Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Yesterday, the police in Lincoln, Nebraska ticketed Melissa Harrington for public nudity. The catch? They ticketed her based on nude photos from her Web site, not based on any complaints.

Just how did the police run across those photos? Police spokesmen were silent on the subject.

Harrington has sworn to fight the charges, and is accepting donations to her legal defense fund. Where's the ACLU when you need them?

Monday, December 29, 2003

Happy Holidays from the NBA

Lang Whitaker at Slam Online has compiled a list of the top NBA quotes from the first half of 2003. For those of you who are too lazy to check out the actual article, here is a sampling of my favorites:

"When I hit it I heard the crowd going crazy and I was like, 'Wow, that was a sweet jumper, they must have liked that one.' I had no clue." -- Matt Harpring, on receiving a pass from Mark Jackson and making the jumper that gave Jackson his 10,000th career assist.

"That didn't bother me. I am not going to worry about a guy trying to be tough with a pink tie on." -- Ben Wallace, on the injured Marcus Fizer acting like he was going to come off the Bulls bench and fight.

"To make that type of analogy actually just shows stupidity. You've got to realize, this is the same guy who said he wanted to play in Madison Square Garden because of the aroma. He meant 'aura' but he said 'aroma.' So you've got to put everything in perspective." -- Flip Saunders, on Stephon Marbury saying that Amare Stoudemire is better than Kevin Garnett.

"We try to treat the road like it's a home game. We ain't got no fans at home, neither." -- Dion Glover, on the Hawks.

"I kind of knew Cleveland was going to get the No. 1 pick. I think they rigged it. No, don't quote me on that." -- Carmelo Anthony.

"Sometimes I look like I was under interrogation. Some people just don't look good in clothes. In New York, Armani and all those clothing people used to call me up and tried to pay me not to wear their clothes. This is as good as it's going to get...and then it's all downhill. I'll be fine. I never feel as bad as I look." -- Jeff Van Gundy.

"I would tell any free agent not to sign with them because you can't trust anyone in upper management. If you're in the room with them and you plan to walk out, you better face them backing out so you won't get stabbed in the back." -- Bimbo Coles, on the Cavaliers organization.

"The best day of my life was when I turned 25. That's the day my car insurance went down. Yeah, boy, I saved $1,200 that day." -- Stephen Jackson.

Then of course, there are the ever popular Ron Artest and Charles Barkley quotes:

"I've never taken medication (to control moods) in my life. Doctors have suggested it and I say, 'OK, give it to me.' But I throw it in the garbage immediately." -- Ron Artest.

"They better not put me in the All-Star Game. I won't shoot, but I'll dominate that easy game. I'll be playing hard defense. I'll be foulin'. I'll be flagrant fouling. Everyone will be like, 'What are you doing?'" -- Ron Artest.

"I saw Charles Manson do an interview once and he sounded normal too...Ron Artest has cost that team homecourt advantage." -- Barkley.

"I never said that San Antonio had all these fat women. That has been bothering me. All these women who think I said they were fat, I apologize. Then when I go to Dallas people tell me that I have nothing good to say about Dallas. First of all I think Dallas has a good team. I feel bad they think that. You think LA has the best-looking women in the crowd... they do, but they are not real ... they are made out of plastic. For normal women, who have their own God given bodies, Dallas has the best looking women in the NBA. Unfortunately, I am not going to get to see anymore of them in Dallas." -- Barkley.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Sometimes The Headline Says It All

"Cats Try to Eat Incapacitated Owner

LOS ANGELES - A group of hungry cats began to eat their 86-year-old owner after she suffered an apparent stroke and couldn't get up for nearly a week, officials said Thursday.

'The cats were trying to survive in the conditions that they were in, faced with the outcome they had. They did what they had to do to survive,' animal control Officer Ernesto Poblano told KABC-TV. 'The cats were all emaciated, very, very emaciated.'

The cats, apparently without food for that time, also tried to eat Lowrie's small dog, said Jackie David, a spokeswoman for the city Animal Services Department."

Thursday, December 18, 2003

The Terminator Will Strike From Above

Over the past few days, Albert and I have been discussing the eventual destruction of mankind. It seems pretty clear that the rapid advance of technology will eventually lead to machines that are more intelligent and more powerful than man. We can hope that our creations will be more merciful, but I wouldn't bet my bottom dollar on it.

