April 29, 2005
UN votes to outlaw nuclear terrorism
Sri sent me this link with the message: "OK, now we're safe."
The 191-member U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday unanimously approved a treaty outlawing the use of nuclear weapons by terrorists and their supporters.
The treaty, which governments will begin signing at the General Assembly session in September, criminalizes the possession or use of radioactive material or a nuclear device "to cause death or serious bodily injury." It also makes it a crime to use a nuclear device to damage property or the environment or to attack a nuclear facility.
It requires governments that ratify the treaty to amend national laws to prevent terrorists and their supporters from financing, planning or participating in nuclear terrorism. It also calls on governments to share information, ease extradition proceedings and pursue criminal prosecutions of suspects linked to such terrorist acts.
"It's a good thing" that they are making a concerted effort to grapple with the threat of nuclear terrorism, said Charles D. Ferguson II, an expert on terrorism at the Council on Foreign Relations. "But the bottom line is, it's not going to stop it."
April 24, 2005
Dissapointment with Microsoft
I am sure many of you have read of Microsoft's decision not to actively support an anti-discrimination legislation in Washington's legislature. The NY Times has an article about it, Steve himself penned a memo on it and Scoble has coverage on it. Having met both Steve and Bill a few times, I believe them when they say that they personally support this legislation. I can also see why there could be many corporate reasons for Microsoft not to take a stance on this issue (For the record - they are not opposing this legislation but rather not actively supporting it). However Microsoft is not just a corporation, its one of the world biggest companies and one that actively sets the agenda for the world technology growth. Whether it likes it or not, its decision not to actively support "anti discrimination" will be viewed by the bigots and the Religious Right as a victory.
Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of coming to America. My uncle once told me about something called the "Bill of Rights." He said in America people have "Rights" - they can speak freely and the people who founded the country believed in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." I have lived in this country for over 15 years, my wife and kids are American. The America I believe in welcomes people who work hard and play by the rules. The America I believe in does not discriminate people on the basis of color, race, gender or sexual orientation. The America I believe in is a open and welcoming society.
I am not going to let the Religious Right determine my America. Let us not forgot what Pastor Martin Niemoller said:
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communists
and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me —
and by then there was no one left to speak out for me.
Does anyone know how I can financially support this legislative initiative?
April 20, 2005
Balls Bigger than Brains
founders get a lot more credit than they deserve for being there in the beginning but the reality is that founders just have bigger balls than brains
Its a great line and captures a unique truth. I think founders do need more "balls than brains" (though having big ones of both never hurt anyone) because the reality is that if you were to consider all the reasons why startups can fail, you would never start one. It takes a temporary suspension of disbelief and passion to get a company going and then you will need a lot of help to make it successful.
Contrary to his statement, Byron is a phenomenally sharp guy who is going to do great things. While him joining Bessemer is a loss to the operational world, its a terrific boon to the venture capital one. Entrepreneurs if you are looking for a super sharp dedicated guy who will work harder than anybody to make you successful, look no further than Byron. Welcome to the venture world Byron and don't forget to show me your "hot" deals ;-) ;-)
April 19, 2005
Portable People Meter
Interesting NYT article on Nielsen and Arbitron and the changes brewing in TV viewership tracking.
For the past few months, Arbitron has been taking a distinctly unorthodox approach to measuring audiences. Currently the company is recruiting a couple of thousand volunteers in Houston and asking these randomly chosen men, women and children to wear a black plastic box that looks like a pager, three inches by two inches by one-half inch, whose circuitry is roughly as complex as that of a cellphone. In the radio and television industry, this little box is known as the portable people meter, or the P.P.M. In both a business and a cultural sense, it also seems to be the equivalent of a large explosive.
The Houston volunteers will clip the P.P.M.to their belts, or to any other article of clothing, and wear it all their waking hours. Before going to bed, the volunteers will be expected to dock the P.P.M. in a cradle so that overnight it can automatically send its data to a computer center in Maryland, where statisticians can download and review the information. There are still kinks to work out, but ideally the P.P.M. will tell Arbitron exactly what kind -- and exactly how much -- television and radio programming a person was exposed to during the day. Eventually the P.P.M. may also tell the technicians at Arbitron a host of other things too, like whether a P.P.M.-wearer heard any Web streaming, or supermarket Muzak, or any electronic media with audible sound that someone might encounter on a typical day.
The technology underlying the PPM (currently trialing in Houston) is interesting: they bury a unique, repeating, inaudible digital code in the audio tracks of TV and radio shows. The PPM picks that up. Arbitron is asking radio and TV stations to embed this code in their programming.
