - and once I figured out that if I kept this car as long as the last one I'll be 58 by the time I'm looking to trade it, then the BMW won out as the, err, sensible choice.

Sparkling Graphite - aka gray - with black interior and aluminium trim, an option that was hard to find (why they still build so many of these things with bits of wood nailed to the dash beats me.). Usual clutch of extras you have to take to get the couple of things you actually want and before you know it the price starts escalating dramatically. Bloody Germans.

Anyway, after several long hours in the dealer, combined with much getting up and packing to leave in order to move things along, we finally got an OK price on the car itself plus an acceptable trade-in value. Don't know if it really makes much difference but we elected to go in right before year-end and to only buy a vehicle they had in-situ. Could probably have squeezed a couple hundred more out of them but ultimately you just reach a point where the whole process is so damn tiresome it's just time to get it done, something the of course rely upon each and every time! Just as an aside, we did look at using Cars Direct again since that worked so well for the Tacoma pick-up but the price they were showing wasn't close to what we got by pressing the dealer first hand. Go figure.

Now all that remains is to wade through the 268 page users manual so I can figure out the intricacies of iDrive, Comfort Access, Hands-Free dialling and the Navigation System options. Hopefully, I can get all this stuff programmed-up without flattening the battery ....

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Just wanted to use this post as a way to say:

- thanks to everyone that sent us a Christmas card, and apologies for not returning the favour. Somehow, we just never got our act together this year. We will strive to do better next year.

- Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy new year.

We don't have much in the way of plans, but frankly just not being in the office for a few days will be break enough for me.

Hope Santa does you proud and that the holiday cheer lasts well beyond Boxing Day.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Retail Therapy

I was right, this was a week that somehow got away from me, pretty much every day in fact.

We won't know the full tally for the final Q - and hence the fiscal year as a whole - until early in 2008, but I can say that we have passed our 2006 total so at least we'll be able to say we continued to grow.

(For us, FY06 was characterised by one customer constituting over a third of our business, largely in a single deal. Therefore, comparing this year with last was always going to be a stretch because that was something of a one-off event which we couldn't anticipate happening again in '08.)

Hopefully, I'll manage to grab a few days off next week but I have to say that things show no sign of slowing up and what with us chasing a couple of large deals for 1Q08, combined with needing to begin a fund-raising process right as the new year starts, it's going to be hard to switch off.

So I think I'll buy a new car.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Politicians? Bah, Humbug.

As mentioned earlier, we're chasing down as much Q-end business as possible, one significant (>$1m) piece of which is with a government agency. Despite a budget being agreed for that department, funds won't get released until the overall budget is passed, a process that is currently stalled as the two main parties in congress up the level of bickering and conflict as a way of sharpening the divide before the 2008 election process gets fully underway in Iowa in a couple of weeks time.

Net-net is we just heard that no new POs will be issued by this agency this year, and that they have continuance funding for salaries only at this stage. In short, we've just been screwed by all those fine folk we fund in order that they can spend their days in the Capitol pontificating about principles they love to hold up, but rarely uphold.

If literally every other piece of business we are tracking closes this week and the dollar exchange rate stays in favourable territory then we'll just about make plan for the year pretty much right on the button. And no, this is not a comfortable place to be in the last full selling week in 2007....

I'll keep you posted, but fair to say I may be a bit distracted this week.

Friday, December 14, 2007

And Speaking of Severed Limbs ...

Photo by Frank Lin, via Reuters

... came across the above as one of the 400 top global images from Reuters in 2007. Seems a vet in Taiwan got a bit too close to the bitey-end of one of his patients (who will now need a dentist to come and floss-away what's got stuck between those molars.)

Is it just me or does that croc have a bit of a smug grin about him?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Magic Leg Lopped Off & Now Lost

I kid you not. Indian police are searching for the lopped-off leg of a Chittoor mystic. Seems local legend was that if you touched it then you could take advantage of it's magical healing powers or be granted your heart-felt wishes.

Consequently, a couple of smart, local entrepreneurs concluded that if the leg is magic - which it obviously was - then it's power must transcend the corporeal host, and hence it should work even if the owner were, say, no longer around? I mean, just touching the rest of the bloke didn't seem to do anything Disneyesque so it must all be in the leg, right?

Being resourceful sorts, they got the "owner" drunk and then amputated the magic limb with a scythe, making good their getaway before anyone woke up and noticed what they'd done.

"We are looking for the miscreants as well as the leg", police said. Which is nice.

The owner is still alive, if not particularly chipper, and probably thanking his lucky stars that it wasn't his forehead that was magical ....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Happy Accidents

We had an executive meeting yesterday with one of the biggest names here in Silicon Valley (no, not Google!) We've been working with them for a while on a pilot program that stretches our technology to the max but which, in return, could deliver significant value to the customer.

The goal of the meeting from our side was quite explicit: we need a PO in order to continue to work on this. The customer, for obvious reasons, would prefer to keep the proof-of-concept (PoC) going in order to reduce the risks of betting on what we are striving to sell them.

Anyway, the meeting quickly headed off into the weeds, getting wrapped up in technical details. The main executive we need to work on was starting to disengage as his technical team got more involved in a bits-and-bytes discussion in the background. To get back in control we were about to have to step on quite a few toes in order to refocus things on the key business issues that we needed to get addressed.

Right then, the fire alarm went off! After a few moments, it soon became clear that this was neither a test nor a drill, and that in fact something in a lab somewhere had tripped the sirens and flashing lights into action.

Rather than stand outside wasting time on what was a very chilly California morning, we headed off to another building, losing the conference call attendees along the way. Bingo! No slides, no remote bridge to the technical team in India.

Long story short, we took our shot and made our pitch to the VP, thereby getting the green light to begin commercial discussions.

Sometimes, you truly are better off being lucky rather than smart ....

Sunday, December 9, 2007

R8 Hot Laps (ADE V)

As I was walking away from the RS4 and unbuckling my helmet, I got called back to the pit lane. Turns out that the prize for winning the autocross challenge was to get a few hot laps in the R8 alongside one of the instructors. I quickly stopped taking my helmet off and shoved it back on again before jumping into the passenger seat of an extremely cool looking black-on-black model as quickly as I could before someone changed their mind. (I was thinking more in terms of a t-shirt, which, having said that, would have been nice too!)

I noticed that the instructor turned off the ESP system, something they obviously stopped us from doing for 160,000-odd reasons, and poked a few other buttons I couldn't quite see. Anyway, off we went, heading up the hill with a lot more vigor than was used for the lead-follow session, but still well within the limits of the car. Indeed, despite the pace being upped more than one notch, to my mind we never got much beyond seven or eight tenths at most. Doubtless, this had a lot to do with the attendant costs of replacing tyres on the car as well as making doubly sure you don't injure the R8 or whoever happened to be inside at the time.

