Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Commute #3: Left turn before Yahoo

"War does not determine who is right - only who is left." (Bertrand Russell)

For some reason, this quote always comes to mind right around the time of the next Board meeting.... Anyway, survived another one today. We have roughly 8 per year - half in person, half telephonic - and this was a telephonic one. For some reason, that kind seem to run more smoothly!

And speaking of "left", today's picture is exactly that: turning left. I survived that, too.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Supercar maintenance costs

Fascinating article in this month's "evo" (performance car magazine from the UK, issue 102, The P1 club is an annual-membership deal where for some serious money (it was I believe around $20k per year minimum) you get rights to drive any of their stable of exotic cars for an allotted number of days per year. If memory serves me, it was started by ex-F1 champ Damon Hill. Anyway, over the years they have gathered some fascinating statistics on the running costs of high-end machinery in the hands of those who don't feel obliged to cosset the cars in question. What stood out for me was even when covered under manufacturer's warranty, running costs in total for stuff like tyres, brake pads, clutches etc. averaged 10k pounds (~$20k USA) per annum for some of the worst offenders. Ouch. Here's one example they quote: P1's first two Lamborghini Gallardos averaged 5 clutches *each* over their first 7,000 miles. Not sure what price a clutch job on that car, but for their Murcielago clutches cost approx $12,000 "plus fitting". You do the maths. Total servicing costs for the Murcielago in '06 was an astounding 37,391 GBP. To be fair, they are at pains to point out that Gallardo quality has ".. improved remarkably recently, and the e-gear 'box seems to prolong clutch life". Even so. I was therefore relieved to note that Porsche running costs are remarkably low! (Though the minimal mileage I put on my 911 then it's really been no issue at all for me over the past 5 years.) Oh, and Bobby, this picture is for you! Only $2.5m by our maths, right?

Commute #2: Closing-in

Wet this week, and with the promise of snow at higer elevations tonight just to make life exciting! History tells me that if this is the case then getting out of where I live to work may be difficult until the roads clear a little. And speaking of cars, I think my commute vehicle is on it's last legs and so it's time to search for a replacement. We've had a good experience of buying vehicles over the web ( and so I'll probably go that route again.
(Sorry for the quality on this one - even IS on a small P&S couldn't eliminate shake caused by the dreadful state of CA's roads ...)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Commute #1: Monday morning grey

Thought I'd try and do a short sequence of shots from daily driving around the Valley. Some of these are on my commute route, some will be from driving to other meetings. If you are local, see if you can figure out where they are!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Which way is up?

One of the challenges we face as a start-up is trying to figure out if we have a large-scale market here for what we do or rather a small - albeit high-value - niche. Clearly the answer to this question dictates a great deal about what the right business model should be, what the growth curve will look like, how to reach profitability, etc. Alas, much is still yet obscured and so a lot of what we do on a weekly basis is to move in a particular direction and see how the view changes: do things look better or worse? Are our customers finding more of less value? Are our sales "sticky" in the sense that we can proliferate beyond an initial project engagement? Along those lines, next week sees us having a number of key meetings with customers, prospects and partners where we have an opportunity to get more answers to exactly those questions. This has all the makings of being a pivotal time for the company.....

Thursday, February 22, 2007

All power, little glory

A wet, grey sort of day here in the Valley. Was sitting in my car outside an office building before a meeting and saw this arrangement of insulators through a rain-spattered windscreen. I've always been fascinated by the power grid and all the associated hardware. Of course, for a while there California was critically exposed through not having enough of the stuff (electricity,that is) but ultimately the market and the legislature have seemingly got past the problem, mostly though "fast-tracking" applications to build new plant. Would love to have the chance to photograph around some local power plants and distribution centres but in this day and age even showing up outside such a place with a camera is likely to get you arrested. Topic for another post but why does anyone in a uniform think that taking pictures of something is an obvious indicator of nefarious intent?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

New B&W digital printing process from China

Late last year, I was in Beijing and had the chance to visit the Forbidden City. The business contact who was showing me around took us into a small central courtyard where this gentleman was creating some very delicate but infinitely varied ink-based prints. Taken with the work, it took me a while to notice how these were being produced. With nothing more than an ink pad, the edge of his hand, a sharpened finger nail and his index finger, the artist was producing some beautiful graphic art showing rural scenes, canyon views etc.. Not sure the picture I've posted here does him justice, but if you ever have the chance then seek this guy out. (Prints were around $12 if memory serves me.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

To be or not to be ...

Start-ups can be tricky. It all comes down to whether or not you can find or form a viable market segment that can support the growth of your new technology or product to reach profitability (and then onwards and upwards from there of course!) And remember, this is only *after* you have spent many millions of investors' dollars just to get that first product version out the door. Look across Silicon Valley,though, and the overall odds aren't great for any sort of real success. Roughly a third of new start-up companies will fail outright, another third will reach some sort of neutral (+ or - a few percentage points) outcome and the the final third will generate some level of return for investors and hopefully the company employees. In this day & age there are very few "knock it out of the ball park" outcomes that can help offset the failures and generate big returns for VC funds. That tends to rack-up the heat on portfolio companies to produce, and preferably produce now.