The Economist ran a special article on the future of flight--too bad it reads like the end of mankind. Here are some excerpts:

"According to a UAV road map from America's Department of Defence, by 2012 UAVs the size of F-16 fighter aircraft are likely to exist. These will be capable of many combat and support missions, including the suppression of enemy air defences and electronic attacks on enemy sensors."

"By 2015-2020, as onboard processing power begins to take off, UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] are expected to start thinking for themselves. This could lead ultimately to completely autonomous UAVs and swarms of UAVs that talk to one another and operate as a single unit."

So, by 2020, we'll have swarms of flying combat robots the size of F-16s, heavily armed, operating in packs. Does any of this seem like a bad idea to you?

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Quantity Has A Quality All Its Own

How's this for meta? The following is a quote of Tim Oren quoting Kevin Kelly quoting Bayles and Orland.

"The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot -albeit a perfect one - to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."

I've always subscribed the Law of Quantity over Quality. When I was a design student at Stanford University, I always marveled at the easy confidence of my fellow art students. I had no instincts or feel for art whatsoever. All I could do is compensate with volume and filtering. In photo class, we were told to shoot at least 20 rolls of film (720 photos) to generate our final portfolio. I once shot 20 rolls in 48 hours. It was not a coincidence that I got an A in the class.

Friday, December 12, 2003

In Praise of Mediocrity

The title of the article says it all: Young Success Means Early Death.

Apparently, even after correcting for every other statistical factor, politicians, Nobel laureates, and popes who achieved their success earlier in life tended to die at a younger age.

"Those who climb to the loftiest peaks in the shortest time also die younger. For the eminent, and perhaps for all, an early rise may lead to an early fall."

In my youth, I always ascribed to the faster is better theory, and felt a bit chagrined that it took me until I was 19 to graduate from college (when other friends I knew were already in medical school by that time). Now I realize I should be thankful for my relative lack of early achievement!
Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!

Why does it not surprise me that Santa Cruz is the site of the trial of this wacky idea?

The best part is that investors have already ponied up $2 million. And Homer Simpson will drive the cars.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

The Cylons Are Coming

Though I am reluctant to admit it, I was a big fan of the original Battlestar Galactica in all of its cheez-tastic splendor (Lorne Green! Dirk Benedict! The Cylons who appeared to be the evolutionary descendants of KITT from Knight Rider!). I can actually name specific episodes, like "The Guns of Ice Planet Zero," and remember specific plotlines ("Watch out, it's the Lupus!").

Like many fans, I was a bit worried about the buzz from the new Battlestar Galactica miniseries. Starbuck a woman? Cylons that look like humans?

After watching several hours of action, I can say three things:

1. The new miniseries is almost, but not entirely unfaithful to the original.
2. Despite some slow pacing, the miniseries is much better than the original.
3. Edward James Olmos is outstanding in the lead role.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The Internet and the UN

God help us all, the UN wants to get involved in governing the Internet.
Making Social Networking Work

The key to understanding the social networking phenomenon is realizing that it's really two separate areas. The first area is growing your network. Sites like Friendster place their emphasis on letting you find new friends (although the focus is ostensibly on friends of friends). The second are is leveraging your existing network. Sites like LinkedIn emphasize facilitating information transactions within your existing network.

While Friendster has gotten most of the attention to date, I've become more and more impressed with LinkedIn. Just today, LinkedIn sent me an email announcing the feature I've been screaming about for months: The ability to import your Outlook Contacts to find out which of your contacts are already on LinkedIn. I immediately imported my 1,000+ Contacts, and discovered that about 50 were already on LinkedIn--not bad, considering I had fewer than 30 connections at the beginning of the day.

Plus, with LinkedIn's case-by-case control over making and forwarding requests, it manages to overcome the queasiness that I might feel about sharing my contact list.

I still think that LinkedIn should display Level 1 contacts (friends-of-friends), but they're already making themselves fairly useful. Who knows, in a couple of years, I might even pay for it!

Monday, December 08, 2003

Beating The (Cell Phone) Numbers

About a month ago, I surveyed the various wireless carriers. You see, I knew that number portability was coming on 11/24, and I intended to be ready.

