Thursday, December 15, 2005

BofA is Evil

Add to my list of evil corporations Bank of America. For the past several years I have used a very good independent bill payment service called Paytrust (which is now owned by Intuit). One of the features of this service is that it balances my checking account by logging into my online checking accounts and scraping all of the transactions. However BofA has decided to put a stop to this. Supposedly this is an attempt at solving the widespread "phishing" problem. But as this post:

points out, the BofA solution is no solution (quoted below). So are they really just trying to close out third party bill payment services? I have been asking that question as often and as loudly as I can to any BofA person I can get on email and phone and the VERY suspicious answer that they are all trained to give me is, "would you like to try BofA's bill payment service?"

Note to BofA - you are now going to lose my business.

Here is that explanation for why SiteKey doesn't help solve the phishing problem:

The problem is that the BofA server doesn't know how to distinguish a valid user's PC. A zombie machine that was hacked to be false store-front could easily appear to BofA to be a valid user PC.
So... what if the false store-front brokers the entire transaction to the BofA server? That would appear to be completely valid transaction to the server and it would deliver a session cookie, along with the image, back to the false store-front.
The false store-front simply relays the image and authentication page back to the victim, who is none the wiser. He still believes he's talking to the real server because he's getting all of the proper SiteKey data.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hanging Fire

How did I get to be almost 40 years old and I have never heard the expression "hanging fire" with respect to bills in congress close to the end of a term... I have to assume that this is a common expression -- not less than 5 times in the last 2 hours have I heard someone on NPR (including Lehrer newshour, Marketplace, and All Things Considered) use the phrase...

I found it rather difficult to get a good definition and history of the phrase searching the web via Google, but came across a number of interesting things along the way. The most succint was Allwords:
Idiom: hang fire
    To delay taking action.
      Thesaurus: delay, procrastinate, stall, stop, vacillate, wait, hang back; Antonym: press on.
    To cease to develop or progress. Definition of hang

Which does not, unfortunately, provide the etymology. Word for Word started me down the right path however:

Hang fire with the polysyllabicsFANS of plain English are not always fans of thesauruses, because they can prompt novice writers to use needless polysyllabics. But they do have their uses (that's the thesauruses, not the fans of plain English . . . no, hang on, they have their uses too).

Reader Terry Carroll ( had been having trouble finding a definition of the phrase hang fire: "I'm unable to find it in a dictionary," he writes, "but from context, I gather that it refers to a project that has been postponed through procrastination. But why hang fire?" Smaller (meaning household) dictionaries are likely to miss phrases such as this, but a thesaurus gives a clue. It lists hang fire alongside misfire, flash in the pan and fizzle out - all terms relating to gunnery or musketry. When a soldier lit the fuse in a cannon there could be quite a delay until the charge ignited, and this was known as hanging fire. Similarly a flash in the pan related to a failed attempt to fire a flintlock musket, when the flint produced a spark in the priming pan but did not ignite the charge.

Word for Word

Which led me to this fun excerpt from Mark Twain's "The Innocents Abroad..."
And the great sash they wear in many a fold around their waists has two or three absurd old horse-pistols in it that are rusty from eternal disuse-- weapons that would hang fire just about long enough for you to walk out of range, and then burst and blow the Arab's head off.

hang fire - definition of hang fire by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia.

And now back to work!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

We are Losing the Robot Race

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote about the first version of Sony's Asimo, here on this Blog in a post entitled "Are We Losing the Robot Race?" With the recent unveiling of Asimo 2.0 one can only conclude that the answer is a loud YES... The movies of Asimo in motion are astonishing:

And Honda is hard at work on Asimo 3.0

I might as well just repeat myself from 2 years ago and then start thinking about what I can do to change the situation...

Many have argued that humanoid shaped robots are not particularly useful by comparison to industrial robots where most US researchers have focused. Solving the complicated problems of making a machine move like a human being doesn't help with any of the heavy industrial problems for which most robots are utilized.

This narrow view of robots ignores the basic premise that Honda and Sony are successfully focused on -- that everything in our world is designed to accomodate a human frame and human hands. If robots are going to play a useful role in an everyday human world, they will have to move and look something like human beings.

Robot manufacturing will be one of the 21st centuries biggest industries. As the world's largest economy we ignore this market at our own peril.

Ted Shelton: Are We Losing the Robot Race?

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Evolving Content Model Online

I was intrigued by the comments on Paid Content regarding the current Digital Magazine conference --

Digital Magazine Forum: 'Compete With Google' class="nav">[by Dorian] [by Dorian Benkoil] Michael Loeb, the CEO of Synapse Group, the largest seller of magazine subscriptions in the US and now owned by Time-Warner, recommended in a Q session of his keynote address that the magazine industry come up "with a competitive response" to Google and keep them from "getting the information for free." December 01, 2005 Archives

Dorian goes on to talk of her interaction in the forum with the speaker, in particular when he denigrated Blogs (like PaidContent, which does a great job by the way).

To me the interesting question that magazines should be asking is how consumers actually want to receive their content and how do they stay relevant in an Internet focused consumption model. These are questions that cannot be answered from the perspective of traditional publishing models, as one needs to rethink the relationship between author, editor, publisher, and reader in order to envision a new ecosystem...

Focusing on Google getting "information for free" entirely misses the boat...

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The new plaze to find the technorati

That is technorati like glitterati, not like the blog search engine... Lately I have been playing with Plazes more and more and having fun seeing who is on line and who is nearby... I just discovered this list of top users:

1. Tantek Technorati add Friend 389/15 **********
2. harmen Steele Hacienda add Friend 159/3 *******
3. falloutboy - add Friend 138/9 *******
4. Joi - add Friend 121/13 *******
5. cyprien - add Friend 119/7 *******

I am not surprised that Tantek and Joi are in the top 5 -- an interesting collection of early adopters... I am going to have to get busy if I want to be in this august company... over 50 combined Plazes discovered and invitations accepted just to make the top 20...

And is that really THE Michael Moore as #20?

No profile online, so its hard to say...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Additional Prius Complaints

Also worth noting that a number of drivers complain that the Prius doesn't perform anything like advertised... Here are some articles at Consumer Affairs...

For the record, our VW Golf diesel performs as advertised - over 40 MPG

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Should you get a Prius?

A friend recently asked me if I thought he should lease a Prius for a few years. I wrote a detailed email back to him and he made the suggestion that I post the answer here on my blog for others to read... so here goes!

It really depends upon your objective -- are you interested in good gas mileage? are you interested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

The Prius really isn't the best at any of these. I think the only thing the Prius DOES have going for it is that it is universally associated with the idea of hybrids and thus, by extension, with environment friendliness...

The basic problem with hybrids today is that it is a closed loop -- the gas engine recharges the batteries. So in general terms total energy efficiency is necessarily lower than if you just burned the gas straight away -- that is, there is necessary energy loss in the storage and reuse... So the entire "efficiency" of hybrids comes at one place - the stoplight. Gas vehicles burn away gas at the stoplight without any gain. Hybrids shut off the motor altogether, thus "saving" the energy otherwise lost at stoplights. So if you do a lot of stop and go city driving, a Hybrid could save gas and reduce pollutants... Now, if Hybrid manufacturers allowed you to plug the car into the grid at night you could avoid using gas to recharge the batteries (at least for short trips)... but for marketing reasons they won't do this -- consumers in their view are fearful of having to plug in their cars...

But if you do a lot of freeway driving, you have better options. Check:

First look at Hybrids from Toyota vs. Honda:

Toyota Prius:
City: 60 Hwy: 51 Tons of greenhouse gases/yr: 3.50

Honda Insight (Manual) Hybrid:
City: 60 Hwy: 66 Tons of greenhouse gases/yr: 3.10
*The insight does better in Hwy driving due to its aerodynamic design. You choose a manual transmission over an automatic because it weighs significantly less...

