Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reaching The Half-Century

Won't tarry long here today because it's my birthday. In theory, I was supposed to take the day off. In practice - no such luck! Oh well, maybe in another ten years.

Peace out.

7 Cs of Software?

Fog Line, Big Sur, CA

Saw this via GigaOM and thought I'd take a look to see what gives. It was billed as "a look at some of the major trends that are changing and influencing the software business."

Fair 'nuff. All good important stuff, so off I click for a look-see at the first entry: "The 7 Cs of Software".

Jeez. Don't know about 7 Cs, but I can describe this article in 3: contrived, cursory, claptrap.

To save you some effort, the 7 Cs listed are as follows: collective, connected, cyborg (yeah, I know), closed ("and open at the same time"), composed, choreographed, cognizant.

Let's play the 4th estate's favourite parlour game. Take all the current trends you see in the software business while idly browsing the web one afternoon, stick them under one of the headings above, phone it in: you're done.

Save yourself the time, here's a synopsis. The future of software is as follows: semantic webs, collective programming, mashups, personalised. Enabling technologies are platforms and APIs.

Game over. One by one, the stars start to go out ...

Monday, July 30, 2007

What Does $350 mil Buy These Days?

A lot of porno DVDs, appeared to be the general answer; four pages worth on the asset listing to be more exact. However, a day later it turns out not to be porn at all, just suggestively titled material the company, Amp'd Mobile, was selling to their subscribers.

A few days ago, Amp'd Mobile threw in the towel after chewing up $350m of VC money since December 2005. Amp'd was one of a slew of MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) who buy cheap minutes from existing carriers and resell them along with premium or niche content, marketing to consumers as a different flavour of phone service. Virgin Mobile has been successful in this in the UK and in the US; Amp'd has clearly not. (Though to be fair, Disney crashed and burned in this market too, so they aren't alone in flaming out.)

Amp'd was targeting the 18 to 30 crowd, promising additional content like game shows, music videos, etc. The story above hints at part of the problem: they relaxed the normal credit ratings applied as part of the qualification process resulting in - surprise, surprise - large numbers of defaulters. Elsewhere, it's also mooted that anyway they didn't have adequate billing systems in place, an even bigger problem if true.

Firms here in the Valley took a real bath on this one, with some well respected names amongst the list of losers, including Redpoint and Highland it would seem. Indeed, not only did they burn through $350m of raised capital but it also seems the closed with $100m worth of debts. Not bad going for an 18 month ride. Boy, I'd love to see the original Power Point slides used to pitch this deal and then set them against what actually happened to Amp'd: now there's a case study worth doing!

Given their target audience, combined with the well-know fact that the porn industry is a mega-bucks business here in the US, you'd have to conclude that perhaps their biggest mistake might have been to underestimate the potential value of sending real porn to their subscribers. Had they tried then they might still be in business, albeit a seedy one. Making money is still the one sin that forgivith all others here in Silicon Valley.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Silicon Valley has become renowned for its ability to spin technology in such a way as to build entire businesses, sometimes overnight, on the back of spurious benefits claimed for some new product, service or feature. However, even we tip our hats to the acknowledged kings of this particular hill, the cosmetics companies.

Watching TV last night, I caught a L'Oreal advert claiming, in suitably authoritative tones, that their latest gloop would 'redensify' skin because it contained 'micro-capsules of calcium'.

Obviously, the first problem with this is that there's no such word as redensify, so frankly I have no idea what it is they are trying to say. Let's, then, move onto the second problem: whatever redensification is, it's triggered, apparently, by slathering the face with chalk. Do people actually believe this BS f'r chrissakes?

In the interests of scientific study, I took a look at some advertising websites for women's cosmetics. At random, I found the following gems:

'Rebuilds skin defense system against external aggressors.' (Handy in the Middle East one might imagine.)

'A treatment that enhances well-being of hair.'(Hair is dead; it is not corporeal; this is stupid.)

'Horsetail helps provide biological nourishment for cellular activity.' (Only for horses - NOT!)

The list is seemingly endless.

On the back of all this chicanery, the prices charged for this stuff makes Beluga caviar seem as cheap as an extra order of beans at KFC on free sides night. And yet, and yet: let's just remember that the target audience laps this stuff up, spending billions annually on the back of psuedo-science, inflated marketing and unjustifiable claims. Normal, rationally-minded women somehow lose the will to resist these claims, preferring instead simply to shell-out and slap-on, seemingly hypnotised into doing the bidding of the cosmetics giants.