Coming out of the hairpin turn right after the pit entrance, I think even the instructor was getting a bit bored as I noticed the drift angle was increasing lap by lap. Seems with ESP off then you can get the tail out in quite a controlled fashion and without having to get all lurid with tyres smoking and watchers on the pit wall diving for cover. Would love to have the opportunity to test that behaviour myself but all I can say is that the benign and rock-solid characteristics I found on my laps seem to hold good right up to the limits of grip that can be squeezed from the massive rear tyres. Again, kudos to Audi for their chassis development work on this car.

And that was about it. A great half-day was had by all, and we even got breakfast & lunch thrown in for good measure. Sure, it wasn't cheap, but considering the machinery on offer then in terms of getting track access to the RS4 and the R8 then really it was good value in my book.

Now, Audi, about that V10 derivative, any chance I could get a go in that version too, just for comparisons sake of course?? No charge.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Audi RS4 Track Drive (ADE IV)

A Brace Of Audi RS4s

Jumping out of the sublime R8, it was off to the autocross test. After a couple of practice sessions it was all down to three timed runs, across each of the fifteen participants, in order to determine the winner. The course comprised a fast right/left combination, a 180 degree hairpin and a dog-leg left into the finishing box. Fast as you like without hitting any cones, and ending with the front wheels inside the finish box. Weaponry provided? Audi TT V6.

Best technique I found was to hold the car on the brakes with the left foot, add a little throttle, and then just floor it when ready, simultaneously letting go of the brakes. Yup, it was an automatic and all this palava was just trying to get the damn thing to launch quickly.

Flat into the first corner, feather to take the second, flat to the hairpin; brake hard as you can - and earlier than you'd like - and turn in; off the brakes and floor it again right until you hit the brakes once more for the final stop. Afterwards, I could think of ways to squeeze more time (left foot brake for the hairpin but keep the throttle part open to speed the spool up of the engine afterwards, for example) but two of the three times were reasonable, sitting in the upper-mid 11-second range.

Turns out I must have got it mostly right as not only did I win the competition but two of my three posted times beat the benchmark set by the instructor. (I completely blew one run by trying too hard.) Chalk one up for the 50+ CEO over the winner of last year's US rally championship!

Last up, back to the track, this time in the RS4. Here's another car I was looking forward to driving. Reputed to be a hardcore road car with serious performance credentials - 420 bhp again, 8-piston front brakes, uprated suspension, 0-60 in 4.8 seconds - this would be a fascinating comparison with it's bigger brother. Except, except.

Here's the problem: the R8 had set the bar so high that it took me a fair-few laps to get over how much the RS4 was rolling as you pushed it harder and harder through the corners. The comparison unduly highlighted what the RS4 actually is - a beefier A4, and all that this implies - and not a custom-designed two-seater sports car. Now in many ways it was a bit more fun to drive because you could feel the chassis working hard, dealing with all the forces that were building; it kept you busier, in short, making sure that you stayed smooth and clean because any margin for error was quickly disappearing as things got faster. Regardless, it's clearly a very potent car that in context of the rest of the A4 series takes the platform about as far as it can go. $70,000 worth? Your call, but for me I think I'd be doing a lot of comparisons with other contenders from Mercedes and BMW to figure out what balance of characteristics I was looking for (road vs. track, daily driver friendly, room for spouse-and-sprogs, etc.)

One thing I forgot to mention, for the track sessions we were randomly paired with other course participants: one drives while the other rides. The guy I had in the R8 was fine. The instructor slowed down somewhat and that car flattered all kinds of driving styles, good and bad. Alas, not so the RS4. After the first sighting lap, the guy who took over in the driver's seat in my car was quickly out of his depth. We reached the point where you needed binoculars to find the apex on corners you were going through. Braking was a randomly-instigated event that occurred somewhere in the transition from going straight into one end of the corner and unwinding lock again out the other side, you just never knew quite where or when it would happen. I came to greatly appreciate just how wide Infineon is, because I think we drove over just about every inch of it, finding new and previously untried lines on pretty much every lap. Thankfully, the session was soon over and the instructor obviously saw what was happening and kept the pace down in order to protect Audi's investment in sheet metal for these courses. Phew.

Summary? A great time was had by all, and the R8 really is a stunning entrant into the super-car stakes, justifying both the price tag and the hype.

Final epilogue tomorrow, with one last twist.....

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Audi R8 Track Drive (ADE III)

Audi Circles: the R8

"Dip the clutch again, select first, and strive to pull away with stalling and embarrassing oneself", was the mantra going through my head, and it must have worked OK because the R8 set off down the pit lane cleanly. Gear change feels like it has some heft to it, at least compared with various other Japanese or German boxes I've used, but it perfectly complements the steering weight and the seriousness implied by the toothed selector plate. (I now fully appreciate that famous Ferrari "snick-snick" noise people talk about as the gear lever slots from gate to gate.) Throughout all the laps I drove I never once got the wrong gear and very soon built real confidence in what I was selecting and how long it would take. (Minor initial niggle - that machining on the gear knob - see the photo in the last post - was a bit of surprise, and if you were really charging and working the box hard it might be an issue. After reflection, though, my advice would be: Wear gloves and/or suck it up! Once used to it then to me it just helped the hand connect with the mechanical action of the box and would stop it slipping off if things got a bit hectic and sweaty. Again, lovely design touch, doubtless based solely on feedback from the test mule drivers.)

OK, by now we are in third gear and heading up the hill at Infineon. Turn-in is sharp and precise, body roll is .... is .... well, basically missing-in-action. Here's the most remarkable thing about this car: the suspension is always as firm as you need it to be, self adjusting as you corner, accelerate or brake. Don't know how much change the electronics allow, nor what the difference would be between "Sport" (the setting I used) and "Normal", but this car just gives you enormous confidence as you move around the track. I've never driven a road car with this kind of flat-feeling dynamic. My 911 has the sport suspension set up but at these speeds you'd feel it moving around, balancing forces, dipping and rising, and generally acting like it was a drunk row-boat captain in comparison. Sure, not really a fair benchmark - 8 years and nearly $80,000 separate the two - but even so the Audi chassis is in a division all of it's own.

Reinforcing the driver-focused nature of this beast, within three or four corners I was happily heeling-and-toeing. The pedal alignment is perfect, setting the throttle foot in a place where just a slight flex to the right blips the engine revs right to where you want them to be. I also found that the seemingly flywheel-less nature of the engine meant that if you over-cooked the revs they would just drop instantly to the right figure as you raised the clutch. Remember the following: No inertia, no lag! Again, jumping into some cars it can take me forever to adapt and make this technique flow, and sometimes it never works at all. Not here though, it's like the whole car, every control, is poised, waiting for new inputs and then almost telegraphing them before you act. Addictive stuff.