After checking around, I found that T-Mobile offered more minutes at half the cost of AT&T Wireless (my old carrier). As a bonus, while AT&T's coverage is generally better than T-Mobile's, T-Mobile actually worked within my house (I had signed up with AT&T before I moved into my house...and of course I didn't want to give up my phone number).

On November 24, I signed up for T-Mobile and applied to have my number ported. I was told that the port would occur within 4-48 hours. Until then, I'd have to carry around two cell phones--my AT&T phone, and my T-Mobile phone. I figured, what the hey, it's just for one, two days, tops.

A week later, the switch still hadn't happened. And I wasn't alone!

Fortunately, the FCC demanded that AT&T explain their problems by 12/10. Oddly enough, today, my switchover finally happened.

The moral of the story is that you can't fight consumer choice. More are more, companies will have to count on better service, rather than proprietary lock-in, to retain their customers. This is a lesson that AT&T Wireless will soon learn, much to its regret.

Friday, December 05, 2003

I Can Shoot Lefty And Righty--I'm Amphibious

In the grand tradition of Yogi Berra ("It's like deja vu all over again") and Mike Tyson ("I'm going to fade into Bolivian," may we present Indiana Pacers All-Star Jermaine O'Neal:

"We're definitely like a high-school sorority and I'm saying 'sorority' because we didn't go to college." -- Jermaine O'Neal, on the fraternity of NBA players that went pro straight from high school.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Size Doesn't Matter

Scientists find 425-million-year-old penis:
The penis of an ostracod can be as much as a third of the size of its entire body, scientists said.
Always Be Closing

Jeffrey Nolan at SAP Ventures has a great little piece on how the rules for building a sales team are totally different than those for any other function.

Here's a sample:

"Never hire a sales account exec who doesn't ask you about the comp plan 5 minutes into the first interview."
Go Fish

Despite having the Terminator as our governor, California continues to express a Luddite attitude towards genetic engineering. California just became the first state to ban the sale of transgenic fish as pets.

GloFish were originally developed to help detect waterborne pollutants, but have found a much more lucrative niche as pets. These zebrafish have extra genes from sea anemones to give them their fluorescent glow.

To those who say that tampering with nature are wrong, I cite Blinky, the three-eyed superfish from The Simpsons.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

What's the Buzz

Someone asked me the other day how I know what's the buzz. Call it buzz, call it hype, call it momentum, but there is something very powerful that occurs when our "animal spirits" cause us to get excited about something.

In the old days, I'd look to publications like Red Herring and The Industry Standard to help identify the buzz. Of course, they're all gone now, but the rise of the blogs has more than compensated. Here is my list of "hot" links that help me stay on top of the latest buzz:


Friday, November 28, 2003

The Hot New Diet

I just discovered the hot new diet for the holidays. Just get a terrible sore throat that prevents you from eating solid food!

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Farewell, Gene Kleiner

Silicon Valley lost another of its quiet titans last week, when Gene Kleiner passed away. Kleiner led the famous "traitorous eight" who fled Shockley Semiconductor and effectively started the semiconductor industry, then founded with Tom Perkins the eponymous venture capital giant that still bears their names.

We live in perilous times for Silicon Valley--post-bubble pessimism and the threat of outsourcing cast a pall over the optimism that has made the Valley the world's greatest engine for technological and economic growth. Losing the gentle wisdom of wise men like Bill Hewlett, David Packard, and Gene Kleiner makes the challenges that face us even greater.

I heartily encourage all of you to take some time and consider the lessons we can learn from the history of the Valley, and to thank those that came before us.

Monday, November 24, 2003

And It Couldn't Have Happened To A Nicer Guy

I'm sick as a dog, so no length commentary. Some stories don't need it. This one, about a KKK initiation gone wrong, is one of them.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Even More Social Networking Funding News

This just in from the Merc--Tribe.net raises $6.3 million from Mayfield. Still, it's not as bad as 1999. Back then, they would have invested $63 million in the first round!
Bad Idea Jeans

I'm an idea man, as Michael Keaton said in Night Shift. I love to come up with ideas and observations. The problem is, who has the time to work on their ideas?

That's where WhyNot comes in. This nifty little site lets you post your wacky ideas and get feedback on them. Who knows, maybe someone will actually take me up on my IM-English book translations!

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The Incredible Shrinking Paycheck

The Department of Labor reports that the in Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley, the average salary fell 17% from $76,300 in 2000 to $63,000 in 2002.