No wonder it's hard to map out any kind of well delineated future path capable of supporting a solid operating plan that a start-up can work to. I know many start-up CEOs and, to some degree or another, we all face exactly the same problems: timing and suitability. Can we find/build/bully a market into existence before the VCs tire of the investment required and the funds dry out, and can the business support a long term, growing revenue stream big enough to open up the opportunity for a decent exit? (Of course, we're not talking about the YouTubes of this world but rather the wide range of other start-ups creating new tools, business models, etc. that comprise much of the "real-world" environment we see in SV. Nothing against these "eyeballs only" operations, but that's not where most of us earn a crust.)

Monday, February 19, 2007


Speaking of impressive bits of engineering, last time around I also had the opportunity to ride the London Eye. As you can see, I was fortunate to get the sun coming through some dark, heavy clouds and decided to over-process this one to make it all seem slightly unreal and pre-apocalyptic.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Time to come, time to go

Paddington station remains a wonderful testament to Victorian architecture and engineering. Built by one of England's greatest engineers of all time, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it's soaring roof, broad span and cathedral-like proportions never cease to amaze, especially given the necessary innovation in the structural use of cast iron required in order for his vision to be realised. To quote from the man himself (and thanks to for this bit.)

"I am going to design... a Station after my own fancy; that is, with engineering roofs, etc. ... such a thing will be entirely metal as to all the general forms ... ; it almost of necessity becomes an Engineering Work, but, to be honest, even it if were not, it is a branch of architecture of which I am fond, and of course, believe myself fully competent for, but for detail of ornamentation I neither have time nor knowledge ..."

(Isambard Kingdom Brunel, in a letter to Matthew Digby Wyatt inviting collaboration on the design of Paddington Station, as quoted in Randall J. Van Vunckt, ed., International Dictionary of Architects and Architecture: Volume 1, Architects. Detroit: St. James Press, 1993.)
The - relatively - new Paddington Express from Heathrow to London goes into this station but I'll swear that 99% of travellers never even look up as they move from train to Tube. They miss so much; it's almost criminal in my book how little attention this gateway to London and London's past gets from those who use it. When it was built in the middle of the 19th century, this place epitomised all that London had been, was and would become. The power of Britain as the extant only world superpower at that time made manifest, all in a single monument.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Girl in the seat in front

Sometimes, you never quite know what's going to come out of a P&S when you hit the button. I was bored on a flight and thought I'd see if a "stealth" shot of a pretty girl I could just see through the seat would work. Thanks to the vagaries of automatic metering and focus, a high-key, form-based image came up that wasn't anything I had visualied. Now, however, I had the idea for what to do therefore the 20-odd goes to get something usable of course had to follow! Going digital makes this kind of thing *way* cheaper and more practical than film ever did, but the biggest difference of course is the instant feedback on any given picture to help accelerate the creative process.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hiring is hard

We recently began a search for a new VP Products & Marketing. Starting to see some good candidates but it's going to be hard to find the right mix between the outbound/positional side of things and the product direction/product management needs we have. Not quite as hard perhaps as hiring a VP Sales, which can be a life-or-death hire for start-ups, but tough nonetheless. There's still a lot about our business model, positioning, pricing ,market segmentation etc. that has yet to be nailed down so the candidate will have to own driving those issues to ground. In addition, there's still all the outbound marketing work to do, customer visits, building bridges to engineering (non-trivial given they are all based overseas) etc. Yes, work for at least three senior people.

Alas, and perhaps more so than in established companies, start-ups cannot afford to hire multiple people to cover-off one function such as this, but neither can the business afford to compromise on the quality and breadth of whoever that one person is who does get the role. This one may run and run.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Onwards & Upwards

Good meeting today and we got to the point of having our prospect begin an evaluation. Of course, as I've learned over many years working in Asia, nothing is quite that simple, but at least we got a specific "takeaway" - an opportunity to engage. But that was about it for the day. I still have a fever, sore throat and headache lingering from the weekend so rather than infect the entire office I headed home to, well, infect the entire house I suppose.

The picture was taken in Seoul on a previous trip. I just liked the way two business men were facing the traffic jam and looking away from the sculpted earth. Particularly in Europe, global warming has become a major political and social issue around which there seems to be a lot more debate - and dare I say action - than seems to be the case in the US. Virtually every news broadcast I've seen on my past two trips there (just before and just after Christmas) featured the topic in some way or another and, partly because of that fact I'm sure, politicians of all flavours are all now running at full speed to see who can post the greener credentials. Typical of the breed perhaps, but nevertheless an important step towards real action being taken. (And no, the irony that it took me several long-haul flights, each pumping significant carbon emissions into the upper atmosphere, to reach this conclusion did not escape me.)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

To shop or not to shop?