This level of hype and hyperbole makes SV marketing types seem puritanically honest by comparison. Well, perhaps with one exception ... Apple. If in doubt, take a look at the launch program around Apple TV sometime.

Steve Jobs, the Valley's own Svengali?

Friday, July 27, 2007

These Canon Lenses Are Hot!

Literally. This story describes one of those ill-starred trips we all suffer through from time-to-time, when everything that can go wrong, does. A Reuters team covering the Tour de France managed to endure the following: stolen camera (new Canon Mk III); parking tickets (London - so no surprises there); electrical failure on first van (Renault - ditto); heart attack; turbo blows and incinerates entire vehicle (Renault - again). For a moment there, they almost manage to salvage some personal effects, but the exploding Espace sprayed the stuff they pulled out moments before with melting plastic so they caught fire any way, including the above equipment.
Still, at least they made it into the news which, since that's their job, I suppose is some real consolation! And no photographers were hurt in bringing you this story.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Beached Whale - May Have Structural Damage?


Always knew they'd be downsides - other than finding four parking spaces next to each other, that is - to owning a limo in San Francisco! Original story here.

No Wiley Coyote Cartoons In China, I Guess?

OK, listen, I know you can all keep a secret so hear me out: I have a perfect plan to make millions, cash out and escape scot free. And I know it works, because I just did a dry run.

Here's how it goes. Since we all work for the bank, managing the safe etc., we have access to the keys right? The bank only audits the actual cash levels in there on an irregular basis, so for some period of time they only think they know how much money is in there, the actual amount could be different and they'd be none the wiser

Last weekend, I took 25 Gs home in a sack and then blew the lot on - well, guess what? No, not drugs and hookers, but now you mention it .... No really, I put the whole shebang - and this is so brilliant I can only smile each time I think of it - on the LOTTERY! Easily won enough to put back the money I took before anyone noticed, and there was a tidy sum left over for yours truly in the process. It's foolproof I tell you! The Acme Corporation would love to get their hands on this idea.

So here's what we're going to do. Let's up the ante. We'll walk out of here over the next month with a cool six or seven mill so there's absolutely no chance we won't win the big payout, right? We'll clear more than enough to put it all back and then call in rich on Monday morning! We'll be laughing all the way to the bank and back out again.

Wiley Coyote, you little genius you ....... or maybe not?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Answer To A 21st-Century Maiden's Prayer?

Toshiba are now shipping what is, as far as I know, the first laptop with a fully solid-state hard drive. The new Toshiba Portege R500 can be had with a 64Gb solid-state memory, resulting in a machine that has "no moving parts" they say. Except, one might hope, for things like the keyboard keys, screen hinge etc. but we'll let that pass for now.

Much is made of its light weight (1.72 lbs) and long running time on battery power ("tremendous", is the exact description!), all of which can be had for a mere 2,699 of your Yankee dollars.

Couple of minor points, though:

(a) How come they aren't shouting about how fast Windows now boots, applications run, birds sing, etc? Access times have to be, what, 10% for a SSD vs. seek times for even a very small physical disk? What gives? This ought to be the #1 thing to crow about unless, somehow, Bill's bits manage to lose all those gains again somewhere along the way?

(b) The type of non-volatile memory used in the SSD has a limited life span, dictated by the number of read/write operations it sees. Don't know what that equates to in this case but I saw elsewhere that in digital TV applications they are planning to provide a lower-quality of picture storage for the time-slipped stuff in order to extend the life of the memory chips set for inclusion as an on-board, low-rent TiVo capability.
(c) The detailed specs take a paragraph to tell you about all the features included to provide "Executive Durability" (any one reckon this PDF was a rushed translation from the original Japanese flyer?) which include things like HDD shock absorption. Great! Err, but hang on, there aren't any HDDs in it any more, which is surely the whole point of the thing in the first place?

Whatever, I will eagerly await the PC magazine reviews to see if this is the ultimate way, finally, to get the bloody things booting and restoring in anything less than a week.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Summer Slowdown

Office Lobby, Tokyo

One of the challenges of running a business with a sizeable European component is that, come July & August, people vanish for anything up to 5 or 6 weeks at a stretch on vacation. Sure, I understand the need to support local customs in other places, and I of all people know that the attitude to holidays in much of Europe is completely different to what had become the norm in the U.K., let alone the U.S.. And lest you think otherwise, I am not anti holiday - far from it, I think taking a break is crucial to keeping up the pace we need throughout the rest of the year - but trying to manage your way through the long summer break when around the rest of the world things continue unabated can be really tough.