Meanwhile, the median home price in Santa Clara County fell 11% from $520,000 in 2000 to $462,000.

According to the U.S. government, a good rule of thumb is that you can afford to spend 2.5 times your gross annual income on your house. You think there might be a housing bubble?

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

What Money Can Buy

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "The very rich are different from you and I."

"Yes," replied Hemingway, "they have more money."

I've noticed that the rich are different, not just because they have more money, but because they have more money.

Most of us live a sad existence working for The Man for one simple reason: we need the money. When we face the Dilbertian absurdity and unfairness of The Office, we don't stand up for ourselves and say what we really think because however unpleasant our cubicle might seem, it's better than huddling over a sewer grate for warmth.

The rich, on the other hand, don't need to swallow their pride and eat the excretions of their managers. Just look at the behavior of the well-off: Paris Hilton, Dennis Rodman, Mark Cuban--they do what they want, when they want, and don't give a damn what other people think.

Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy freedom.
The Imaginary Currency Exchange

It had to happen. Some enterprising entrepreneurs have created an online exchange for trading the currencies of virtual worlds like Ultima Online gold, There.com therebucks, and The Sims Online simoleons. My personal opinion is that almost anything associated with virtual worlds is a good long-term play--the question is whether or not you can afford to wait for the market to develop.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Avatars on Strike

Here's a fascinating article by Ted Castronova on the latest problem to hit EverQuest: labor troubles.

It seems that the Warrior class feels that the rules are stacked against them. To protest, the Warriors planned a mass protest in which all of the players would log in at the same time and air their grievances, bringing the world to a virtual halt.

In response to this threat, EverQuest's community manager announced that Sony would overhaul EverQuest's combat system to respond to the Warriors' complaints. As of right now, the Warriors are waiting to review the changes before they execute their protest plan.

Viva la revolucion!

Monday, November 17, 2003

Religious Spam

Here's a new one: today, I received my first religious spam:

"Where are you spending your ertinity? [sic]
Call a prayer hotline or visit a local church as soon as possible."

I guess when you weigh the cost of spam against the value of your immortal soul, the ROI looks even better for religious spammers than the average Nigerian emailer.

Do you think we could convince the Pope to add "Thou shalt not spam" as the 11th Commandment?

Friday, November 14, 2003

God Bless Rupert Murdoch

Rupert and his empire continue to push the boundaries of sleazy sensationalism. Sky TV created a reality TV show, "There's Something About Miriam," in which seven single men, including a Marine commando, a ski-instructor, and a lifeguard, vie for the affections of Miriam, a hottie that the men collectively select from a lineup.

The twist, naturally, is that after weeks of filming, complete with kissing and fondling, Miriam chooses the lucky bachelor, then lifts her skirt to reveal that she is a pre-surgical transsexual. Or, to quote Austin Powers, "She's a man, baby."

The men, who were quite upset, are suing to prevent the show from being aired. Rupert's lawyers point out that they never referred to Miriam as a woman, and thus the contestants don't have a case.

Heck, I wouldn't put it past the Murdoch organization to turn the case into a second reality television show!

Thursday, November 13, 2003

The Naked Dick

In the tradition of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (two great things that go great together), I had a great money-making idea for a morally liberal novelist:

Write a detective series where the protagonist is an adult film star.

We already have every variety of amateur detective, from mystery novelist to Elvis, so why not a porn star?

It's a natural. Take one mystery novel, add generous helpings of gratuitous sexual content, and start minting money. And think of the movie rights!

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

With Friends Like These...

Back in the ancient days of, oh, January of this year, friends Jonathan Abrams, Mark Pincus, and Reid Hoffman met to carve up the social networking space. Like Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill, they agreed upon spheres of influence: Friendster for dating, Tribe for classifieds, and LinkedIn for business networking.

Just like the original Yalta conference, that agreement seems to be crumbling.

Does that make Jonathan Stalin or Roosevelt?

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Power, Money, Influence, and Celebrity

I believe that these are the four basic food groups of ambition. These are not necessarily fungible, though a savvy operator can generally translate one into the other.

Power: The ability to command. The President of the United States is the most powerful person in the world (with the possible exception of Dick Cheney).

Money: The ability to buy. Bill Gates is the richest man in the world.