Quiet weekend, and as you can see from the picture one that contained a bit of retail therapy. Browsed the Apple store but came away empty handed. I have to confess that I really don't care whether or not I use Mac OS or Windows. As far as I'm concerned they are just means to an end, and frankly I cannot understand the near-religious fervour dedicated Mac-ophiles display. However, the Sony Style store is another matter. Loved the look of the Bravia line of LCD flat-screens. At some point we'll have to go HD at home but I think we'll wait a few months yet and see what comes out next. I hear Philips have announced a new line with better specifications so they will merit a look-see as well.

Busy week this week. A senior vice-president visiting from a prospect in Asia Pacific and then two days visiting with a large customer in Texas. Some interesting stuff going on but not clear any of it is short-term enough to make a difference this quarter, which therefore means we'd better close some immediate stuff elsewhere ASAP. That "bookings treadmill" never gets any easier, or any slower....

Friday, February 9, 2007

Why I love flying, but hate air travel

I tend to spend a fair amount of time travelling. However, it's not the actual air-miles I object to, quite the contrary in fact, it's the "battery hen" approach the industry takes these days. Endless queuing; waiting around sitting on hard bench seats; getting delayed, often without even a cursory explanation as to why; no food; bad service; over-crowding ... well, you get the picture. And yet, and yet. The actual flight itself can still be magical if the weather is fair and you have a window seat. Staring out, it provides an ever-changing vista that rivals anything shown on the National Geographic channel. Even flying over endless clouds still offers up unique images that stick in your mind long after landing.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

So where does camera technology go from here?

Ever wondered what the next steps will be in the great digital photography revolution? Hmm, me too. Here are my thoughts for developments in the next 5 years ...

1) Individually profiled cameras and lenses. Surely in this day and age, at least for upper echelon DSLRs, it's possible during manufacture and test to take an individual profile, tied to the serial number, that accurately reflects the specific characteristics of a camera or lens? Let Photoshop go on line with the serial numbers of your collection and download the specific measured profiles for each and incorporate those into unique, custom-made adjustments for sensor accuracy and lens distortion. Hell, incorporate the serial numbers in the EXIF data and make this seamless.

2) Full 16 bit processing end-to-end. Everything. Maybe even starting with 24 bits from the sensor and then going to 16 during RAW processing and staying at that level of fidelity right through to the print.

3) The "pixel wars" around sensor size will continue but focused more at the mid- to -high-end of the market (where there's more silicon real estate available and prices can justify the ongoing investments).

4) A new generation of "super lens" will have to emerge in order to keep pace with 3). I saw some pictures from a friend's Canon 5D and even with L glass it's clear were are hitting the end stops in this regards already. See also 1) and software lens correction technology!

5) jpeg largely goes away except perhaps for the bottom-end P&S cameras. Another standard will be needed for compressing the outputs of the larger sensor formats without introducing the artifacts jpeg compression does. RAW will continue but we'd all better get used to upgrading PC power, memory and storage to try and cope.

6) Straight-to-paper printing for laptop work. Think Polaroid - peel off a backing layer, lay paper on screen and pulse the display appropriately to expose. Instant printing of letters, pictures etc. without having to carry a printer.

(OK, that last one was a wish-list item and not a prediction but hey, it's my list, right?)

7) Fewer camera manufacturers than even we have today. Canon and Nikon will survive of course but there are still too many producers overall. Sad, but inevitable.

8) Wireless everywhere. Camera to storage, PC to printer, picture viewing across the web etc. No surprises here but just remember we are only beginning the process on this one.

9) We'll see a resurgence of "analogue" reproduction using, much in the same way as happened after a few years of CDs and digitised music then all of a sudden expensive, high-end turntables came back to life. In that shift even LP manufacturing came back to life after a while and there's now a healthy, albeit niche, analogue reproduction business out there.

10) Ultimately, though, talent and/or skill will prevail. At the end of the day it is of course the image that matters, not the medium. Anyone know what size, type or shape of chisel Michaelangelo used to sculpt David? Nope, neither do I, and few of us care!

Anyone have other ideas?

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Office Day

Even with off-shore development, watching the pennies in just about every department and nailing travel expenses etc. to the minimum, doing business based in the USA is still a very expensive proposition. In particular, running a direct sales team as an integral part of the start-up business model adds a whole level of risk and cost that's just plain hard to manage. Having spent many cycles battling this problem, but meanwhile of course needing to find ways to add sales capacity in order to spur growth, I really do envy those who get to run fast-growth web-based businesses where the sales force is a clutch of servers somewhere.

One of those CA days when the weather - gray and wet - matches my mood. Alas, the weather glass is set to "stormy" for the rest of the week, and recovering from jet-lag doesn't help much either. There has to be an easier way to make a living than this.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Day #1

Business travel has always been as privilege as well as a curse. Still, on the plus side it does offer endless photographic opportunities, especially now that digital point-and-shoot cameras have become capable and light enough to carry with little or no downside. Given half a chance, London remains a favourite and I'm always drawn back to the British Museum time and time again. Whatever your interests, don't pass up a chance go get there.