As the pace picked up (dictated by the now increasingly frustrating lead-follow approach) the R8 just carried on delivering the goods. Despite all the protestations over the radio to stick to third gear, I was now using second, third and fourth, following close enough to try and speed things along but without getting so close as to get the instructor all riled. Brakes were strong and firm, the pedal reacting to pressure and not going all soft and relying instead on how far you press it down in order to meter out the required level of retardation.

Despite the short few laps allowed, at least it was a chance to use full throttle in places, get the speed up (over 120 in sections), work the suspension and lean on the brakes. With a car at this level of performance, getting even this far into the envelope would be hard to do without either endangering yourself or your licence! This engine is a revelation, revving freely, instantly and delivering a very decent slug of power throughout the rev range. It's a testament to the platform that it will easily absorb the forthcoming V10 version of the R8 and the 500+ bhp that this will bring. And given the noise that this V8 version delivers, the V10 will doubtless set-off every car alarm within a hundred yards. Can't wait.

This car is a revelation. It's streets ahead of any other road-going Audi, clearly overlapping with that other stable mate in the Audi portfolio, namely Lamborghini. However, this is a car that you could more likely use on a daily basis and which delivers equivalent performance to the smaller Lambo in a package that is more graciously styled and likely better nailed together.

Competition? The 911 C4S would be the obvious comparison point, at least on paper. Having not driven the latest version I can't really offer much insight here (but if anyone out there has one they'd like to let me drive I'd be happy to oblige!) However, I've got the feeling that Porsche are presently getting their Germanic heads together to try and work out how to raise their game so they can compete because, quite frankly, I think the R8 would win.
(Course, instead of competing, Porsche may just buy the VW group instead ... stay tuned.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Audi R8 (ADE II)

Audi R8 Gear Lever

Despite what I said yesterday, the agenda for the Audi Driving Experience happened in a different order than was listed. For me, it went as follows: braking and turning; high speed lane change; R8 track time; autocross challenge; RS4 track time.

Not much to say about activities one and two. The A6 seems a fine mid-size, premium saloon car. Comfy seats, plenty of toys, healthy dollops of leg room and a decent balance of leather and wood. Not my sort of thing but well up there with the likes of Mercedes and Lexus, and streets ahead of anything Detroit has to offer.

Let's start then with the R8. Yeah, I know, bit like eating desert first and spoiling the rest of dinner, but having said that then hang the menu and pass me the spoon!

Sitting in the R8, first impressions are very positive. The interior looks and feels like it belongs in a German car costing around $150k all-in (more on the price later). Subtle touches abound such as the machined gear lever nicely complementing the heater controls and the Ferrari-style metal gate on the manual transmission. (I was offered the paddle-shift tiptronic-auto version to drive but refused, and not so politely at that! Completely unacceptable.) Seats were comfortable, well padded and very easy to get into a driving position that felt instantly "right", no mean feat in itself and a good sign that the driver's needs were given priority throughout the design process. Anyway, after a bit of random button poking to see what was what, time to fire up the engine and see what we have to play with.

Dip the - nicely weighted - clutch and turn the key. Car starts cleanly, emitting the kind of idling growl that might better come from the jaws of a mountain lion shortly before it decides that you are looking good for lunch. Engine temperature now picking up so time to blip the throttle to see how the engine reacts.

Jeez. That can't be right. This thing spins up to 5,000 rpm with the barest press, revs rising and falling with seemingly no inertia or lag. I try again just to be sure. Yup, same thing. This engine reacts more like a race lump than those gracing most of the actual racing cars I've ever driven. Things just got serious. Now we know we have 420 bhp in a dry-sumped, light weight V8 unit, revving to over 8,000 rpm, packed amidships into a car that certainly looks like it was designed by a company used to winning the 24 hours of Le Mans year-in, year-out. Add to that 4 wheel drive, trick magnetic dampers and tyres so fat they must have a BMI north of a hundred, and all of a sudden I can see what the fuss is about. This has all the makings of a serious performance car, not just some Audi design exercise intended merely to impress fat-walleted poseurs into lining up for a limited availability boulevard cruiser.

Time to roll-on-out to the track ... but not until the next post!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Audi Driving Experience (I)

Thought I'd kick off by just summarizing how the half-day was organized and then move onto my thoughts on specific cars in the next couple of days. OK with everyone? Good. Then let's begin.

Audi runs these sessions around the country, starting in Miami in July and ending in San Diego next week. From what I could see, they just did around 5 days in Sonoma using the facilities at Infineon Raceway.

Two groups run roughly half an hour apart, fifteen students in each, two courses in the morning and two in the afternoon.

The morning starts with a half-hour briefing on the basics of tyre contact patches, weight transfer and grip circles. Nothing unique here but it was done with a new spin: justifying why Quattro provides more grip, in certain circumstances, than either front- or rear-wheel drive.

Class over, it's off to the apron for the basics: turning while braking under ABS and the high-speed lane change. Again, if you have ever done any one of these driving courses before you'll be familiar with this stuff. Cars used for these exercises were A6's.

Next up, there were timed runs around an autocross course in V6 Audi TT Tiptronics with the fastest time in any group of 15 qualifying for some unspecified prize.

From there it's onto the race circuit itself for lead-follow laps in the RS4 and the R8. (Lead-follow means the instructor drives the first car and asks cars two and three to follow the line, braking, turn points, etc.)

The actual sequence of who-does-what-when varied but everyone did the full set and seat time was reasonable given the price ($595, in case you are curious).

We started at 9 am and wrapped up just after 12:30 pm. Breakfast and lunch were thrown in but no other free goodies; I was hoping for a t-shirt at least, but no such luck!

Overall, very well organized and at Infineon they had a custom suite set up with flat screen TVs and B&O sound systems. Nice touch! Plenty of brochures, too, just in case you brought your cheque book ....

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Yup, We're That Cheap

Seems it was a bit windy while I was gone last week? Getting home, I found piles of leaves and twigs all over the ground, leaving me with the necessary evil of getting the leaf blower out to clear them up.

Anyway, turns out the top blew off a redwood tree no more than 50 yards from the house. Better than last year, I suppose, when a large branch fell onto the roof & cracking a bunch of tiles, but I digress.

Instead of heading off to the Christmas tree farm to saw one down, costing us $25 in the process, we decided to drag this thing inside to see if it would work instead.

