Saturday, December 27, 2008

The BRICs are falling like bricks

Brazil, Russia, India and China, aka the BRIC emerging markets, are victims of the the world wide recession. Does anyone know of a country that is immune to the current credit and consumer confidence crisis? Even Dubai has seen a massive drop-off in real estate.

The US is deploying massive fiscal and monetary injections of dollars into the economy. The rest of the world is doing the same, leading to a "war-time financing in the absence of war", to quote Niall Ferguson.

But this war needs a name. The worst recession since "fill in the blank" is running out of blanks. No one wants to hear or use the "D" word, depression, as in "the Great Depression". In fact the words Great and Depression are enjoined forever now in our lexicon. The pundits say that term doesn't apply to the current crisis because unemployment will never reach 25%. But the sheer number of people out of work in American (and the rest of world) may indeed surpass the numbers in the early 1930's. Eighty years ago, agriculture dominated our economy. Farmers couldn't sell their crops, but they could eat them. The soup lines were in the cities. Today, we all live "in the city". In a somewhat whimsical forecast article published in the Financial Times today, Niall Ferguson coins the term "The Great Repression". Works for me.

In WWII, the world suffered, the US suffered, but the US emerged stronger. And led the world's recovery right up to the current crisis. The same thing will prove true in this war. Forecasts that our time has come, that our models are broken, are plain phooey. The world is exchanging "their" surplus dollars for "our" 0% yield T-bills - thank you very much. Oil-rich countries that over-leveraged $100/barrel oil (Venezuela, Iran and to a degree Russia) are devastated by $40/barrel oil. Deflation prone Japan, which recently saw their worst monthly drop in GDP ever, will lose their #2 position in the world's economy forever. China will learn a bit of humility perhaps. America and China will emerge stronger after The Great Repression.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Maybe this time we've learned out lesson??

A good strategic question raised by Tony Jackson in the Financial Times commenting on a Morgan Stanley forecast - "The present downturn is neither the Great Depression nor Japan because (in essence) all previous mistakes have been avoided this time." Tony is correct to observe that this assumes that all possible mistakes were contained in those two economic episodes and none of today's policy actions will later turn into new mistakes. (Japan once famous for poor quality imports, then highest quality DRAM memories, and ultimately all manner of cool consumer electronics is now famous for a never-really-ending deflationary stagnation).

As for the Great Depression, all we have are history lessons. No one alive today was old enough in 1929-1932 to understand what was happening. Paul Volker, Obama's new Recession advisor, was in diapers in 1929. Recently I tried reading the Financial Times to my 3 year-old granddaughter, but I don't think a single word sank in. A lot of help she'll be when the "Economic Disaster of 2090" occurs.

A world economy of $80T with 4B consumers, and 1B investors, all connected to online information and complex trading systems. But with different goals, strategies, political, emotional and cultural bias. In other words (to paraphrase Black Swan theory), knowledge of past events cannot perfectly prevent tomorrow's surprises. That's why they're called surprises. At least the smartest people are (gathering) in the room.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Grim Christmas?

Jay Leno, channeling Rodney Dangerfield, said "times are so bad, Santa is down to one HO". Is it shaping up to be a grim Christmas season or is it a time to be thankful?

If Christmas means buying or receiving gobs of new gadgets and designer clothes, jewelry, etc., then you are certainly in the wrong year.

The Happiness Equation is "what you have" divided by "what you want". Most of us have little control over things like credit default swaps and toxic mortgage assets. But they impact our job security, the equity in our homes, and our investments. And the impact sucks for most of us.

When the numerator of the Happiness Equation is sinking like a rock, you need to reduce the denominator to stay happy. Cutting back on spending is the first reaction, although cutting back on spending is a large part of the problem - there is over-reaction in the market and it leads to a vicious downward spiral.

You can also reassess "what you have" - like your health, your family, your friends - in other words, your blessings. Christmas is a season to rejoice in those things, not just the material. Except for the very unfortunate, groceries are relatively inexpensive, and Christmas is a time for cooking those special recipes.

Christmas is also coincident with the winter solstice. Pagans (North of the Equator) celebrated the shortest day of the year because the next day could only be longer. Whether you rejoice or not this Christmas has little to do with whether the end of the world is at hand. And one of these days, the next day can only be better.

PS If you need to put a face on the grinch, Dick Fuld has my vote.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Black and White

November 10, 2008. A Black President-elect Barack Obama visits the White House. This is historic for all Americans in different ways.
I attended a "Black and White" high school - Odessa Permian - the school of Friday Night Lights (of Book, movie and TV-show fame. The book was accurate enough to piss off a few of the locals in Odessa. The movie has been the called the greatest sports movie ever made. The TV show looks (to me) like "The OC" comes to West Texas.
But, the only "Black and White" at PHS were the school colors, not the student body. Odessa, Texas through the 1960s was as segregated as a black line on a white piece of paper. People of "color" lived South of the RR tracks. The "white" high schools were North of the RR tracks.
In 1954 school desegregation became the law of the land after the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education. But little changed until 1969, when a federal judge ordered a North Carolina school district to use busing to speed integration. This led to a reaction to preserve Federal funding in school districts across the country. In Odessa the reaction was to put one black teen on a bus every day to Permian High School. The John Birch ideology in Odessa, TX didn't like it, but the students at PHS didn't seem to mind. By 1980 the (unwritten) RR track law was history. People of color moved North. Their kids went to all of the Odessa schools. Some of the them were star players, as the movie based on a real 1988 PHS team, depicted.
By the way, when the book was released in 1990, Odessa was in a steep economic depression. All of the $30/barrel oil wells were dry. And the Permian Panthers descended from a thirty year winning tradition to a streak of losing seasons. In 2007 oil prices surpassed the cost of advanced drilling techniques, and the Permian Basin boom was back. There is no recession in Odessa, Texas today: zero unemployment and zero homes for sale. People buying RVs just for temporary housing. And the Permian Panthers. are playoff bound for the second year in a row. President-elect Obama is actually Black and White and perhaps the smartest leader the country has elected in 50 years.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Leave a Ripple

A legacy is a gift to the future often formed in words and pictures. A legacy is not an obituary (a contrite factual tribute usually written by a stranger for a newspaper). If there is a story in an obituary, it ends badly. So, rather than dwell on that story, create your own ripple for future generations with a legacy story.
Perhaps you are concerned or doubtful that anyone would be interested in your life or your stories. A good way to frame your mind, is to imagine that a favorite friend, child or perhaps an unborn grandchild will be the recipient of your story. It’s a good bet that their life will be touched by your gift.
A good story has a few key elements: character (or characters), intent (goals, desires, expectations), a catharsis (a significant event or conflict that changes the characters and the reader) and details (or the denouement to use a fancy word). There are many categories that could apply:

* Your first day at school – did a parent or grandparent take you?
* Your best friend growing up. Your best friend today.
* Your first date, your first love, your first child ..
* A significant academic, athletic or professional event ..
* A loss – your first funeral service, something more recent..

In fact there are probably too many categories. Let your mind linger on a few and a good story is certain to emerge. Your goal is not to document everything that ever happened to you – that could take a lifetime to write and another lifetime to read. No, the goal is to convey something special about your life in a story. And at the end of this effort, you may discover the true reward of creating a legacy story - a better understanding of your own life.

Online Legacy is developing technology to assist you in this process. You could can read books on the subject, then force yourself to put aside the distractions of the day, someday. Or you can spend a few minutes at Online Legacy to start a process to create and preserve your ripple across time. Follow the link to learn about Online Legacy.


