Monday, April 30, 2007

Out Of Reach

On the plus side (see below) the auditorium we were using had power available at each seat so I have to confess to doing some photo-processing in the background when the less enthralling sessions, shall we say, were underway.

This one was taken on a bridge in London. Not sure I've quite got across what I wanted to convey but thought I'd throw it up here anyway. And yes, I could probably have phrased that a little better ...

Disconnected Strategy?

Went to a seminar today on the future of the software industry as the switch towards software as a service (SaaS) gains pace. Interesting in places but nothing earth shattering. I also feel compelled to note that the industry speakers (Ray Lane, Timothy Chou) were more grounded and their material more coherent than anything the academics had to say.

Anyway, it was held on the Microsoft Campus in Mountain View and Craig Mundie, one of those anointed by Bill to take over technical leadership of the company in '08 when Gates hangs up his company hat, delivered a lunch-time keynote about multicore computing and how to put all those extra processing cycles to work. Turns out Vista is employing what he termed "predictive computing" and using those extra cycles to, for example, load-up what applications you are most likely to be using next. Hmm. That's all well-and-good I suppose but I'd be more excited if they'd just make Windows boot in less than three minutes and get that whole suspend/restore thing to the point where it can actually become a usable feature.

Despite all that technical wizardry and crystal ball gazing, I was amazed to find out that there was no working public Wi-Fi access available, a fact that ultimately drove me out of the Microsoft facility to the nearest Starbuck's in order to catch up with work during the day.

Words fail me. (Actually, what I mean is "words fail me, except for the ones above".) The one company in the Valley - apart from Google, naturally - where you'd expect to be able to get connected via a public access point, and it's broken??

Microsoft's future, written on a grain of rice.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

UCSC Photography Course

Line Astern

As mentioned a post or three ago, I was at Laguna Seca this weekend for a course on action photography. Although the racing itself wasn't too thrilling, nevertheless the course was very good. Excellent instructor who was both a strong professional photographer and a great educator, always keeping people engaged and interested. He "went the extra mile" and worked with the people at Skip Barber to get us access to some great areas for picture taking. Indeed, as it turned out the fact that this wasn't a public race weekend might well have made it more worthwhile from a technique, practice and access to the track standpoint so I think I have reversed my position on that one!

Well recommended, and as I get round to reviewing the shots that are worthwhile I'll begin posting some of them here, starting with the above (which I may yet crop differently).

Road Melts in Fire

Interesting news item today. A petrol tanker crashed on a freeway connector for 580 in Oakland, resulting in a fire so intense the elevated roadway then collapsed onto 880 below. Fortunately, it was early on Sunday morning and traffic was very light so no injuries reported except for the driver of the truck who suffered some burns.

Living here you get quite used to the idea that earthquakes can flatten roads, but this is the first instance I can think of when a fire has had the same effect.

Fortunately, for me at least this isn't on my commute route and I don't find myself up that way very often. Nevertheless, I hope they get it sorted quickly because Sod's Law says that all of a sudden I'll find myself having to go that way!

Friday, April 27, 2007

CEO = Scapegoat?

I came across this article talking about “Signs that a Board should consider changing the CEO”. Of course I had to read it, but by the end I was more than mildly ticked off. What about “Signs your VCs are a bunch of arrogant ___s who know damn well the business is worthless but still hired some poor sucker to run it anyway?” Or, “Signs the VCs wouldn’t listen to an honest appraisal of the real opportunity - or lack thereof - if was beamed at them through the Rolling Stones’ PA system from 6 feet away?”

Sure, some CEOs – irrespective of background, founders or not - screw up, no doubt about it. All well and good, but what about the responsibility of the Board and the VCs to engage constructively in this process? How about the fact that a) they either hired the wrong guy in to manage it in the first place or b) left the founder and/or the management alone to run things into the ground to such a degree that the nuclear option is the only one remaining?

I’m fortunate: my present investors are realistic, supportive and always willing & eager to help out, but I’ve had other, less positive, experiences in the past. As a “hired gun” CEO, though, the reality around taking on a new company is that it’s a lot like marriage: based on a very short courtship, you find the bride attractive and want to get hitched. BUT, don’t forget to spend time with her parents too because - surprise, surprise - they come included in the package, like it or not. It’s also worth remembering that they are footing the bill, paying for your house and likely to be loaning you cash in the future, so unless you can get on with them as well as you can your prospective spouse, think twice, and then run for the exit before the vicar gets into his stride!