(BTW, sorry for the crappy picture but I seem to be having terrible problems with Photoshop and Lightroom; In fact, almost any application is a pain to run on my laptop right now. Click on anything in those applications and the disk will thrash itself to death for five minutes. Sigh. Probably time for a new one.)

Perfect? Nope - it's a bit uneven and likely to drop needles faster than a heroin addict with the DTs - but we saved a tree and went all self-sufficient to boot. It's going to be a green Christmas!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cursed Or What?

Still here in Stockholm, but suffering a bit I must say!

In addition to the old back thing, I managed to walk smack into a glass door I never saw, hitting my head & knee simultaneously, and biting my tongue to boot. To cap it all, I came out of the office tonight to find it had snowed during the day and that the slush had frozen on the pavements. Somehow or other, I managed to avoid falling over but it was extremely close there a couple of times as I slipped and slithered towards the metro station.

Living in California, you really do forget what a real northern hemisphere climate is like!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Determined or deluded? Either way, you lose!

Baci, Looking Very Determined

Just been reading yet another article on how someone, somewhere, was absolutely convinced that their business idea would work out, and so after sinking their life savings into it/mortgaging the house/borrowing to the max from friends-and-family (plus slogging away for 5 years, 18 hours a day for precious little money) it all comes good. Heart warming stuff, and I wish them every success. But for each stirring tale of overcoming seemingly unbeatable odds, how many stories are there, that never get told, where people lose their shirts/home/self-respect because it doesn't pan out? 10:1? 100:1?

As an aside, if you have ever watched Gordon Ramsey striving to get failing restaurant businesses back on course then you'd probably conclude it's more like 1,000:1 against in the catering trade. Never have I seen such a collection of businesses where the owners have so little idea about how to fix what's so obviously broken (or so many chefs who have an unrealistically high opinion of their own abilities without any justification whatsoever). Somehow, they seem to combine determination with delusion, a recipe for financial disaster if ever there was one.

In the VC business, great store is placed on entrepreneurs who have that "do or die" attitude, and rightly so. After all, if the founder doesn't believe in their business, who else will? But it's worth remembering that VCs get to make the call on where the dividing line sits between a determined founder who will get there in the end and one who they feel has become deluded about either their own strengths or weaknesses or the viability of their original vision. Either way, the VCs come out ahead. If the business succeeds, everyone wins; if they have to replace the founder, recap and bring in new management, they now have a much larger share of something that's (theoretically) had new life breathed into it.

All this really does is to reinforce the notion that it's better to be managing the money than it is to be running the business, founder or not. It's not very fair, perhaps, but it is how the game is played. Somehow though, this is never made clear at the beginning of the courtship process when an entrepreneur is looking for funds ..... wonder why?

If you think the 100:1 odds look bad, try also factoring in there the following: for those entrepreneurs who do succeed, if they took VC money along the way then many of those rewards will, in fact, pass them straight by. And if you think otherwise then you may have already stepped over that line into the delusional camp!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Flying J

Back to Stockholm again, leaving Saturday and returning the following Friday. Frankly, I could do without this trip, not least because I still hurt and the thought of two flights and 13 hours in aeroplane seats fills me with a sense of impending dread. Add to that a lot of stuff piling up back in the office here in California and I really could use to stay home. Alas, there's also a lot to do in Stockholm so I really do need to go. Let's hope BA's economy class wine selection is up to the job of doubling as an anaesthetic.

Still, something to look forward to when I get back: a week on Monday I get to spend a few hours at Sears Point driving a clutch of new Audis, including the R8. Hope my back/ribs are up to it ....

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just wanted to wish you all happy holidays and a thoroughly wonderful "celebrate-not-being-British day".

Peace out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Steering Gear

Spending quite some time these days working on the future: future funding, future strategy, future headcount. Whilst it's often said that few startups die because of a lack of strategy, it still has the potential to be a mortal - if slower-acting - blow.

Not yet sure what the outcome will be (stick to plan-of-record, branch off into a new direction, or something of both) but questions are coming up that we'll need to answer over the coming weeks. There's a lot going on that has to be processed and factored-in, and I'm sure we'll end up figuring it all out, but that still doesn't mean the journey will be easy or the route obvious.

We do indeed live in interesting times, and let's hope that's just a statement of fact and not the Chinese curse that out there and set to bedevil us!

Glug, Glug

Tried to spend a relaxing weekend doing not-very-much. Mostly succeeded.

Sunday, we took advantage of a free coupon to go wine tasting at a local winery, Testarossa in Los Gatos. Testarossa operates in the old Novitiate Winery facility, set into the hills above Los Gatos and still utilising the original three-level, gravity fed production equipment.

It looks like the grounds etc. surrounding the property must themselves be worth a visit but in late November the only thing that was open was the tasting room.

Standard pricing is $10 each for tasting five wines, refundable against the purchase of any bottles at the end of the process. Hmm, a bit pricey but since for us it was free then OK, what the hell, gimme a glass.

The wines offered were in the $20 to $50 range and covered two whites and three reds.

Overall impression? Not that great. The chardonnay poured was OK but the two pinots we tried were disappointing, especially given the prices they were trying to charge. (Why do wineries continue to beleive that just because it's a pinot they can charge a premium, even if they've never won an accolade or built some kind of reputation?)

We ended up buying a bottle of their shiraz. It was an OK price - especially after getting $10 off for the tasting fee - and has some tannin in there that should allow it to last for a while.

Worth a visit, but more so if the property itself is fully open so you can do more than taste stuff.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Running Out Of Steam

Apologies for the lack of posts this week but a few things have conspired to make each day run longer than expected. Take today, for example. Got to the office by 7 am and then ended up working straight through to 6 pm without a break. Took me an hour and fifteen minutes to make the journey home, a trip that's usually no more than 40 minutes. Another hour doing e-mail and so here we are trying to wrap the day up at 8:30 pm, thirteen and a half hours later.

Still, too, suffering from the fall at the weekend. Mostly it's OK, but all of a sudden I'll get a spasm kicking-in, a nasty reminder that I'm getting older and hence heal more slowly from this sort of thing. Having a back complaint is no fun whatsoever, leaving me with much more empathy for those who have this as a chronic condition than I ever had before.

As you can tell, we have lot going on at work right now and in this quarter in particular we are flat out trying to get things done before we simply run out of road for the year. What with Thanksgiving and Christmas, the sands of time are not falling in our favour.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Slow Recovery ... Drugs Are Good

Starting to recover from the weekend attempt at wing-less flight. Mostly, I'm just left with these back muscle spasms that seem to come and go. It isn't too bad really. It only hurts when I move. Oh, or when I sit still ...

