Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Nap Time

We're going to take a couple of days off and head down to Carmel for a short break. It's already been a long year so far, and with so much going on at work then now is a great time to recharge the batteries a little bit before the next quarterly push.

Carmel, whilst being unremittingly touristy and twee, is nevertheless reasonably quiet this time of year and if the weather gods smile upon us we may actually be early enough that we'll get some sun to warm my aging bones rather than just being chilled to the marrow by the fog that hangs over there in the summer months. We are staying just two nights, but it is at one of the downtown hotels so we can stroll around and pretend that we really could afford to live there if we wished but we just don't choose to do so. Yeah, right.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Silicon Valley Crystal Ball: What Next For Citrix?

One of the more persistent Silicon Valley rumours right now is that Citrix, who have been languishing for a while, especially after acquiring XenSource last August for $500m, is going to get bought by either Cisco or IBM (see here and here).

Disclaimer: I have no special information one way or the other but of those two then I'd be betting on IBM. They already rely on common hypervisor technology and have been allied with Citrix for a long time. While I get the arguments being made that Cisco is gearing up in this area, I just don't see where they could realise the value that they'd need to pony-up in order to win out. It just cries out as being an IBM deal, especially if they can get it done in a market lull.

Doubtless time will tell one way or the other but with all the activity in the virtualization space over the past months then it would make a lot of sense for Big Blue to cement their position by snapping up Citrix, if for no other reason than to keep them out of the hands of HP, Microsoft or even, dare one say, Oracle.

When will it close (if it closes)? Beats me. I have neither a crystal ball nor even a handy bed-side pyramid thingy for increased concentration!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Summer Heat in Silicon Valley

Zabriske Point, Death Valley, CA

Touch of summer here in the Bay Area today with temperatures touching 90 degrees inland. On the evening news they are already showing pictures from the first serious blaze in this year's fire season burning now in Southern California.

It's too early yet for an extended period of hot weather in Silicon Valley but this acts as a reminder of what's ahead. Northern California is certainly cooler than the area around LA or San Diego but in places like Livermore or Gilroy then it's not uncommon for temperatures to go over 100 degrees once things heat up. Still, at least you always know that there's somewhere in CA that's hotter than wherever you happen to be, unless you happen to be in Death Valley of course.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Rising Light

Rising Light. Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Another one plucked from the archives and worked over in HDR.

Given that I have a board meeting this week and then some customer travel, it might get a bit quiet for a day or two. Meanwhile, I just want to wish Jennifer and Jake all the best for their wedding on Saturday.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Smart Money's On Obama

University of Iowa Electronic Exchange, 21 April 08

Although placing bets on the outcome of the Democratic nomination race is basically illegal here, there are nevertheless ways in which punters can have a small flutter if the fancy so takes them. However, it's not in 'Vegas nor even offshore that I speak of, but Iowa.

I dimly remember news stories about the University of Iowa's electronic exchange from the mid 90s. Basically, it's an academic experiment to see how open markets do at predicting things, in this case election results, and this whole topic is now finding favour once again thanks to the recent publication of "The Wisdom Of Crowds".

On the eve of the Pennsylvania primary let's take a look (above) at how Obama and Clinton match up. Pretty conclusively, Obama is the top dog with a price of 75 cents on the dollar vs. Hilary's 21 cents (the remaining 4 cents are therefore on some unspecified A.N. Other getting the nod).

The overall race? The Democrats are keeping a small lead over the Republicans, averaging out in the 5+ percentage points range.

Not clear how accurate these predictions are at this stage but you have to conclude that Obama really is where the smart money is going.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

City Sojourn

Transamerica Building, San Francisco

Unplanned, we found ourselves in San Francisco today, meeting up for lunch with some friends from Adelaide. They were staying at Fisherman's Wharf so we headed up into North Beach for lunch.

One of those clear, sunny but cold days in the city, where everything is fine so long as you have three layers and stay out of the wind.

Always a fun place to visit, if not necessarily to navigate across and find parking in, especially in the more touristy areas. The streets seem to be getting progressively more pot-holed and the Muni buses more aggressive, if such a thing is possible. Anyway, I must be getting better at driving there because I only ran a single red light and never once went the wrong way down a one-way street. Progress indeed.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Google Up, House Prices Down

Shapes #2

Just another day in Silicon Valley.