Friday, October 24, 2008


Fears of the worst recession in anyone under 80 years of age's memory may be erased by a flood of money unleashed by the world's governments, sovereign wealth and private bottom-feeding funds. Unfortunately it may sit in vaults for six months while the world grinds to a halt.

But when it starts to recover what will the US have to exchange to pay for a National debt approaching 100% of GDP?

Financial services, nope not any more.

Healthcare - too expensive and falling behind the rest of the world's. Joe the plumber can't afford to float this $1.5T segment of our GDP anymore. Biotech - increasing competition in Europe, India and China
Green & alternative energy - maybe, but the recession may push the priorities for "tomorrow's" solutions down again. Nanotech, software, computing and Internet technology. - Yep, but

We also need to spend on infrastructure - estimates of $1.5T on roads, bridges, trains, power grid and that doesn't count education. No-child-left-behind has lowered the HS graduation rates below those of a generation ago. Throw in the long term costs of the Cheney-Bush wars, medicare, social security and the outlook is grim.

The long term view is that the world may be moving closer to real cooperation on global problems, and the US of A exports solutions better than any civilization to date.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Death of Karl Rove mud-slinging

Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama for President should be a wake up call for the right. Is the Republican party "narrowing" to use Mr Powell's term - or is the Karl Rove style of "forget that man's good deeds, focus on the d**k he s**ked" political tactics finally run it's course.

McCain's 2000 campaign was sunk by a shameless Rove tactic in the primary vs. Bush. And now the same tactics are backfiring for McCain vs. Obama. To borrow a phrase, McCain hated Bush when the country loved Bush and he loves Bush when the country hates Bush.

McCain should be dissecting tax strategy not trying to make people worry about whether Obama sat on the same sofa as Ayers. At this point it is unlikely that Palin will ever spend a night at the "Admiral House" as VP of the USA. But she will most certainly return to TV as the host of her show - an Alaska version of "The Great White North" perhaps?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin has a daughter name Juneau?

That's a Jay Leno joke - and a good one if you pay attention to Oscar winning movies. John McCain's selection of of Sarah Palin as running mate for VP was a strategic roll-the-dice move. The 2008 election is no longer a simple black vs. white, old vs. young, red state vs. blue state issue. Both candidates represent change, both candidates can cross traditional party lines. A McCain victory in 2008 puts Palin in the pole position for first woman president of the USA in 2012. She is the "un-Hillary" - I bet that if she caught her husband having sex with a 21 year-old he would end up as Kodiak bear-bait. I am not impressed by the mantra that she has "been the leader of a metropolitan village". But it doesn't bother me that she has "gnoshed on pork-barrel funds" in a campaign where the other three guys are Senators. As for experience, how versed in foreign affairs was Ronald Reagan?. Arnold the Governator's Austrian birth is perhaps the only reason he won't run in 2012. And Argentina has Christina Fernandez, who inherited the position from her late husband. Frankly, I would rather have any of the four Presidential/Vice Presidential candidates in the White House over what we have had there for the last eight years. McCain should have won the Rep party nomination in 2000 - he just didn't play dirty enough. At the very least, this will be an interesting election season, a boon to Media advertising, and if McCain & Palin win, a Moose in every pot.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Future of Video & Movies on Demand

The recent court ruling in favor of Cablevision allows cable providers to offer on-demand programming to non-DVR subscribers, by remotely storing subscriber selections at head-in locations. Many DVR subscribers already have access to on-demand servers from Comcast and others. This week, my satellite TV provider began offering on-demand to their HD/DVR subscribers. The HD/DVR set-top boxes have the required Internet connection - in fact I am downloading TV shows over my "Comcast" cable modem to my DirecTV sat box. The major of American TV viewers will use these approaches - why buy another box to put under the TV?

The next tier of VOD/MOD users will be Netflix customers. Netflix has the brand, the content (20% of their DVD inventory and growing), and a multi-price point hardware solutions for viewing VOD/MOD on your television set - where it belongs. You can choose a Web-to-TV component with general Internet Access, the $99 Roku Netflix-streaming-only box or the LG Blu-Ray DVD/Netflix streaming solution (price to be announced but expect $400).

Next is AppleTV with a loyal set of iTunes enthusiasts. Vudu - a proprietary solution with "snappy" search made possible through extensive caching and peer to peer networks with other Vudu boxes - will need serious black magic to stay viable against this competition.

New cable/phone solutions will fall Somewhere in-between. Turner Cable has a web-to-TV solution forthcoming. Verizon & AT&T will fiber variants. And Sezmi with 4G will each lock up segments of the market.

Internet-only solutions viewed primarily on computer displays will persist although many of the players will end up as acquisition fodder (e.g. BitTorrent and Jaman) or disappear entirely (e.g. MovieBeam, CinemaNow, etc.) or merge with general purpose content providers (e.g. Veoh, Joost).

Friday, July 11, 2008

Online vs. On-TV Advertising

ZenithOptimedia's June 2008 Forecast for the world adspend shows television advertising dominant but flat, maintaining a 37% share of the ~$600B market in 2010. Internet advertising grows from 10% to 13%, mostly at the expense of slight declines in Newspapers, Magazines and Radio.

Today, Internet advertising is dominating by "search", which is dominating by Google. The battle for online video advertising is just beginning. The WSJ reported on July 9, 2008 that Google's YouTube only generates revenue from 4% of the content with a total revenue of $200M. Plans to re-architect the business are underway.

Video advertising will take several formats: pre/mid/post roll runs of varying lengths, embedded product placement, sidebar display ads, etc.

What happens when the distinction between online and TV blurs. When, for example, I'm watching "web content" on my big screen TV using a Web-to-TV device connected to my ISP. I'm watching branded messages in a lean-back setting with my friends and family. Do I care whether the content comes in as MPEG2 from the Satellite receiver or as Flash/Silverlight/H.264 through my cable modem? I don't think so.

The question branded advertisers should be asking is not "how to move my ad content from TV to online" but "how but to exploit online technology to blur the distinction between Online and TV.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Dumb or Dumber?

Chris Anderson asks, in the July 2008 edition of Wired magazine. if the emergence of the Petabyte era - the ability to amass and analyze massive amounts of data - obsoletes scientific theory. A computer cloud and programs like Google's MapReduce, can brute force analyze raw real world data to uncover trends that once required scientific models and limited testing to unravel.

Nicolas Carr asks in the July/Aug 2008 Atlantic magazine if "Google is making us stupid" - by simplifying an individuals need to think. The ability to focus and engage the brain in cognitive activties, like reading an in-depth article, have been replaced with scanning "wiki facts" on a computer screen or iphone. The imminent death of journalism threatening newspapers and magazines like the Atlantic is one validation point.

Scientists no longer need to think. Individuals no longer need to think. What will we think of next?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

World Wide Will

The food, energy and environmental problems facing the world are extra-national in scope. In many countries, the impact is a "perfect storm" of rising cost food and energy imports with catastrophic weather damaging domestic agriculture. Human suffering begets social and political upheaval.
These problems are global and complex. Dealing with them requires a new level of global cooperation. The United Nations is a 20th century concept. The true world-wide-web of the 21st century is a global decision making, and action-taking entity led by the major world markets in N. America, S. America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

CUDA Shouda Woulda

Nvidia is known as the leading graphic chip (GPU) company. Their chips are in high performance PCs and video game cards. The complexity of a GPU surpassed the Intel Pentium processor several years ago. Today's Intel chips have two cores soon going to four. Nvidia GeForce8 GPUs have 128 stream processor cores running at clock rates exceeding 1GHZ. Nvidia has recently created an open programming environment to allow 3rd party development for new applications. This platform, named CUDA, for Compute Unified Device Architecture, is available for free from the Nvidia website accompanied by with numerous application notes and benchmarks.