Back when the economy in any given country was largely domestic, these kinds of issues really didn't matter. Everyone had the same view of things and because everyone largely took off at the same time it just made the whole thing part of the normal fabric of business. However, as soon as you debut onto the world business stage, all of a sudden these kinds of issues become real inhibitors to inernational growth.

No great conclusions here, just wondering how long places like France, Scandinavia and others will be able to protect their privileges in the face of a tough and highly competitive global market?

Monday, July 23, 2007

iPhone or spyPhone?

As we've all seen with Windows, it's no surprise that along with the power to work, rest and play on one's PC comes a glaring vulnerability to attack. One of the iPhone's purported strengths is also that it can act more like a full computing platform than many phones on the market, and in particular it runs the Safari browser which should enable all sorts of intersting capabilities to be available cross Mac/iPhone in the future. Alas, that very flexibility is also starting to become one of its weaknesses.

These issues covered in detail here. Basically, the attack dsicussed involves exploiting the fact that if the iPhone browser opens some evil web-page on a server somewhere, the code it finds will run with inherited administrator privileges. Not good, as anyone who has ever got even the mildest of PC viruses will atest.

Among the things this would open the device to would be copying and relaying all SMS messages received or posted, sending out stored passwords, even acting as an audio eavesdropping bug by placing an outgoing call without the owner being aware of it.

Redmond has spent years having the wider-world find countless vulnerabilities in Explorer, a level of hard-won maturation that Safari can't even begin to match. This may just be the start of what will soon grow into a wave of postings on this topic, throwing up who-knows-what in the way of further holes in the iPhone's defences.

Browsers beware in the meantime!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Reflected Glory

Alaskan peak, reflected in the still, early morning waters of Glacier Bay National Park.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Deck Update

Some of you may be wondering what the update was on the termite saga at home, first discussed here.

The good news was that we avoided having to have the whole house tented. There were very few signs of the little blighters when we pulled off part of the siding and accompanying trim-work, so the bug-man said we were OK with spot-treating those areas.

Bad news was that we had to demolish a double-decker, err, deck to get us here. Debris neatly piled in the driveway and pictured above shows the result. Just to add to the repair cost, the joists forming the deck were simply the house joists extended outwards. Yup, the deck was, in part, holding the house itself up ...

(There are bits of the upstairs bedroom by the end wall I tend to now tread upon very lightly indeed these days.)

Still don't have an estimate for slapping all this stuff back together but my guess is another $6k minimum. Therefore, may have to considering eBay'ing the dog's collection of deer bones you can just see being modelled atop the electricity meters. Feel free to make a "buy now" proposal if you are so minded!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Travelling Together

Thanks to Lorraine for the original photo. Not completely sure about the colouring work here but wanted to keep the earthy, natural feel of the children and the steep, grassy bank ahead of them bounding their journey, while nevertheless keeping the main figures standing out in the frame.

Google, Knives, Wall Street? You Know The Drill.

Fake Steve Jobs puts it better than I could, so Steve, over to you ....


Fun this, isn't it? (Agree completely regarding spoiled employees whining about the wrong kind of arugula being used or how they saw someone in the corridor wearing the exact same sort of pyjamas to work. Well, FSJ puts it differently but same message nevertheless.)

Potter Plotter Exposed by EXIF?

Interesting article in the Times regarding the leaked final Harry Potter book that was posted on Bit Torrent. Some in'duh'vid-ual took a picture of each page and posted the jpgs. Alas, he/she forgot to remove the EXIF info from each post so the Feds, well, publishers anyway, now know the camera (Canon Rebel 350) and serial number. Oh, and what their carpet looks like of course.

If the perp registered their purchase with Canon, took it in for repair or otherwise logged it somewhere then, as they used to say in the Sweeney, "you're nicked, son, and where's me dinner?" (British TV classic. Catch it if you can. Inspector Morse before he got all cerebral. Seriously.)

Moral of the story? If you are going to do dumb things with photos, at least read the damn manual!
How does it all end? Turns out, HP is a closet social realist with revolutionary tendencies. He stages a coup at the obviously bourgeois & corrupt Hogwarts and has Dumbledore, Snape and the rest machine-gunned and buried out in the woods. He then returns to Muggle land, moving into a council block in Leytonstone, and gets hooked on crystal meths & methadone, dying in the gutter two years later. Hermione goes with him, taking to crime to feed his habit and ends up pregnant and doing a 5 stretch in Holloway.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Colour Processing - Art or Artifice?