Google pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the proverbial hat and confounded its (non) proverbial detractors. Profits were up but free cash flow was reduced to below $1 billion, thanks to CapEx hitting an eye-popping $842m. In one quarter. Yipes. Still, I suppose it gives them a budget line item them can trim when the going gets tough.

Meanwhile, the San Jose Mercury News reports that the median price of a home in the Bay Area fell 20.4% year-on-year to $549k, with Santa Clara seeing a fall of 9.3% over the same period to $685k.

So there you have it, a solution to everyone's problems. Have Google divert just one quarter of CapEx into buying houses in the Bay Area and, assuming you get a discount for bulk-buying, that equates to 1,700 properties changing hands overnight, single-handedly reinvigorating the entire Silicon Valley economy and making a handful of realtors rich as a double chocolate toffee pudding with extra cream on the side. Well, there has to be a downside to any plan, right?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Trade Show Blues


Well, black-and-whites at least.

Spent the entire day yesterday at the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose. This is one of those shows that has been progressively going downhill over the past few years, to the point where we decided to appear only on partner's stands and to nix having our own space. Turned out to be a very wise decision, and has likely set a trend that many others will follow next year.

Attendance was down significantly, and for large swathes of time there were more people staffing the booths than there were visiting them.

Nothing really new from the vendors, nothing very exciting on the conference program. And please, don't get me started on the $9 chicken Cesar salad that had 5 - and yes, I counted them, 5 - very small cubes of chicken in it, or the $14 cheeseburger-plus-a-drink tab.

On the plus side, though, I did get the above picture.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Google: Wall Street's Favourite Target?

Reports starting to appear (e.g. here) that Google's paid-click traffic growth in March declined precipitously once again.

Consensus earnings estimates were already cut following-on from January's surprise drop in year-on-year click-through growth. However, even those numbers will be seen as optimistic if Google hasn't been successful in doing what it said it was doing which was to increase revenue per click, aka quality.

It's going to be an interesting earnings season because the outcome here for Google will be seen as somewhat binary, but with little upside regardless. Either Google has indeed improved the quality of the clicks it has seen, in which case the Street will be somewhat mollified and will hang tight for another quarter to see what happens, or it hasn't and the macro-economic climate will doubtless be blamed, eliminating the "safe haven" allure that Google's stock price has had up until now, in which case the stock will drop like a trader from a 20th story window.

There will be many on Wall Street shorting that one, because there's big-bucks to be made if they call it right regardless of how far it actually falls. Unless the news is relentlessly good, pretty much everyone will be taking pot-shots at Google from now until the next chance to see the actual numbers three months further on. This could get ugly .... really ugly, and not just for Google.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Second Only To Duct Tape

Really, this needs little or no explanation from me, right? I don't think I even need to say that this advert was never shown in the USA either.

It does, however, reinforce that old engineer's adage: "if it moves but shouldn't, use duct tape; if it doesn't move but should, use WD-40". (And that last part holds true even when applied to a 1970s vintage British Leyland vehicle when you couldn't be bothered to stick the distributor cap in the oven of a morning to dry it out, relying instead on the magical properties of WD-40 to chase away the clinging damp of a summers day.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Finally - Someone Gets It

Thanks to Gizmodo For This One. Link Below

Reports now coming through that two of Germany's finest have linked up with Google to allow you to download locations from Google maps right into the navigation system in your Beemer or Merc.

The merchants of Munich are initially offered this on the newly-released X6, to be followed by all models (with the right optional extra boxes checked of coruse) as of the 2009 model year. Yup, you can now plan places to go and things to see l alfrom the comfort of your favourite chair in front of the telly, before pushing a button (well, clicking a link at least) and sending it to your dashboard. Bliss. Much better than all the twlirling and clicking that trying to do this via the iDrive controller otherwise entails.

Of course, this is just the beginning. Once your car can fully connect withthe Internet there will be a slew of additional things you'll be able to do remotely, not the least of which will be, I hope, the opportunity to program iDrive and the navigation screen to do what you want, rather than how the factory says it should be (see here).

Next up, I'd like to see some synching with Outlook so I can check my calendar or review e-mail while parked. Update your iPod remotely? Sounds good to me.

They say that up to 80% of the differentiation in a modern car comes from the electronics. With developments like this, that figure looks set to become more like 90. (Or in anything from Korea call it an even 100.)