CUDA solutions will soon move into the SuperComputer domain like approaches based on IBM Cell, Intel Pentium and AMD Operon. IBM expects to regain the spot of the Top 500 when they attain PetaFlop performance on LinPack benchmarks in the next few days. (One peta equals a quadrillion, or one million billion). According to EE Times, May 12, 2008, the IBM solution is based on 12,000 Processors and consumes 4MegaWatts.

Stanford has a program for configuring a compute cloud from individual PS3s (like the SETI program). These solutions offer a potentially higher parallelism (think of 1 million Sony PS3 crunching the same problem), but inter-node communication is limited to DSL/Cable Modem bandwidths. The IBM supercomputer bandwidth is ~1 billion times higher.

The next milestone after Peta is Exa, one billion billion floating point calculations per second. That threshold could be reach in four years. It would be like everybody on the planet using a Pentium CoreDuo computer to crunch the same problem. How about World Peace for a start?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Aunt Theo

My Great Aunt Theo passed away in her sleep last week at age 101. She moved to Key West during WWII and lived in a little home on Love Lane for 55 years. My wife and I visited her in the spring of 2000 and found her busy working on her tax return. She was "sharp as a tack" at 93 and had a clear goal to reach 100. She was a single woman her entire life, twice losing a fiance to illness. For the last four years, she rode a custom-built recumbent bike around the neighborhood, including the day before her death. Cycling is in my genes.

Monday, May 19, 2008

My Mama is for Obama

My mother voted Republican for 52 years. Dewey, Ike, Ike, Nixon, Goldwater, Nixon, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, G.H.W. Bush, and Dole. In 2000, she abstained from Bush Jr's election. My mother is a multi-generation Texan, while the Bush's are blue-bloods from Connecticut. G.H.W Bush was a successful Texas oilman, and that counts for a lot in the Permian Basin of West Texas. But junior (or as the late Molly Ivins nicknamed him, Shrub) "failed or was bailed" out of every oil deal he touched. In fact, Shrub's first buy low - sell high business success was a part ownership in the Texas Rangers baseball team. His second such success was winning the Governorship of Texas, after which he immediately began his long march to Washington - against the wishes of his father. Turns out that older brother Jeb was supposed to inherit that mantle. But Jeb was down in Florida working so hard to turn around the state budget and economy that he let his little bro' stake out the party high ground.

After watching Bush steal the election from Gore (ironically with help from Jeb) my mother turned Democrat in 2004 to vote for Kerry. Now she looks forward to a country led by a man who actually understands and respects the U.S. Constitution. A man who won't start and never-end a war for a short-term blip in his polls. A man who actually knows what "The Google" does to make money. That man is Barack OBama.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Global Good, Bad and Ugly

The Good
Energy Technology. Guess what? There may be a lot of oil left in N. America that is cost effective to extract at $125 barrel. Real break-thoughs in alternative energy are yet to come.

Food Technology. Ethanol sucks - It sucks do-gooders into believing they're making a difference; It sucks wheat and grain fields into more corn that won't be eaten which sucks food right out of people's mouths, and more of your paycheck out of your pocket. Genetic engineering can produce more food and turn inedible plant life into energy-rich ethanol fodder. Time for the food-Luddites to take a pass.

Meteorology. Today's kids might grow up to solve global warming (or cooling) with engineering solutions on a global scale.

Biotechnology. If only the FDA would get out of the way of progress.

Internet Technology. As the virtual world gets smaller, reason and human rights tend to rise.

The Bad
Overpopulation - the rain forests are being converted to coal so poor people can get eat for another week. The seas are over-fished and the coastlines of many countries are polluted with fish farms. People produce people faster than Mother Earth can feed them. There are simply too many people on the planet. Population control must be a human priority or Mother Nature will sort it out the hard way. As George Carlin once joked - "We don't need to save the Earth. Mother isn't going anywhere. It's people that are going away.

Global warming. Buying a smaller plastic water bottle isn't going to do shit to slow down global warming. Short-term we need weather, and socio-economic predictions so we can being to adapt to inevitable changes.

Petroleum. Someday it will be as costly as Extra Virgin Olive oil. The transition will suck, but the world will be better off after the addiction is over.

Health. Cancer is essentially undefeated 35 years after Nixon started a war on it. Drug resistant pathogens kill more young Americans than the war in Iraq. Animal-to-human crossover virus's like H5N1, didn't go away, continue to kill people in Southeast Asia, and continue to threaten global pandemics.

God, or rather human interpretation of what God wants. Does God dislike birth control so he'll have more souls in Heaven? Does Allah really want Islamic Jihad to kill all the infidels? And what about the the 1400 year-old religious battle between the Shia and Sunni?. Francis Crick, the Nobel prize winning biologist who discovered DNA, once remarked that 10,000 years from now humans will look back on all religion as a joke. I doubt we can wait that long.

The ugly.
Asteroids, cataclysmic volcanoes, earthquakes. Who said there were any guarantees?


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

web-to-tv 3.0

WebTV, founded in 1995 and later acquired by Microsoft, was the first attempt at bringing web media to the television. As described in PC World "getting the Web to display on a typical TV in 1995 was like watching an elephant tap-dance--you were amazed not that it could do it well but that it could do it at all. With the WebTV, Web pages looked horsey, some media formats didn't work at all, and using the remote control to hop from link to link was excruciating."

Today's Web-To-TV solutions are more robust though limitations in control persist. Do people want to stream the PC to their TV - or do you just want to turn on the TV and easily search, select and share web media with your family and friends? How do you type in a URL with a one button remote? Which hardware solution / media restriction do you want to live with? Is YouTube really worth watching on your 54" 1080p display?

A byline in the Financial Times today offered an interesting definition - Web 2.0 is a world dominated by user-generated content, while Web 3.0 will be a world where professional content dominates. The Web-To-TV evolution is poised to make the same transition - from today's YouTube cats-on-a-treadmill to professional actors, lights, camera and action - all on your big screen TV in full HD. Now where did I put I put the remote?


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Play Hard

It is one of life's ironies that when you are little, you wish to grow up, but when you are old, you often wish to be a child again. In Diane Ackerman's book, Deep Play, she discusses the pursuit of "positive brainwashing" to purge oneself of “cynicism, preconceptions - the technical and cultural biases we build over a lifetime” - in effect, to return to innocence through intense detachment.