To date, viewership tracking has been very unscientific and potentially highly inaccurate. Techniques like this may bring rigor to the data-gathering process and allow the old media to compete more effectively with the web. They might also, in the end, lead to a shift in how and where advertisers decide to spend their money. The underlying conceit, as articulated by Arbitron's CEO, is this:
''Media is following you not just when you consciously turn on your satellite radio in your car, or when you consciously flip open your cellphone and get some cable channel delivered to it,'' Morris told me. ''It's also coming at you when you walk through Grand Central station. It's on the floor and on the walls. It's coming at you at the malls, where the L.E.D. screens are all around you along with the piped-in music. Advertising is becoming incredibly ubiquitous, so you need measurement that is equally ubiquitous.''
The PPM can do things like register the impressions on ads that screen at movie theaters; with a GPS-additive it could track whether you walked past a particular billboard; with RFID capability built in, it could tell that you happened to pick up a copy of the New Yorker, etc. etc. It's a short step from there to tracking the correlation between ad impressions and buying behavior.
Finally, here are some numbers:
- Nielsen does about $700MM in revenues
- Nielsen's People Meter (not the experimental PPM) is in 8000 homes
- TV advertising is at $60B annually
- On a typical weeknight, about 100MM Americans watch prime-time TV
- The average household watches 8 hours of TV per day
April 18, 2005
The NYT has an article on millimeter-wave imaging technologies applied to the detection of concealed weapons. The human body has a high emissivity and emits a great deal of millimeter-wave energy (between 30 and 300 GHz)- it shows up as hot on a millimeter imaging system. By contrast, a concealed gun, for instance, has a low emissivity and a high reflectivity - it reflects the ambient energy (at the temperature of the surroundings) and shows up as cold on the scan. The temperature differential with respect to the surroundings allows for the discrimination of the weapon being carried.
The article profiles three companies (Brijot Imaging Systems, Millivision Technologies and Trex Enterprises) that appear to have working imaging systems integrated with video surveillance and software that accomplishes detection and classification in a device that's about $50K.
Interestingly, these passive detection systems have an active counterpart (involving bouncing millimeter waves off the subject in a manner analogous to radar). Understandably, there are health and privacy concerns around the active imaging systems as a result of which the passive systems are likely to get better traction.
Millivision has a nice whitepaper on the technology on their website.
Radiation detectors on buoys
The Lawrence Livermore National Labs site has an interesting write-up on trials of radiation detectors aboard buoys off the coast. The idea is to detect nuclear materials that might be carried on board boats and other vessels before they get close enough to land to be dangerous. The detectors are powered by wind- and solar-powered generators and are outfitted with wireless communications links.
Homeland security experts are evaluating a wide range of possible threats from terrorists. One of the more troubling scenarios is a small and crude nuclear device transported in and detonated from a boat located near a naval military base or a civilian shipping terminal. Thanks to a Livermore design, buoys outfitted with commercially available radiation detectors could soon play an important role by warning of the presence of nuclear materials in marine environments.
9/11 showed us that we needed to secure civilian transportation modalities (a shift away from the cold-war thinking of building missile shields, etc.). If the trials are successful, these detector systems might be deployed around busy ports to interdict and deter marine transport of nuclear materials and weapons. Apparently, proposals have already been submitted to deploy buoys with radiation detectors in the Oakland harbor.
Curious to see what the specs are on the detector system: how well detection at a distance works, how high the false positive rate is and how closely the buoys need to be spaced in order to be effective. As with any RF system, radiation has a power-law falloff (inverse-square law in this instance) with distance...
April 12, 2005
SAP Shindig on Netweaver or how I want to be a platform company
Thanks to Jeff Nolan, I got invited to a SAP Shindig in Palo Alto earlier today. The whole executive board of SAP hosted a bunch of VC's this morning to talk about their "platform" strategy as well as to get our thoughts.
I went with a fair amount of skepticism and walked away impressed and open-minded. Some thoughts on the meeting:
- Henning and Shai did a very impressive job articulating the SAP platform - Netweaver.
- Shai is a terrific speaker - articulate, cogent, and skillful in his use of words
- Netweaver is a standards based platform built on SAP engines that 3rd party developers can build apps on. The basic benefit is that if you build your app on Netweaver, it can semantically integrate with the rest of SAP's apps thus not forcing the customer into making a suite vs. best of breed decision (atleast in theory)
- They have established a set of rules around Netweaver such as:
- Will not change the API's for 8 years
- Will publish all the API's (no unpublished API's like Microsoft used to do)
- All SAP applications will be built on the API's
- Netweaver will be standards compliant
- The application group will build applications on top of the API that will compete with partner applications
- The presence of the whole executive board reiterated the company's commitment to the strategy
- I talked to some of the board members informally and those conversation further reinforced SAP's commitment to this strategy.