But then compare to the diesel VW Golf:
City: 38 Hwy: 46 Tons of greenhouse gases/yr: 5.2
The reason that Hwy is better than city here, as with most cars, is that the city driving MPG is hurt by all of that stop and go driving.

One thing that the "greenhouse gas" calculation on the US Gov website does not take into consideration is that diesel produces a different mix of gases than burning gasoline -- but leave that aside for the moment and look at the greenhouse gas number though in the context of using biodiesel instead of gas:

While Nitrous Oxide increases by about 10% at 100% biodiesel, the key greenhouse gases - CO and HC are reduced by 50% and 70% respectively - far outweighing the increased fuel efficiency of gas-hybrid cars.

What we really need is a biodiesel-hybrid car that you can plug into the grid... OK what we really need is hydrogen cars with personal refueling stations powered by rooftop solar energy...

In the meantime though, your best bet for gas is a manual transmission Honda Insight. Best bet for reducing greenhouse gases (and dependency on the middle east) is a VW Golf Diesel.

Lest you think that finding biodiesel is hard, here is a guide to finding a refueling station in the bay area:

OK... only three stations right now... but its growing! :-)

Here is a nationwide map:

You might also be interested in this new book, Biodiesel America: How to Achieve Energy Security, Free America from Middle-East Oil Dependence and Make Money Growing Fuel,283,0,0,1,0

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"Bulls**t Bingo"

A friend sent the rules this morning -- always handy...

Do you keep falling asleep in meetings and seminars? What about those long and boring conference calls?

Here's a way to change all of that.

  1. Before (or during) your next meeting, seminar, or conference call, prepare yourself by drawing a square. (I find that 5" x 5" is a good size.)
  2. Divide the card into columns - five across and five down. That will give you 25 one-inch blocks.
  3. Write one of the following words/phrases in each block:synergy
    • strategic fit
    • core competences
    • best practice
    • bottom line
    • revisit
    • expeditious
    • to tell you the truth (or "the truth is")
    • 24/7
    • out of the loop
    • benchmark
    • value-added
    • pro-active
    • win-win
    • think outside the box
    • fast track
    • result-driven
    • empower (or empowerment)
    • knowledge base
    • at the end of the day
    • touch base
    • mind-set
    • client focus(ed)
    • paradigm
    • game plan
    • leverage
  4. Check off the appropriate block when you hear one of those words/phrases.
  5. When you get five blocks horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, stand up and shout "BULLSHIT!"

Testimonials from satisfied "Bullshit Bingo" players:

"I had been in the meeting for only five minutes when I won." - Adam, Atlanta

"My attention span at meetings has improved dramatically." - David, Florida

"What a gas! Meetings will never be the same for me after my first win." -Dan, New York City

"The atmosphere was tense in the last process meeting as 14 of us waited for the fifth box." - Ben, Denver

"The speaker was stunned as eight of us screamed 'BULLSHIT!' for the third time in two hours." - Paul, Cleveland

"When I won and yelled "BULLSHIT!" the woman sleeping next to me slid off her chair!" - Joseph, Los Angeles

and of course there are great web resources:

Generate your own Bingo card:

And in German:

Fun, fun fun!

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Internet Ad Revenue

Analysts have just reported that Internet advertising has hit an all time high of over $3 Billion for the third quarter of 2005. This is the first time that total Internet ad spending has been this high:

Internet advertising hit its last similar milestone -- $2 billion in revenues -- back in the second quarter of 2000, right before the dot-com bubble burst.

Internet Ad Revenues Exceed $3B/Quarter

Total ad revenue for 2005 is now projected to top $12 Billion... well ahead of analysts projections. Remember those bad old days in the depths of the bust, say back in 2003:
For the full year, the Internet advertising industry took in $6.0 billion in revenue in 2002, a 16 percent slide from the year before.

Online Ad Rebound Underway

Now to put this in perspective, US newspaper advertising in the third quarter of 2005 was over $11 Billion and U.S. total advertising spending will be $277.5 billion for the year. Check out the table here:

So it is safe to say that Internet advertising has a lot of room to grow...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Plazes - Cool or Scary?

Have you seen the new location tracking system called Plazes? I haven't decided if it is cool or scary... Here is the URL for my "public tracking" page --

And yes, for those of you who actually know, that isn't actually where my house is on Claremont Avenue... I deliberately obfuscated my home location... I mean, its a nice idea to see where I am, but let every crazy in the world know? I'm not ready for that...

No Commentary Required

“It is time for the United States to tell the truth about this attack and to take responsibility for its actions, which appear to be [a] gross violation of international humanitarian law,” said Aidan White, general secretary of the IFJ. / World / Middle East Africa - Qatar shock at al-Jazeera bombing report

Friday, November 18, 2005

Email From John Kerry

In case you don't get email from John Kerry:

Dear Edward

This is our moment of truth. You and I have to make it absolutely clear that we won't stand for Republican "Swift Boat" style attacks on Jack Murtha.

Yesterday, an extraordinary congressman, former Marine Drill Sergeant and decorated Vietnam veteran, spoke out on the war in Iraq. He didn't come to that moment lightly. He spoke his mind and spoke his heart out of love for his country and support for our troops. No sooner had the words left his lips than the vicious assault on his character and patriotism began.

Today, in a statement on the Senate floor, in interviews with the national media, and in this message to you, I am seeking out every opportunity to defend a brave American hero that the Republican attack machine has set their sights on.

I urge you to do the same. Whether you agree or disagree with Jack Murtha is irrelevant. These despicable attacks on Jack Murtha's patriotism and courage must be met with an enormous public outcry. Call your local talk radio show, write a letter to the editor, phone your members of Congress - join me in acting now to reject these "Swift Boat" style attacks on Jack Murtha.

It disgusts me that a bunch of guys who have never put on the uniform of their country have aimed their venom at a marine who served America heroically in Vietnam and has been serving heroically in Congress ever since. No matter what J.D. Hayworth says, there is no sterner stuff than the backbone and courage that defines Jack Murtha's character and conscience.

Dennis Hastert -- the Speaker of the House who never served -- accused Jack Murtha of being a coward. Well let me tell you, Jack Murtha wasn't a coward when he put himself in harm's way for his country in Vietnam and earned two purple hearts -- he was a patriot then, and he is a patriot today. Jack Murtha's courage in combat earned him a Bronze Star, and his voice should be heard, not silenced by those who still today cut and run from the truth.

Instead of letting his cronies run their mouths, the President for once should stop his allies from doing to Jack Murtha what he set them loose to do to John McCain in South Carolina and Max Cleland in Georgia.

The President should finally find the courage to debate the real issue instead of destroying anyone who speaks truth to power as they see it. It's time for Americans to stand up, fight back, and make it clear it's unacceptable to do this to any leader of any party anywhere in our country.

I urge you to join today in a massive public outcry that rejects the attempt to demonize and destroy anyone who dares to disagree with George W. Bush's aimless "stay for as long as it takes" policy on Iraq.

Please act now. Call and email your elected officials. Flood talk radio with calls rejecting these vicious smear tactics. Send a letter to the editor. Express your outrage about the tired old Rovian "Swift Boat" style attacks on Jack Murtha.


John Kerry

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Price of Democracy

"The price of democracy is eternal vigilance," our founding father Thomas Jefferson once said. I was reminded of this by an email from my mother-in-law Elena Schmid in response to my previous post, We Need a National Conversation.

With permission, I repeat Elena's email:

Democracy is never a given. Each generation has to renew its commitment to it, has to decide whether it is worth the effort. My generation had a number of issues it had to fight for - social equality, civil rights, unnecessary wars: yours will have to take on a move toward autocracy imposed by limiting dissent: your daughter's will probably be around technology's rights and privileges. Democracy is 'of the people' and the people have to decide what the breathe and depth of that democracy will be at any given time. It is a challenging system of government that does not allow for somnambulism if it is to survive. That's why freedom of speech (including blogs) and freedom of the press is so important.