RAAM is the ultimate opportunity for Deep Play.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

what you get is what you see

Here's a simple rule of thumb for watching web media: If the content was created with a cellphone or laptop camera quality camera, then it is best viewed on a cellphone or laptop display. If the content is produced in a studio with HD camera & sound capture, then it is best viewed on an HDTV with multi-channel sound.
To date 99% of the media available on the web is produced by the viewers, i.e. user generated video. But how do want to view web media produced by professional actors in studios?
Vote and see how the crowd votes

Friday, May 2, 2008

The last unexplored country in semiconductor land

I have been involved with semiconductors for 35 years. In college I fabricated solar cells and laser diodes on one inch wafers. I started my career at Texas Instruments during the conversion from three inch MOS wafers to four inches. Minimum feature size was 5um (or 5000 nanometers). The 16K DRAM was struggling to reach cost effective yield and the 64K would prove to be an opportunity for TI to bury a hundred million dollars in the West Texas sand, before moving the entire project to Japan.
Today the train known as Moore's Law, has dropped most of it's cars. After Intel, TI, TSMC, & UMC there aren't many fabs that can afford to travel down the line to 45nm, 32nm or 22nm. There really is a point where quantum effects say "Stop, Backup, Find some other way to compute". Molecular/genetic solutions may provide the next "quantum" leap in compute power but you need to be majoring in biochemistry if you want that career path. In the meantime, architecture may be the last not-fully-explored territory left in this business.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Someday every TV will be online

In 15 years, broadcast television will only be useful for high-profile live events like the Super Bowl, awards shows and programs like “American Idol, Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, said during a keynote interview at the TelevisionWeek Upfront Summit in New York.

I think he's too pessimistic. Web-to-TV will happen in 10 years, and American Idol certainly won't last that long (one can only pray). The web will subsume regular TV broadcasting for 95% of what people watch. Of course the "pipes" must get bigger - and they will; the consumer electronic industry must integrate internet access and embedded browser-player functionality into television sets - and they will; and users will need new techniques for finding content in an infinite span of long-tail channels - and they will.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Pay me or Play me?

How do companies make a connection with people who need their products in the web-to-tv age?

TV commercials are broadcast to everyone. Right now, there is a hamburger commercial playing on my TV, but I haven't eaten a hamburger in thirty years. The broadcaster doesn't know that - and they're wasting they're money to pay for my eyeballs, whether I DVR-skip it or mentally skip it.

The TV viewing experience can be compelling if the product matches your needs. At some level TV is absorbed subconsciously better than repetitive dancing stick figures on a Flash banner ad.

Internet video does offer behavioral targeting with cookies or user-defined preferences that feed advertising delivery options.

How about TV embedded advertising that is tailored to the viewer. Cable can deliver neighborhood localized advertising, but having neighbors that love hamburgers won't change my dietary bias. Web-to-TV has the potential to match the highest impact ads with the right potential customer.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Place-shifting and web-to-tv

Location free TV
, and the Slingbox by SlingMedia are place-shifting technologies. They allow you to watch "your TV" from a PC/smartphone through the internet - from anywhere in the world. And InFunGo> has a software solution that connects your mobile devices to your home media server, from anywhere in the world.

What does "your TV" mean when TV moves to the web. Similar to Google Web Apps, "your Excel" is available wherever you and a working browser happen to be. Ditto your pictures on Flickr or your home movies on YouTube. Place-shifting becomes meaningless when the media is on a server for anyone to access if authorized.

Broadcast TV excels at quality (production, acting, and predictability).
Live means live regardless of how many people are watching. But you pay for it with longer and longer ads. And there is a growing trend to "free" actors (who can't act). The barriers for production and distribution keep dropping. Web TV will excel at variety - any topic at any time. Instead of 50M people watching one show, 50M people watch 50M shows. Many believe there is a collective desire to watch a show everyone else is watching. Everyone can talk about the same show the next day at the water cooler at work or the social network equivalent. Web-to-TV threatens to change that.

Is there utility in combining web media with broadcast media? The networks want their audience to switch back and forth between broadcast TV and companion web content - during a commercial, or after the show is over. (They do this to supplement ad revenue lost to DVR ad-skipping - a $30B loss by some estimates.)

Ultimately web content and broadcast content could be combined on the same widescreen. Early examples of this exist today. Mainstream solutions will require new ways to control and lean-forward content with lean-back content.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Footprints, Footsteps

The news today is full of stories and examples of carbon footprints. How much carbon dioxide does an action create? I read it may be cheaper (by carbon) to drive your car to the store than walk. Walking will burn calories that you will replace with carbon footprints whose sum will exceed the quantity released by the burning of the gas your trip consumed. Probably untrue but a bit humorous.
Carbon footprint is a fad - an early 21st century fad. The measure that will worry the world this century is water footprint. Unlike CO2 which is released by mother nature in levels that make your trip to the store inconsequential by 8 orders of magnitude, water is a finite resource. Global warming will change water distribution in ways we don't understand and in ways that will be difficult to react to. Los Angeles can't move 1000 miles to the south, but the water could.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Age of Web-To-TV

YouTube launched the age of user-generated-content. They didn't invent it, but they made it mainstream. With cell phones, laptop cameras and cool new gadgets like the Flip-Ultra, you can vlog easier than blog. Everyone wants to source UGC, but would you watch someone else's UGC on your HDTV?

CBS broadcast every NCAA March Madness game on their website. This is Web-To-TV. Hulu has organized years of Fox and NBC content for free viewing. Web-To-TV is not restricted to repurposed broadcast TV content. Technology has lowered the barriers to entry. A $1000 HD video camera, a MAC running Final Cut Pro, and a few aspiring actors can create TV quality content. The lure of advertising dollars has create a surfeit of aggregation outlets begging to distribute content. The only dilemma for the viewer is how to scroll thru a million virtual channels with a hand-held remote control.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Do people want to watch internet media on their HDTV?

I posed this question to the world on Ask500
This is an interesting site that uses the "wisdom of the crowd" approach. Similar to an exit poll, standard statistical tests (e.g. Chi square) can identify a non-random result with strikingly few samples. Think "Obama in a landslide, before the sun sets in California".

In my question, the respondents are net-savvy by definition. They probably watch internet media on their computer screen. So far the results look like a landside. Click the link and make your choice.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

User Generated TV

I am sure there are a lot of people who watch Saturday Night Live "live" (if you count tape-delayed for the West Coast as live), but most of us tape the show for viewing another day, with one hand on the ad-skip button. Out of several ha-ha funny skits, and one or two totally dumb skits, one or two will be off-the-chart funny. The lip-sync musical hiatus is interesting for about ten seconds. And the endless food and car ads would put anyone still awake at 12:35AM fast asleep.

The "Best of SNL" has been a favorite TV Special for years. The compilations change as the SNL crew evolves. What if you could create your own SNL mash-up? You can. Online media producer offers individual skits from SNL and other NBC and FOX programs. Combine those with the best gems from ex-SNL star Will Farrell's and you have something completely new.

Video mash-ups become "User Generated TV" when XML playlists can be easily shared and played on the family TV.

Playlist in my Pocket

Is there anything your phone can't do for you? It can tell you where you are, where you want to be and how to get there, amuse you on your way to get there, tell you where your friends are and what they're twittering their life away with, encourage you to buy something, and make the money transfer without reaching for your wallet. All of these features exist in some phase of roll-out on some hardware in some markets in the world today.

When you get home and turn on the widescreen TV, shouldn't your viewing desires also come from your phone? It knows what you like, it knows what your friends like, and what they think you like. The channel changer is the rotary dial handset of the 21st century.

Hollow Men?

"Google is like a gigantic parasite that hollows-out existing (media) businesses," says Jason Pontin, editor and chief and publisher of Technology Review. For example, newspapers distribute ads through-out the paper. These ads pay the bills for the reporters and columnists to cover a broad range of topics that are read, skimmed, or skipped as people flip-thru the pages. Online newspapers get read by the home page headlines. Only things that drive pageviews get funded by ads. Any page more than a few clicks in, might as well not be written because it won't be read. The ads that support that page won't be scored and the paper might as well fire everyone but the headline writer and the guys who mash-up news from other blogs in the world. And they are, at newspapers and all other forms of printed information. The result is the disappearance of diversity, the disappearance of critique, and the disappearance of depth. Only the very wide and very thin survive. Only a paper that reads more like every other paper than any other paper survive.

