Saturday, March 31, 2007

The "I" has it!

Yes, it was Sir Norman Foster's London "Gherkin" building occupied by Swiss Re insurance. Gotta love cities that make an effort to really push new architectural forms. This is also a great contrast to the Lloyd's building not more than 100 yards away.

Prize? Think "jars of pickles"! Nah. I, I'll stand you dinner next time you are over!

Friday, March 30, 2007

BIG clue ...

Mystery Building

... cucumber slices anyone?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Photo Quiz: Reflections

Here's a shot, taken in London, of a building with some interesting reflections on the facade caused by sunlight bouncing off something nearby. What do you think might cause these shapes? Answer in a day or two.

Sage Advice?

Chatting to someone younger than me (aren't they all?) on the plane, this guy asked me "what's the one piece of advice you'd give to a new MBA just starting their first job?"

I'd have to say "manage expectations". In terms of both personal and professional success, it's the one key thing that's always in play. Sure, there are other things you could think of - help people develop themselves; know yourself; teamwork; etc. - but if I had only one choice it would still be that.

Managing expectations allows you to know how to win and sets the proper framework within which others will judge you and what you get done. Of course, there's a lot to learn about how to do this and how to adapt the methods for doing so to different situations, but none of this negates the fact that this is still one of the most important skills to acquire and develop.

Just wish it hadn't taken me quite so many years to figure it out!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tightrope Walking

That was close. In theory, I was supposed to have a two hour lay-over in Chicago before my San Jose flight left. But, as always when dealing with Chicago's ORD, life's never that simple. Some "weather" this morning meant that the in-bound flight to GRR was an hour late. Add to that a ground hold, applied 50 feet from the runway threshold, of another 55 minutes and all of a sudden things looked very dodgy indeed. Long story short, I made the connection with 10 minutes to spare, but only because the outbound to SJC was, you guessed it, 10 minutes late!

I'm definitely not paid enough for this, especially as the customer meeting was less than satisfactory. (New manager; very conservative; not willing to engage, 'Nuff said.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Reflections in Blue

Amazing - a flight itinerary going into and out of Chicago and both legs worked flawlessly. It was 78 degrees in Chicago and humid, quite remarkable for what's still March.

Busy couple of days planning for a sales meeting we have in Las Vegas in April plus a customer visit.

Last week of the Q, and frankly we are scrambling. Too early to declare defeat, though!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dead-deer Sex

Now there's a headline I never thought I'd get to use. Amazingly enough, it also appears to be true. A Wisconsin man is being charged with exactly that crime - having sex with the carcass of a dead dear - and if you follow the link you'll find some very interesting court documents describing how, in the opinion of the circuit judge, the Wisconsin law prohibiting sex with animals can apply whether or not they are alive.

Bambi, whatever you do, stay clear of Wisconsin ...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Back on the Road Again

Off to Michigan next week via Chicago. At least now spring is officially here the chances of getting stuck at O'Hare are reduced, though not eliminated completely. Indeed, the NWS is predicting low snow levels here in the Bay Area Monday night which might herald much colder conditions up towards the Great Lakes. So, although I may get there OK, getting home may be another matter!

Will spend the weekend paying my dues to both the bookings gods and the weather gods. We could use both sets of deities smiling upon us as the events of next week unfold.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Q-End Push

Why does any given quarter always have to go down to the wire? I mean, just once I'd like to get to the week before a Q-close with the number done and the luxury of building backlog, but somehow it never seems to go that way. And let's be clear, this quarter will be no different. Right now (22nd) we are about 35% of the way to the 1Q goal.

That row boat may yet come in handy ....

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Le Mans: Looking Good for 2007

I just saw that Adrian Newey (Red Bull Technical Director and generally well-respected F1 designer) is looking to enter the 24 hours at Le Mans this year as a privateer driving a Ferrari 430, so long as they can earn a slot of course. In addition, the field looks set to host Johnny Herbert driving, of all things, the Prodrive Aston Martin, and Jacques Villeneuve who is racing the new Peugeot entry.

With luck, SpeedTV here in the USA will cover it again this year so definitely a date for the armchair racing diary!

Palm up for Grabs?