Influence: The ability to persuade. Peter Drucker is probably the most influential thinker in the business world.

Celebrity: Michael Jordan may be the most famous person in the world.

Each of these exemplars of their particular type possesses the other factors to a lesser extent, but their ability to exercise those factors is far more limited.

Where do you stack up?
It's All About The Benjamins

CBS MarketWatch has issued an article about the Top 10 most overpaid jobs in America. Reading it was enough to make even me, a moderately well-paid Silicon Valley software executive, green with envy.

* Wedding photographers who shoot 2 weddings per weekend from May to October can make $75-100,000 for 50 days of work.

* West Coast dockworkers earn $136,000 per year for entering shipping records into computers.

* Airport skycaps can make over $100,000 per year, with 70% of that income in cash.

* Orthodontists make an average of $350,000 per year for a 35-hour workweek, and don't even have to hassle with insurance like doctors or dentists.

Anyone want to switch jobs? This link may help.

Monday, November 10, 2003

American Exceptionalism

The Economist has an exceptional (pardon the semi-pun) article on so-called "American Exceptionalism" in this week's issue.

For anyone on either side of the Atlantic or Pacific (or just north or south of the border) who has wondered, "is America different?", the article shows that Americans and their attitudes are truly different. In comparison to citizens of other nations, Americans are much more patriotic and religious, and believe far more in freedom than the welfare state.

On the other hand, Americans are also deeply divided, with Republicans representing the patriotic, conservative side, and the Democrats comprising the peace-loving, secular, socially-liberal side. A fascinating poll shows that almost all of the decline on George W. Bush's overall approval ratings can be attributed to the changing attitudes of the Democrats. Bush's approval ratings among Republicans spiked from 85% to close to 100% following 9/11, and have gradually declined to their pre-9/11 levels. In contrast, Bush's approval ratings among Democrats spiked from 30% to 85% in the wake of 9/11, but immediately began a sharp decline that has brought them down to about 18% today.

Anyone who is interested in why a seeming gulf has sprung up between America and the rest of the world should read this article.

Friday, November 07, 2003

I'm Too Sexy

Condom-maker Durex conducted an online "sexiness" poll with the expected entertaining results.

  1. Hungarians, Bulgarians, and Russians have the most sex, 150+ times per year.
  2. Brazilians are the sexiest nationality, followed by Americans and the French.
  3. The Thais, Vietnamese, and Chinese are the most satisfied with their sex lives; the Russians, despite their promiscuity, are the least satisfied.
  4. Singaporeans had the least sex of any country.
  5. David Beckham was voted the world's sexiest man; J. Lo took the sexiest woman honors.

I could make jokes about the results, but I think that they speak for themselves!

Thursday, November 06, 2003

External Accountability

Second business idea of the day: Web-based Accountability

I think it would be very cool and useful to layer in some kind of request/bug-tracking system on top of a social networking application. That way, if I want to request something of a friend, I enter a request into the system. My friend can choose to accept or reject the request. If he accepts, it goes into his request queue. I can see the request in my personal list of outgoing requests, and he can see it in his list of incoming requests. From there, we can manage the request much like a bug-tracking system manages a bug.
Attractive Trainers, Inc.

Here's another business idea--why not apply the pharmaceuticals rep approach to technical training? One of my colleagues was commenting this morning on how his interest in the subject matter increased when he saw the attractive female instructor. Most technical training is aimed towards geeky males; why not start a company that hires attractive young women, gives them technical training, then rents them out to software companies to conduct their training and seminars?

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

American Porn Idol

The porno-ization of America continues as Silhouette Productions announces its plan to produce a 7-episode reality show in which 28 women compete for a contract with an adult film distributor. Among the judges? Former gubernatorial candidates Mary Carey and Cruz Bustamente. (Just kidding; even the porn industry refuses to touch Cruz after his loss to Arnold!)

"It's like 'Paradise Hotel,' when they go behind the scenes," said Silhouette CEO Harry Feingold, "Everybody wants to know what's going on. Well, here you see it."

There are two important questions:

1. Have we been able to beat the Roman Empire for decadence yet?
2. Will Fox take up the challenge to its sleaze crown and in fact launch a hardcore pornography channel, as joked about on the Simpsons?
The Latest Social Networking News

One of my sources reports that Reid Hoffman's LinkedIn just raised its first round of outside financing. Stay tuned for the details.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003


Simpsons fan Rob Baur has actually grown a tomacco plant by grafting a tomato plant onto a tobacco plant. The result: a tomato that's full of nicotine.