Ready To Fly, Elfin Cove, AK

Been seeing a number of photographers using various kinds of post-processing steps to do some very different things with their work in terms of overall colour and feel. Of those, I think David over at chromasia is by far the leader, but others I've seen also have significant merit (headphone, DW, BlueHour).

Personally, I enjoy these works and find that they do have something to say over-and-above what the original shot might be able to convey. However, working in this way & creating something fresh and worthwhile as artistic statements is a very narrow path, and only the truly talented can walk it with aplomb. Step too far off to one side and even "artifice" doesn't cover it; the results are at best cliched and at worst, well, worse than cliched.

The shot above is my first stab at going down this road, and I've tried to do so with a light touch to begin with (neatly embracing neither art nor artifice, in fact). I'll try taking some other steps forwards over time and will post any that seem to me to be making progress in the right direction. (DISCLAIMER: Of course, being a bit colour blind might be a handicap for me on this one so please excuse the odd pink tinge or purple tree. Unless I can claim that's what I meant to do, of course!)

Motorola Q 0x85010014 Code: The Longer Road

All of a sudden, my Motorola Q stopped synch'ing with Exchange. No e-mail; nothing getting updated; zilch: I now owned a square cell phone.

Pinged IT to see what gives and got the message back "nothing changed on our end". Bugger. Which led me to mistake #1: I believed them.

Tried a bunch of different things but each time I tried to synch I got the 0x85010014 error code back. Hmm, over to Google it is, then. Seems that this is a general error code from Exchange and remedies are unpleasantly complex (e.g. reconfigure how you have Exchange set-up for remote SSL access). Well since IT said there's been no changes, I thought to myself, I'll just clean off the Q and start afresh to remove any risk that something had got corrupted locally. Which brings me to mistake #2.

These devices, I have now learned, require certificates to be installed on them in order to authorise access to Exchange. Fair 'nuff. But resetting the thing also deleted whatever certificate IT had added rather than just restoring the basic user settings. To further complicate matters, somehow amnesia set in with the IT group that a) this was required and b) how one was supposed to do it.

Back to Google, and again ran through a range of solutions offered but hard to find something specific. But then, a breakthrough! IT changed their mind - a patch had been added to Exchange and broken ActiveSync. Thanks, boys. So I could have just waited and the problem would have gone away? Great.

Tried again (without required certificate) and at least got a different code this time - 0x80072F0D, for those of you keeping score - which made searching for a solution easier. Tried a *bunch* of them, but only this worked (SSLserverchain). Got the root certificate via using my laptop to open an SSL connection to the remote Outlook client, and that piece of code was then able to figure out the correct certificate(s) and cache them for copying over to the Q.

Loaded the root certificate it found, and bingo, things were back and running.

Hope this saves at least one poor soul out there from losing the same amount of time I wasted. This all took a week from beginning to end, and quite frankly the "Hello? Verizon service? I had a problem with my Q - a hammer fell on it", line was looking pretty attractive there for a while ...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

No Way Out

Been working on this one as background task for a while. (See earlier posts on the B17 flight via the Collings Foundation). When I took it I didn't even realise that seagull had flown by and it was only after I got home and uploaded them that I saw the happy accident. So much for artistic skill and planning, then.
After a basic B/W conversion, curves and sharpening stuff, the thing I've been holding out on the longest is the cropping. I think this one works best, but including all that turret in here is still something I go back and forth on.
Comments always welcome!

Google Earth - The Downside?

Saw this video short in Slate today. Extremely well done, fun and very clever. (And don't go telling me you never wanted to pull this kind of thing off because I just won't believe you, and though the mutilation bit at the end might be just a bit too extreme, perhaps, the rest looks to me to be rock-solid, good-idea material!)

As you can now easily tell, therefore, I'm (a) writing this at work instead of, well, working and (b) my car is hidden in the multistory car park just in case I need to make an anonymous getaway later today.

And in case it isn't obvious, Slate really is one of the best destinations on the WWW today. Highly recommended.

(Before you ask, I did indeed try embeddeding the clip for your more immediate viewing pleasure, but the code blew-up proclaiming itself un-empowered to be running this video-ette here. Seems a bit snobbish to me - I mean, isn't my blog good enough for them? - but waddya gonna do?
UPDATE: It would seem this screwy video sharing service can't even get its link names right. Click, and the correct video starts to play but then it goes & loads something else. If you therefore find yourself watching "Dear Prudence" instead, just select the proper "Google Earth's Downside" video from the set on the right of the screen.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Old Friends

Tokyo Dawn

Out of the blue, I got a message today from an old friend who stayed with us in the UK when she was doing an MBA but then returned to Japan ("hi Yoshiko!") .