We Need a National Conversation

If this article by Catherine Crier is correct, we desperately need to have a national conversation about what our constitution stands for and how we can allow religious fundamentalists in our country to live the lives they want to live without having them try to impose their beliefs on the rest of us. According to Crier:

Most of them would like to see the United States under biblical law. Comparable to countries like Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, all of which live by Sharia (the strict Islamic code of the Koran), America's right-wing fundamentalists seek a nation governed by Old and New Testament scripture. Born-again Christianity will supplant the Constitution. This is no exaggeration—purchase a DVD of either Justice Sunday event, buy a book by one of their ministers, or simply go to one of their web sites. They do not make a secret of it. What's more, they demand that all Americans adhere to their rigid and reactionary beliefs.

The Blog | Catherine Crier: CONTEMPT -- How the Right Is Wronging American Justice | The Huffington Post

Rising Tide of Unease

Maybe I just read the blue sorts of blogs. But I was surprised when otherwise technology focused blog had a long complaint about the current admininstration -- and as with the technology posts you'll find there, it is well articulated. Here is part of the post that is particularly pointed:

You've seen: a vicious terrorist attack (horrible), a war on the wrong country (amazing), the devastation of an American city (unbelievable), systemic corruption at the top (disgusting), the total mismanagement of the country's money, rendering the US a future pauper (almost inconceivable) and now, almost every day, more and more evidence of the kind of cronyism this country hasn't seen since 1929 (stupendous; congratulations should surely be in order).

Bubblegeneration Strategy Lab

Read the rest.

That Isn't Going to Help

As if respect for the United States by the rest of the world hadn't already dropped to an all time low, now it appears that we can legitimately be accused of using chemical weapons:

Pentagon officials acknowledged Tuesday that U.S. troops used white phosphorous as a weapon against insurgent strongholds during the battle of Fallujah last November. But they denied an Italian television news report that the spontaneously flammable material was used against civilians.

AP Wire | 11/15/2005 | Pentagon used white phosphorous in Iraq

This is after the Pentagon had previously condemned the Italian report and stated that our troops had "never used chemical weapons in Iraq." Apparently the denial was based upon a disagreement as to whether White Phosphorus should be designated as a chemical weapon. According to an article in an Italian daily, "...on BBC radio on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Venable said that the US State Department's recent assertion that white phosphorus had not been used in Falluja was based on "poor information" .
He also said that "white phosphorus is a conventional munition. It is not a chemical weapon. It is not outlawed or illegal." He said the US army used the incendiary munitions "primarily as obscurants, for smokescreens or target marking in some cases." "However it is an incendiary weapon and may be used against enemy combatants," he added . - News in English - White phosphorus used in Iraq

According to Ansa, an international treaty restricts the use of white phosphorus devices, banning its use against civilian targets -- but the US is not a signatory of this treaty.

I see three patterns here that are troubling -- first there is the use of the "chemical weapon" which we should have been smart enough to avoid. Like the use of terror, this is an indication of a willingness to throw out the conventional rules of behavior which have guided our country up to the current administration, all justified by the "war on terror." As the world's only superpower, and one that has prided itself on being a voice for freedom and democracy, we cannot afford to stop doing what is right, even if it is inconvenient. We should feel a responsibility for setting a good example for the rest of the world.

But the two other patterns are equally disturbing -- as with so many issues that have confronted the Bush administration, there is an attempt at denial based on "bad information" or worse, technical differences in definition. No one in the rest of the world is going to care whether White Phosphorus is officially classified by treaty as a chemical weapon. They can all see the photographs and see the effect of WP and come to their own conclusion. So denying that we have used chemical weapons is a ridiculous statement to make in the face of the evidence.

Which brings us to the last pattern -- why are we (the US) so terrible at crises PR? From the US Government's own website:

In a crisis, the best course of action is to be forthcoming and honest and to do what it takes to facilitate stories. The media are going to write and air stories with or without your help. It's in your best interest to participate in a story — even a negative one — in order to have your position correctly represented. The alternative is for the media to write that a government official "would not respond to our inquiries," which only fuels suspicions and rumors.

A Responsible Press Office

So why can't we follow our own advice?

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Favorite Flock Feature

I think my favorite Flock ( feature is the ability to drag and drop text, photos, or the entire web site from a Flock browser window, into the built-in blogger editing and posting tool. Two suggestions, if the flock folks are listening...

(1) When I drag over the page URL, if I have highlighted text in the editing window - make that the link text.

(2) When dragging over text, I like how I can drag to the "Shelf" and then drag from the Shelf to my blog post. And I really like the additional benefit that you bestow on text from the shelf - that you insert the "blockquote" and "citation" HTML tags... but sometimes I want to drag straight from the web page into the blog post, in which case I just get the text... and if I wanted that, copy and paste is really just as easy. Why not insert those blockquote and citation tags when I drag straight from browser window to blog editor?

p.s. I find myself posting blog entries more often now since you guys have made it so easy!

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To Lead: Power and the People

I caught the end of a very compelling essay by Richard Rodriguez, broadcast on Jim Lehrer's NewsHour program yesterday. The full text of the essay is here:

Rodriquez doesn't point his finger at Republicans or at Democrats specifically, but rather at the trend in America for power to have become dissasociated from the people. He writes, "In today's America, men and women are the working class and are paid to fight wars the powerful never risk." And goes on to point out:
The failed Boston cardinal is awarded a palace in Rome; the ex-con has her TV show again. The floodwaters recede to reveal a network of contracts and cronies.

My concern here is not with the falling popularity of Republicans or with the failure of Democrats to say what they stand for beyond an envy of power. My concern here is with the disconnection between power and leadership in America.

Online NewsHour: Richard Rodriguez Essay: To Lead -- November 14, 2005

Why you should try Flock

Flock has a good post listing all of the interesting ways in which they are pushing the browser model forward. Here is what they say:

Here's a list of thirteen things you really should try with Flock. We're bragging, of course, but at the end of the list you'll also find a few warnings about things we're still working on.


Give it a try.

AI Running Google?

Fascinating piece by George Dyson about his visit to Google. I'll spoil the end by repeating his last paragraph:
For 30 years I have been wondering, what indication of its existence might we expect from a true AI? Certainly not any explicit revelation, which might spark a movement to pull the plug. Anomalous accumulation or creation of wealth might be a sign, or an unquenchable thirst for raw information, storage space, and processing cycles, or a concerted attempt to secure an uninterrupted, autonomous power supply. But the real sign, I suspect, would be a circle of cheerful, contented, intellectually and physically well-nourished people surrounding the AI. There wouldn't be any need for True Believers, or the downloading of human brains or anything sinister like that: just a gradual, gentle, pervasive and mutually beneficial contact between us and a growing something else. This remains a non-testable hypothesis, for now. The best description comes from science fiction writer Simon Ings:

"When our machines overtook us, too complex and efficient for us to control, they did it so fast and so smoothly and so usefully, only a fool or a prophet would have dared complain."
But go read the whole thing

Monday, November 14, 2005

Amazon's Mechanical Turk

I have been playing with Amazon's new Mechanical Turk and I have to say it is quite intriguing. Awhile ago I had written about CAPTCHAs and mentioned that I had heard about Internet sweatshops overseas in which human beings were employed as a part of computer programs to perform tasks like cracking these visual passcodes... Amazon's Mechanical Turk is a commercialized version of this idea. There is a good write-up of it over on the Programmable Web blog.