At the same time, if Obama blurts out something in Smallville, USA, it's published on a video blog almost instantly. The (hollow) news has become more transparent (but only if you are famous).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sound more like everyone else than anyone else sounds like everyone else

Lee Siegal, argues in Against The Machine, that the measure of internet viral success is pageviews. And a high pageview often means "sounding more like everyone else than anyone else is souding like everyone else".

"Mentos in a Coke" with a twist. Mascara and androgynous tears for Britney. A motivational speaker mimics thirty years of dance moves. Forget the Oscars, we have the YouTube Video awards. One implication is that knowledge is devolving into information. And web information has a half-life of about one day. In a week you're off the page. Information is devolving into spiky noise. Perhaps Francis Fukuyama's The End of History was prescient in ways he didn't anticipate?


Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Three Phases of RAAM

June 7 & 8, is the start of the 26th Race Across America - a non-stop bicycle race from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis Md., covering 3000 miles and 100,000 vertical feet of climbing. It's no picnic but parts of it are fun. The race can be described in three distinct phases: Euphoria, Pain, and Focus.
Euphoria lasts about three days, when the pent up strength from months of training is unleashed. You can marvel at the scenic beauty of western America without having to worry about food, water, where your next nap will occur. A RAAM rider has a full complement of crew to take care of every detail. You might ride all day without hitting a single traffic light!
The second phase starts when your body reacts to riding more miles in three days than you've ridden in the last month. Everything hurts, everything is swollen. The difference between permanent and temporary damage is hard to distinguish, but you start poppin' Advil's like Jelly Beans, and ride through it.
Two orthogonal things happen in the last phase: your legs begin to grow like Popeye-on-Spinach, but your brain is fried. The scenery become numbingly repetitious (to you). You have the strength to ride, but all you want to do is sleep. The veterans wait for this phase - where huge gains or losses can occur. As eight time veteran Danny Chew put it, "the real race starts at the Mississippi".
To finish you must focus on getting to the next time station, the next bump in the road, or simply getting to ten pedal revolutions so you start counting to ten again. Repeat until your crew says stop and you are a RAAM finisher.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

CND & P2P - Can't we all just get along?

The worlds of content delivery networks (CDN) and peer 2 peer (P2P) seems to be at odds. At first glance they serve different markets. CDNs are essentially to deliver a webcast to a large number of simultaneous users, e.g. Oprah's weekly sessions attract 1M homes. P2P originated with music sharing site Napster. At that time it was about access to a large library of music, not bandwidth. But in today's video laden world, bandwidth is the key issue. Video-on-demand services like BitTorrent (founded by the inventor of P2P for video) relies on public P2P to accelerate movie downloads. Private box video on demand provider Vudu relies on their installed base of boxes to accelerate movie downloads - the more users they have the better the average user experience.
All P2P providers appear to gain from no having to make CDN payments. But that gain ignores the cost of the "pipes" they are using. As long as the "pipes" are free and their users are freely offering their upload bandwidth this works. But is it the optimum arrangement for the web? A good technical reference is A Practical Guide to Content Delivery Networks. I'm reading some technical articles on hybrid architecture proposals.

Bit Torrent

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Back to Kindergarten

I spent a morning tutoring five and six year olds at my grandson's charter school. It was a hoot. I plan to make it a regular experience.

Rational Economics

Are people rational or irrational when making economic choices. People are rational, individuals are frequently not. Though ration is in the eye of the rationalizer. People make decisions on their perceived values and costs of the alternatives. Perceptions are easily fooled, especially when facts are too complex to evaluate. I just read The Logic of Life, by Tim Hartford. He exposes some non-obivous but rational decisions groups of people make. The threat of higher cigarette taxes causes more smokers to quit than higher cost - society would be better off with repeating small tax increases than one large increase every several years. On the other hand, the availability of over the counter anti-smoking drugs has led to an increase in new smokers - teens figure they'll have the tools to quit when they're ready to.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Global Warming - Reactive Recycling vs. Proactive Adaptation

So California is banning incandescent light bulbs. They are inefficient light sources and expensive, so it's a good thing. But what impact will this have on global warming? If all the bulbs in California were replaced with CFLs would that offset the amount of CO2 expended by coal mine fires in SE Asia & China? All the "feel good" hoopla amounts to less than 1% of the impact of a growing coal & oil world wide economy. Add don't forget the Tata Nanocars in India.

If reducing carbon footprints is a pointless do-gooder spin, then what should we be doing?

How about engineering the adaptation of inevitable warmer climates in two major categories: prediction and amelioration. Over the next fifty years any attempt to reduce global warming through CO2 reductions will not reduce the actual increase already underway, only the ultimate rate of increase. But we have time to mitigate the impact.

Over the next 100 to 200 years, there may be engineering solutions on a global scale that could ameliorate the cause - a global thermostat in essence - to regulate global temperatures. How about self-replicating/repairing nano-structures in fixed orbits. Block enough solar energy at the equator to lower temperatures by 1 or 2 degrees C. Equatorial sunglasses!

By the way, if the Yellowstone Caldera explodes (it's about 50,000 years overdue) the ash and sulfuric acid will global lower temperatures to sub-freezing for several years. Global warming will cease to be a worry since Mankind and animal kind will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Will online ads play on the family TV?

Perhaps the first question should be is their a family TV. There may be a TV in every room of the house, but the family may be equally dispersed to every room in the house. That is a trend, but I would guess in homes across American there are multiple family members in one room of the house watching TV.
And the $200B TV advertising marketing devotes a lot of attention to them.

The 30 second ad in spurts of 4 to 8 every few minutes in a typical TV show. If you own a DVR you press pause and go back to your laptop computer or your reading material or leave the room for a few minutes, then return to fast forward to the resumption of the program.

I have a 30-second jump button. I prefer it simple FF because it is more precise at taking you to the resumption point. Maybe the networks are achieving subliminal impact on me and others who see the commercials at the equivalent of 500 frames/sec?

Survey data for online video says that people are tolerant of 15 second pre-roll ads. But what happens when 12 of them run consecutively? Some videos are introducing mid-roll ads. Are we headed to same ad distribution of broadcast television advertising?

Perhaps, but the internet is interactive. The opportunity exists to create an advertising environment that builds brand success and does not get ignored by the next virtual-DVR.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Proportions out of proportion

The war in Iraq has taken the life of 4000 American soldiers in 5 years. Car accidents have taken the lives of 200,000 Americans over the same time frame. The number of children lost in that number surely exceeds 4,000 - but you never hear about it. Are car accidents an act of God, while War is an act of Bush?
Children fare worse with cancer. I don't know and I don't even want to know that statistic but I'm sure it surpasses 4000 every year, maybe every every month. A typical cancer drug will take 10 years and $100M to develop and process through the FDA trials. Then more years pass while FDA ponders if someone will get "called on the carpet" for approving a drug too early.
Ditto for drugs to fight drug resistant bacteria. XDR-TB and MSRA are ticking time bombs.
Oh, and under current funding, Pentagon spends $100M on the war in Iraq every six hours.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

To Swerve and Protect

A beautiful Sunday turned tragic for three innocent cyclists by an out-of-control car. Were the cyclists riding three abreast or doing other "crazy stuff" as Leslie Griffy, writer for the San Jose Mercury News implied online Sunday? That we know to be untrue. Was deputy James Council asleep at the wheel, as he was overheard to say by several witnesses? Was he hung over from partying all night? We may never know since there is still no indication that a breathalyzer test was administered. We do know that he had two previous drunk driving arrests in Los Angeles (though he was not and will never be an LA County Sheriff's deputy).

