Saturday, May 31, 2008

Yellow Fever

Heat Reflecting Gold Foil, With Laptop

Mostly, this is an excuse to post one of the race weekend pictures, however I do have to say that I'm feeling a bit under the weather today. Thursday, we both got our yellow fever shots and it does warn that after a couple of days then you may experience mild symptoms such as fatigue (check), sort throat (check) and slight temperature (3 for 3).

Oh well, should be fine by the time it's Monday and hence the work week again. However, if I never post again then you know it turned out to be more than a mild reaction, becoming instead the full-up thing and likely making me at least a side story on the 6 o'clock news. View this as my epitaph, therefore, until you see something else and can decide otherwise.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Anal Fissures?

Apologies to my more sensitive readers but this headline is all the fault of the US health care system. Stuck as I was in the doctor's waiting room (see here) my only recourse was to read old magazines. Not being interested in quilting, alpaca rearing or babies, I instead turned to Rolling Stone. (Quite how that crept in there wasn't clear. A patient who mistook this for a drug-rehab clinic perhaps?)

Inside, I found the following article: "Jesus Made Me Puke". An undercover reporter spent a weekend at a retreat run by John Hagee's church. Yes, the very same Pastor beloved by the ultra-right fanatics currently active inside the Bush administration. The same John Hagee, by the way, who claims Hitler was sent by God to persuade the Jews to move to Israel. But I digress.

As part of the process, one of the leaders of the church retreat performs a casting out of demons. Surely a good move if you are into this kind of rigamorole, but in this case things go a bit overboard.

It will come as no surprise that the demon of lust gets cast out, and indeed casting out the demon of incest is similarly a no-brainer, if a little creepy that this one came to the leader's mind so quickly. However, before long the important ones were all used up. Still, when you are on a roll ... how about casting out the demon of astrology? Hmm, I suppose that passes muster. Bit of a minor irritant, but OK.

"I cast out the demon of handwriting analysis". Say what? Did someone not get a job because their big loopy "y"s were scaring the interviewer?

"I cast out the demon of philosophy". Obviously got kicked out of college for not passing Kierkegaard 101 then.

"I cast out the demon of anal fissures". Errr .... WTF???

Now come on, you have got to be kidding me. That - whatever that actually means - sure as hell-is-hot ain't caused by demonic possession. Bad posture, rough gay sex, poor diet, all of the above, perhaps, but not Satan-sent demons inhabiting the poor, uncomfortable sinner. Unless of course it's all somehow down to the pointy toasting forks Beelzebub's minions are pictured carrying in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Apart from the obvious conclusion - namely that the people running this thing are in it for their own gain and power-trip - this whole article points much more to the weaknesses and shortcomings of the leaders of this church than it says anything about those who go along to weekend retreats. If there are demons in all of this then it's the church's leaders who need cleansing, not the acolytes or audience members. And to do that job, toasting forks should be the mildest of the instruments employed ....

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

When To Stay Home

Answer: when you are running a company that's being besieged by irate shareholders & is fast gaining a reputation for being rudderless, but have foolishly accepted a speaking date at a conference crawling with tech media and bloggers.

Let the feeding frenzy begin. Again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

SV Goes To SD

The great-and-the-good from Silicon Valley and beyond are in San Diego this week (motto: "cheap Mexican drugs just a short drive away") at the All Things Digital conference. Not there myself, a fact that speaks volumes about where I rank, but instead I get the privilege of going around saying that I get to stay in the office and work, thereby avoiding having to rub shoulders with the likes of Jeff Bezos, Steve Balmer and Jerry Yang. Err, hang on, check out the last two names. Yup, both are on the agenda.

Alas, the web site doesn't reveal whether or not they are there at the same time, but one can hope. I do know at least one of the attendees so I'll let you know if I can uncover anything interesting above and beyond what everyone had for lunch or how the golf course was (first item on the agenda, apparently).

Last year featured a head-to-head with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. What better way to top that than to have Balmer and Yang duking it out?