Death Valley Beach

Thanks to an 18 hour trip from ARN to SFO, finally got round working on some of the other shots from Death Valley, and I liked how this one came out. I was really surprised at the range of colours evident in the sediments in the area. Not sure this shot fully captures it (yes, Mr. “I”, I really should get round to profiling my laptop display!) but I’ll take a look on my home PC at some point and make sure it's capturing how things really looked.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Half-Head Dummies

Is it only me or is there something disturbing about these shop window dummies looking like they’ve been decapitated by a chain-saw killer with lousy hand-eye co-ordination?

I suppose the idea was something akin to photo-cropping – limit the visible extremities of the dummy to make shoppers focus on the clothes – but instead it presents such a macabre sight that your eye keeps being drawn upwards to the remaining half-heads.

And I bet those models don’t work too well in hat-shops …..

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Spring in Sweden

Tree Shadow, Stockholm

Beautiful sunny weather this morning, so I walked to the office. It's about a 30 minute stroll from my hotel and certainly no hardship on a day such as this. The most direct route goes past what, to me at least, appears to be the Justice Ministry, inhabiting an appropriately large and imposing edifice! However, it's clad in a rather cheerful yellow stone that's quite at odds with what otherwise, given its massive and imposing proportions, could be a wonderfully Kafka-esque sort of place.

I guess that's modern socialism for you - the kindlier, gentler, yellower sort of political system!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Weekend Fun

Interesting weekend in store - off to Laguna Seca for a couple of days to take a course on action photography. Alas, it got moved by a week so instead of getting to do this with a SCCA Classics meet it's with a Skip Barber MX-5 class in which, by definition, every vehicle is identical! Strikes me as less than thrilling, so not sure I'll make both days. Anyway, I'll at least see how day 1 goes and what the instruction is like. Of course, I'd rather be in the race class than the photo class, but maybe later this year ....

Cures for Jet Lag?

San Francisco Airport International Terminal

I'd love to know what other people have done to combat jet lag, but to get the ball rolling here's my approach to dealing with it. Not saying it would work for anyone else, of course, but at least it gives me a basic ability to function on these trips:

- try to get onto local time as soon as possible. Stay up until 9 pm at least otherwise you'll be awake at 2 am, fall back to sleep at 6 am and feel like crap when the alarm goes off at 7 am.

- you *will* wake up during the night. The body is 8 or 9 hours out which means instead of body temperature and other processes (e.g. urine production) slowing down to coincide with sleeping, everything is still going full steam ahead. Travel tiredness will only knock you out for so long.

- only when you wake up at 12 midnight, 1 am etc. do you reach for any kind of drugs. (No, not that kind ..)

- I use one or one-half a tablet of Benedryl, an anti-histamine for hay fever relief. This helps deal with any stuffiness you feel after the flight and, for me at least, acts as a very mild sedative, sufficient to put me back to sleep half an hour or so after taking it.

- If you wake around 5 am you might be better off getting up and starting the day, depending upon which direction you travelled. Again, the issue here is that 7 am CET is 10 pm on the West Coast and hence you run the risk of falling back asleep just before the alarm goes off. And that's a *very bad* thing!

- you will feel down or out-of-sorts at some stage. Accept it, and just wait it out.

That's it. No magic, alas, just routine stuff, but it works for me at least.

(In case you are wondering, yes, I do drink on flights. Gain outweighs the pain in my view!)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Temptation in Red

Back at Heathrow again, waiting for a connection to Stockholm. At least flying this route I can pick up some British goodies (chocolate, magazines, etc.) and top-up my cell phone. But that really is about all that T1 has to offer, and even those delights pale after a couple of hours. Except .....

I'm always though interested to see what car they are offering in the 20-quid-a-ticket competition. Basically, this is a variant on "spot-the-ball", requiring you to assess where on a doctored picture of a soccer game the ball *should* be, and win an Aston, Porsche or some other exotic vehicle. Not been tempted in the past but this time aounrd the prize being offered is much more like it! Although I managed to fight off the temptation this time around, I still have to transit back through T1 on the way home. Will I or won't I weaken and crumble??

Friday, April 20, 2007

New BMW CS Concept


Caught this on Uncrate. It's rare I get even slightly exercised about concept cars but I'll make an exception in this case. BMW have done an excellent job here of attacking a very difficult styling goal: creating a next generation set of design cues whilst still keeping existing elements from models being sold today recognisable & well-integrated. To keep things fresh (and, you suspect, keep their lives interesting!) designers will sometimes throw everything out and start again to create a complete new direction for a given marque or model. However, to keep some semblance of brand continuity - and hence their jobs - they still have to incorporate cues from earlier models in order to "bring their buyers along with them". Often, this will start and stop with the front grill (Mercury anyone?), making the whole thing look like a token exercise, which of course it was....