So I logged on and tried it out. The current tasks are about linking a photo (taken with some sort of drive-by camera apparatus) to a business name and address. I did about 50 of these matches in half an hour, and they are valued at $0.03 per task. So if all of my tasks are "approved" I made $1.50 -- or about $3.00 an hour. While that is more than I make from doing this blog, it isn't going to pay the mortgage. On the other hand, $3.00 an hour is a princely sum for parts of the developing world -- although in its current form a grasp of English and familiarity with the web are a barrier to entry for the neediest of the unemployed.

All-in-all a fascinating experiment and an indicator of something I think we will see more of before we see less -- that is, humans becoming cogs in computer processing. Think about building an artificial intelligence made up of tens of thousands of people responding to the tasks put to the AI -- humans masquerading as computers masquerading as humans?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

OK I'm sold on Flock

This is a much better interface than the Blogger web interface! Google take note! But I wonder what happens for blogs that require a captcha as my IP Inferno blog now does... Off to try it!

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Test from Flock

My first attempt to use the Flock blogging tool was a failure... Flock completely hung on my machine. But the good folks at Flock have been releasing new versions every week, so here is a second attempt.

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Good Customer Service from VW

As readers of this blog know, I am in search of a diesel to replace my current car, so that I can start burning biofuel instead of oil based fuel. One of the best options is the VW TDI engine (turbo diesel injection) as this engine can burn biodiesel with no modifications. We already have one in the family that my partner Erika drives.

I wrote to VW asking if they planned to again sell the TDI as a new vehicle in California, starting next year when California allows passenger diesel's to be sold again. California stopped allowing them to be sold in 2001 in order to reduce the amount of high sulfer diesel fuel that was being used. 2006 is the cutover year for all diesel supplies to be low sulfer.

While wrong in some of the details, I thought VW's email reply was thoughtful (although probably canned) and gave me the feeling (rightly or wrongly) that there was a real human being on the other end of the conversation. This is so rare that I thought I'd share their response. By contrast I received NO reply from Mercedes Benz after a similar inquiry:

Thank you for inquiring to our Volkswagen website. The TDI engine option will not be available beginning with the 2001 model year in the state of California.

Although the TDI remains certified to meet California's tough minimum tailpipe emission standards, Volkswagen of America's decision was made to best ensure that California's corporate fleet average for emissions would be met. This complicated standard calls for all automakers to formulate and sell a predetermined mix of its models in order to meet a strict corporate fleet average for emissions.

The Volkswagen TDI engine is the cleanest passenger car diesel ever produced, emitting about 20 percent less CO2 than a comparable gas engine. Additionally, the TDI emits less CO and hydrocarbons than gas motors and because of its fuel's evaporative properties, it doesn't release harmful fumes into the air at the fuel pump. The TDI's remarkable fuel efficiency also helps us preserve our planet's finite supply of fossil fuel.

The TDI is certified to the tough minimum Tier 1 requirement - this is the stringent California standard for what is permitted from a car's tailpipe. The TDI could have been certified to even stricter requirements if not for NOX and particulate emissions, which are naturally higher in diesel engines because of their exceptional combustion efficiencies.

Volkswagen is confident these NOX levels can be lowered using new technology if the sulfur level in our nation's diesel fuel was reduced. For this very reason, Volkswagen and the other members of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers have advocated lower federal sulfur content standards in both diesel and gasoline fuels. It is a sad fact that the most technologically advanced country in the world uses the world's most sulfur-laden fuels.

We apologize for any disappointment and hope this information shares insight on our position. If we may be of further assistance, please respond to this e-mail. If you prefer to speak with a representative, you may contact the Volkswagen Information Center at 1-800-DRIVE-VW.

We certainly appreciate your interest in the Volkswagen brand and invite you to visit again in the future.


It looks like I will have to purchase a TDI from out of state, or get one used that someone else has already imported into California.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I Voted

I am happily wearing my "I Voted" sticker, having just returned from the polls. I was having a little trouble this morning explaining to my eight year old step-daughter why only 6.8 million people in California are expected to vote today. She was concerned that the lines would be very long at the polling station this morning. I said no, there would be no line (there wasn't). But how could I explain to her that only 6.8 million of 15.8 million registered voters were going to vote today? Or the even more bizarre (and sad) fact that this is considered a strong turnout?

While I don't advocate her solution to the problem ("I thought everyone HAD to vote!"), it sure would be nice if people like Arnold Schwarznegger, the pharmaceutical companies, the teacher's unions... would spend some of their $300 million on getting people to vote on whichever side of the issue, instead of just the partisan (and, to me, often misleading) issue oriented advertising.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Internet Operating System

In 2000 I joined Borland as the company's chief strategy officer. My job was to try and figure out what growth options were available to this venerable independent development tools vendor. During my first six months there I worked on a number of possible directions, ultimately settling for entering the market behind Rational as the number two provider of the system of record for software development organizations... its a long story. But what I was more excited about was something people were just staring to talk about -- an "Internet Operating System." Now in 2005, Google and Microsoft have both committed to this new vision, and perhaps eBay's purchase of Skype is an indicator that there will be at least one other company at the party...

I thought the Internet Operating System (IOS) was a good name for this next generation of the Internet, as it helps to get people thinking about it as a deployment platform. Think about what a disk operating system is (or became over the past 20 years) -- effectively a set of device drivers that perform three main tasks: input, output, and storage. On top of this you have layers of abstraction -- the mouse is one kind of input device, the keyboard another.

In the new Internet operating system, or what some people are calling the read-write web, there are similar input/output and storage mechanisms. Flickr is a particular storage mechanism for photos, for example. Shutterfly could be thought of as an output device.

The next generation of software developers will have this enormous sandbox called the Internet to build applications within, connecting all kinds of "devices" to each other in more and more interesting and powerful ways.

Now does the Ebay acquisition of Skype start to make sense?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Creative Commons Party

Last night I attended a party in San Francisco to celebrate and support Creative Commons and to welcome Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, to the board. The party was hosted by Chris Anderson, John Seely Brown, Dan Gillmor, Joi Ito, Brewster Kahle, Ellen Levy, and Mitch Kapor. It was great to get a chance to see and in most cases talk with all of these folks. The event was packed with the usual Silicon Valley suspects.

Mitch was talking up his latest project called FoxCloud which is not really ready for public beta until next week... but sneak in and take a look. It is a tool that synchronizes your Firefox bookmarks from machine to machine...

James Joaquin, founder of (sold to AOL) and Ofoto (sold to Kodak) was talking up the company he just joined as CEO -- XOOM -- which sounds like a great company. They are helping folks who would otherwise use Western Union to transfer money back to their families in foreign countries do so without the usurous fees... According to James Western Union will charge people as much as 25% to transfer their money. Xoom does it for about 5%...

Rob Labatt, ceo of ezboard was explaining how he is transforming that website into "community blogging" -- the closed trials of an entirely new version are about to open up on a GMail invitation-only basis in the next few weeks...

So many other people, what a great time! And a great cause. Now its time for you to click through to the Support Creative Commons page and donate money, or buy a t-shirt. As of now they have raised about $40,000 of the $225,000 they need to raise by the end of the year. Help them out!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What Separates the Sane from the Insane?

More research out this week demonstrating that the difference between those that our society judges to be sane and insane is optimism. Realists are the insane ones. Michael Parekh points to this article in the Wall Street Journal on the subject. A very wothwhile read:
"...brains have a remarkable talent for reframing suboptimal outcomes to see setbacks in the best possible light. You can see it when high-school seniors decide that colleges that rejected them really weren't much good, come to think of it."
I remember reading something a few years ago about a study of how individuals with mental illnesses view themselves, vs. how people in the general population view themselves. People with mental illnesses more often had a realistic view of themselves than "sane" people. Our sane citizens more often had unreasonably optimistic perspectives of themselves...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Passing the Turing Test

Back in September I linked to a very funny post by Jason Striegel about how he was encountering people randomly through IM and was having trouble convincing them that he was a real person. Here is the post by Jason again. Lately I have been thinking about this because I am increasingly encountering one version of the Turing test called Captcha.