Great to catch up, and just serves to remind me that it's time I headed back to Tokyo to meet with our team there. September sounds good to me!

Monday, July 16, 2007

We All Suck At Cross-Selling

I agree the broken rear light is an issue, but if sir would follow me round to the front of the vehicle ...

Thanks to the boys at TTAC for pointing me at an interesting post talking about how poorly car dealers manage selling opportunities from within their service departments. If I may quote, “Not maximizing all of the opportunities is one of the biggest challenges in service departments today,” Judy Williams, director parts and service for Downtown LA Motors, said. "Ironically, part of the problem is that service advisers are too busy answering the phone setting up appointments rather than walking the customer around the vehicle in the service lane up-selling necessary repairs. Service advisers leave a lot of money on the table when they don't fully evaluate the vehicle with the customer."

Well, quite. However, the LA service facility quoted above must have its head up its well styled MB rear end because whenever I take my crappy old Acura in for a service I can guarantee the service rep I get will spend hours taking me through the fifteen other things I really should get fixed TODAY.

That all being said, there is indeed a big disconnect in this cycle, though it's not within the service department itself but rather between service and sales.

My car is 9 years old, has 135,000 miles on the clock and gets serviced regularly at the same main Acura dealer. The service guys have never, ever pointed out that for what I'm spending on repairs I could lease a new car instead. They have never once said,"you know, we might have a buyer for your car if you are interested, and by the way there's this great Wombat Mark 3 we just got as a trade in you'd love". Frankly, when being presented with a bill for $1,200 to fix something trivial (the rear-hatch lock comes to mind) then I'm vulnerable as hell at that point to driving something - anything! - else. I'm a loyal customer; I pay my bills; I have a clear and pressing need. This stuff really isn't hard.

Silicon Valley makes exactly the same mistake. We don't systematically connect our support activities into sales in such a way that we could spot where customers have unfulfilled needs, are running out of licences, have issues our products don't yet cover or any one of a hundred other ways in which field teams can turn adversity into opportunity. At best, we struggle just to let the sales guys know if they are walking into a minefield when calling on Fluffy Cat Bakery because they've been offline for two days thanks to a bug in our PoS-terminal software.

Support isn't to be viewed as a separate function, an end in itself. We're much better served is we view it as just another route into opportunity that we could - indeed, should - be exploiting.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Private Equity & Venture Capital: Friends or Foes?

3000 Sand Hill Road

A number of recent events, combined with having many separate discussions with VCs, executives and people whose opinions I trust, have got me thinking about how private equity (PE) will fare over the coming years, and whether or not there's a connection between those trends and how VCs currently operate here in the Valley.

PE funds have been hitting the headlines of late as they do seemingly ever larger and riskier deals. Debt ratios in those buy-outs have also climbed (i.e. more debt as a percentage of total buy-out value), doubtless in consort with the rising tide of the market. With the Dow Jones now knocking on the door of 14,000, it's clear that there are very few bargains left to be had for all those hungry shoppers looking to do PE deals, something that in itself makes it harder to see how the deals that are being done now can have much upside.

However, there's another problem in the offing too: rising interest rates. In deals where, say, 80% of the funding is debt based, a not unusual figure in the case of some of the larger buy-outs of late, the payments to service that debt are obviously tied to the prevailing interest rates. As rates rise, so does the amount of cash consumed on a quarterly basis just to service that debt.

As governments systematically increase the cost of borrowing, ostensibly to cool down the economy, leveraged companies face the twin perils of lowering market demand combined with higher interest payments hitting them with a one-two punch. How that all gets played out if we have a recession (when profits fall far faster than interest rates can) doesn't bear thinking about.

However, PE funds have more money committed to them now than at any point in history. In 2006 just in the USA they raised $217 billion, ten-times the amount VCs raked-in over 2005. So if it is indeed harder to make all those dollars work on the US public markets, where will they show-up next?

Obviously, one option is to head overseas, and that trend is already well established. (Boots in the U.K. anyone?) However, there may be another outlet: emerging markets.

One of the changes since the heady days of 2000 here in Silicon Valley is that it's now a damn site harder to build a profitable software/infrastructure/tools business perhaps than ever it was. (And some might argue it was hard then, too, but no one cared since valuations weren't in any way tied to actual business results, oh dear me no!)

A big piece of the puzzle is how long, and at what cost, is required for a market for some new tool, platform or capability to reach critical mass, i.e. sufficient and growing revenues, valuable enough to fund two or three players to profitability, and sustained enough to ensure general market acceptance of this new way of doing things?