Rumours abounded yesterday that Palm is up for sale. Not the first time this particular tale has been told, but this time it's all a bit more specific. In addition to the obvious suspects - Motorola and Nokia - it appears that Texas and Silverlake, two private equity firms, are also in the frame. Price is supposed to be around $2 Bn.

I can obviously see the synergies with Nokia and Motorola but find it hard to see how private equity could reallly take Palm in a new direction that would help answer the many questions that still need answering about that business, not the least of which is, "can an independent maker of those kinds of devices really survive in such an incredibly competitive market that's becoming more crowded by the day?" (Apple iPhone anyone?)

Thursday is supposed to be the day this goes public.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ooops (Part 1)

Saw this on the way home tonight. Just as I got there a third patrol car was pulling away from the hard shoulder. Well, I suppose that if you are going to attract the attention of the Highway Patrol then getting three of them engaged is some kind of indicator that you did a good job of it! On the plus side, at least they got together before the fines doubled ...

Neither vehicle looked badly damaged so not quite sure why the show of force from the Black-and-Whites. Suffice to say, I paid great attention to the metering lights at the end of the entrance ramp, and was also very mindful of all traffic laws around merging onto a freeway!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Ode to a Beer

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."

Not sure Elizabeth Barrett Browning had a beer in mind when penning this opening line, but she might have. Whatever, but after a long, tiring - and often tiresome - weekend then that's exactly how I felt about his particular bottle of Michelob. Not withstanding spending from 9 am to 4 pm up on my roof on Saturday, plus another 3 hours on Sunday, painting a chimney stack replaced earlier in the week, I wasted countless hours trying to a) get my NAS disk to be visible again on my home network and b) recovering my wife's laptop from an assault of Spartan ferocity by various Trojan and Spyware viruses. Fixing a) ultimately required me to update the firmware on the Buffalo LinkStation I use, itself a challenge as, in order to do so, you first need network connectivity which, if it was working, would mean I didn't have a problem in the first place. Fixing b) was only accomplished by invoking the nuclear option and reinstalling Windows. This would have been easier if I had the original recovery or install disk, which I didn't, and so instead I had to use a "clean" XP install from a copy I had sitting around the house. Of course, life's never quite that easy in Microsoft land and it was only after about two hours that I again had something that would boot.

To get me through all this, I kept the promise of a nice, cold, frosty beer uppermost in my mind, with access only being granted when I was done. Coupled with that the prospect of drinking it in front of the Australian F1 GP and ... well, you get the picture.

I got there in the end, but it was a hell of a long journey. Still, it was good when I got there, so good in fact I had to drink another just to be sure. Even weekends like that one have an upside.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Cracking Race, Gromit

So, Ferrari are back, and it's like they were never away! Kimi seems to have slotted-in like the Schumacher era never existed and it's back to business-as-usual. Shame we never got to see how he and Massa would have fared head-to-head but there are 16 races left in which to try and answer that question. Of course, the other story was the frankly amazing debut by Lewis Hamilton. Here's a man completely new to Formula One, on a track he's never seen before (and one of the most technically challenging on the calender) and in his first race he drives with more composure, native speed and raw talent than almost any other racer out there, and ends up on the podium. Quite remarkable. The question for him is not if he'll win races, just when, and how many.

Oh, and thanks to DC for providing our first "lunge of the week" spot. Nice one! (Though parking ones car on the front of your opponent was over-egging the pudding somewhat!) Personally, I had Takuma Sato marked out for that one but there you go. He was content besting the number one Honda team, and judging by the pre-race interview having lots of fun doing so!

Good, too, to see Briatore back on fine form, lambasting Kovalainen's performance. "I don't need to protect anyone. It was rubbish", he's quoted as saying. I think this is one to chalk down to the racing equivalent of a "bad hair day", but the pressure on Heikki in race 2 will be enormous. Can't wait!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Cisco buys WebEx for $3.2 bn

The news on this buy became public today but was very well guarded up until then. Cisco has recently been making a number of smaller purchases at the outer-edges of the mainline business but this is a much more significant move into the applications rather than infrastructure marketplace.

I assume the logic is something like "as the network and networking equipment markets becomes increasingly commoditised and growth is hard to find, what high-value services will themselves be network driven and hence important for Cisco to be directly engaged in?"