You've probably seen these tests as well - an image that has certain letters in it which you must type in to prove that you are a human being. That is, for as long as computers can't do a good job analyzing these images and discovering the letters. Unfortunately, the Captcha project reports that this has already happened:
Thayananthan, Stenger, Torr, and Cipolla of the Cambridge vision group have written a program that can achieve 93% correct recognition rate against ez-gimpy, and Malik and Mori have matched their accuracy. Their programs represent siginifcant advancements to the field of computer vision.
But don't worry! The good folks at Captcha are hard at work on the next set of tests that will help separate the humans from the machines... Try out ESP-PIX for example, in which you have to evaluate four images and choose the best word to describe what the images have in common... Not only does it keep out the machines (for now) but it is also child-proof!

But there is an easier way to defeat these things. A number of people have already documented systems that parse out the problem of defeating a Captcha challenge to an eletronic sweatshop in India or China -- hundreds of people who go to work each day to sit there and defeat the Captcha challenges...

Why would anyone go to the trouble of having a room of people in India defeating Captcha? Unfortunately lots of reasons. The same reasons that companies like Google are now using Captcha on Blogger -- one example: if you can use computers to automatically generate web pages that link to your product, you can elevate the place that your prouduct shows up in results pages... ditto product rankings or the results of surveys... In factm Captcha got started because of an online poll about the best computer science school:
In November 1999, released an online poll asking which was the best graduate school in computer science (a dangerous question to ask over the web!). As is the case with most online polls, IP addresses of voters were recorded in order to prevent single users from voting more than once. However, students at Carnegie Mellon found a way to stuff the ballots using programs that voted for CMU thousands of times. CMU's score started growing rapidly. The next day, students at MIT wrote their own program and the poll became a contest between voting "bots". MIT finished with 21,156 votes, Carnegie Mellon with 21,032 and every other school with less than 1,000. Can the result of any online poll be trusted? Not unless the poll requires that only humans can vote.
So, where will this all end? Biometric challenges. It has to happen. How else will we be able to tell the machines apart from the people?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Worried About Climate

With Wilma the most powerful storm ever in the Atlantic, destruction of Cozumel and Cancun certain, and who knows what is to come in the US (one forecaster suggests snow and a powerful extratropical storm...) you have to worry a bit about climate change. And the latest issue of Scientific American has the rest of the story. Title: Climate Model Predicts Extreme Changes for the US.
"Climate change is going to be even more dramatic than we previously thought," says Noah Diffenbaugh, who reported his team's findings in the October 17 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ...Diffenbaugh's model predicts several events: the desert Southwest will have more frequent and intense heat waves, combined with less precipitation during the summer; the Gulf Coast will grow hotter and experience heavier rainfalls in short time periods; the Northeast will suffer under longer, hotter summers; overall, the continental U.S. will undergo a warming trend that will reduce the length of winter.
This isn't something that can be stopped. But it is something that we can be planning for - both as individuals and as a community. And we are not. That does have me worried.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Not Worried About Oil

For the past year my partner Erika has been driving a standard 2002 VW Golf on "biodiesel." It burns cleaner than gasoline (or diesel), emits fewer greenhouse gasses, and most importantly it does not come from the middle east, Venezuala, an alaskan wildlife refuge or offshore drilling rigs in California, Florida, and the Gulf. It comes from good old American soy beans.

Our government and media are doing a lousy job. We are constantly being scared by reports that oil reserves are running well behind consumption. This is an ECONOMIC problem, and NOT a science or natural resource problem. It is an economic problem for two reasons -- (a) we have an enormous infrastructure of gas burning products that would have to be converted to diesel and (b) the scale of production of biodiesel is, today, insufficient to get the some economies that gasoline production enjoys and thus the price per gallon of biodiesel is higher.

But during the recent price spike, the price of gasoline started to come close to the $3.50 per gallon price that we have been paying for biodiesel. And since most diesel engines get better gas mileage (20-40% according to Edmunds) than gasoline engines, the per mile price for most consumers would still be lower today.

So why all of the worry about the price of oil? With a concerted push by government and industry, we could start getting consumers and businesses to purchase diesel vehicles, and begin investing in biofuel manufacturing and distribution infrastructure. Over the next decade, as our national vehicle base naturally turns over, we would, as a nation, become increasingly less dependent upon foreign oil and eventually less dependent on oil altogether.

There are about 150 million passenger vehicles on the roads in North America today, and about 8 million new ones are purchased each year. This doesn't include figures for commercial vehicles which adds another 100 million vehicles, and another 6 million new vehicles purchased each year. Thus out of 250 million vehicles on the roads, we could be replacing 14 million, or 6% per year with biodiesel burning alternatives every year.

Gasoline accounts 2/3 of America's oil use according to the Department of Energy and represents 95% of our transportation energy use. For every 5 million biodiesel vehicles sold, we could reduce our dependence on oil for transportation by 2% and our overall dependence on oil by 1 1/3%. Add subsidies and incentive programs and the pace at which this conversion occurs could be significantly accelerated.

Biodiesel is no longer a strange topic to be left to hippies. It is a mainstream product, running in mainstream production vehicles. Adoption of biodiesel is an important step (although not the only one) in breaking the world's dependence on cheap oil to fuel our economies. I would rather see us burning hydrogen, but the technology and infrastructure for biodiesel is HERE TODAY.

My next car will be diesel. BIOdiesel.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Hurts Golf more than Wie

The disqualification of Michelle Wie this past Sunday has been widely reported as being bad news for Wie... but in my opinion this is much worse for the game of Golf.

According to reports, she dropped her ball about one foot too close to the hole, after a bad lie. Even the Sports Illustrated reporter who reported the infraction stated that he felt she had been "hasty" rather than feeling that she had in any way intended to "cheat."

If she had understood that the drop was closer to the hole, she should have added 2 strokes to her score (giving her 76 instead of 74). Her disqualification was for signing her score card without these two strokes.

Disqualify? Why not just add the two strokes, and re-determine the rankings based on her new score of 76? If all are in agreement that she did not intentionally cheat, that this was merely an error, why punish her in this way?

In my opinion, Professional Golf comes off as ridiculous in this dispute. After playing for days, to disqualify a player for a misjudgement that all would regard as difficult to be sure about, makes Golf look like a game for accountants, not for athletes. No offense to accountants intended.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

DARPA Grand Challenge

It looks as if the MDV sponsored Stanford Racing Team will win the DARPA Gran Challenge -- a desert race sponsored by the Defense Department to help develop autonomous vehicles. The Stanford vehicle finished the 132 mile course in 7 1/2 hours. Here is some terrific footage of the unmanned vehicles rolling by...

No winner has been declared yet because there are still two vehicles on the course. Start times were staggered, so there is a chance that one of these vehicles will still complete the race in a shorter time...

UPDATE: Stanford declared the winner, with a race time of 6 hours, 53 minutes. Dan posted a comment complaining that the video isn't "terrific" -- hey folks, remember these are driverless cars!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Fuel Cell Bus

Driving down to San Hill Road yesterday in my gas guzzling (25.6 mpg average) automobile, I saw an interesting freight item loaded on the back of a flat bed truck. An AC Transit bus emblazoned with the words ZERO EMISSIONS across the top. A handwritten note in the windshield read "FC Bus #3, Deliver to Oakland, CA." Today I found an article that appears on the "Fuel Cell Works" website, describing this amazing bus:
"When we integrate hybrid-electric components with fuel cell power, we get a vehicle that is quiet, fuel-efficient, and zero-emission," said Dave Mazaika, President and CEO of ISE. "We’ve taken this bus up to 70 miles per hour on the freeway, and in our testing phase, we have achieved twice the energy efficiency of diesel."
Here's a modest proposal -- when the current administration in Washington talks, as they did this morning, about "diversifying" away from the current high level of dependence upon the Gulf, instead of thinking about offshore wells on the California coast perhaps we should be working harder on developing a hydrogen economy.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

United Airlines is Evil

Wow. Just tried to log onto the United Mileage Plus membership site and received the following error:
We're sorry, but we're currently unable to provide access to the My Mileage Plus web site without a valid e-mail address in your online profile. In addition, you must have opted in to the category of Mileage Plus Communications within your profile e-mail selections.
That's right. You have to agree to be spammed by United if you want to access the Mileage Plus website. This has to be a new low.