First to two falls, one submission or a knockout, winner takes all. Now that's what I call a proxy fight!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Graphic Elements

Still working through the pictures from Laguna Seca so doubtless I'll post a few more before the week's out.

And speaking of out, glad to say that the fire up near our house is now more than 70% contained, and baring unforeseen circumstances it should all be largely over within the next 24 hours. Seems the likely cause was someone burning cleared brush on a vacant parcel but not then making sure the fire was out come night time. Winds picked up strongly towards morning, leaving the stage set for one of the worst fires up here in 30-something years. Thankfully, no one was hurt but it did pull in over 2,000 fire-fighters from around the state and costs will run into the millions. Alas, it's been reported that some people who lost their homes didn't have - because they couldn't get - fire insurance. The heat was so intense that one gentlemen they interviewed who hoped his concrete-walled place would survive found that it simply burned from the inside out...

Living up here in the back-woods of Silicon Valley has its cons as well as its pros.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Santa Cruz Mountains Summit Fire

Just to let you all know, this fire is indeed our area, but located a few miles to the south. Summit Road is quite long and crosses Highway 17, with our house being located on the north side away from the fast-moving blaze. Prevailing winds are blowing the hot spots further away from us, but anyway of course that just means the fire heads more towards where friends and acquaintances live. Someone still gets hit. Estimates are that currently well over 2,000 acres has burned, with some predicting a total loss of over 10,000 acres by the time it's all said and done. 20 structures have burned but so far no one has been injured.

Next big worry is that the town of Corralitos is in the current path the fire is taking.

We lost power at home late this morning but not clear if that's a related incident or not.
Update, 6 pm: Summit Road seems to be open in both directions, at least for the major sections directly north and south of 17. Winds are still strong but starting to tail down, moving now to blow from the north west, therefore forcing the fire southwards and into further fresh supplies of fuel. Reports say that the fire is "boxed-in" rather than contained so clearly we still have a long way to go before this is over. Thankfully, forecast for tonight & tomorrow is for lighter winds and higher humidity. A dozen homes have been destroyed with hundreds of people now covered by an evacuation order.
Update, 7 am: Outside, everything is covered by low, grey cloud and a strong smell of smoke hangs in the air. Looks like the wind has dropped resulting in the smoke flattening out and spreading more widely. Will take a look as I head up the road. If things stay quiet today then CDF should be able to make a lot of progress, though if even a gentle breeze sets up directly aligned with a canyon then the fire can more very quickly indeed. (Often what happens in Southern California during the wildfire season.)

More news as it happens.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

It Shouldn't Be This Hard

Thanks for waiting, Mr. J, doctor will see you now

Nope, not a warning tale about what to do if you are, err, "excited" for more than 4 hours after taking Viagra, but instead a diatribe against how damn difficult it is to get even simple things done in and around the US health care system these days.

Problem statement: we're off to Africa in July and so I need to get a yellow fever shot in order that my organs don't liquefy at the first insect bite when stepping off the plane. Fair enough. Should take no more than a call or two to arrange, throw in a quick jab and we're done, right? Wrong.

Step one: try and figure out where to go. Seems to be two choices. (A) go to a clinic specializing in such things or (B) have an inane conversation with your doctor's receptionist who is clearly still cutting out the coupons in order to pass the cornflake university course necessary to qualify. Luckily, I had Susan do this part and so choice (A) was that of least resistance, though likely not lowest cost.

Step two: call clinic and find out that they have to have a prescription faxed to them in advance for yellow fever anti-viral in order that they can get it and have it ready for when you come in to their office. Nope, they can't just dole it out, you need paperwork. OK ... so move to step 3.

Step three - and the one where I get involved now: call doctor's office. Speak to receptionist who claims I have to go through public health services in San Jose to get this done. Say what? I repeat the request thinking she may have misheard, but got the same response. I have to hang up before I start shouting at the phone like Grandpa Simpson. Clearly, the only way to resolve this will be to go to the office myself in the hope of locating someone with an IQ that exceeds their age. Rats. History tells me that this won't go well.