Have got to appreciate the benefits of Vicodin and Percocid though. Amazing what my wife has tucked away for a rainy day!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Our House Just Tried To Kill Me

Despite having lavished tens of thousands of dollars upgrading it's deck, our house just tried to kill me. This was some what surprising, a bit like an aging, friendly neighbourhood Labrador suddenly deciding to bite the postman: Once it happens, you are never quite again sure if it was a one-off incident or the beginning of some deep psychological change heralding a descent into matching Cerberus as the pup you'd least like to house-train.

Taking one of our dogs outside this morning, I did notice that the new Trex deck, covered as it was with a light coating of dew, did seem pretty slippery, a fact I subsequently decided to - almost - completely ignore, an oversight for which I paid a bit of a price.

We are due for a rain storm tonight so I wanted to have a quick check around the gulleys and gutters up on the roof just to make sure I could sleep soundly. Apart from finding that a squirrel somewhere had concluded that one of the roof gulleys was the perfect place to stash acorns, all was well. To do this inspection, though, I have to set a ladder against the side of the house and clamber up one story in order to get up there. Climbing it, I did pause to think, "hmm, slippery, ladder, donuts, deck, tea, something-something, leaves, dog-food etc." This stream-of-consciousness lack of insight was a bit Homer Simpson-ish, I agree, and so I suppose I deserved what happened next.

As I was coming back down the ladder, right after I had my full (well, as full as I get, which isn't saying much) weight on it .... the feet started to slide away from the house. Oh ...... crap .....

The ladder slid rapidly down the side of the house until it lay horizontally on the deck; I slid much more quickly through thin air, landing straight on top of it, mostly horizontal. Nope, it didn't happen in slow motion, and yes, it probably was very funny, so long as you were watching from somewhere else and not participating.

Just in the interests of trying a scientific test, I started to see if I could get up. Fortunately, most things - limbs, brain, internal stuff - seemed to still work. My right foot though seemed to bee an immediate issue because it was hurting already, but this was soon overshadowed by my left kidney shouting at me to please stop whatever it was I was doing because it was leading to there being no fun at all going on in here under my rib cage thank you very much. So I did, and lay still for a bit.

Help arrived in two forms: a) Susan and b) dog; a) was useful, b) was not.

After a wee while staying still, contemplating the error of my ways and generally fretting about whether or not I'd damaged the deck, I was able to get up and hobble around, just to see if anything more worrisome came to the surface.

So here we are, a few hours later, and I think the damage is relatively minor. Some chips knocked off and a few scrapes. The house and deck will be fine, in fact. Me? Well, my right foot got a bit twisted and a couple of toes were bent back, but my kidney/rib area is pretty knocked about. If I breathe too deeply it hurts like hell, so this is something I now avoid at all costs. Sitting in comfy chairs is anything but, and lifting anything more than a cup of tea is a non-starter. Still, I seem to be passing the pee test: nothing red is coming out, so being a doctor and all, that is of course everything I need to prove that I'm fine.

Course, if I never post again then at least you will all know why ....

Perhaps houses do have feelings? Maybe having the deck replaced was like us having dental work without any anaesthetic?

Either way, we now have a problem. One more unprovoked attack and we'll have to have the old girl put down. Sad, but it's in the public interest.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Memorial To History (II)

Here's the second treatment I tried for this memorial. Different angle, different view, and I think a different sort of message. Still don't know which I prefer. Your call!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Memorial To History

Finally got round too to processing some pictures from an earlier trip to London. Was there with some of the team from the USA and so took them to the Tower Of London for a quick look-see. Have to confess, though, that this was as much for my benefit as theirs. I've not been there since I was 5 years old or thereabouts so in all honesty it felt like I'd never actually been there before. It was fun wandering around the ramparts and towers and considering how popular this place is then getting in wasn't too difficult. However, the queue inside the compound to see the crown jewels was much longer than any of us fancied standing in so I still have something to do next time around!

It's fun being a tourist in London. Can't think why I haven't done it before.

Anyway, here's a shot of the memorial placed at the site of the scaffold on top of which a great many beheadings took place over the centuries. Tomorrow I'll post another view of the same thing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Grand Canyon

South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon

OK, OK, I know you are all heartily sick of pictures of bits of rock and sand so I'll make this the last one.

We ended up the trip by spending a couple of days exploring the Grand Canyon area. I'd never been there before so for me it was a great experience to actually see this place first-hand and close-up. It really is a remarkable sight, and on a scale that's hard to fathom even when you are there. Plus, the visibility was quite remarkable. In one location a view board pointed out a mountain, sitting in plain sight on the horizon, that was 90 miles away ....

Alas, we didn't really have time to do much in the way of serious hiking but did do a part of the Bright Angel trail and, as shown above, the South Kaibab. (Next time I'd certainly like to do more of that trail. You can get all the way down to the Colorado river but that's a fair old hike being as how it's around 13 miles there-and-back including some 4,800 feet elevation change.)

Overall we had a great trip, and closing out at the Grand Canyon was a fine way to end it. Heartily recommended (but then I'm sure most of you have already been there way before me!)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Wupatki National Monument

Home straight here - time to leave Page and head towards the Grand Canyon but with one assignment left on the photo course: Wupatki National Monument at sunset. Thanks to directions that were less than ideal we stopped at the wrong site at first but finally figured out where we should have been at got there just in time. In addition to the sun set, we also got the moon rise! Alas, I only had my wide angle with me (the other lenses were in the car ... duh) hence the moon looks more like an bright star than anything else. On the monument itself, the colours were deep red for for the adobe bricks and dark blue for the sky. Even so, I think I prefer the black-and-white version, but I'll ponder it some more. Not sure yet on this one.

From here, we then drove to the Grand Canyon for a couple of days, the final part of our Arizona trip which I'll cover in the next post. All-in-all, we both enjoyed the course and certainly got value from it. (Happy to cover it in more detail via e-mail for anyone that's interested.)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Lower Antelope Canyon

Men At Work, Lower Antelope Canyon

Sometimes called the corkscew, this canyon is narrower and with more elevation change than it's cousin over the road. There are narrow, steep ladders you'll have to traverse to get right down into this one, never easy when carrying a photobag, tripod and camera. On the plus side, it's not quite as crowded as Upper Antelope but the lack of space still makes it a challenging place to try and get set-up in.

As you can see above, part of the problem is that there are amazing views which ever way you look and it's all too easy to forget to just turn round sometimes ....

Friday, November 2, 2007

Sunrise at Lake Powell

Another day, another dawn start. Alas, this time it was bitterly cold with a 30 mph wind thrown in for good measure. Not a great time to be standing on a rocky slope at 6 am waiting for sunrise. Within 10 minutes it was so cold I couldn't really operate the camera, and the only reason I could take any shots at all was because I was using a remote release kept in the pocket of my fleece. Add that to the well know fact that when the brain is sufficiently cooled any real interest in photographing things gets rapidly overtaken instead by the survival instinct of finding a place for breakfast and a nice cup of tea. Game over.