Not hard to see that WebEx's leadership in the remote meeting space sits well with that thinking, and it doesn't take a crystal ball to see that the market for video conferencing, where the WebEx brand should have a strong play, is finally starting to become legitimised as $/megabit prices continue to fall.

We do indeed live in interesting times!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Spring Arrives In Silicon Valley

Coming back from Europe, it was very pleasant to find that temperatures here, even in San Francisco, were in the upper 70s and low 80s- definitely not bad for early March! We're therefore facing an early end to the rainy season, but for those whose homes are served by the public water main then summer supplies should be fine, it seems, despite the reservoirs only being at 60% capacity. (Our house is served by a ground well but even then we should be OK this year after the extended rains of last season). Yesterday saw record temperatures in the South Bay and the coming weekend is set to be a little hotter still. Hmm, I somehow think there's wood smoke and sizzling meat in my future!

There, got through an entire paragraph on unusual weather readings and didn't mention global warming even once.

Spring also seems to be arriving in the IPO and M&A markets out here. The newspapers are again starting to run stories on Microsoft and Cisco coming back to the table to buy key technologies (Tellme is the rumoured target in the case of Microsoft) and other smaller deals are starting to happen as well. And that's all a jolly good thing, so long as some of that lurve spreads our way!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Aston Martin in Formula 1

So now the game plan is starting to shape-up, it's never too early to put 1 + 1 together to make 3, especially in the world of F1 where rumour and intrigue generate more press pages than do race results.

David Richards already has a slot booked in the F1 championship entry list for the 2008 season labelled "Prodrive". He, with a consortium of backers, now has ownership of Aston Martin, a company he helped take racing again both here in the USA (ALMS) and in Europe (Le Mans etc.)

Rather than promoting the somewhat consumer-unfriendly Prodrive brand, known only really to Subaru cognoscenti in the UK, why wouldn't he now scratch out Prodrive on Bernie's list and pencil-in "Aston Martin" instead?

You heard it here first, folks, Aston Martin are going into Formula One!

Classic Silicon Valley - Kind of ...

Interesting post on Jalopnik stating that BMW has figured out why it makes sense to have owners be able to e-mail Google map co-ordinates to their vehicles that can then be imported into the car's GPS system. Finally. No more sitting there poking at buttons - while stationary, of course - trying to recreate something you already looked up before leaving home.

So why in the world isn't this being figured out by Ford and GM first? How much of an unfair advantage do you need? Mind you, take a look at the car park outside the Google campus and the answer probably becomes a bit clearer! Local BMW dealers here are very fancy operations.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

'Lax or Lion?

Needed to make some changes in both the organisation and make-up of an operation in Europe. In the doing so, an obvious contrast between one set of cultural - and hence business - norms and another was once again thrown into sharp relief.

There are countries where it's accepted that the needs of the business are uppermost when it comes to assessing the suitability of any particular employee to best fill a given position. However, there are also those places where the opposite holds true, and the expectation is that the welfare of the team or the group should prevail, even it it means carrying weak performers.

Perhaps this is stating the obvious but the Silicon Valley start-up ethos is most certainly the former, not the latter, and that's the way it needs to be if the fledgling business is to thrive and grow. I got called "unsentimental" this week in dealing with just such a situation and I suppose, given this cultural divide, that this was an understandable opinion. So be it. The idea of wasting another 6 months while the local manager tries to "coach" this employee to success is just ridiculous, especially when he himself admitted that this wasn't going to produce a different outcome.

Silicon Valley may indeed be a jungle, but at least you know how the laws of nature work and why they work the way they do.

Back in the USA this week and it feels, at least out West, that Spring has arrived. Got home to find it was 78 degrees with wall-to-wall sunshine on offer for the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, the Q-end is approaching ever closer and we've got a ton to get done between now and then. The treadmill never slows, but it does seem to gain a few points on the "incline" scale each month....

Friday, March 9, 2007

Ford's Disease: Octophenia

I still think that Quadrophenia was one of the Who's best works, and indeed one of the greatest rock albums of all times. It has a coherency and level of energy not seen in any of their other concept works,and marked a pivotal point in the band's career. It also marked a key time in the development of post-war Britain, mods and rockers battled it out on the seafronts of England's south and east coasts marking the struggle between the old-guard still looking backwards to WWII and the younger generation desparate for change, and for a future.