Here, BMW have obviously brought their "flame surfacing" forwards, along with, for example, the 6 series boot treatment. But let's not focus on what is old, instead let's embrace the new! The shark-like front overhang above the classic BMW grille is the exact opposite of what has been seen in the past three generations of BMW's 3-through-7 series cars, and looks stunning. The pronounced rear haunches owe more to Bentley than Bavaria, providing presence and poise to the overall look. Only thing I'm not sure about is the treatment of the fared-in tailpipes, but it's hard to gauge the actual proportions from the photos posted here.

Knowing BMW, this "concept" should more accurately be called a pre-production study, so expect something not too far removed from this design appearing in a showroom near you in 2009. Can't wait.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Good Sales Meeting

Glad to say, the sales meeting in 'Vegas seemed to go very well. The past couple of these things that we've held haven't really worked, though for different reasons in each case. Any way, this time we (a) prepared at length and in depth, (b) had something tangible we wanted to communicate: a new positioning and (c) didn't make the whole thing overly long or comprise nothing but sitting through Powerpoint slides.

One big concern coming in was that we wanted to effect change: moving our sales team to recognise the process-level value we bring to customers and get them away from just trying to sell tools. Process-level sales, when successful, are much "stickier" than selling tools which, ultimately, are relatively simple to swap out.

For the first time in 2 years, it's really starting to feel like we have a team that can get the right stuff done, and that we share a consistent view of how to present our value to customers.

Onwards and upwards!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Nailed the 911

Well that was painful. What with all the construction around here, I guess the inevitable happened: I got a nail in the off-side rear tyre. Bummer. 500 miles from home, need to leave tomorrow, and car is sitting in the hotel car park with a flat.

Managed to limp to the nearest petrol station and get enough air into the thing to make it drivable. My experience with nail punctures like this is that they go down only slowly so the car’s usable for a few hours at least if the tyre has enough air in it.

Used Google to locate the nearest tyre store and plugged it into the Garmin. So far, so good. Alas, I get to the address and, drum-roll please, not a tyre dealer in sight, just houses and a few offices. Bugger.

This all just got trickier, therefore. Here I am, sitting outside some office block, located who-knows-where in Las Vegas, with my laptop back at the hotel, and no plan B. Resorted again to Google – despite their dumping me here in the first place – and sent a SMS search query from my cell phone for Porsche dealers in Las Vegas. Thankfully, one was listed about 10 minutes away, so back to Garmin to get me there.

Made it safely and it’s a pretty up-market dealer - good to see! Problem solved, eh? Well, not so fast ….

Turns out, so the dealer claims at least, that “your particular Continental tyre is no longer made, sir”. On a 911 it’s never advisable to have different tyres anywhere on the thing so net-net is 4 new tyres and a $1,900 charge on the old Am Ex card. What was that posting I did a few weeks back on the costs of running supercars??

Get the car back tomorrow so I can begin the drive home.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Long-Distance Bikers

Encountered a lot of bikers in my travels over the past couple of days. Looking at the roads – mostly long, straight, and wonderfully smooth – it’s easy to see how bikes like the Harley or Honda Goldwing evolved to meet a market need pretty specific to the USA: long distance cruising. While I did see a couple of groups of sports bikes, by far the most dominant kind were all in the “big and comfy” category. In addition to easing long hours in the saddle, they are probably more stable in crosswinds, doubtless a significant problem out there on the plains, and you can also seemingly carry a lot of stuff on them and hence be out for days, if not weeks, in a row, something that's not quite so necessary say in the UK, for example!

April provides almost perfect biking weather out here in the desert states: mild enough to be pleasant when wearing leathers and not so hot or cold that the whole experience becomes some kind of torture. And as you can see, traffic jams and lane splitting really aren't problems that get encountered around here very often either!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Death Valley

Death Valley, California

Left early this morning in order to maximize the travel time and to make sure I got through Death Valley before it got too hot. Shouldn't have worried: temperatures never got above 71 degrees for the whole journey. It’s easy to think about Death Valley in terms of (a) how low it is and (b) how hot it is, but there is a lot of elevation change involved in touring here. I hit 5,500 feet at one stage, down to a GPS-registered low of over 200 feet below sea-level at the floor of the park.