Of course, maybe it is an error - part of their site not working properly... Here is a link to the "validation error" page...

United Airlines is Doomed...

Dear United Airlines, have you noticed that your customer prevention department is the only part of the company that seems to be operating at maximum efficiency? First of all, I think you should probably test your website on something other than Internet Explorer. At least I hope it works on IE! On Firefox, trying to navigate to different sections often results in an error that I have never seen before -- "Redirection limit for this URL exceeded. Unable to load the requested page."

Since your website doesn't work, I tried calling your 800 number. Well that was a mistake. You have a new "voice recognition" front end -- which is *ok* if your caller wants to do something simple. But you don't make it easy to get to a live operator. Of course, when I finally did get to a live operator, the person had (a) a very bad phone connection and (b) a very thick Indian accent and (c) DIDN'T HAVE ANY CLUE ABOUT HOW TO DO ANYTHING RELATED TO UNITED.

As a result I am a very frustrated and unhappy customer. I can't imagine that other people calling are having any better experience. Customer service on a budget is not impossible! CALL JET BLUE. They have it figured out. Even Southwest is a good experience. On the other hand, just go out of business already.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Silicon Valley Traffic

Traffic in Silicon Valley has been my barometer for the economy since the early 1990s. When times are good, the freeways on the Peninsula back up with commuters headed from San Francisco down to tech jobs stretching from Redwood Shores to Cupertino... During the bubble the traffic on 101 and 280 (and even 880) through Silicon Valley became horrific.

This morning, for the first time since 2000, headed southbound on 280 through Woodside, there was a backup... no accident, just tons of cars headed South to consumer Internet jobs... Now all we need as a final indicator is for every billboard on 101 to be purchased by a dot com...

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Party like its 1999: Bubble 2.0

The phrase "Bubble 2.0" is taking off at an incredible pace in the blogosphere. Accotding to a Google Search there are already over 70,000 references to the exact phrase "Bubble 2.0." Here is a typical one from Fred Wilson at Flat Iron Investments in New York City. Fred writes in part:
You went to a great party, had too good of a time, woke up with a terrible hangover, and promised yourself you wouldn't do that again.

Then the people who threw the party invite you to the next one.

What do you do? Go, of course.
I was at a dinner on Thursday night where the subject came up, and the number one question was, is it 1997? 98? or 99? In other words, how long will this bubble cycle go? With the recent IPO of WebMD (up 26% on their opening day) and others, I'd say 1998. The conditions are similar -- significant macroeconomic issues clouded the horizon (Russian currency collapse, the collapse of long term capital management, the asian economic crises...) and yet, in late 1998 with the IPO of an incredible bubble market was launched.

I think we are more likely in early 1998 -- broadbased market speculation in Internet issues is still a little ways off. Also this cycle will be different in a number of ways -- with a number of solid existing large Internet companies, more startups will be acquired rather than go public. Secondly, again because of those existing companies, there are comparables out there that will help value the market. On the other hand, the Internet has grown enormously in the past 7 years -- significantly more people are online, they are using the Internet for more things and for more time, their connections are faster...

I think the key trend to watch is the way in which Internet companies begin to invade rich media (radio, TV, film) industries. If the last decade was largely about how the Internet transformed the print industry, the next decade will be about rich digital content and transforming those industries. I suppose I should include voice and the telecommunications industry in that as well.

It should prove to be an exciting time once again

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

That's It!

I was sad to learn this morning that today is my last day with Orb Networks. It has been a fun ride since January trying to make this company a success. I will miss working with the team at Orb, but I wish them all the best of luck bringing this truly incredible technology to market.

Now on to a new challenge!

Monday, August 22, 2005

WVoIP It Is!

Longtime readers of this blog may remember my ranting a little over a year ago about the new acronym for Voice over IP on WiFi networks... Om Malik's "V oWLAN". One suggestion that no one made back then, but is really the most reasonable is WVoIP -- for Wireless VoIP... Along comes a new conference called WVoIP ("'s on the way, and it's poised to transform the landscape..."). I'm not sure what all the fuss is about anyway. I've been using Skype from my WiFi connected laptop all during the last year... But at least we have a reasonable acronym now.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

2 New Downloads from Orb Networks

VoiceMail for Skype (V4S) and a photo screensaver -- demonstrating the power of the Orb API...

V4S, the Skype download, is quite clever -- install on the same computer you run Orb and Skype on. When you receive a call that you cannot answer, V4S picks up the call for you, plays your greeting, and records the incoming caller's message. This audio file is then stored in a special folder accessible via Orb and you can set the program to notify you of a new call... so you are out running errands and an SMS message beeps on your phone alerting you of a new voicemail. You can then launch your mobile browser, go to Orb, and listen to your Skype voicemail on your handset!

The photo screensaver also shows off how powerful Orb is for moving your personal media around. Install the screensaver on any Windows machine and you can access a shared folder from your home Orb machine. Here is how I use this feature -- grandma always wants to see the latest photos of her granddaughter. I gave her the screensaver and now I can update the photos (just by adding them to the shared folder on my home machine) and they auto-magically show up on my mother's screen!

Get both of these new downloads from

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Orb as Platform

Today marks an important day in the history of Orb Networks. Today we expose to 3rd party developers the platform that Orb is based upon. I wrote about it on my Orb Blog.

There is a new thing happening on the web today. Companies that are promoting specific application functionality are finding that users are taking that functionality and doing entirely new and unexpected things... Google maps is a great example. Flickr is another. To a lesser extent, Paypal and others have provided at least minimal interfaces to a portion of what their products can do. All of these APIs mean that a developer can much more rapidly build interesting web applications that have robust functionality built right in.

But Orb takes this one step further. One of the developer's challenges is still having to host an application somewhere on the Internet to make it accessible to users. Orb makes the user's own home machine into the server. So a developer can build an application and deploy it directly to the consumer -- then Orb makes that application web-accessible from any device.

In the first phase the API is all about personal access to content or applications. But in the second phase (later this year) we will also start exposing a collaborative framework... developers will be able to leverage all of the functionality of orb to build mobile collaborative applications and deploy them to the marketplace through P2P infrastucture. This is what Web 2.0 is all about.

Monday, June 27, 2005

$200 Billion toward a hydrogen economy

As the total cost of the Iraq war approaches $200 Billion, it is sobering to think about what else this money might have purchases for the US.

For example, with about 200,000 gas stations around the US, this is $1 million per gas station. Wouldn't that have been enough to install hydrogen refueling equipment at every gas station in the country? Now that BMW and others have announced cars that can run on hydrogen or gas aren't we just waiting for the production and distribution infrastructure? $200 billion could have solved that problem.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Pot vs. Crack

Maybe it will turn out to be true. Maybe, as the Feds allege, the folks running medicinal pot facilities in San Francisco were really fronts for organized crime.

But on the other hand it might just be an excuse for the Feds to spend time arresting 61-year-old Iris Lai Hung Tam, of San Bruno, who is likely to put up a lot less of a fight then gun-toting gang members in Richmond.

The government is focused on cracking down on aging hippies with terminal diseases trying to smoke pot in the privacy of their own homes while drive by shootings and drug related gang activity have made Richmond one of the most dangerous cities in the country.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

2005 SDForum Visionary Awards

As some may recall, I posted an entry last year after attending the 2004 SDForum Visionary Awards. Last year I was very impressed with the event, the awardees, and the speeches.