It tells the story of Jimmy, a youg 60s mod who is so internally conflicted that he doesn't just have schizophrenia, he has quadrophenia.

Imagine then the state of Ford as they too try and deal with the multiple personalites - read "badges" - that inhabit Dearborn these days. Here's my summary of their current state-of-affairs:

Ford: bog-standard badging, mass market boxes, and cars that are about as far from aspirational as you can get. Mustang was a nice try but honestly, a live axle in the 21st century? And never, ever, let Marketing tack on a plastic spoiler at the back, OK?

Lincoln: appealing only to a core demographic so old that oxygen cylinders and colostomy-bag holders are on the options list.

Mercury: a complete joke. Pick any standard Ford model, throw on it a different grill, a bit more chrome and add $4,000 to the price. Crass commercialism meets brain-dead buyer.

Mazda: the good news is that they only own a bit of it. The bad news is that they own any of it at all. Marketing department staffed by infantiles who live in a city tower-block somewhere and ride bicycles.

Volvo: an entire line-up targeted at the affluent-end of the surburban soccer-mon brigade. Fine, but hardly a viable long-term business. Some day real soon Ford will stick their own deeply-suspect styling cues into the mix, cut costs and quality and you can wave Volvo good bye, if you haven't already done so.

Land Rover: a money pit that drank cash to get it up to even a basic level of reliability, and a brand that Ford still doesn't know how to sell properly, despite the vehicles finally starting to, well, start for one thing. The quality is now there, but the marketing and sales is MIA.

Jaguar: a case study in how to devalue a brand that you bought to add class to the company line-up, but then allow managers in Europe to sign-off lineups including hideously underpowered estate cars and low-end vehicles a plenty. Go figure.

Aston Martin: finally, something Ford did right. Preserve and enhace the marque; use it as the flagship engineering brand, showcasing what Ford can do when it's allowed to; re-build all the sex/power/majesty of the earlier cars and, finally, turn a profit, something unheard of in the entire history of the company. Nice one.

So then, you might ask, as Ford tries to stop the headlong slide over the cliff into bankruptcy, what's their first step on the road to a cure? They sell Aston Martin of course, the only thing they have of value, for less than a billion bucks and smiling all the while. Well that should keep the lights on at Mercury for another couple of months so all right with the world then.

When quadrophenia finally got too much for Jimmy, and in a final moment of clarity and insight, he realised that he'd never be the best at anything. Mediocrity and a future that would lead him nowehere except into misery and pain, he rode his GS scooter off the cliffs above Brighton to his death. Finally, one thing he could do right and do it to completion. Now he'd be remembered, recognised even, and it was some kind of revenge on those who couldn't "see the real me".

To cure it's ills, it's octophenia if you will, Ford carves out the only one of it's personalities that is interesting, worthwhile or valuable. Welcome to heptophenia, Ford. All the same pain as before, but now without the passion, hope and desire. The cliff's that way ->

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Don't Fancy Yours Much ...

.. but mine's a looker!

(Thanks to Greg for this shot.)

Far-Away Phone Call

In addition to all the usual criteria - room size, comfort, nice bathrooms, quietness, heating/cooling controls etc. - I've now started to judge hotels by the quality and availability of their broadband services. Working in the room is always a given and, thanks largely to the usurious rates hotels charge for their phone calls, Skype has also now become an essential tool, especially if calling from overseas. I mention all this because the hotel I use in Stockholm - Radisson SAS by the train station - recently went from wired to wireless, which is good, but in the process screwed up both access and reliability a treat, which is very bad. I keep getting a duplicate IP address warning; signal strength is very variable depending on where your room is; it times-out overnight meaning you don't wake up with a nice fresh stack of messages ready to go; and they outsource the whole shooting match so are less than helpful if you call down to complain.

Everything else about the place is great, but not enough. This one issue now dominates what I need from a hotel and so I'll have to look elsewhere if this doesn't improve.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Up or Down?

Travelling is basically a destabilising activity, especially when 9 time zones & two climates are involved. Odd bouts of gloominess, sudden feelings of being too hot or too cold, stomach aches etc. are all part-and-parcel of long-haul flying and business trips. And that's before the lack of sleep, change in diet, general stress and everything else that all conspires together to make you ask the same question, at least three times a day, namely, "why am I doing this again?"