Now am I going to rush out and get all my companies to port to the Netweaver platform. Not really. There are some companies of mine that sell into a largely SAP universe such as Steelwedge that can benefit from being Netweaver powered as large customers do integrate Steelwedge's planning and forecasting apps with SAP - See recent press release on how Air Products is using Steelwedge. Challenges SAP still faces in getting ISV's to adopt are:
- Its not a "true" platform - I still need to make a database/operating systems/app server decision that is separate
- the platform does not offer a semantic level interoperability with the other platforms i.e. IBM, MSFT, etc.
- Most companies do not need an "another" platform - Open source is good enough and I do not need to pay a "tax" to use it
- Biggest value in joining an "ecosystem" is the sales and marketing push and unless SAP really invests in a "partner" program that creates some sales traction for their partners this program is not going to take off.
Btw they had Mark Feldman from Virsa on a ISV panelist who has benefited from the SAP relationship. The guy was such an "ass kisser" that his credibility was zero. Someone remarked to me that for a white guy he had a very brown nose ;-)
Regardless, I do want to commend the SAP guys. They made a strong case on Netweaver and were intellectually honest on what they do and don't do. Any enterprise company targeting the global 2000 market should look at Netweaver - its definitely worth considering.
April 11, 2005
An Experiment Update: We have a winner
Thanks for all the emails in response to my experiment. We have a winner: Andy Dale of ootao.com. With a company name like that, he was already on my "interesting people" list but he also got this glorious referral from Eugene Eric Kim:
For the past few years, I've been
working with a group called Identity Commons
(http://www.idcommons.net/), which is driving the development of a
social and technical infrastructure where individuals control their
digital identities -- all of their personal profile information
floating around the Internet. The tools are built on top of OASIS
standards (XRI and XDI), and there are a bunch of great people
involved, including some important players in the identity space.
It's an interesting mix of grassroots and corporate folks.
Andy has been one of the key technical players for the past year. His
company, ooTao, has developed the first implementation of the XDI data
sharing infrastructure, which is in and of itself quite interesting.
More importantly, Andy's a good guy and an excellent
conversationalist, so I think you'd enjoy meeting him"
Eric thanks much for the referral (the irony that I am still using a referral to set up this lunch is a separate matter). Andy thanks for agreeing to have lunch with me.
Next date for lunch with Venky is May 26th 12:00 PM in Palo Alto
Tire pressure sensors
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) (part of the Department of Transportation) is going to mandate the installation of tire pressure sensors in vehicles starting in model year 2006. If the tire pressure falls below the recommeded level by 25% or more, the car will alert the driver to the fact. The rulemaking is motivated by the fact that underinflated tires are the cause of several accidents: it is estimated that the rule will save 120 lives and prevent 8400 injuries annually.
According to NHTSA, under-inflated tires can adversely affect fuel economy, lead to skidding and loss of control and hydroplaning on wet surfaces. It can also increase stopping distance and the likelihood of tire failures.
It will cost the auto industry on the order of $50-$70 per vehicle and save consumers about $30 due to better fuel efficiency, fewer crashes and longer tire life. According to the NYT, "The government estimates that it will cost the industry between $800 million and $1.1 billion to phase in the technology on all new vehicles from this year through 2007."
Apparently, it all started with an act of Congress in 2000 (prompted by the Firestone recalls) requiring the NHTSA to set guidelines for tire pressure monitoring systems. The agency dragged its feet for a couple of years (apparently due to the lobbying efforts of the auto industry) until safety groups sued multiple times to get the process moving and received court orders directing the NHTSA to act quickly.
For more background see the NTHSA announcement and the rulemaking. Interesting story because it illustrates the dynamics of rule-making (conflicting interests of safety groups, Congress and the auto industry), the time-scales for the passage of rules in this industry (~4 years), the process for mainstreamization of new technology (tire-monitoring systems are already in place in 2-4 MM luxury vehicles today and the adoption of this technology will be accelerated by this ruling) and because it illustrates the reactive nature of such efforts (it took a well-publicized system failure to spur decisive action).
April 08, 2005
Hustle, Passion and Resiliency AKA Barrier to entry
The older I get the more I realize that business is about three very basic things:
You have those things it really doesn’t matter what the idea is… you can change your ideas all day long, in fact evolving is what you’re supposed to do in business. However, you can’t substitute hustle, passion, or resiliency.
- What is our barrier of entry?
- Why can't XYZ do this?
- Why would we win?
- What happens if SAP/IBM/Oracle announce a product in this space?
Now we came up with "marketing" answers for all of these questions but the reality is that both us and the good VC's know that our answers were "bullshit" but that does not mean there isn't value in coming up with these answers. Ultimately all of these questions are trying to answer the singular question of how are you as a startup going to overcome the sales and marketing challenge of competing with the big boys?
Its a marketing and positioning issue that we had to think about. Ultimately its hustle, passion and resiliency that is going to determine whether we succeeded or not but having a good marketing angle is like having a good map - it does not guarantee that you will get to your destination but it does increase the odds.