Last night I attended the 2005 version of this annual event which was again hosted by Heidi Roizen at her Atherton home. While the party was just as nice, and the hostess just as gracious, I have to say that I was dissapointed by the awardees and by their speeches.

Last year awards were given to four individuals who truly oversaw the creation of each of their respective companies. John Chambers of Cisco, Craig Barret of Intel, Scott Cook of Intuit and even Marc Benioff of Salesforce are all amazing entrepreneurs well deserving of the SDForum Visionary award.

While this year's honorees were all interesting valley players, only Carol Bartz of Autodesk could really claim to have built her company and even Carol joined Autodesk after it was a public company and already had $285 million in revenue. On an inflation adjusted basis that is almost $400 million in today's dollars. With $1.2 billion in revenue this year, that means that Carol merely tripled her company's revenue in 13 years. Nothing compared to the growth of Cisco, Intel, and Intuit.

And the other winners? Bill Draper (a venture capitalist), Carly Fiorina, and Ray Ozzie. Of these three, perhaps you could say that Ray Ozzie is deserving of the award -- certainly he is a visionary, although of a technology rather than entrepreneurial variety.

But the more dissapointing aspect of this year's awards was the speeched themselves. Sure, it was funny to hear Scott McNeally's story about firing Sun's VP of Marketing just to keep Carol Bartz from quitting. It was hilarious to have the very carefully worded introduction of Carly Fiorina by legal eagle Larry Sonsini. But nowhere this year did we hear the rousing call to action from the Silicon Valley community to be bigger than ourselves -- to focus on the world's problems not just on our techology and profits.

I left last year's event feeling inspired and wanting to do more for my country and my fellow man. I left this year's event feeling full of good food and interesting ideas -- but far from inspired.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Air travel SUCKS

So I flew out from California to Kansas today -- meeting with Sprint tomorrow and Thursday (Orb Networks' latest partner) -- and I am reminded of how truly terrible air travel has become. Flew on United from San Francisco to Denver, and then switched planes to fly from Denver to Kansas. All they fed us was peanuts -- 6 hours of travel and all we got was peanuts.

But the funniest/saddest moment was when I got up to see what kind of magazines they had on board. Nothing. I said to the flight attendent "kind of slim on the magazines today!" She replied with a bitter tone, "we are BANKRUPT you know."

OK, so its been awhile since I have done any business travel. But this is crazy. Why are business travellers putting up with this?

As a side note, its GREAT to be able to write in my blog that I am out in Kansas meeting with our partner Sprint. Back when I worked for Borland (public company) I could never write in my blog where I actually was and who I was actually meeting with. SEC regulation FD and all that...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Cokie Roberts on Ted Koppel

I was listening to the radio last night (the actual radio, not Orb Media...) and NPR had a program from the World Affairs Council where they interviewed Cokie Roberts. She is an interesting person, having had a long career at NPR in addition to her ABC career. But I found it especially interesting to hear her talk about Ted Koppel's decision to leave Nightline -- because of the attitude she displayed about how the broadcast industry thinks.

She said "I don't know what the networks have decided to do with the time slot," speaking of the likelihood that Nightline would be cancelled. When asked what viewers who enjoy programs like Nightline can do, she said something about how "we now have minute by minute polls that show that people click away when a TV program covers issues outside the US..."

This is the fundamental problem with the broadcast industry. Because it has to think in terms of "time slots" it worries about how to build the biggest (and/or most valuable) audience in any given slot. Thus if you can get a bigger audience share for mud wrestling, international news goes out the window.

I believe that we are on the cusp though of a monumental change in media. Just as the print media has been radically transformed over the past decade by the Internet, the broadcast industry wil be transformed over the next one. Web news sites and blogs have been the dominant forces changing print media. It will be interesting to see whether Orb Networks (where I work) will provide the model for the change in the broadcast industry.

But whatever the vehicle is, I believe that consumers will make a fundamental shift in their viewing pattern -- from asking "which channel should I watch" to asking "which SHOW should I watch" and that they will increasingly want to watch that show when, where, and how they want. While it may mean that more people watch mud wrestling (because it will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) it also means that those of us interested in international news will have access to thoughtful programs on the subject.

And this will be a boon to producers of content because they will have access to an audience of faithful viewers who can be counted and analyzed and monetized independent of a "time slot" in a broadcast schedule.

A new renaissance for "broadcast" media is upon us.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Om Follow Up

Om posted a nice item on his blog titled Orb dials-up Sprint and with this we are back in communication. It seems that he wasn't getting my emails for some reason. We have agreed to get together soon to update him on Orb Networks, which I am looking forward to as there are a number of things to talk about....

5 million local telephone customers being marketed to by Sprint for one, not just the 500,000 DSL customers. And our distribution agreement with ADS, also announced today... and some interesting upcoming announcements.

I also agree with Om's observation about place-shifting becoming an important technology for a lot of different kinds of players -- cable companies, CE companies, content companies... but will they all have the right mix of technologies and services? In addition to the market traction that Orb is getting, we have an interesting take on what the media portal of the future will look like... not necessarily a vision that is absolutely unique -- but rare in that it is grounded by what customers actually want, not by entrenched business interests.

DRM and Exotic Inefficiencies

Very interesting reading over on Curt Van Inwegen's blog on DRM and Exotic Inefficiences, a term Curt picked up from Moneyball. Here is a short excerpt from Curt's post
After a long business trip across the country this week ruminating on some of the discussions Orb Networks is having with various partner prospects, my laptop ran out of batteries and frankly I just needed a book to read on the way home. Without thinking about any correlation to Orb, I picked up Moneyball, a fantastic book by Michael Lewis, where I came across the term “exotic inefficiencies.” The essence of the book is how the Oakland A’s, one of the “poorest” teams in baseball manage to win so many games in contrast to the rest of the league, who have sky-high payrolls and, so it is assumed, the best players. But against the prevailing wisdom, the A’s keep winning.

As I got deeper into the book, the similarities to Orb and our own conversations with both technology and content distribution partners was stunning...
More on Curt's blog...

Sprint and Orb

I finally get a chance to shoot back at Om Malik who has some reason to promote Avvenu and wrote about the two of us recently.

In his article, Om states that Avvenu is "a polar opposite" of Orb Networks in that Avvenu is partnering with big companies, and Orb is not. Well, today we announced our partnership with Sprint so that should change the way that Om thinks about us... of course he hasn't responded to my emails and hasn't agreed to talk to us -- though he has met with the Avvenu team... ?? (CORRECTION -- OM Just Answered my email...)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

LA - Why do people live there

Just got back from a vacation to Joshua Tree with the family. The desert was wonderful. Still some spring flowers blooming, nice cool days to hike... But we flew in and out of LA which was a mistake. The traffic, the smog, the craziness... The kids loved going to the entertainment museum and walk of stars (we stopped for one night in LA) but for the adults it was a huge chore. Its hard to understand why people put up with that traffic every day! I guess they get used to it, just as I have gotten used to our milder (but still bad) traffic in the bay area. But the smog?? Perhaps it was just a bad day or two when we were going out and coming back in... but LA is looking more and more like Mexico City. You can hardly see anything anymore -- you don't notice the tall buildings in downtown or the mountains until you are right on top of them. Why don't people who live there do something about this?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Ted is 39

Today is my birthday. Today around 8:00 PM (the time I was born) I will begin my 40th year on this planet. 40 years. That's the longest assignment I've ever taken! But this planet seems to be OK in most regards, so I don't mind sticking around for another enlistment term...

I told my daughter (now 1 1/2) this morning that it was my birthday and that I was now 39. I said "Can you imagine being that old? 39?" She said "yeah." Ahh youth. Of course she often says "yeah or nah" seemingly at random... so who knows what she thought I asked her.