Not surprisingly, nothing good came out of this one! Above is the best I could manage.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Hoodoos (Aka Tall Pointy Rocks)

Final shoot of the day: hoodoos.

After a discussion back at the hotel of what might be summarised in question form as "what constitutes a good landscape photograph?", off into the field again for sunset.

Personally, I find this whole area - i.e. landscapes - to be one of the hardest things to photograph even moderately well. Firstly, there's so much of it about that it's hard to find the really interesting stuff; secondly, it may only become interesting when the light is right, which itself may or may not coincide with when you happen to be visiting; and thirdly, it may still not be interesting at all if you are looking at it from the wrong spot. Tricky coves, landscapes.

Anyway, here's my best (i.e. least unsuccessful) go at taking pictures of pointy rocks. Enjoy. Or not. (Hmm, it didn't look this dark when I worked on it last night. Will try and figure out why.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Flood Markers, Upper Antelope Canyon, AZ

After a break for breakfast, next up was a shoot inside Upper Antelope Canyon.

For those of you unfamiliar with this location, it's most noted feature is that in one section of the slot canyon a bright beam of light shines down from the roof creating a really magical effect (e.g. as shown here and here). But before you get all excited, turns out that this effect is only seen in the summer months when the sun is at the right height in the sky. And, however you look at it, October ain't June!

Nevertheless, it's still a fascinating place with a new sight at every twist and turn. Beware, though: it's crowded, and many of the tours run there are populated with other photographers also toting tripods, cameras and bulky bags of equipment. Solitude, peace and time to ponder where the best shot will be are all in very short supply. Oh, and one other caveat: you see the two bits of wood stuck halfway up the rocks? That shows the maximum height of the last flood waters to pass through earlier this year when the flash-flood season was in full swing; please note, those branches are roughly 20 feet above the canyon floor .....

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Horseshoe Bend, Page, AZ

Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River, Arizona

So after a mere 4 hours on the road we found ourselves in Page. Though it looked like we passed some interesting sights, we had to be in town by 5 pm to meet up with the rest of the party doing the same photographic course we were so there was no time to stop-off along the way to explore.

The next two days we'd be photographing in and around Page and then heading south towards the Grand Canyon. The weekend course was being instructed by Alain Briot, a landscape photographer who has lived and worked in that area for many years, ably assisted by his wife and also-artist Natalie.
Format of the course required shooting at both sunrise and sunset plus other opportunities in between, with portfolio critiques and general discussions on landscape photography held in the slots left in relatively full days.

Horseshoe Bend is a section of the Colorado river that is, unsurprisingly, horseshoe-shaped. The plan was to get there early (6 am) so we could be set up by the time dawn broke. Fortunately, although cold, there was little wind, and since we were staying but a few minutes drive from the turn-out spot where we needed to park then getting up that early wasn't too bad.

We walked a few hundred yards to the main overlook area and got to watch the light changing across the entire vista ahead of us as the sun broke cover and climbed over the horizon. Personally, I've never systematically got out of bed and stood somewhere specifically with the intent of shooting the scenery at that time of day, but I now see what they mean by the quality of the dawn light being ideal for photography. The colours are more subtle and interesting, and it's much easier to balance exposure settings to capture both the sky and the ground without blowing-out the highlights. Except for some night time shots, it was also the first time I'd used a tripod, remote release and mirror-lockup on my camera all at the same time! But it won't be the last ..... next stop, Upper Antelope Canyon, where long exposures soon become routine.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Canyon de Chelly (II)

Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

After spending close to four hours exploring the valley floor, we headed back to the visitor's centre. Although we had another 250 miles to go that day in order to reach Page we decided to also drive along the upper canyon rim to see Spider Rock.

As you can see, this is an impressive sandstone spire rising roughly 800 feet from the canyon floor. Navajo legend has it that this is the home of Spider Woman who taught their tribe the secrets of weaving.

The rim trail also offers an additional perspective on the White House Ruins and other sites within the canyon.

A wonderful place that I'd love to visit again, especially in the winter when it must look spectacular with a high-desert sprinkling of snow.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Canyon de Chelly National Monument (I)

White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly

We opted for an early start to explore the floor of the canyon. There are only two ways to do this: you either take a tour that includes a Jeep or a truck to get you in there or else hire a guide and use your own car (assuming it's got 4 WD and sufficient clearance). Since we'd rented the Jeep Liberty then we could use option (b).

The reason for the restrictions soon became clear: the canyon floor is nothing but sand, with feet of the stuff in places making it tricky to get through even with the thing in low-ratio, 4 wheel drive.

Perhaps the most iconic picture taken here was by Ansel Adams, an imposing shot of the White House Ruins. Since then, the ruins have been fenced off and stabilised but still prove to be an impressive sight.

My American history isn't that good, but this was also the location of the final battle between the Navajo and US troops (guided by Kit Carson) in 1864. Subsequently, the Navajo were forced to march several hundred miles east to Fort Sumner - the infamous Long Walk - and a great many of them died in the process.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sedona to Chinle: Meteor Crater & Winslow

Meteor Crater, Arizona

Given the room rate, we decided to maximise our time at the Enchantment by taking a hike in the morning. The location of the property puts it at the entrance to a canyon that ends in a natural amphitheatre. Round trip is just over two miles so no great shakes, and the trail is well maintained and largely flat. The guide books claim you can see some Native American ruins but we never found out where they were, though Susan did see some wild boar for what that's worth.

Just after noon, we headed off towards Chinle where we were going to spend the night before exploring Canyon de Chelly National Monument. On the way, we passed through Winslow, of Eagles "Taking It Easy" fame, and stopped off at Meteor Crater. Overall, we had to cover some 250 miles point-to-point that afternoon so we didn't really dawdle anywhere along the way.

Quite frankly, neither place impressed. The only reason we dropped down into Winslow was in search of a decent espresso. Yes, the town had a coffee shop; no, their machine wasn't working. They claimed it broke that morning; it looked to me like it broke in 1973. Winslow itself comprised one block of anything you'd call interesting, the rest being eminently miss-able. However, at least going there was free. Meteor Crater, however, was even less interesting but it cost us $15 each to find that out! Yeah, well, I suppose you get what it says on the box: a large hole in the ground that was made by a meteor. Trust me - the picture above says it all and I just saved you the money. My pleasure.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Enchantment Resort, Arizona

Day one, we flew from SJC to Phoenix, picked up a rental car and headed towards Sedona. We had reservations for one night at the Enchantment Resort and Spa. Why only one night? Simply, price: cheapest rooms were $395. Still, it's supposed to be one of the top spa-oriented resorts you can go to and given we were planning on hiking most days on the trip then we decided to start off with a bit of luxury. Value for money? Frankly, the resort itself was fine, the spa looked wonderful but the bedroom we had was looking a bit tired for that sort of money. We ended up eating in the spa rather than the main dining room - if for no other reason than they required a coat and tie, a frankly ridiculous affectation in this day and age - but the food was very good, even allowing for the menu laying out in graphic detail how many calories you were about to consume!