While the Simpsons episode ended with the destruction of the sole surviving tomacco plant in a fiery helicopter crash, perhaps this miscegnation story will have a happy ending. In the future, millions of smokers will fidget nervously as they await their tomacco pasta, tomacco pizzas, and tomacco bruschetta!

(courtesy of Slashdot)

Monday, November 03, 2003

Add an inch, add a yard

It's amazing how much one's perspective depends on context. You'd never pay $3 for a bottle of water, but when you're at a football game on a hot day, all of a sudden the price is right. This weekend, I was at a friend's bachelor party. I spent some $150 over the course of the weekend--an enormous amount for a fellow who hates to even pay for his own lunch, but once I committed to spending $100 or so, the remaining $50 came pretty easily.

I suppose this is the same principle behind selling "accessories" with new cars.

Friday, October 31, 2003

The Out of Town Treatment

Hey folks, I've been travelling most of the week, so I wasn't able to blog. To make up for the break, I'll regale you with some tidbits from the road:

I flew JetBlue from Oakland to New York City for just $200. That meant that I spent more on taxi fares that I did on a transcontinental flight! No wonder the plane was packed. Someday, JetBlue and Southwest will bury the rest of the airlines.

Because I flew out of Oakland, I used Palo Alto Limo. PAL is a terrific example of how Google is changing the world. They spend $40 per month on Google keyword advertising. That $40 generates, they estimate, an additional $13,500 per month in revenues. That's right, a 34,000% ROI. That's the power of context. This is just another example of how every business, online or not, has been affected by the Internet.

While I was in New York, I spent some time with an old friend from HBS, Viktor Mizo. While Viktor has done boring things like work for Motorola on Six-Sigma projects, his real love is dance music. His current house party, Tronic Treatment, packs the Sullivan room in Manhattan every Monday night, from midnight to 5 in the morning. Dance music is a huge industry; top DJs can pull down $60,000 a night, and one DJ in Japan plays to crowds of 50,000+ in baseball stadiums. And yet, most of us have never even heard of them. It just goes to show you have powerful (and profitable) a niche can be!

Friday, October 24, 2003

Give Me A Sign!

During the filming of Mel Gibson's new film, "The Passion of Christ," Jim Caviezel, the actor who plays Jesus, was struck by lightning.

I'm not a religious man, but I can't help but see that as a bad sign!
$15-25 Billion

The word on the street is that Google will IPO at a valuation of $15-25 billion. To put that in perspective, the other "Big 3" of the Internet, Yahoo!, eBay, and Amazon, all have valuations between $20 and 35 billion.

As I've admitted in the past, I scoffed at Google when the news of its $25 million first round came out. I guess the laugh's on me. The worst part about a Google IPO is that it means that another friend, employee #1 at Google, will soon be fabulously wealthy, reminding my wife that I still haven't made us rich beyond our wildest dreams. Sigh.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Scotty, Two To Beam Up!

VentureBlog featured an excellent article today on predictions for the future of wireless. The thesis of the article is that you can extrapolate the future of the mainstream by looking at specific early-adopter microcosms. For example, Dartmouth's Blitzmail system presaged IMAP, LDAP, and IM.

All of this is quite fascinating, but best of all is this little doozy:

"A number of the staff and students here are trialing a very interesting device from Vocera, called a communications badge. It's a small, two ounce device that's basically just a microphone, speaker, battery, and 802.11 chip. People "push to talk" and use a voice-recognition enabled server to connect to other people. "

In other words, it's a Star Trek communicator. The only question is when those lazy bastards at U Penn are going to finish building a working holodeck.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

There's Nothing Funny About Spousal Abuse

On the other hand, the image of a drunken, enraged Liza Minelli beating the crap out of her crypto-homosexual husband can't help but conjure up a smirk in even the most cynical.

"Defendant repeatedly pounded plaintiff's head with her fists. The alcohol gave her remarkable force and strength."

Tuesday, October 21, 2003


Gregg Easterbrook, who wrote the "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" column for ESPN.com (praised in an earlier posting on this blog), was just fired for his New Republic blog posting on Kill Bill. In it, he condemns Tarantino's new movie, Kill Bill, for "wallowing in gore."