Step four: stop at the office on my way to work. Find same receptionist I spoke to on the phone and get same response. I get very quiet and speak very, very slowly. "No, I do not need to go to the public health department. I am going to a Travel Medicine clinic in this same building and you need to Fax them a prescription for yellow fever vaccine." Must have worked because she gave up and handed me over to someone else who, though being no brighter, at least was willing to be more compliant. Or so I thought.

Step five: "Oh, well we can't just write a prescription, you have to see the nurse." Okaaay ... but of course nursey was busy, so I'd have to wait.

Over the next hour, people come and people go. I counted three drug reps who, of course, just breezed right in and, surprise, surprise, met straight away with this near-mythical nurse I'd been told about. Clearly, I was not worthy, having failed to bring with me the necessary offerings of free pens and copious samples of drugs to fix stuff you have never heard of but have seen on TV so it must be good for something, right? I mean, they went to all the trouble to find a drug just to cure restless leg syndrome (fidgeting?) so there must be millions of sufferers and I do have to say I've felt the odd itch down there myself so probably better get it checked out while I'm at the surgery.

Step six: meet nursey. Finally, the home straight. Weighs me, takes blood pressure (100 over 60, which is lower than it's ever been so either my heart had just stopped or they couldn't even get that done properly) and temperature. "You are fine, now go and sit in the consulting cupboard and wait." Err, ok ... I suppose I could do that. Is writing on a pad something that has to be done in private now?

Step seven: read yet another magazine for a further quarter-of-an-hour. Finally the door opens and my doctor walks in, nursey having returned to the altar presumably. "What seems to be the trouble?", he inquires. I refrain from laying out, in minute detail, the charade that had just played out over the past 75 minutes, and instead cut to the chase. I NEED A PRE ... you get the idea. He scribbles on his pad and that's it. Done.

Far as I can tell, the only reason for making me see the doctor is that this causes a material billing event to be generated that they can send off to the health plan provider. Just having the nurse write on a pad wasn't going to cut it money-wise but now they have an honest-to-goodness doctor consult to bill for. Lovely money!

Almost 90 minutes lost to generate a single piece of paper, carrying now an overhead cost in billings and processing that will likely run into the hundreds of dollars. And all of that before I even get the vaccine and have someone else, who will also need paying, shoot me up with it.

The US health care system is in desperate need of root-and-branch reform. It's about the most expensive system in the world and yet seems less efficient than even the dear old NHS in the UK. Sure, if you are critically ill then there's no place better from a care or medical technology standpoint, so long as someone else is picking up the tab of course (ultimately US businesses, whose premiums cover all this stuff.)

But here's the real reason no one wants to touch this issue in Washington: there will be tremendous lobbyist back-pressure to change nothing because everyone does very nicely thank you out of the status quo, despite the fact that rapidly increasing costs will put the whole system into cardiac arrest at some point very soon. Change of any kind means winners and losers, and politicians hate to be in that situation, much preferring instead to play games where they can pretend everyone wins thanks to their insightful and brilliantly constructed legislative efforts. But surely a new president, especially a democratic one, will want to grab hold of this and do what's right for the country and the people? Not a chance. Certainly not GW Shrub mark II (yes, John, I mean you), and as for Hillary then she's still carrying the scars of grabbing that particular hot potato when Bill was first in the White House 15 years ago. Obama? Perhaps, but it's hard to tell. I haven't managed to decode his policy statements in this area given as how they don't go much beyond "cover everyone for everything" without any accompanying explanation of how a system already creaking at the seams would ever cope with such a massive influx of new patients except by driving premiums into the stratosphere.

If the divine trumpet should sound in the coming years, successfully summoning the dead back to life, the newly-resurrected had better make sure that their still-breathing relatives and descendants have kept up their health care payments whilst they've been snoozing underground. Because if not then woe betide them the first time they drop the odd tarsal here or there, or a dog runs off with their left leg. Regardless of social status when they shuffled off this mortal coil, hanging around the emergency room hoping Medicaid will pick up the tab will make them wish they were dead. Again.