On the way we did a bit of off-roading - we'd rented a Jeep Liberty after all - and headed up Schnebly Hill Road to see what it was like. Apart from being a bit bumpy, it was quite an easy drive (even just using 2wd mode) but did allow for some good views over the surrounding countryside.

Pig sculpture? In this shopping center, close to Sedona itself.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Still Alive, Still Shooting

Turns out that Internet access has been a bit patchy in the places we have been staying and that, coupled with early mornings, late nights and mucho road miles means I haven't been able to post anything for a week. Should be back to it very soon though. Meanwhile, here's a shot from lower Antelope Canyon to be going on with.
The mornings are very cold here, especially when getting up pre-dawn to shoot the sunrise. It was 45 degrees first thing Monday with a 30 mph wind when we were shooting Lake Powell. No fun, and not much to photo to boot! Antelope was great - if crowded - and looks like I have a few images to work with, Back home tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Winter Draws On

Rainy season is early this year. Despite the fact that we've already had a few small storms passing through the area, roads here are still like skating rinks every time they get wet. And given the way people drive in Silicon Valley - well, California, really - that leads to the inevitable.

Today, Highway 17 through the Santa Cruz mountains was closed northbound for several hours to clean up an accident where a big-rig hit the concrete divider. Fortunately, I was going in the other direction but the back-up apparently went for miles. So far, I've managed to avoid getting caught in the whole sequence of mishaps that the rain has brought, but the odds are not on my side.

Given all that, combined with the forecast for more rain over the next 4 days, heading to Arizona and the high desert really doesn't sound like that bad of an idea after all! Sun, sand and a bit of outdoor exercise will be a nice antidote to the winter-rain blues.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Glorious Victory

Managed to grab a few minutes on Saturday night to watch the England vs. France semi-final in the Rugby World Cup. Thanks to an early - and very opportunistic - try, England built an early lead and stole momentum from the French attack. Despite going into the second half 6-5 behind, England defended extremely well and Wilkinson's boot finally came good and there were enough points to be had to take the game.

It will be a tough match against South Africa in the final, though. Alas, I'll be in Page, Arizona, over the weekend, therefore missing out on both the rugby and the last race in the F1 season. However, I'll record the F1 race and given we're in the wilds of Arizona I should therefore be able to steer clear of knowing the result until I get back ... if I can muster up the self control not to peek of course. And assuming no one sends me a rogue e-mail (hint, hint) crowing about how great Hamilton's performance was.

We're taking a few days break to explore around Rainbow Plateau and the Grand Canyon, including a night or two in Sedona. Over the weekend we'll be doing a photographic course at Antelope Canyon and the surrounding area, a Navajo reservation. Yup, expect to suffer through pictures of red rocks for a while, therefore!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Bleeding Heart Tavern: Another Day, Another Dinner

This time, we find ourselves off Holborn, deep in lawyer-land, at the Bleeding Heart. Of the several properties they own, a friend and I ended up at the Tavern, a place whose proud boast is that it's motto in the 18th century was "drunk for a penny and dead drunk for two pence". Well with an reputation like that to support, why wouldn't you go there? So we did.

Despite being subterranean, the atmosphere was welcoming and brightly lit. And despite being billed as a French restaurant the menu is actually unrelentingly British. I had prawns and avocado to start (and you have to have been brought up in the UK in the 60s & 70s to know what a cliche that is) with fish pie to follow.

Fish pie was great. Large portion, big chunks of fish, hot, tasty and colourful: weapons grade comfort food, in short. Prawns and avocado was exactly as per that description, the prawns though being covered in something a notch above what would have been, 35 years ago, at least, a tasteless and oddly hued cream concoction. Frankly, though, unless you want to try it for the kitsch value, pick something else. It all seemed good. (And no, they didn't charge extra for the bloody bread in this place. A-men.)

My one regret was that I couldn't manage pudding. That apple and rhubarb crumble was calling out to me, but alas I was too stuffed to hear by that stage.

About 40 quid for two people including a couple of drinks. Good food, good value, good choice. Definitely one for the winter.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Frontline Club & Restaurant

Thanks to "I" for pointing me towards frontline, a media club just off Praed Street and a couple of minutes walk from Paddington station. In addition to a members room, the club has a ground-floor restaurant open to non-members.

The space they have created is light, open and modern with high ceilings and exposed brickwork over stripped hardwood floors. In addition to being the restaurant, it also serves as a venue to show iconic photojournalist shots from the past 50 years. These include St. Paul's standing alone through a circle of smoke during the blitz, that classic Eisenstaedt shot of a sailor kissing a girl in Time Square on VJ day and British Soldiers in Belfast in 1971. (More recent shots are also exhibited on the staircase to the bathrooms, taking us right up to date with pictures of the US forces in Iraq.)

Menu is classic British food but brought up to date both in terms of presentation and execution. I started with pea and ham soup which was served hot and steaming in a large, deep bowl. (No nouveau cuisine-sized portions served here. It felt more like dining in the US than a well regarded restaurant in London.) For main course I went for the pork chop served with pan haggerty (aka potatoes dauphinoise) and pork scratchings. Again, good sized portion and well cooked, though the pork was a bit bland I'd have to say the overall dish was good. Others in our party of 7 had duck breast ("excellent") and stuffed pumpkin ("very good"). Puddings covered things like sticky toffee, Queen Mab's (creamy set mousse), ice creams and an excellent cheese plate from Neal's Yard. Alas, I was well past full by that stage so can't opine on any of it but my colleagues all gave them good marks.

Price? About 450 quid including drinks (excellent wine list, too). Not bad for a party our size eating out in central London. And you can also feel good that profits from the restaurant help support the charitable effors of the Frontline Forum.

Gripes? a) they charged for the bread they brought out, albeit at 50 pence a portion. Why?? b) the waitress didn't mention the specials at all, one of which I heard about from a server at an adjoining table and I would have chosen for my main course (skate). Apart from that, everything was handled well.