It’s certainly a spectacular place, and I was very fortunate that a storm went through CA yesterday and today adding some nice cloud formations into the equation too!

Having racked up 650 miles and spent over 12 hours on the road driving here to Las Vegas, I should probably now get to work on our sales meeting ….

Lone Pine, CA

Sierra Sun Rise, Lone Pine, CA

Set off for Lone Pine today (Sunday), anticipating a 7 hour drive to get there. Weather was sunny and a bit chilly when I left home but by the time I got to around Bakersfield I had caught up with the remnants of yesterdays storm in the Bay Area. Plenty of showers all the way from there to Lone Pine.

Before leaving, I printed out Google directions but decided instead to just follow my Garmin Nuvi, assuming it would take me the same route. Well, it didn't! However, turns out that the route it did take me was way more interesting. I ended up going through Kern Canyon, a route through the Southern Sierras I didn't know was there. Single lane round through a steep and rocky gorge with a river running by the side of the road. (And not much flow to the river at that, underscoring how dry this year has been.) After Kern Canyon, the road then goes through a California Desert Preserve featuring broad sweeps of Joshua trees either side of the highway. Relatively little traffic meant that, once past the slow bit in the canyon, progress was pretty good.

Made the predicted time even with a number of stops along the way.

Nevertheless, even with 7 hours on the road I'm still 100 miles from Death Valley.

Overnighting at the Dow Villa Hotel in Lone Pine before setting off again.

I need to be in 'Vegas by mid-afternoon and want to get some time in Death Valley to explore. Early start in the morning, therefore!

Friday, April 13, 2007

'Vegas, baby!

Design Studies for the Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas

Well, Friday has rolled around at last and I'm looking forward, starting on Sunday morning, to a long, peaceful and engaging drive across CA and Nevada. I'll stay in Lone Pine Sunday night before attacking Death Valley on Monday morning (probably early, before it gets too hot.) Plenty of evocative names, Zabriske Point being not the least of them! Man, been a long time since I saw that film. Gee, maybe I should post a picture of the movie poster? (Yup, looks like Blogger nuked the one I posted from The Deer Hunter.)

Travelogue-blog here I come!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

How Hard Can It Be, Bill?

I wasted 4 hours this morning with a PC problem. I had my laptop on standby over night, got to the office and plugged into it a couple of USB devices before waking it up. Being of a cautious nature, that's not my normal routine: "restart first, add USB plugs second", is how the mantra usually goes.

Anyway, net result was the thing threw a wobbly and it took me forever to get it back to a stable state. Coincidence that I did things differently? Perhaps, but not an experiment I'm willing to try again just to see.

I had hoped Vista, in all it's bright-and-shiny newness, would fix something as fundamental as this, but apparently not. According to reports, it still takes 3 minutes to boot on a decently-specified machine, and warm-starts aren't much quicker either.

Why waste time with fancy graphics when fundamental usability issues are ignored? Bit like GM wasting time on stuff like add-on plastic spoilers instead of building a worthwhile auto box or giving their cars halfway decent handling. Oh, right. Bad analogy ...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Why Board Meetings are like "The Deer Hunter"

It doesn't seem to matter how many Board meetings I go through, it's still near to impossible to predict how these things will work out. Ones I think will go well actually don't; others, where I think the material is weak or thin, end up as "wins". There seems to be little rhyme or reason to it all, making each one feel like a weird game of Russian Roulette, but with more like three out of six bullets in the cylinder instead of one.

If anyone out there has "cracked the code", I'd love to learn the secret.

Now, if only Robert De Niro would attend the meetings instead of me ....

Monday, April 9, 2007

Desert Bound

Canyonlands National Park, UT

Need to get past a Board meeting on Wednesday but then have something to look forward to: we have a sales meeting in Las Vegas next week so I've decided to take a day extra and drive there. The route will take me through Death Valley on Monday, but on the way home on Friday I'll go the more direct way. I've never been to DV before and it's about as late in the season as makes sense to visit. Temperatures should be in the mid-90s if the forecast holds. According to Google, getting to 'Vegas will consume about 12 hours drive-time. Given I'll be driving the 911 then I might be able to shave something off that, although the sports suspension might be a bit harsh for some of the roads I'll be on! Either way, should be fun!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Easter Message

Not religious myself, but still thought I'd post something promoting harmony, love and understanding, what with it being Easter and all.
Peace out, dude.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Long Vista (#2)

This one's on Brighton seafront (in the UK) following the cast iron Victorian railings towards Hove.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Long Vista (#1)

Back to photography for the weekend. A couple of B&W shots striving to create long lead-in lines. First up, the Marina District in San Francisco and a low wall leading towards the Fort Mason Center.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Moment in Time

Pausing here before a whole raft of travel in April through June. Feels like a bunch of stuff is hanging out there but ....

