Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why Is This Never Easy?

Just when you think you have a handle on things, things go wrong.

Although my laptop pretty much was cured of the poisonous .NET download, it's now decided that it would recognize the built in DVD/CD drive. Nothing we've been able to come up with will make it change its mind, from updating the BIOS through cleaning the registry to searching the web for solutions (though we did find that it's not an uncommon problem apparently.) Here we are again, therefore, off on Monday to China and Japan with a laptop that's still teetering on the ragged edge between sanity and madness.

Next up, the first set of meetings in China just got thrown up into the air and are now supposed to happen either two days later in the same place or earlier somewhere else. And by "somewhere else" I mean "somewhere else a couple of hours flying time away".

Regardless, (b) will get sorted somehow and (a) I'll fix one way or the other soon enough! Either there's a cure to be found or there's a new laptop on the horizon.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Low Profile

It seemed like an age since I posted anything so I checked, and it has been. What with PCs self-immolating and a round trip to Sweden to get done, the past couple of weeks have somehow vanished. And there's no sign of things letting up any time soon. I leave for China and Japan on Monday and will be travelling for another ten days. Although back home for a few days, this week alone I have to now prepare for the various up-coming customer presentations, finish off some HR stuff here required to get 2009 underway, close the loop with our current investors and at least two potential external ones, and in parallel get a couple of other initiatives up and running before I can even think about heading off again.

As you can tell, this is a long-winded way of excusing myself in advance for continuing to be invisible for a few more days yet. On the plus side, I'll take my pocket camera with me to the Far East and see if I can get some worthwhile shots. This trip will take in Shanghai and Tokyo, both of which I've photographed before though not for quite some time.

Hopefully, the flights and other travel will go smoothly. Getting to Europe was fine, getting home was less so. On the way back we were an hour late leaving Heathrow because some woman had only just left the lounge in T3 at the point where we were ready to pull back from T5. Those of you who know LHR will understand that this is a problem! BA decided to pull her bags, but as soon as that was done then ATC gave us a ground hold as further punishment. The flight was then longer than usual due to strong headwinds, and even once I was on the road home from the airport the fun was not over - Highway 17 was closed thanks to a large tree falling over it!

Definitely one of those "I'm not being paid enough to do this" sort of days.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Self-Defining Moment

At last, a sentiment that stands on its own merits and without the need of any defining context.

Couldn't agree more.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I'm Back ...And Now I'm Off!

Thanks to the unstinting efforts of our extensive IT department (say "hi" to Tom, who comes in for a few hours twice a week) I'm now back and running. Ultimately, the fix was to force it to boot from a recovery disk, go back to the latest restore point and tell it not to download the poisonous .Net update.

Despite all that, I for one will be switching to Windows 7 as soon as it goes GA. I'd rather take the risk of a whole new release than stick with Vista a second longer than I have to. I hate to think about sending more money the way of the Redmond bandits, but for a work-machine there really is little in the way of options. Having said all of that, I'm going to look seriously at a Mac for home use. It's time to separate the photography side of the business from the business side of the business!

I leave on President's Day for Europe for a week, get back for a few days and then leave again to head to China and Japan. With luck, I should be able to get back to a more regular posting schedule, Vista permitting of course ....

Friday, February 6, 2009

You've Been Vista'd

Apologies in advance if things go quiet here for a while but Vista just upped and bit me.

Last night my laptop started to auto-download an update. From what I saw it was around 50 mb in size and seemed to be something like .Net 3.5-linked. I decided to leave it to its own devices and went to bed.

Next morning, I was greeted by a blank, dark screen with nothing except a grey underscore cursor at the top left. None of the keys did anything so the only option was to power off and reboot.

All seemed well. Vista came up and reported it was completing "step 3 of 3", going from 0% to 99% done. And then ... it shut down and started a reboot cycle, which was pretty much all I could get out of it for the next hour. Always the same thing: installing step 3, 99% complete, reboot. Starting in safe mode made no difference. Shutting power off made no difference. Swearing, cussing and cursing Balmer made no difference either, though it did make me feel slightly better.

I'm leaving on a trip Monday morning so I just had to leave it for our IT guy to poke at next week and grab a spare in order to read mail via Outlook's web access feature. Therefore, I'll just take my PDA on the road with me and hence won't have much in the way of options for blogging.

Normal service, as they say, will be resumed as soon as possible.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Debt Collection Theatre

Bruce Schneier coined the term "security theatre" to describe the situation where some authority imposes a set of restrictions or checks that provide the illusion of improving security while in practice achieving no such thing. I, however, have just discovered the debt collection equivalent - the notion that someone is working hard to collect the cash, but in practice not. Here's how it goes.

Ever since we moved into our current offices, I've been plagued with calls from various debt collection agencies trying to track down a Shamen Shauncey (no idea of the spelling). One can safely assume that SS absconded from the Bay Area a few years back leaving a paper trail of unpaid bills; so far, so common. However, what with the pressure here on phone numbers - there are too few to go around, especially with cell phones becoming so widespread - old ones quickly get reallocated to lucky new customers, in this case, me.

