Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cursed Or What?

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

Determined or deluded? Either way, you lose!

Baci, Looking Very Determined

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

Flying J

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Peace out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Steering Gear

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

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

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

Glug, Glug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Running Out Of Steam

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Slow Recovery ... Drugs Are Good

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Our House Just Tried To Kill Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 9, 2007

Memorial To History (II)

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

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Memorial To History

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Grand Canyon

South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 5, 2007

Wupatki National Monument

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

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

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Lower Antelope Canyon

Men At Work, Lower Antelope Canyon

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

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

Friday, November 2, 2007

Sunrise at Lake Powell

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

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

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Hoodoos (Aka Tall Pointy Rocks)

Final shoot of the day: hoodoos.

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

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

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