We also know that he did not administer CPR to any of the victims as Sgt. Don Morrissey proudly told the media Sunday - all of whom regurgitated it to the general public that night. Kristy Gough's riding partner tried to render aid while she lay dying from a severed limb and massive head injuries, while the deputy in question wandered around muttering that his "life was over".

I was almost there Sunday. I rode up Stevens Canyon road a little after 10am, but decided to turn left at McClellan - something I rarely do - instead of riding up the canyon. I took the back way to Saratoga and up Big Basin way. Immediately after turning right on Pierce Rd., I was passed by a sheriff deputy in a white SUV going about 45mph up the hill on the wrong side of the road. No lights. No siren. I wondered at the time where in the hell he was going at that speed, and I was glad I was not descending Pierce Rd. in the other direction. Twenty minutes later I reached the roadblock and found out why the SUV was in such a hurry. They needed to do damage control and get deputy Council away from scene before he blurted any more self-incriminating statements.

As I rode up the canyon today, the slower speeds of the quarry trucks were noticeable. They typically roar down the road at 40+ mph. Today they were going 20MPH and making wide passes around cyclists. I'm sure they don't want to be ticket fodder for the obvious presence of the sheriff's department. I counted four deputies within two miles of the scene today. Stevens Canyon might be the safest place to ride this week.

3 feet, not 33.

One of my pet cycling with cars peeves is how people pass a cyclist on the road.

Let's start with the assumption that the bicyclist is on the side near the edge of the road. Let's further assume that a white line-marked shoulder exists and no part of the cyclist or his bike extends outside the white stripe.

A car approaches in a lane that is typically 18 feet wide - approximately 8 wider than the car. If the car manages to drive "straight down the middle" leaving an equal distance between the yellow stripe and the white strip, the car will "miss" the cyclist by 4 feet. That's plenty for me, but some riders would prefer a little more.

The car usually prefers a lot more. A typical reaction is to edge over toward the yellow line. Putting the left tires on the yellow will provide up to 8 feet of clearance between the auto and the cyclist. This is the safest approach for all. It's in the California Driving Handbook. But here's the rub. Most cars prefer to put the right tires to the left of the yellow line. That leaves 18 feet or more of clearance - great you say. You probably do it yourself. But how much space are you leaving for the cyclist coming from the "other direction". ZERO or less than ZERO. And they compound the ensuing head-on collision by accelerating as if they were passing a semi-truck on I5.

It gets worse if the road has a double yellow stripe - for no passing. Now you are leaving no room for the oncoming car. If a car is right around the bend, someone (probably the cyclist) is going to get killed.

I see this at least once an hour on Bay Area roads. I have been the "bike coming from the other direction" twice where the car is not only in my lane, his tires are off the road on my side of the road. I almost rode off a cliff the last time it happened on Page Mill Road. I NEVER go down Page Mill Road on a weekend.

Someone in the California Assembly tried to pass a law requiring 3 feet of clearance when passing a bike. Who (TF) is going to measure that? Negative numbers are easy to measure - in blood and mayhem. Almost as useless as the "no talking on the cellphone while driving" law. The chance of getting a ticket for talking on the cellphone while driving in the bike lane are lower than your chances of winning the lottery. Only laws that put offenders in jail for YEARS for injuring or killing another human being with their car are the answer.

bits, packets and cars

I live in the Silicon Valley, the birthplace of microprocessors and internet routers. The interconnect complexity of an Intel processor has been equated to a street level map of the US. Information, in the form of electronic charge, is managed and moved around this "mega city" at speeds of 20 million miles / hour.

Internet packets are routed around the world primarily on Cisco routers. The latest products can switch 256Gbps - more than all the cars on the planet moving thru one intersection every second.

So riddle me this. Why are the traffic lights in Silicon Valley so "19th century"? How many times have you been sitting at a red light along with 50 others cars from three directions while NO cars are moving with the Green light. You sit and wait until an unlucky car proceeds toward the green tripping it to red.

You can not proceed until someone else has to stop. The traffic lights are designed to maximize stopping - not traffic flow.

The engineers at Intel or Cisco could improve traffic flow in the valley by 15% to 30% by simply making one car wait an extra five seconds so twenty cars don't sit for 90 seconds. What do you think the savings in gas mileage would be? What would the savings in pollution be? The answers are obscene. The savings would far offset the cost of extra sensors 500 feet up the road from the intersections.

But maybe traffic engineers aren't so dumb. Maybe the money at Unocal or Chevron determines the optimization strategy, i.e. maximize gas consumption not traffic flow.

The future of TV, Advertising and 21st century consumption

Tivo/DVR killed the embedded ad.

Lots of advertisers, Lots of content providers vying for the eyeballs. Pre-roll, Post-roll, pay-per-ad-viewing. Get paid to watch Ads (pay less for content with ads).
Place ads where "you" think they will be watched and get a cut from the ad creator.

Clearing houses match Ads with Publishers. Engagement matters more than impressions.
Clicks don't matter when you're leaning back watching big screen TV. How will web ads be watched on widescreen TV - because people will watch web media on widescreen TV.
And not just Movies on Demand - but videos and mashup channels and made for the web media of all types.

If I see the Ad and I think my social net should see the ad as well I take some action. I vote for the ad - thumbs up/thumbs down - like a StumbleUpon website, or I share the Ad on Facebook, Hi5, Myspace, MySocialClique, etc. I get paid, the media carrying the ad gets paid. The Ad creator gets rewarded by creation of customer awareness. Videos are rated by the quality of the embedded Ads, including product placement.

Consumers exist to consume. In the 21st century what we consume is intangible media. The hardware is free approximately. Mediators add value when they can measure consumption of intangible assets. Facilitators add value when they can reduce friction in the chain of consumption - find it, watch it and how.

Even MicroHoo's Get the (Vista) Blues

Last year I bought a MacBook - the best personal computer I have ever owned (and I started with one of the early IBM PC clones, from by Texas Instruments - dual floppy, no HD). The Mac runs programs I was familiar with (with VMWare) and allowed me to quickly learn new applications. My productivity jumped while my friends productivity went backwards with Vista. The following article from the New York Times, March 9, 2008 speaks volumes.

Here’s one story of a Vista upgrade early last year that did not go well. Jon, let’s call him, (bear with me — I’ll reveal his full identity later) upgrades two XP machines to Vista. Then he discovers that his printer, regular scanner and film scanner lack Vista drivers. He has to stick with XP on one machine just so he can continue to use the peripherals.

Did Jon simply have bad luck? Apparently not. When another person, Steven, hears about Jon’s woes, he says drivers are missing in every category — “this is the same across the whole ecosystem.”

Then there’s Mike, who buys a laptop that has a reassuring “Windows Vista Capable” logo affixed. He thinks that he will be able to run Vista in all of its glory, as well as favorite Microsoft programs like Movie Maker. His report: “I personally got burned.” His new laptop — logo or no logo — lacks the necessary graphics chip and can run neither his favorite video-editing software nor anything but a hobbled version of Vista. “I now have a $2,100 e-mail machine,” he says.