Bring it on!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Three Bears ... Plus One

Alaskan Bears, Glacier Bay National Park

Raiding the archives once again, I'm doing some more work on a few of the shots from our Alaska trip. Decided to go and poke at some bear (not bare, certainly not in that weather!) shots, thanks largely to seeing the Pentax photographer who was on our trip being highlighted on the Pentax site (click on the "Photos" box). Still think her shot bests ours so I'll blame it on our lack of comparable equipment!

(And if you look closely at the picture of the ship in front of the Marjerie Glacier, you'll see my slightly balding pate hanging over the rail watching the sun rising on the ice wall.)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Usual Excuse

Overworked, underpaid, blah, blah, blah.

Will strive to do better on the whole posting thing by the weekend.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Jim Clark: The Greatest F1 Driver Ever

Lotus 22, 1962

It's 40 years to the day since Jim Clark was killed at Hockenheim, in an inconsequential Formula 2 race he entered just to keep Firestone happy. Although I was only 10 years old at the time, I still remember hearing the news and feeling, perhaps for the first time, a real sense of loss that, even to this day, I have never forgotten. We'd recently got a small black and white television and my dad and I would always watch whatever racing was being shown.

Deadly crashes were, alas, a regular & accepted part of motor sport in those days, but somehow Jim Clark seemed above all that, his skills and abilities seeming to be enough just by themselves to keep him safe. Clark had never had an injury, and on several occasions, including one of the worst crashes in the history of F1 (Monza, 1961), he seemingly miraculously missed being caught in accidents that took the lives of other world-class drivers as well as spectators.

Clark was a particularly British hero, able to take race wins one after another seemingly with complete ease. There was no bravado or bragging, just a shy smile as they hung yet another garland round his neck. Throughout his career Jim Clark proved he could drive anything. He competed - and won - in saloon cars, making the reputation of the Lotus Cortina as a cult classic by taking the 1964 British Touring Car Championship and also campaigning it in the 1966 RAC Rally of Great Britain. Add to that his victories in the Indy series, including the Indy 500 (1965), as well as NASCAR, and it's clear his was a rare talent, even when set aside the other greats of his day like Surtees, Gurney, Hill and Stewart.

I had a small slot-car race track at home, and Clark's Lotus 43 was my favourite. Even today, it remains the iconic single-seat racer. Together with Colin Chapman & Graham Hill, the Lotus team became the cornerstone of British Grand Prix success, founding a racing marque that redefined the single seat racing car. The first key Lotus innovation - the monocoque chassis - meant that cars could now be lighter and stronger. It also paved the way for the second key development, namely the application of aerodynamics to racing cars, something that changed forever the shape of Formula 1 racing that point onwards.

Somewhere, and I don't now remember where, I read that the local Scottish police where he grew up would follow him along country roads in order to see the line he was taking in order to help improve their own high-speed pursuit skills. Hard to see that happening in this day and age.

The only other driver of the modern era that compares would be Ayrton Senna. Both were uniquely gifted; both could drive anything they were given and win, and in their time each of them also drove for Lotus. Alas, they also shared one other characteristic: both of them died racing.

Formula 1 today is, thankfully, safer than it has ever been. Despite some huge crashes over the past few seasons, serious injuries are rare. Even so, the decades took their toll and we lost many great and brave individuals. However, for whatever reason, Clark remains the one that for me epitomises the bravery and courage of a those who reach the peak of this singularly dangerous profession, and who paid the ultimate price to an industry that only recently put safety at the forefront of their thinking, design and practice.

Jim Clark, born 1936, died 1968.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

HDR - Coming To A Camera Near You Soon?

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Since I had a fairly long flight back, I decided to waste some potential work time playing with HDR, a photo-processing technique that uses multiple shots of the same scene, taken with different exposure settings, in order to increase the apparent dynamic range being show (hence, "High Dynamic Range").

The combination and processing can be handled either in Photoshop (CS2 or CS3) or another product called Photomatix, which is actually what I used since I recently got a discount coupon for it and was therefore tempted to download a copy!

There are a couple of ways to take this: one is to go for an almost cartoon-like look (e.g. many of those posted here) or a much more natural feel, as I have strived for above. This is Horseshoe Bend, a place I've posted about previously so you can see the before and after (above).

While not a completely fair comparison (I post-processed the HDR version a fair bit to give a cooler feel to it) it certainly shows how you can compress a scene that has more dynamic range in it than the sensor on a digital camera can handle.