Here's the rub: I'm not sure the answer isn't "infinity". Or at least, longer than the VC model is designed to sustain.

EDA companies, for example, saw gestation periods of up to a decade before some of their tools in that space were standalone viable; more general business tools, like visual modelling, also took years to become mainstream, and even then the market wasn't built on just tools alone.

My point here is that if you are trying to define and catalyse a new market, you better have deep pockets, a lot of patience and boundless staying power. And even then, this might not be enough. To make this real, other competitors will have to exist, and such is the nature of competition that this fact alone may well delay markets reaching critical mass rather than accelerate them.

How, then, do all these things potentially tie together?

What if there was a way to accelerate market development and new product acceptance? Suppose you could push a market from being seen as early stage, fragmented, unproven and a niche opportunity over the chasm to a place on the other side where it's mainstream, adopted, proven and broad?

Here's where PE can make a difference. Suppose one of those funds chose to take a slug of money - say, $100m - and instead of leveraging it into an existing company, applied it instead directly to a market? By pulling together two or three early-stage players and forging one larger company that could offer both economies of scale and have enough presence and clout that they could actively drive a market forwards, then is there a way here to make everybody happy?

The clear implication is that for B/C stage venture companies, there would now be another option for a way forwards or an exit: consolidation. The PE firm would buy a controlling share in the two or three companies they would need to get a nascent market to critical mass, giving the VCs who had funded things that far some level of immediate return as well as still having a minority share of the combined entity. The partner driving this would have to make some hard - but hopefully well-informed - choices around what the on-going company would look like, both in terms of the market being built and who ends up in key operational roles, but if they have the insight and ability to pull it off then the results could be very interesting indeed.

As with all things, however, timing is everything, and timing in these situations requires a deep understanding of the dynamics and value-propositions of the market you are working on. Relying solely on their core skills of financial management simply won't get the job done.

To make this work, therefore, PE will have to hire a new breed of player: someone who can combine a real appreciation of market dynamics; be willing to take ownership of a strategy to play a market out; and have enough operational depth to pull-off a multi-way merger and subsequent creation of a real, thriving company.

But what of the rewards? Get this right, and the upside could be huge. We can all see nascent opportunities out there that, if the above formula could work, would result in a handful of strong, capable players, operating in key new markets, with enough mass and momentum to once again drive a raft of valuable IPOs.

New paradigm for a brave new Silicon Valley world? We'll see, but it may be the only chance we all have to reinvent ourselves in the software and infrastructure space.

Friday, July 13, 2007

End of the Road?

Just One Small Change ...

As has been reported in several places, there will be no US slot in the F1 calendar next year. Once again, Tony George manages, doubtless with Bernie's connivance, to screw-up another racing series through his self-serving approach to running the Indy circuit.

The logic behind this is, apparently, that attendance has been falling since the first race a few years back (duh) and so taking a gap year will cause people to return again and all will be right with the world. Err, no; or even if that is the case then it will soon tail off again. And let's also remember that there were still over 100,000 fans there, hardly a small turn-out by any measure.

Clearly, the issues here are a) money and b) TV coverage, and they are closely linked.

Without the support of the major networks, sports outside of NFL football, NBA basketball and baseball are immediately relegated to minority status. If there is a market for racing, it's already consumed by NASCAR, which is almost a completely home-grown series and with a very different appeal than that offered by open-wheeled cars.

I have no doubt that George was arguing that, now numbers are falling, he should pay less to stage the GP, and Bernie, for his part, wasn't ever going to budge; after all, he never has before.

There is mention of alternate venues, but in this day and age, where the costs of staging a GP have become so huge, then that's really a non-starter. The costs of upgrading any existing circuit would be prohibitive given the uncertain level of interest, and it's hard to see another street circuit getting the nod (either by the FIA or the city luminaries who hold the reins in wherever it might be held.)

Best hope here is that the major manufacturers and sponsors club together and bang some sense into the various players to get this thing resolved for 2008. Indy remains the only circuit FIA approved for F1 in the USA and that ain't going to change any time soon.

Miss next season and basically F1 over here is once again dead. And that would be a great loss for all the fans here, me included.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Las Vegas Bar

Hard to beat those Pacific-Rim watering holes! Must be time for me to head that way again soon, though I may hold off a while until what I heard described today as a "super typhoon" clears out of the way. Still, on the other hand, you could always hole up with these two in the Las Vegas Bar to wait it out ...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

So About This Skype Thing

Just had a telephonic board meeting today where we had call-ins from Korea and an airport in China, both connections via Skype.