It turns out that Mike is clearly not a naïf. He’s Mike Nash, a Microsoft vice president who oversees Windows product management. And Jon, who is dismayed to learn that the drivers he needs don’t exist? That’s Jon A. Shirley, a Microsoft board member and former president and chief operating officer. And Steven, who reports that missing drivers are anything but exceptional, is in a good position to know: he’s Steven Sinofsky, the company’s senior vice president responsible for Windows.

Their remarks come from a stream of internal communications at Microsoft in February 2007, after Vista had been released as a supposedly finished product and customers were paying full retail price. Between the nonexistent drivers and PCs mislabeled as being ready for Vista when they really were not, Vista instantly acquired a reputation at birth: Does Not Play Well With Others. Randall Stross, 2008.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Lottery

The Lottery, a short story by Shirley Jackson, published in 1948 tells the story of a village that annually condemns one citizen, chosen by random ballot, to a death by stoning. The purpose of which is not religious, like Aztecs with virgins, but rather to focus everyone's problems into a single scapegoat. A scapegoat impugned perhaps with the virtual guilt of all of the villagers.

Almost every week, CNN or some other network, chooses a "victim" that represents all of the troubles and sorrows of the world. Americans focus all of the concern, their watercooler & coffee shop chat, their calls to radio talkshows, etc., on this one person with their special problem.

Many American's believe this problem really is the biggest problem in the country at the time: A boy trapped in a well; A brain-dead woman on life support; A drunk driving celebrity "parasite"; suddenly become the most important issue of the day.

Maybe we should stone Britney.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Almost Impossible - Fixed Gear 508

Prelude. Since my finish in 2004, every fixed-gear starter has finished. In 2007, Terry Lentz finished 3rd overall with a truly amazing time of 30 hours and 13 minutes - that is a big gear!

First posted on October 2004.

In the phrase “almost impossible”, the key word is “almost”. When I first saw the 508 course as a crew in 1998, I thought it was almost impossible unless you had a motorcycle. But a year later I finished my first 508 and also qualified for RAAM – something that truly seemed almost impossible. And three years later I successfully finished RAAM. Last fall, when I first heard about Chris Kostman’s crazy plan to have a fixed-gear category at The 508, I thought it was almost insane. But then I started to think about it. This essay is a brief summary of how I approached it and how I made almost a positive term.
Some goals are simply too hard to predict – you just have to go to the edge and find out what happens – but even Columbus had a plan. I have been riding a fixed-gear every winter since my first 508. It’s good for your legs and a nice change of pace. At first I found it difficult to ride anything but pure flat roads. I also tried single-speed riding - one gear with a freewheel – but I missed the sensation of pedaling full circles. The biggest problem I had with the “fixie” was forgetting it doesn’t coast. Inevitably I would come out of the saddle to “hop” the bike over a pothole or crack, and momentum would almost vault me over the handlebars.

My first decision in preparing for a Fixed 508, was to ride nothing but fixed gear miles for the nine months prior to The 508. I entered a couple of double centuries and the Davis 24hr ride. I experimented with different gear ratios. I showed up at the Spring Death Valley double century with a 42:15 and ended up using that gear the rest of my training. At the Eastern Sierra double century, the descent from Sagehen Summit was fast, bumpy and long. I learned that I could do the climbs, and the bumpy descents. After that I became convinced that a successful Fixed 508 was not only possible, it was achievable within my previous 508 finishing times). Bottom line – have a plan and a goal.

My last two 508 finishes were PRs – personal records. So this became my goal for 2004 – beat a younger Seal! Over the summer, I followed the workout pattern that John Hughes developed for me in 2000 – intervals, tempo rides and long distance pacing. I rarely went over 75 miles and rode the same roads I usually ride preparing for an event. Fixed gear riding teaches you to accelerate by spinning, rather than down-shifting. By jumping from 100rpm to 130rpm for a few seconds on a fixie you can catch almost anyone’s wheel. This is fun, a useful skill, and it will make your legs stronger. Bottom line – fixies are fun to ride and you can kick butt on gradual climbs.

The 508 course is fixed-gear friendly, except of course, for Townes Pass. I picked a gear ratio that would be fast on the 3% grades that dominate the course but almost impossible to ride on the double digit sections of Townes – thus I would walk them. You can walk 15 to 18 minutes per mile uphill, which means you will lose about 30 minutes to a typical rider pedaling up Townes Pass. And even less if you ride the bike every time the road tilts down (or the cross-winds switch to tail-winds).

With the tailwinds on Saturday, I had several 30 to 35mph descents on the way to Townes Pass. That equates to 135 to 160 RPM with my gear ratio. That sounds almost impossible but your legs are not turning the pedals on a descent – the pedals are turning your legs. It’s a weird sensation. You relax and watch your knees bob up and down like a camshaft, and feather the brakes when you think the “engine” may explode.

Thanks to those tailwinds, I made the turn on 190E to Death Valley in time to see the sunset on Townes Pass. That was a first for me and it was cool. But when I started going uphill, the crosswinds stopped me dead in my pedals. At first I had this sinking feeling that I could not continue, then I remembered walking. DuraAce cleats are easy to walk on; your hands are free to grab food and fluid bottles; the music is clearer; and the change in muscle usage feels good. I walked two thirds of the climb. A high point on my little hike was being greeted by Race Officials Rick Amoeba Anderson and Mike Whale Wilson. I rode the last few hundred feet to the top and kept going. The pavement on the long descent into Death Valley is so smooth you can easily control your speed. The worst part was envy when a “coastie” went by at 55mph. Bottom line – you can deal with Townes Pass.

Pushing wind is similar to climbing. On the death march from Furnace Creek to Ashford Mills, I pushed more wind than I ever had, including the Death Valley Double of 1996 and the Oklahoma Panhandle in RAAM 2002. The wind’s howl over the mineral flats at Badwater was truly eerie. I made a game of it by chasing team riders. Again the advantage of the fixie is maintaining speed on long gradual climbs – or long flat headwinds.

But long gradual climbs with 30mph headwinds proved to be too much for the gear ratio I was stuck with. By the start of the Kel-Baker climb I was struggling. Also, my Achilles tendons, hands and butt were so sore that I couldn’t descend faster than 25mph. When the Boar passed me on the backside of Kel-Baker, spinning 30mph, I just couldn’t respond. Bottom line – pad your bars and your seat.

I set a PR on the Granite climb, and I kept within 5 minutes of the Boar’s van, but lost sight of him on the long descent on Indian Valley Road. After the turn to Amboy, I was just “riding to finish”. Climbing Sheephole pass at night was a new experience, but still endless and busy with cars speeding by. (This is the one road on the 508 course that should be preserved in its “insanely sick” condition, just to keep it special). In Wonder Valley, I discovered that once again, someone had moved Utah Road further to the west. And the last bump on 29 Palms Highway felt like a mountain with 40mph desert winds in my face. The lights at the finish line; the cheering; the photographs with your crew; and the medal is an experience that makes all the hours worthwhile. Bottom line – don’t quit unless something is really broken.

All three fixed-gear riders: Boar, Seal and Parrot, finished the toughest 508 in anyone’s memory. I believe that if the conditions had been better, the Boar would have made the turn onto Utah Rd before sunset, and I might have seen him do it. Bottom line – fixed gear 508 is possible. I encourage all coasties to try it.

PS. Don’t forget that making the 508 possible on any bike requires at least 3 C’s: Conditioning, Commitment and Crew. I also rely on a fourth C – my wife Connie. Along with Lorne Sachs and Dennis Horton, they made my fourth and most memorable Furnace Creek 508 possible and successful.