Yesterday at dinner time I asked if she wanted some Indian food, she said "yeah." I said, do you want it to be really spicy, she said "yeah." I said, do you want it to be so hot it burns the roof of your mouth off, she said "yeah." I think she trusts me too much.

Every year on my birthday I try to think about resolutions for the year ahead. Birthday resolutions ARE "new year's resolution" -- MY new year... Last year my resolutions included spending more time with my family, writing more, and continuing to lose weight and get in shape. I am happy to say I have achieved all three goals. Now I have to think about what I can do this coming year...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

New Orb Blog

Rather than continue to fill this blog with Orb related news, we will now return to our regular scheduled programming, and direct you to the new OrbCasting blog for news about Orb by a range of folks from the company...

Monday, April 04, 2005

Orb International

One week ago we announced that Orb Media would be free and it has been a tremendous week of activity for us. Tomorrow we announce that Orb is available internationally! Most of the great Orb features will work everywhere in the world -- streaming video, streaming audio, photos. The only thing that is still US-centric is live TV -- because we have to license the TV guide in each country and it takes us awhile to find someone to license the data to us and then to integrate it into the user interface... But in the meantime everything else works, whether you are in Singapore, Baghdad, Rome, or anywhere else...

And tomorrow we will unveil our first foreign language UI -- gives you the entire Orb interface in French! Any user can go to this URL instead of and see their personal media world with a French accent. Japanese is next, later in April...

There are a lot more exciting changes ahead to support the international flavor. For example, we are working to expand the Internet TV and Radio listings sections to include content from all over the world. So I can't wait to hear from all of you outside the U.S. that are trying Orb.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Orb is FREE

As of today, Orb is free.

Our philosophy is simple -- if you own it, either because you created it or because you have already paid for it, then you should be able to enjoy it anywhere, anytime, on any device. Orb makes it possible.

When we announced Orb at CES, we told the world that it would cost $9.95 per month. We were worried about the bandwidth requirements on our servers to host the service, the support requirements for our users, and we were unsure of the revenue models beyond subscription.

Today, many thousands of users later, I am happy to say that we have put all of these fears to rest and can now offer the core Orb service for free.

Yes, there will be advertising in the future -- but we know that this must be done the google way -- advertising that is unobtrusive and adds value without inhibiting the core use of the service. And more importantly there will be content subscriptions coming soon -- all kinds of new content that you can purchase through Orb...

But even if you never click on an advertisement and never purchase content, our core philosophy will guarantee you free access to your own TV, your own videos, your own audio, and your own photos... anytime, anyplace, any device.

Save Biodiesel in Berkeley

I have just emailed mayor Tom Bates and I urge you to do so as well. The City of Berkeley is considering abandoning its leadership in utilizing 100% biofuel for its fleet of diesel vehicles. Here is the call to action from Berkeley's Ecology Center:

The Ecology Center, Berkeley Biodiesel Collective, and BioFuel Oasis urge you to email and/or call the Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and tell him that the city should continue to run their vehicles on 100% biodiesel (B100).

The City of Berkeley has been running it's vehicles on 100% biodiesel (B100) for 1-2 years. They have recently switched to B20 (20% biodiesel, 80% diesel). There was an article in the Daily Planet that blamed it on the quality of fuel they were getting. On closer examination, we believe that it's not the quality of the fuel, but that the city hasn't always done the proper maintenance on their storage tanks and on their vehicles to run biodiesel. Plus, a key proponent of biodiesel in the Public Works Dept. retired, so there is not the support there to take the precautions and maintenance around running an alternative fuel (biodiesel is probably the easiest alternative fuel compared to CNG, electric, etc.).

The Ecology Center recycling trucks and the City of Berkeley vehicles have pioneered the use of 100% biodiesel (B100) and have won awards for it. The rest of the country looks to them for advice and the lead. We need to keep them on B100, the only petroleum-free, renewable vehicle fuel, so others will continue to follow.

Please email and/or call the mayor of Berkeley and your councilperson. Include your address if you live in Berkeley.

Mayor Tom Bates
(510) 981-7100

Thank you for your help!

Here's some points from the Ecology Center about how using biodiesel fuel benefits all of us:

o Using biodiesel in place of petroleum diesel helps prevent
asthma. Studies have shown that emissions from petroleum diesel are
among the leading contributors to asthma. Children living along
transit lines, such as the I-80 corridor, experience increased rates
of asthma and respiratory illness. The City's heavy trucks use main
arteries, such as Sacramento St, San Pablo Avenue, University, and
Gilman. The effects of exhaust have a disproportionate effect on
lower income neighborhoods where asthma rates are highest.

o A report issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council
showed that a child riding inside of a diesel school bus may be
exposed to as much as 4 times the level of toxic diesel exhaust as
someone standing or riding beside it. Our kids deserve cleaner air.
Let's keep our buses running on clean burning biodiesel. (For the
full report, go to .)

o Recently, the City of Berkeley passed a resolution to endorse
the Kyoto protocol and to do its part to reduce greenhouse emissions.
Because it's made from renewable plant sources, biodiesel fuel
reduces greenhouse-causing gases like no other fuel. Let's continue
to be a model for other cities to follow.

o Biodiesel contains 80-90% fewer carcinogens than are found in
petroleum diesel, and virtually eliminates sulfur emissions that
contribute to acid rain.

o Domestic biodiesel reduces U.S. dependence on highly
polluting oil products, environmentally destructive oil drilling, and
wars and interventions involving the world oil market.

o In 2004, the EPA recognized the City of Berkeley for
Outstanding Environmental Achievement for its adoption of biodiesel.
It's important that Berkeley continue this award winning program.

BioFuel Oasis
A Worker-Owned Cooperative
2465 4th St
Berkeley, CA 94710
510 665 5509

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Orb Update

Step one launched today -- a brand new user interface experience for Orb users. Beautiful, functional... a huge improvement... Of course you can only see it if yuo go and load Orb on your home machine (running windows XP) from the Orb website. More majore changes to Orb coming soon!! :-)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Orb absorbing all free time...

Is Orb a blackhole? Scientists and Ted's family members are seeking answers as the Orb continues to suck up everything in it's path...

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Now YOU do it

It was nice to be recognized yesterday by Jerry Brown for helping him get started on his blog. But it is more important to recognize a truth in this that Margaret Meade put so well:
A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
I am just an ordinary citizen. I didn't know Jerry Brown before I emailed him back in December. But a little persistence on my part, and a willingness to listen on his part has launched a grand new experiment -- the mayor of a large American city, creating a direct channel for communication with the networked electorate. Politics and Government can be changed, for the better.

Now its your turn. Pick a local or statewide politician in your area. Contact him or her and do what I did -- say, I'm just a local citizen that happens to be a part of your electorate, and I think you should have a blog. Create more transparency in government. Connect with us as voters and citizens and let us know who you really are and what you believe. Don't be a press release, be a person.

In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Brown commented to interviewers Matier and Ross:
"As an old talk-show host, I've had some experience in unrehearsed dialogue," said Brown, who hosted a daily program on the Pacifica network in the 1990s. Blogging, he said, is "the logical next step."
As with talk-shows, blogs can be insipid and boring at their worst but insightful and even profound at their best. But the most important thing about both is that they remove all of the middlemen -- the PR handlers, the aides and advisors, and the journalists and editors. These mediums provide an opportunity for the true voice of the individual to be heard clearly. As with the advent of television, this new kind of access to elected officials and candidates will have a tremendous impact on how we think about politics and politicians. Instead of reducing the race to a competition on how witty, attractive, or smooth a candidate might be, hopefully blogging politicians will help surface real issues, opinions, biases, and attitudes. And hopefully it will get us all more involved in our democracy.