Over time, the frequency of these collection calls has ebbed and flowed, but recently they started coming in once a day and all from the same agency. Since I always ignore calls from numbers I don't know, I've never actually talked to a person at this particular company, Resurgent Capital, collecting instead mega-bytes worth of voice mail messages, all trying to entice me to phone them. However, having a few minutes spare I thought I'd finally call back, just to see what happens.

Someone called Claire left the usual message this morning, along with a phone number, extension and case number. Cunningly, it's phrased along the lines of "I have this file on my desk and I just want to check something before I pass it along. Please call ....". So I did.

First problem: there's no way in their voice mail system that you can enter an extension number and get transferred straight to it. I tried multiple times, with all sort of additional characters, but to no avail. OK, I'll just talk to a real person then. "Press 1 for English."

Second problem: real person took quite some time to grasp the concept that I could be anyone other than the miscreant they were trying to reach. This really was quite theatrical by itself, albeit in a Kafkaesque sort of way. Regardless, I decided to cut to the chase.

"OK, please just transfer me to Claire on extension 1386 and I'll sort it with her."

"Sorry, sir, I can't do that. It's not possible." Now it was my turn to flounder.

"You mean to say that you don't have an internal phone directory, nor even a way to electronically transfer the call?"

"No sir."

So now we go from the theatrical to the farcical.

"Sir, what's your social security number?" You can imagine my reaction to some debt collection agency asking me for that information, so after I'd explained in excruciating detail why a) that's none of her business and b) it will not help one iota in sorting the problem, I offered instead the case ID I had from the voice mail. "That doesn't help, sir." I can only infer, therefore, that it was made up by the unattainable Claire to give credence to the sting operation they thought they were running, the effectiveness of which was left somewhat in question when, in order to get to a real person, you first had to listen to a voice droning on about how this was a debt collection agency and how they would tape it for "training" purposes.

"So what do you need from me in order to stop idiots in your employ calling me to collect someone else's debt?".

"What's your address?", was her reply. Dear God, how many times do I have to explain the concept of having an outdated number on file tied to someone who just plain isn't me??

I'll spare you the rest of the utterly pointless dialogue by just saying that there was no way of tracking this case except for the name, which she couldn't find on the system, or via SS's SS number, which I most-antisocially didn't seem to have to hand.

I fully expect they will call again tomorrow, the next day and the day after that. One part of me wants to see how long they will persevere in the "bang you head on a brick wall" approach of endless unanswered calls before giving up, while another part of me wants to see if I can get from them what the debt is for and how big it is.

I think I'll let the hand of telephonic fate decide: to pick-up or not to pick-up, that is the question ... more news as it happens.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Well That Sucks ... or Doesn't

We all know that there are innumerable fakes flooding the marketplace these days, spanning everything from handbags to car parts, even to drugs. However, in the West at least, they rely on the consumer knowing what it is that the copied brand actually sells and wanting to therefore buy something that will make the people next door think you can afford Gucci/Rolex/Prada etc.

Not so in Russia, apparently, where simply applying the brand name itself is seemingly enough. Please welcome to the domestic suction market ... the Canon vacuum cleaner! Yup, the company most known for cameras and copiers suddenly decided that making Dyson knock-offs was the way to go. Or not.

Unsurprisingly, the unlucky owners don't really get very far when the inevitable happens and they find out that their product sucks - or rather, it stops sucking - and they call Canon for product support. One can only imagine how that dialogue goes, with an irate Russian babushka one end, clutching the smoking remains of her Chinese vacuum cleaner, talking to a highly trained Canon service rep who is primed to within a degree to help ameliorate her digital camera issues.

Doesn't bode well for Japanese-Russian relations.

Monday, February 2, 2009

What's The Web 2.0 Bust Gonna Cost?

With all the talk of bailouts, busts and bankruptcies being quite so rife across corporate America right now, it seems reasonable to ask just how much money will be lost on Web 2.0 properties now the funds are waving many of them bye-bye?

Of course, that's a hard question to answer because no one knows how much money will still be made from the few darling properties that will successfully navigate the downturn (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Nevertheless, for an idea just how exposed the VC industry is, take a look at this Silicon Alley Insider post. Turns out the top 20 firms investing in Web 2.0 properties have sunk north of $720 million into enterprises such as JibJab, and, yes, Facebook.

Whilst not an inconsiderable sum be any measure (except perhaps those applied as part of judging TARP) it's not outrageous, given that at least you can see how a couple of decent sized exits could return that sum and more, especially once valuations turn up again. But there's the rub. A couple of firms will make out big time, the other 18 here, plus the ones that didn't even get into the top 20, will likely lose a ton of money and all to no good effect. Unlike other start-ups that fail, it's hard to see anything of value remaining from a Web 2.0 property going under. They just vaporize, leaving nothing but a faint smell of singed dollar bills drifting out into the mild evening air.

Tough gig. But at least no one on Sand Hill Road will be asking the government to bail them out; failure is priced into the longer-term model, after all. And what's more, likely many of the same LPs that funded them last time around will do so all over again to see if, maybe this time around, lady luck decides to land on your lap and not that of the bloke in the VC office next door. After all, there's still that building wave of Clean Tech to be surfed for a while yet.

Party on, dudes.