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Why I Hate Tradeshows

1. They are ridiculously expensive, and not just in $$ terms either. Manpower, disruption, time away from customers, etc. all go to making these bashes cost way more than they deliver.

2. They are irrelevant. If the web can mean I never have to go to the shops at Christmas, why does anyone in this business still go to trade shows? Surely not to buy anything, nor even to investigate stuff. What's on the booth is still way less than is on a company website.

3. They are tedious. Things only happen when the conference sessions are out, lunch isn't on and the moon is ascending in Uranus. In other words, roughly 30 minutes in every four hours.

4. Half your staff end up in sub-meetings either with people they know or other team members, and not doing anything to foster new relationships.

5. They are all about ego and puff. I am not; business shouldn't be. (And if it necessarily is sometimes then I can think of way better things to do rather than erect some baroque booth in downtown San Jose.) There's no substance either in, or from, these things because that's not what they are designed to achieve. It's marketing, pure-and-simple.

6. And most of all - they don't generate any new business. Pretending otherwise is just plain stupid. Who, walking round the Embedded Systems Conference (where I was yesterday) suddenly thinks, "you know, what I really want for an Easter gift is a three layer, PPC-based, ATCA card, ruggedised to mil-specs"? If someone is genuinely interested, they'll find you.

Whole circus should be outlawed and the savings better spent on real business activities.

Such cynicism, and in one so young ...

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

High-Level View

Combat Air Patrol

Not to bang on about this too much but since it's uppermost in my mind then that's what you get to read about!

We're seeing a possible fork in the road regarding how we move ahead as a company. On the one hand, we could continue down the present path, focusing on what I'll call a "bottom-up" approach of aiming to get initial seed deals from which we can grow upwards into an account. This has its pros and cons, but success or not is often driven more by market stage than anything else, and it's not clear to me that we are in the right place for this to get the job done. Another approach might be possible, one in which we go after a different market segment but one that feeds technology down to the consumers of it, namely the projects we are chasing today. The idea here is to follow a flow-down strategy that should help drive some larger initial deals and also get us better and more immediate access into those target projects where, in the long run, we really have to be anyway.

Having a dialogue with a Board member on exactly this question, trying to judge if we can afford to do both, or even if we can afford not to!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Strategy or Tactics? Which Wins?

Lauda's Championship Winning Ferrari

Someone I respect greatly once said, "start-ups don't die through a lack of strategy, but poor execution gets 'em every time".

I used to agree strongly with this sentiment, and I think I still do ... sort of. But here's my current take: both can be fatal, it's just that the tactical failures will kill you quicker than the strategic ones.

Start-ups are odd creatures. In many ways, you are much better off if they die young than you are if they are allowed to reach a corpulent middle-age only to find they are still living at home with their parents, have no prospects of getting a real job, and are constantly mooching off their uncle VCs.

Alas, on any given day it's almost impossible to separate the two. It's only with hindsight that the difference becomes clear and allow you to get some sort of perspective on what went well vs. what failed tactically, and where it was the overall strategy that was lacking (or not).

Anyone who thinks the start-up world looks, acts or feels like an MBA case-study has never, ever experienced the real thing. Indeed, I seriously question the net worth of an MBA at all these days versus, say, the value of time-spent inside almost any company with the opportunity to watch how things work - or don't - in the real world.

Look at it this way: Who would you rather have behind the wheel driving you at high speed round a track? The guy who has done at least some basic autocross or amateur racing, even if it's in the local corn field, or someone who is a record holder piloting GTA or Project Gotham on a PS3 or XBox?

Sunday, April 1, 2007


Chromium Kiss

So, did we make the 1Q? Kind of ...

Late breaking, we got verbal agreement on a decent-sized deal right as Friday evening was closing out. We issued temporary keys to get the customer going and had them start March 30th. If the associated paperwork, to be sorted over the next couple of weeks, looks good and affirms that date then we should be OK to take this as a booking. Given that, we made plan. If we can't book it then we'll at least have come close and will have a good start on the second quarter. Time to declare victory and move on!