Has anyone every seen any estimates on how much Skype is costing the telecom carriers in terms of lost international business? I can't believe we are alone in avoiding like the plague any long distance charges, particularly anything related to overseas calling?

While on this topic, what on earth has eBay done to leverage the synergies they were claiming there would be when they bought it? Looking at their site, Skype is largely invisible, and I've heard *zero* publicly from eBay about this acquisition, really since it closed. Grand strategy or opportunistic investment? Beats me.

A Silicon Valley mystery.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sad Tidings

Sorry for the break in service here, and I'll be pretty brief today.

Monday afternoon one of our dogs, Caitlin, passed away. Those of you who know Susan can imagine how devastated she was - is - about the loss, and I freely admit to this hitting me pretty hard as well.

We got Caitlin as a puppy to keep her company when I was commuting back-and-forth between the UK and the US for fifteen months, only being home one week in every eight. She then came with us as we moved to California, quickly adapting to new smells, new animals to chase and new paths to walk.

Caitlin wasn't part of the family, she *was* the family. She's sorely missed. For those who'd like to see some more of her in different stages of her life, there are a few other shots here.
Normal programming will be resumed soon.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Close, But No Cigar

Pre-Race Photo Op, American Le Mans, 2006

Well, despite a fantastic first stint, Lewis couldn't quite make it stick. Whatever was happening, it's clear his pace was behind whatever Raikkonen and Alonso could post. The first pit-stop set the seal on the remainder of the race, leaving Hamilton slipping down to third and staying there for the rest of the race.

From a points perspective, it was an OK result, but LH must be disappointed that he ended up slipping from pole to third and having no response to the pace of his team mate, let alone the Ferrari.

Onwards from here to the remaining races in the season , of course, but he'll have his work cut out to keep his lead intact heading into the latter stages of the championship.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Players

My niece is currently in Ecuador as a volunteer teacher for a few weeks. Great to see at least one of the family doing something worthwhile so, if I may, I'll just quote her e-mail almost verbatim ....

"I´ve now been teaching at my school it the mountains for 2 weeks. In some ways it´s gone really fast and in others the school days (8am -1pm) can seem quite long. The school (Larcarcunga) is built in a fantastic location, surrounded by snow covered volcanoes, a 20 minute bus ride and 30 minute (steep) hike up in the mountains outside Otavalo.

Armed with my 3 weeks of Spanish lessons I´m now teaching solo a class of 14 primary school age kids! It´s currently summer holidays (for nearly 3 months) in Otavalo but the project I´m with runs summer schools during this time. In reality, this means that the local teachers who we would normally help out as classroom assistants have a nice long break, and that for the next 10 weeks as volunteers we just run the classes ourselves!

It´s a steep learning curve in terms of speaking Spanish, although it´s also a dual language for most of the kids who speak Quichua at home with their parents (not even attempting to learn that one), plus most of the little kids are fairly forgiving of us volunteers who are just getting to grips with the language. My school vocabulary for the first few weeks has consisted of all the useful teaching basics i.e. SILENCE, sit down, STOP doing that/stealing the pens/playing football in the class and please don´t punch/kick/bite your friend.

Most of the teaching is reinforcing basic skills such as maths, language and a bit of English as well as lots of drawing, singing and hiking round the mountains (less speaking needed for these); sometimes feels like I´m in the set for the Sound of Music."

As you can see, some of the local kids are also pretty handy on the football field. All that high-altitude training will doubtless serve them well as they go on to beat England in some future world cup clash! Great work, Lorraine, but if you could nobble that kid on the left before he grows up and beats us all then we'd much appreciate it!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Gritty Silverstone Weekend In Prospect

Crunch time this weekend as the F1 circus returns to it's ancestral home at Silverstone. Race 9 from 17 means we are entering the second half of the calender with Lewis Hamilton, in his debut year in F1 let's not forget, leading the championship.

However, despite this being his home race, it won't be easy. There's a bow-wave of expectation that's built up ahead of him; Ferrari have come back strongly, pushing him down to third in the last outing in France; and no engine or chassis gremlins have yet emerged during the races so far, a circumstance that may or may not prevail over time.

This will undoubtedly be his toughest challenge yet in F1. If he can win here then I think he really can look forward to winning the championship in his first year; if he doesn't then the real pressure will start to build as Alonso, Raikkonen and Massa close the points gap.

Gritty indeed, but let's hope that he keeps out of the gravel.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

"Stitch That, Jimmy"

Thanks to fellow Silicon Valley CEO, JR, (you know who you are!) for this item.