Monday, May 19, 2008

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Cheek-by-Cheek Racing ....

Believe it or not, the featured race on Saturday was in the Rolex Grand Am series and went by the name of "Rum Bum 250".

A chap I once worked with in the UK used to be in the Royal Navy, and in his own words the main interests of his ship mates comprised "rum, bum and gramophone". This echoes words falsely attributed to Churchill (though it's claimed he wished he'd said them) on those great naval traditions of rum. sodomy and the lash, supposedly uttered when some high ranking officer was trying to argue his case for more funding.

This of course begs the question, "who on earth would come up with such an idiotic branding name?" Answer? Bacardi rum. Try the following corporate market-speak for size ...

"Rum Bum is a company and brand owned by Luis Bacardi. Rum Bum’s business plan includes the launch of, Rum Bum TV, Rum Bum Gear and the development and marketing of Rum Bum signature products.

Rum Bum is not only poised to become a recognized brand but also a lifestyle. Upcoming Rum Bum sponsorship investments will be made to increase brand awareness and name recognition."

Rum Bum is poised to become a lifestyle?? Already is in the Navy, matey.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

On, Off and Now On Again?

I just saw that the news wires are carrying a story that Microsoft and Yahoo! are in talks again, but this time they hinge on something less than a total acquisition.

Icahn must be scarier than everyone thought. For Yang to prefer to go back to the evil empire instead of fighting a proxy battle against the evil corporate raider speaks volumes. (And that's of course the kind of volume that's written in Latin, has a diabolical name and is oft featured in Hammer horror films.)

Race Day

Monterey Festival Of Speed, 2008

Saturday was the Monterey Festival of Speed, so obviously I decided it was a priority to skive-off there for a day. Originally, the program was supposed to feature the CART championship race that was, until last year, being held in downtown San Jose, but the reunification of CART and Indy racing meant that it got cancelled. Instead, the day offered Formula BMW, Formula Atlantic, IMSA and the Rolex Sports Car series. More on that in a later post.

Anyhoo ... it was as hot and sunny on Saturday as it had been earlier in the week, which of course meant I got sunburned, though less than last year so I suppose I've learned something even if not quite yet to use sunscreen. Perhaps because of the program change, it wasn't particularly crowded so finding space to sit in the shade up by the Corkscrew was fairly easy and there were no issues walking round the paddock, buying food or even getting a good seat in the grandstand, so long as you don't mind sitting in the blazing sun that is.

Fine way to spend a day, and a reminder that no matter how much money you may have then racing will soak it all up, and then some.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

101 On The 101

Nope, we're not talking speed for once but rather temperature. In fact, according to what my car was telling me today while driving just a few miles on 101 from a local meeting back to the office, it was at least 103 degrees out there.

Good day to be in the office (air conditioned at someone else's expense); bad day to be sitting in traffic (sun beating down, price of petrol, death by frustration, black interior and dash). However, both places are preferable to home where our air conditioner can barely keep the main living room down to a comfortable temperature and stands no chance at all of cooling the main bedroom, conveniently located right under the roof in a open plan house so it's guaranteed to be the hottest room in the place bar none. And no, it doesn't cool off at night when we get these high pressure systems parked over the desert states.

More of the same promised tomorrow, with precious little relief on Saturday when I'll be spending all day in the heat-bowl that's Laguna Seca.

Time To Feed The Beast

Well that was quick. Yesterday, stories were swirling around that Icahn's position in Yahoo! might lead to a proxy battle and today we find the first shots have now been fired.

As reported by Yahoo! news (ah yes, irony for breakfast again in Silicon Valley) by way of Reuters, '"If Jerry Yang had a tough time dealing with Steve, wait till he meets Carl Icahn," said Colin Gillis, a Canaccord Adams analyst.' Indeed.

Never met Icahn myself - we move in somewhat different circles, him being in the top 50 wealthiest men in America, and me being .... well... err... nothing equivalent really - but his reputation of scaring the living daylights out of CEOs who don't bend to his particular brand of shareholder activism precedes him, usually by about a country mile.