Monday, February 4, 2008

508 words on the Furnace Creek 508

posted to in October 2007.

My most memorable 508 was my first experience with it in 1998.

I came here to crew for the “Griffin” along with the future “Hummingbird”. We were double-century riders who didn't have a clue about this ride. We studied the race magazine on the drive down, with essays by people with names like “Penguin”, “Flamingo” and “Whale”. At the banquet I found out that the "Bike Van", Lee Mitchell, was also the “Maggot”. The “Beaver” made a speech about retiring, although he came back a few years later to double up the 508.

The three of us had never ridden through the night, and by Badwater Mike and I were dozing off in the van. We passed the “Algae” asleep in his van at Ashford Mills. The sun came up on Salsberry, and around noon on Sunday, somewhere near the Kelso dunes, Kevin had had enough. Mike & I were too tired to argue. We drove the course to the finish, and sorta consoled Kevin with the assumption that this was some kind of crazy RAAM rider event - not meant for double-century riders.

We passed the “Devil Ray” near the top of Kel-Baker - I remember how determined she looked. Driving thru 29 Palms we saw the stoker from the Austrian "Wolf" tandem riding a solo bike with a case of beer under one arm.

We hit the sack well before dark. I woke up at 4am and decided to see if anything was happening at the finish line. The lobby faced the finish then, and there were several folks there hanging out, drinking coffee. I met the “Abalone” - a double century rider and rookie RQ finisher, who had been up all night cheering finishers. I met the “Whale” and some other folks. I saw the hallucinating “Nanosaurus” & his “Amoeba” crew chief. And in the last hour the “Swan” and the “Polecat” rolled in. The Polecat had to be peeled off his bike but he was smiling.

I got the bug. I read all the essays on, talked to other totems and came back as a rookie wih a rookie crew.

On the way to 5 finishes I've had lots of great crew. My wife Connie did 4 of them. And the “Kangaroo Rat,” “Hummingbird,” “Griffin,” and the “Boar” finished their first 508 after crewing for me - which proves that luck can be contagious. In five 508's, I think Reed Finfrock and Peter Pop have beaten me about 10 times.

I've mentioned a few totems, but if I tried to mention all the riders and crew who have become friends, sources of inspiration, advisors, or bend-over-backwards supporters, it would take too long and I would still forget several. I will mention one more who not only inspires but facilitates with this excellent venue - the “Whippoorwill.” I've always liked the AdventureCorps motto "We're Out There" because it s a double or triple entendre. Chris is “out there” encouraging individuals, engineering success for the entire event, but he's also willing to risk failure, which is a rare combination.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Two (e)state solution?

Can Palestine exist as a single soverign entity when the land is non-continuguous. The state of Michigan has a chunk called Upper Michigan that is separated by Lake Michigan (but connected by a bridge over the Mackinaw Straits). The West Bank and the Gaza are separated by Israeli land, Israeli walls, and Isareli soldiers. How can there be a two state solution when there are three separate states in the mix? I don't think it will ever work.

One solution is for Egypt to subsume the Gaza strip. The flow of goods and people across the border during the recent 11 day open border is evidence there is synergy in a region that was once controlled by Egypt. Egypt has the muscle to put down the extremists. Palestenians who wish to live in New Palestine (the former West Bank) can move there and Israel must evacuate and withdraw settlements to accommodate this.

If Paestine yields something significant (Gaza), Israel must yield something significant (illegal settlements in the West Bank). Only when there are two physical states and their be two soveriegn states.
And only then will there be (a chance) for peace.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Starbucks Demystified

Java Joe Starbuck is no longer a wall street favorite. Maybe having a store on every corner in America wasn't such a good idea.

Why has Starbucks been so successful? I didn't read the book, but I have a simple explanation. What is the 2nd worst thing that can happen to a woman wearing a new dress to an evening affair?

Answer: Seeing another woman wearing the same dress. The only thing worse than that is if the other woman is wearing the dress one size smaller.

The Starbuck's marketing mystique - the language and ordering options of vente, grande, caramel, chocolate, soy, no fat, no whip, extra shavings, steamed, macchiato, extra hot, etc. - serves one purpose: To allow customers (i.e. women) to order a drink that no other customer in the line is likely to order. No woman ever said "I'll have what she had" to the Starbuck's barista , unless she also wears pantsuits to evening affairs.

If don't believe me, spend a few minutes in Starbucks and watch the women ordering drinks. You won't have to wait long because women make up about 80% of the Starbucks clientel. Men have begun to figure out that this coffee "Jones" is more like a $5 milkshake Jones.

Monday, January 28, 2008

What a decade?

It's 2010 and America has just completed the first decade in the new millenium. For the last ten years, America's booming economy has invested hundreds of billions of dollars into the infrastructure for moving people, goods, electricity and internet packets. In addition, an entire generation has been educated on a 21st century version of the GI Bill.

The accumulated budget surplus has reduced the total Federal deficit by ~1 Trillion dollars. Americans now enjoy lower taxes, the security of low cost health care, and a sustainable retirement system that will endure for generations. The world showers the US with foreign investment. And the US is leading investments in fundamental technologies to improve world health and reduce the adverse impact of global warming.

Speaking at the United Nations, President Obama announced a "coalition of the welling" with funding from OPEC and other foreign entities to develop alternative energy solutions to replace world dependence on oil by 2030. Mars will have to wait.

Whoops, I was just dreaming that Bush did not steal the 2000 election and put America on a path to drain the treasury, suspend infrastructure, and sacrifice our children's future, on a fumbled effort at nation building.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Will my Grandkid's Grandkids work for robots?

My wife has a Roomba vacuum cleaner. It does a good job cleaning the carpet without assistance, and it doesn't need many brain cycles to do that job. But consider Moore's law compounded across multiple generations. Fifty years is 10**9, a factor of one billion. One hundred years is one billion x one billion. How many brain cycles will a Roomba have when my grandkids have grandkids? Will it clean the whole house, or will it own the house and it's occupants?

According Ray Kurtzweil and others, history points out that Moore's Law is simply a lower bound. Silicon efficiency is just one factor in the advancement of technology. Improvements in architecture, software, chemistry, biology, nano-construction, etc., all contribute acceleration factors to progress. "Punctuated Equilibrium", articulated by Stephen J. Gould, as a model for evolution of life species can also apply to technology. At some point in time, breakthroughs in multiple disciplines combine to throw a few more zeros on 10**18.

My grandkids will likely have iRoomba devices that are smarter than I am. They will use these devices for tasks I can't imagine though I am sure they will be indispensable. But as Beyond AI, J. Hall Storrs asks in "Beyond AI", at what point do "humans" become the "plants" - objects to be nurtured, and perhaps enjoyed by the machines.

AI is coming. Google is likely in the lead with their zillion-Pentium server farms and parallel processing algorithms. The world wide web becomes the world wide computer. Cloud computing resources like Amazon's EC2 will soon be available to virtually anyone. (Though few will really control it.)

The world wide social computer with millions of humans sharing perception and knowledge with millions of computers: a symbiosis for unpredictable futures.

Kurtzweil's "Singularity" not-withstanding, what do machines do for fun in 10,000 years? Do they climb into space ships and roam the galaxy for eons to find other "plants" to harvest? If that is inevitable, why haven't machines from other worlds visited Earth yet? Maybe machines lack the genetic blueprint for exploration, or the "dread of boredom"? Perhaps, like my Roomba, they get stuck in a corner and simply stop.