Seems a local cabbie tackled one of the airport bombers after their attempt to blow up travellers waiting in the departure area of Glasgow airport failed.

Alex McIlveen, 45, kicked the man, whose body was in flames, so hard that he tore a tendon in his foot. But he said last night: "He didn't even flinch. I couldn't believe he didn't go down."

Well that probably did indeed have something to do with the fact that the terrorist in question was on fire at the time, and likely that had him a bit distracted, even when the kick in question was square on the old wedding tackle! Laugh? I almost voted SNP.

Try that here in the USA, though, and there would be civil rights lawyers climbing all over you, demanding compensation under the banner of "victim's rights". And hard as this may be to believe, they'd likely win.

Nice one, Alex. We salute you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Pelican Seafood

No real story here - I just liked the comparison between the snow-capped mountain & darker slopes beneath and the white superstructure of the ship over the stained and flaking hull. And neither look like they will be moving far any time soon ...

Monday, July 2, 2007

Safe Harbour

Bald Eagle, Sitka Harbour, AK

Finally, some good environmental news. The NY Times just reported that the bald eagle is no longer on the endangered species list, their numbers having risen dramatically since the 60s when the total population hit an all time low.

They are a magnificent bird, quite unlike any other raptor I've ever seen either here or in Europe. Although we saw many of them in Alaska a couple of months back, I never tired of watching them standing guard over their hunting grounds, flying lazy circles in the sky or out actively hunting.

Happy 4th July!

Scooter 'Scapes

What is it with this pardon thing in the US political system? The president has the (almost) unilateral power to pardon any individual found guilty of a federal crime, or to commute any sentence duly handed down by the federal courts. Regardless, republican or democrat, incumbent presidents freely use this power not in the interests of justice, as I would suppose was intended when the constitution was drafted, but rather in the name of political favour, to let off their personal cronies after ambition, zeal or avarice has got the better of them.

Now let's be clear, pardon provisions do exist elsewhere in other governmental systems, the UK not being the least of them, but the freedom afforded the president to, at a stroke, wipe away what the judicial system was so carefully constructed to deliver, still leaves me completely dumb-struck.

It's time this power was either removed, or at least severely curtailed. In the UK, it can only be applied in the case of a demonstrably proven miscarriage of justice; no more, no less. And even then, only after lengthy deliberation and due process has been gone through will it finally be down to the Home Secretary to recommend to the Queen that the punishment meted out should be commuted or the conviction set-aside. So no, neither Gordon nor HRM can pop into the office one afternoon and have thrown out what ever decision or punishment was lawfully reached and applied to one of their subjects errant, and never should they.

Since both the donkeys and the elephants cry "foul" any time this privilege is exercised, why on earth don't they get together and get the thing fixed instead or resorting to completely misplaced self-righteous indignation?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Bleak House

Balcony Toys, Orlando

As I mentioned in an earlier post, large resort hotels try to emulate some era of long-gone glory in order to impress their guests. They believe, quite falsely, that what we really want in the way of furnishings and ambiance is a place that resembles a down-market Louis XIVth brothel. For some reason they feel able to contend that it's the popular taste and defines, in the minds of their target audience, what luxury should be.

Don't know if you saw one of the early series of "The Apprentice" with Donald Trump? (I think they had something similar in the UK with Alan Sugar, a businessman about as far from Trump as it's possible to get and still be in the same galaxy!) Anyway, as the prize for winning the task one week, a bunch of the Trump wannabes got invited round to his NY apartment for dinner with he and his missus. Surprise, surprise, the interior decor looked exactly like Versailles would have done if a) they had taken all the original furnishings and then stuffed them into a place one quarter the size and b) had cross-bred the original French interior decorator with Hugh Heffner and reassigned him to Trump Towers. It was unspeakably over-the-top hideous. And yet, and yet. Without exception, the toadying acolytes on the show were breathless with excitement and admiration for what they deemed his remarkable taste in all things decorative. Crystal chandeliers, dipped-in-gold everything, large gilded mirrors, marble and onyx table tops, French china ... well, you get the picture.

If all that weren't bad enough when executed inside a hotel, they install all this stuff within a building that outside looks like it was designed by Stalin, for Stalin, and on a "grumpy day" at that.

Around the world both architecture and the decorative arts have moved on, and a long way at that. Alas, these trends have somehow by-passed the likes of Marriott, Ritz Carlton and the rest almost completely, leaving them instead mired between a past they can't get right and a future they cannot seem to grasp at all.