However, today this is all done after the fact on a laptop and necessitates a fair amount of manual tweaking of settings. I've already seen discussion threads of when - not if - this will be an in-camera function at some point soon. When the light meter recognises a scene with more than 7 or 8 stops of light, which is about as wide as sensors can handle these days, the camera would automatically take as many shots as required in order to capture all the data, and then do the necessary processing to automatically create the HDR-based output image. Given how much laptop processing this took me, I think we are some years away from that point yet. Indeed, developments in sensor technology may yet render this kind of computation-heavy approach unnecessary as they slowly find ways to increase the basic dynamic range that can be delivered. However, today we are where we are and so this process has gathered a lot of attention.

My take so far is that it works well for static scenes where you have a tripod and the necessary time and patience (both to take the shots and do the work afterwards!) I'll try some more examples and see what else can be done but so far it seems to deliver some very decent results, albeit after a fairly labour-intensive exercise.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Snack Box - Best Taken Literally

Virgin Atlantic's New Business Class Cabin

I stand before you humbled by having to admit that, for the first time ever, I finally caved-in and bought one of United Airline's on-board "snack boxes".

I was sort of hoping that my upgrade request would have gone through but it didn't, and I only got to find this out at the gate as they were boarding my flight back to San Francisco. I therefore had held off buying anything at the airport to eat on the way home, hoping instead to be dining on roast swan off the back of a naked airline stewardess, or whatever else they do for you in business class these days. Alas, 'twas not to be. Therefore, I checked my conscience at the door, swallowed hard, and forked over $10 for a (very) small bottle of merlot and one of the 4 "hearty" concoctions on offer, the "rightbite" in this case, in order not to get home even crankier than is usual after 4.5 hours in the tender care of United (motto: " we piss the staff off so you don't have to").

Contents? Let me quote from the Book of Revelations, aka the United Hemisphere magazine:

"Bumblebee Sensations Lemon & Pepper Seasoned tuna medley; Late July organic crackers; Wild Garden hummus;Stacy's Multigrain Baked pita chips; Glacier Ridge Farms Gouda cheese slice; Sunmaid raisins; Mini-Toblerone." And all for the princely sum of just 5 of our Yankee dollars. "How can they deliver such fine comestibles so ridiculously cheaply?", I hear you cry.

As you may suspect, the quality of the marketing prose far exceeded that of the item itself. I have no idea what constitutes a "medley" when applied to some dry tuna in a tin, unless it was mashed with the eponymous bumblebees at some point of course, but then it would have actually had some taste to it so that can't be right. And what, pray, makes a few common-or-garden Ritz crackers into "Late July" doses of pure sunshine and health? I'm pretty certain it's not the one-inch crust of salt that the trans-fats handily help to attach to it for a start.

Apart from the Toblerone, which was the only accurately labelled thing in there (especially the "mini" part) the rest was high fat/high calorie junk. Believe it or not, you have to be incarcerated on a flight for more than 5 hours these days on United before you can even qualify to buy a bog-standard sandwich, let alone find out that they ran out three rows ahead of you, so this really is about as good as it gets for almost all domestic runs. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the one I chose was supposed to be the healthiest of the lot ....

It turns out that "snack box" is a very fair description. Indeed, "junk the contents and eat the box" get my vote as a much more accurate marketing pitch. And it's healthier, too. I mean, at least the cardboard will give you some much needed fibre, is meat-free, has no added salt or sugar and definitely no trans-fats. Hard to get food that's better for you than that, right?

(And yes, the wine was ropey too.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


So now the Q is largely done then it's time to go back on the road again, though a two day trip to Chicago hardly seems to count as the business equivalent of crossing Africa in search of the source of the Nile. Still, despite being an hour late leaving, the flight actually arrived on time. Hard to explain quite how rare this is for Chicago, and to be fair was only the case this time around because of a 120 knot tailwind knocking an hour off the flying time.

One other bonus: I was actually able to use some electronic upgrade coupons for a change and so got a seat up at the pointy end of the plane, where all the free drinks and food hides out. And, believe it or not, the cabin staff, even on United, are helpful and polite in this most rarefied of places. I know, I know, you thought it was just the stuff of legend.

Bet the flight back isn't anything like as much fun .... especially as I get demoted from row 6 to row 27.

How the mighty have fallen.