Jerry, quick word of advice: don't answer any phone calls coming in from the east coast if you don't recognise the number. And never, ever, forget to carry that garlic .....

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Yahoo! Becomes Shark Bait

According to the WSJ & others this morning, Carl Icahn has bought into Yahoo! following the withdrawal of the best-and-final offer from Microsoft. Having Icahn out there stirring up trouble is most definitely bad news for Jerry Yang, Yahoo!'s CEO, because, as reported, it might signal a proxy battle is looming.

Not clear if Microsoft would come back to the table even if Icahn could replace a slew of board directors but clearly Yang's support base would vaporize along with those changes. If history is anything to go by, it's now just a matter of when Yang goes rather than if. Anyone remember what happened at Motorola last year when Icahn bought a little over 1% of the company? Zander was harangued both in public and behind the scenes, especially once it became clear that the Razr wave was spent and nothing was following in its wake, with the net result that he was unceremoniously booted out by year end.

"Wall" plus "writing" = ?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More Excuses

Whatever is happening at the macroeconomic level notwithstanding, our business seems to be holding up well with a lot of potential activity on the books for 2Q. We came up a little short in 1Q so we really do need to nail down a good slug of bookings between now and the end of June in order to get us back on track for the full FY. However, things seem to be converging in such a way that we could have a record quarter ... more news as it happens!

Adding to the inherent pressures around just operating, and more importantly, growing, the business, fund raising efforts continue apace too. This creates yet another thing for the management team to pay attention to and right at the time when maximum efforts need to be concentrated on closing business ... which is of course itself important in order to get the funding round done. Chicken-and-egg surprise anyone?

Anyway, this is all by way of yet another excuse for not posting more frequently here for a week or two. However, I will be at Laguna Seca this weekend for the 2008 Monterey Festival of Speed so at least moving into next week I can just post shots of yet more racing cars to keep you all distracted by pictures of bright shiny things that can go very fast.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Dog Ate My Breakfast

"Yes, that is indeed the guilty party, m'Lud, I'd recognise him anywhere."

So there I was this morning, having breakfast at home for once instead of the office which is where I usually scrape something together, when, as I will describe below, the dog ate my toast. Yes, it was balanced somewhat precariously on the couch at the time, but still. This was an unexpected and somewhat startling development. Let me explain.

The point here isn't so much that dogs will snaffle food when opportunity knocks but rather that in this instance I'm convinced he gamed me, deliberately and with malice aforethought, creating an opening to allow this larceny to take place.

Baci knows that his tail can cause havoc, especially when there's a cup of tea sitting on the table in the family room. It's low and large, positioned perfectly for him to threaten mayhem just by being happy. So here was his plan: feint a pass along the table with wildly wagging tail so I'll be forced to protect the cup of tea and then nip along the side of the couch to grab the tasty piece of toast complete with lashings of jam and peanut butter. He did, and it worked perfectly.

What worries me the most is that this was pulled off by a dog known to be dumber than the box of proverbial rocks ... allegedly at least. A dog so IQ-challenged he keeps falling down the stairs because he just forgets what they are for. So here's the issue: if he can evolve from basic household pet to a sentient, scheming demon capable of forming a plan and executing to it in a little over 6 months, what will he be capable of doing 6 years from now???

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ideas, Liberation, Speed

Just been reading an interesting article by Tom Peters reflecting on his work of now some 27 years ago: In Search Of Excellence. This revisitation was published in 2001 and so, to some extent at least, was a product of the then-bursting dot com bubble. But, having said all that, the three things he would add to the 8 basic principles espoused in ISoE, namely, ideas, liberation and speed, resonate well even now,despite the world of business moving on another 7 years in the meantime.

Today, for example, I spent the morning at a major player in the virtualization world seeing if there is some fit between our technology and their future directions. In the afternoon, I joined an internal meeting where we had an big external market analysis firm in to run a day-long working session around our market space and opportunity.