Verdict: would definitely go back, and if you are in the area it's a great choice either for business or for "personal eating" (there must be a better phrase than that but my brain is still fogged by jet-lag and the after effects of the wine we managed to sink last night!) It is open all day and quite frankly it's worth visiting just for the photos, let alone the well done, well-priced food.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Room With A View

The vista in question being of one of the twin towers fronting the Paddington station terminus. I seem to have had some luck when checking-in and got a top floor room with a small balcony area outside. The picture above shows the principal view.

Room rate? North of $600 per night ... and that's by no means the most expensive hotel round here, not by a long chalk. We booked way-late and ended up with very few options. Good job the air fares were cheap because in terms of accommodation this is fast becoming a seriously pricey option. (Just to set the context, around the corner in W2, an 800 sq foot flat is listed for a little over $1m, and this is in Bayswater for heaven's sake! As BAR pointed out last week, in a more desireable area like Chelsea you can easily pay double that.)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Gutted ... But Still Hopeful

Blitzen' Benz

I was hoping here to be celebrating the first British Formula 1 world champion since Damon Hill clinched it in 1996, but alas it was not to be - at least, not yet.

Lewis Hamilton had a shot at clinching the championship in the penultimate race, in Shanghai, early this morning. Alas, he slid off trying to make the last corner before reaching the pit-lane. He'd stayed out too long on worn tyres and that, combined with very slippery conditions, meant his hopes were dashed as his car ended up stuck in the gravel trap.

He still leads the points total for the year and so nevertheless goes into the last race in a strong position, but it would have been a fitting end to a quite remarkable year to see him wrap it up with one race still to go.

Fingers crossed that in Brazil in two weeks time he can still lift the driver's title for himself and Mercedes McLaren, thereby becoming not just the youngest champion ever but also the only driver to come out on top in his first year in F1. And if you get the chance and want to see what the fuss is all about, just watch his final qualifying lap for Shanghai. A quite astonishing performance, seemingly effortless but yet completely focused. It's no exaggeration to say that Hamilton is the first modern-era driver I've seen who could realistically be compared with Ayrton Senna.

Off Again

Travelling back to Europe again, this time to London for a couple of days of senior staff meetings followed by prospect visits in London and Cambridge.

Flying United this time, partly to try and keep at Premier Executive level and partly because they had the best prices (less than $900 return).

Looking forward to being home again for a while, especially as it requires staying in London.

Given the barely-credible level of house prices in the more desirable areas then I may never be able to afford to live there again, but at least I can enjoy visiting at someone else's expense.

Friday, October 5, 2007

All Hands, No Deck

Yeah, well, I suppose it was inevitable. Once we'd had the necessary work done to repair the deck on one side of the house following our termite problem already discussed, it was always on the cards that it would serve merely to show just how awful the rest of the decking on the house was. And lo, it came to pass.

For the price of a high end, very-nicely-loaded-thank-you BMW 3 series, we are now having the remainder replaced too. Yes, yes, I get all the arguments about how it preserves the value of the house and makes it more appealing when you sell, but then to my way of thinking so too would parking that same BMW in the driveway and throwing it in the with sale. Such logic, alas, doesn't seem to be universally appreciated so a new deck it is then, dear.

Caution? More like a bloody great wealth warning!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Winner Is ...

Fancy a dance around your handbag, luv?

"I" wins again! Nice one.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Patter Of Tiny Paws

Bachi The Dog

Actually, not so tiny.

Yup, we have a new addition to the family: he's about 6 months old and came from a rescue facility south east from us in California's central valley. Judging by the size of those paws then he has some growing yet to do so we're not exactly sure how big he will get, just that he'll get, well, bigger. Meanwhile, he has enough puppy-energy on tap to power the entire neighbourhood if only you could find a way to harness it. Shadow, the other dog, is having to deal with both that energy surplus and indeed the whole "rebellious youngster in the house" thing. While he's happy to play along some of the time you can see him reach the limit of his tolerance, quickly followed by a bit of the old alpha dog dominance kicking-in as he takes back control and puts Bachi back into his proper - i.e. lowly - ranking in the pack hierarchy! Doubtless, they will figure it all out between them over time but meanwhile it makes for the odd incident of scrapping dogs in the house. Probably good to keep the decent china out of the way for a while, then!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Don't Try This At Home

It's been one of those days where the sky falls around your ears without any warning clap of thunder or gathering of clouds to give you advanced notice of what's about to happen.

A senior level manager at a large electronics company that's a customer of ours found a case study on our web site that related to his group, and promptly went ballistic. Turns out, though, that we created this piece based on information contained within an academic white paper that they had agreed to allow to be published. However, we didn't get their permission to release that same basic information as the basis for a marketing piece about the customer concerned, and that's what caused this to go pear-shaped.

It's one thing to have theoretical right on your side - the paper is public, therefore the data is public after all - but the mistake we made was to then take that state of affairs and infer from it that we could reuse the information in anyway we wanted without the customer raising a red flag. Demerit points to marketing for taking a unilateral decision on this one, but it's also on my head to ensure that such things are done properly and done right. Mea culpa.

We'll get through it, but creating additional rods for our collective backs isn't what we need at this point in the year. Somehow, it's the self-inflicted wounds that sting the most!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Told You So ...

It's official: eBay's purchase of Skype was a bust. Well, if not exactly a bust, the fact that they have written off some $1.4 billion makes it a half-bust at least (isn't a half-bust, a breast?) Additionally, the CEO, Zennstrom, gets the boot and they apparently negotiated a one-third pay out of the incentives part of the deal, but declined to reveal whether or not that was justified by the obviously-disappointing results.

What were they thinking? Indeed, was any thinking involved? Since when does anyone with half a brain believe the financial projections of a start-up for crissakes? Oh, except VCs, of course, who if they stopped believing the insanely-optimistic projections of those pitching to them would suddenly realise how close to the edge they were in fact standing.

Upshot? Don't expect Mystic (not) Meg over at eBay to be doing any Web 2.0 acquisitions in order to grab "eyeballs" any time soon! And someone, somewhere inside eBay will be looking for a job for even daring to think this made sense.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Three Down, One To Go ...

Well, here we are entering the final quarter of the year. Q3 was a hard fought, hard won quarter in which we managed to bring in the business necessary to keep us on plan for the year, but it was close!

Q4 has a couple of large deals that could put us in a very strong position for the year as a whole but we still have work to do to bring those home and so I won't be jinxing us by saying any more than that for now!

Time, too, to plan for '08, but at this point in the year this is a bit like trying to think about what's for dinner when you are still eating lunch: you know it's coming up, you know you'll be up for it when it arrives but right now there's dessert to take care of and it's all so distant somehow.

The picture? Caption competition! Usual prize: all glory, no fortune.