Even now, I look at that picture and have to reconstruct where I was, when, in order to answer the question of whether I was going up the escalator or down it. And it was only yesterday.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Naked Traveller

According to the New York Times, and as discussed by Slate magazine (, this is the kind of view airport screening staff will be having of us all! (The lady in question was wearing a blazer and skirt at the time.) Well at least it might improve TSA recruitment at airports in the "fitter" parts of the country I suppose, but of course this being America it will only be a matter of time before someone gets hit with an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit, not to mention making us all very self-conscious when we pass through screening and the staff all start to giggle uncontrollably....

Will we be safer than now once these scanners are introduced? Perhaps, though I'm not sure this isn't the security equivalent of not only bolting and deadlocking the backdoor, but then welding it shut as well. Sure, it will be slightly harder for terrorists to smuggle stuff onto US domestic and international flights, but why would they bother? There are hundreds of much less secure airports around the world that also have the advantage of being close to their supposed training camps and supply depots. Planes travel; that's why they are valuable weapons for terrorists. It's far simpler to fly the thing somewhere noticeable and then do whatever it is that will comprise the next atrocity than it it to get control of an aircraft in the USA . Or, of course, and as we've seen in London, Milan & elsewhere, just move onto the next target: trains, subways, etc. Alas, that's the inevitable result. That door is largely closed, but many others beckon still.

Frankly, none of this makes me feel any safer than I do already - and yes, I do feel very safe flying, certainly more so than before when security here in the USA was a bit of a joke. (Pre-9/11, anyone could walk up to a gate, for example, without challenge, screening or ID checks, a situation that had been long gone in Europe for probably 10 years prior.)

SPend this money somewhere else on protecting other things. Cargo security is still largely missing-in-action. Make that more secure first before going to these extremes,

Friday, March 2, 2007

Commute #5: Evening light

OK, so I'm cheating on the last one. This was taken in Chicago from the John Hancock building just as the sun was setting on a cold winter's day. My blog, my rules.

An interesting week. Several of the team have been in Texas this week running to ground some pretty interesting opportunities to lead an initiative to create some standards in our fledgling industry. Oh, and to try and get some deals done to help drive the quarter as well! Only one month to go and as always this one will go down to the wire. Anyway, sounds like we made some good progress but it's clear we've started something that may be bigger than the company is really set up to handle just now. The next few weeks will be very interesting as we strive to stay in the saddle and steer this one into the stable. Still, this is a nice problem to have, although we are going to have to figure out how to juggle both the short term, Q-by-Q needs of the business with these - necessarily longer term - initiatives. Anyone fancy sending us a few extra $$$s to help out???

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Earthquake this evening ...

... but no dogs were hurt. In fact, no dogs even woke up, in our house at least. It was a 4.2 magnitude quake centered about 80 km away. My wife and I felt a single jolt but that was really about it. Surprising we got any effects at all really from what was a relatively small event in a location over 50 miles from the epicentre.

Commute #4: Energy stop

Only after I looked at this on a PC did I see a much better shot that would have focused on the manhole covers over the underground tanks. The contrasts there, especially with the light and dark from the wet forecourt, would have been more interesting I think. Oh well. Next time.

Close to the end of another week. Travelling again next week so apologies in advance for more shots of aeroplanes, departure terminals and random foreign stuff.

Adobe goes on-line

From The Online Photographer
Interesting report that Adobe will be offering a basic set of Photoshop's capabilities as an on-line software-service. Strong defensive move (as the article points out), especially given Google's ravenous appetite for all things Web-ish. I think it will also open up new opportunities for Adobe to connect into the Flickr/YouTube worlds and truly develop a web presence to complement their strong "off line" tool suites. Nice to see a more mainstream company catching-on, albeit a little late, and being able to respond effectively to a fast-changing world. Personally, I look forward to Adobe hosting a web-served back-end database so I can keep my images somewhere safe and secure but also have access to all the power of the Adobe tool set to create web pages, blog entries etc. directly. Can't say I'll give up my own copy of Photoshop - have to fill those long flight hours somehow - but I'd welcome the additional capabilities this could bring.