Liberation and speed came strongly to the fore in both meetings, with ideas bouncing around both rooms like a super-ball in a spin-dryer. And it was a fun - if long and tiring - day, perhaps precisely because those three basic tenets formed the basis for all that was covered? We talked nothing of organization, structure or even that much about technology, but everything around opportunity, needs and the freedom to change.

Personally, I'm no great fan of business books, and ISoE never really struck much of a cord with me if only because I somehow managed to spend very little time in my career in places where the old way, namely focusing solely on numbers and strict top-down hierarchical control of everything, was the norm. (I say that, but I did see it from the customer side. Anyone who had dealings with GEC in the UK in the 80s would recognise that ethos in spades, and likely attest to it's negative impact on staff morale and ultimately the long term success - or not - of the entire enterprise!) However , it was interesting to re-read this updated summary of a book that, when it first came out, made such a revolutionary impact, and to note that Peters was still able to add value, albeit with the benefit of 20/20 (years) hindsight.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Slip Or Save?

Microsoft Is Holding The Knife To Yahoo!'s ... ?

Interesting times here in Silicon Valley with Yahoo! rejecting, for the nth time, overtures from Microsoft and then being surprised that Mr. Softee walks away. Fascinating stuff and a topic that generated a lot of column inches on web-pages and newsprint alike.

Witness too lots of backpedalling from Yahoo! executives and board members as they try to explain how this will be good for Yahoo! in the long run, to be set against a bunch of really rather pissed-off institutional shareholders who think they just got royally screwed, and you have the stuff of SV legend.

However, this isn't going to be the end of the road, not by a long chalk. Expect warm-and-fuzzy overtures from Yahoo! to Redmond saying, in effect, "just kidding", alongside Microsoft getting more aggressive about undertaking other moves aimed at further weakening Yahoos! operating abilities. Yes, Yahoo! could do a deal with Google to outsource search but that would fundamentally weaken their core value to MS or indeed anyone else. It's also been talked about that they could buy AOL but frankly the laws of thermodynamics are against them if they believe that by tying two rocks together the combination will be able to stay afloat better than one on its own.

Whatever way you choose to look at this the real loser will be Yahoo! regardless almost of what metric you apply. Beware a woman scorned? Probably easier to deal with than a Redmond rebuffed.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

2 Days In Carmel

Sunset, Carmel Beach

After a couple of days break in Carmel it's back to the salt mines once again.

Couple of things worth mentioning if you happen to find yourself down that way :

- in Carmel, the Bouchee restaurant is well worth a look. Good French country cooking but done in a more modern style, plus a great wine list. We found a half-bottle of Robert Foley Charbono for the reasonable (restaurant) price of $40. Dining in Carmel can be a bit of a hit-or-miss affair so we were happy with the food, price (approx. $140 for two in total) and service. I had coq-au-vin and S had the lamb, both of which were well executed and generously proportioned without going overboard. The Vanilla creme brulee was a bit more heavy duty but at least you could see bits of actual vanilla pod indicating that someone had taken due care in preparing things in the kitchen.

- while Julia Burns Pfeiffer park (about 35 miles south of Carmel) is well worth a visit then not sure the 4 hour loop hike to the top was a good return on the time and sweat invested. Sure, you get a good view at the very top, but then the same can be said of what you get from the restaurant deck at the Nepenthe, and they serve drinks. Instead, just do the first part of the loop and enjoy the cool trail under the trees, heading back to the parking lot and under the road to see the coastal view and waterfall. The same day pass ($8) will then let you into Point Lobos State Park on the way back (just south of Carmel) where you can get right to the ocean.

- we stayed at the Carriage House Inn. It was clean, quiet and comfortable, if all with a bit of an AARP feel to it. Still, it's only a couple of blocks from main street and just a short walk to the beach so it's hard to fault the location and this place has good discounts on offer so don't pay top dollar to stay there.

Amazingly enough, we dodged the fog on both days, which makes a big difference. A fogged-in Carmel loses a lot of its charm.