While this definitely constitutes "biting the hand that feeds you" (ESPN.com and Miramax, Kill Bill's distributor, are both owned by Disney), this wasn't (necessarily) what got Easterbrook fired. No, this is what got him fired:

"Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice."

Easterbrook quickly apologized, but by then the damage was done.

Lang Whittaker of SLAM Online compared Easterbrook's gaffe to Rush Limbaugh's self-destruction over quasi-racist comments about Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb. There is one key difference, however (no, not that Limbaugh's comments were racist and Easterbrook's anti-Semitic). Limbaugh made his comments on-air, and was rightly dismissed. Easterbrook's blog entry appeared in his blog, which is completely separate from his ESPN.com column.

Had Easterbrook's comments appeared in ESPN.com, Disney would have been perfectly justified in firing him. But to fire him for something completely unrelated smacks of hypocrisy. Remember, this is the same organization that employs Hunter S. Thompson as a regular columnist!

Ultimately, however, Easterbrook should have known not to violate the cardinal rule of media: Never make racist or anti-Semitic comments unless you're a famous black football player, basketball player, or politician.

Happy trails, TMQ!

Monday, October 20, 2003

The (Social) Network Reloaded

As if the umpteen social networking startups weren't enough, now established companies are getting into the act. Monster just announced that it will be launching a networking service, led by the former CEO of Classmates.com. Presumable they said to themselves, "Hey, if most people find jobs through networking, and we're a jobs site, then why not do networking as well?" I'm sure that the hype and torrents of VC cash had nothing to do with it.

The only question is, when is IdeaLab! going to get into the act?

Saturday, October 18, 2003

You Can Be Too Rich And Too Thin

I love the expression, "quasi-actress." This MUST be added to the lexicon.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Today's Kids, Yesterday's Games

Electronic Gaming Monthly has printed a great article where they took 12-year old gamers and had them play classic games from the 70s and 80s. It is hilarious, though you may feel very old before you're through.

On Pong:
"I would never pay to play something like this."
"I'd sooner jump up and down on one foot. By the way, is this supposed to be tennis or Ping-Pong?"

On Handheld Football:
"I don't see how this has anything remotely to do with football."

On Tetris:
"I just lined up six of the same color. Why didn't they blow up?"

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Instant Karma's Going To Get You

Naturally, as soon as Red Sox Manager Grady Little left a tiring Pedro Martinez in the game, resulting in the ultimate Yankee victory, Internet entrepreneurs swooped in:


Registrar: DOTSTER
Created on: 16-OCT-03
Expires on: 17-OCT-04
Last Updated on: 16-OCT-03

Technical Contact:
Logan, Jesse loganj@wam.umd.edu
8000 Boteler Ln Apt 413
College Park, MD 20740

If you're also feeling entrepreneurial, firegradylittle and firelittle.com are both still available, last time I checked!
Meanwhile, in Bizarro-land...

The most excellent folks of The Smoking Gun have posted a scan of today's New York Post editorial. The editorial, apparently written and filed prior to the Red Sox meltdown in the 8th inning, laments the Yankees' loss to the Sox. Apparently, the editors forgot to pull it when the Yankees rallied!

Sorry Sox fans, maybe next year.
After A Brief Cold Snap, The Weather In Gehenna Is Again Sunny And Mild

Alas, the dream matchup that sports fans and astrologers everywhere were looking forward to failed to materialize. In two epic 7-game series, the cursed Cubs and Red Sox lost to the Florida Marlins and the accursed Yankees.

Everyone across the land except for the 5 Marlins fans and the demonic host of Yankees fans was looking forward to seeing what happened when the Cubs/Red Sox series reached Game 7. Would the ground open up and swallow both teams? Would a portal from Hell open up over the field, spewing forth the legions of the abyss, desperately escaping hypothermia?

Sadly, we must fall back on the immortal words of Cubs and Red Sox fans everywhere, "just wait til next year."

Thursday, October 16, 2003

But I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

I'm busy using Overture's search term suggestion tool to figure out how to sell systems management software. To test it, however, I tried a few more basic terms, which shed quite a bit of light on my fellow Internet denizens.

"Sex" appears to be the big winner, with 3,961,438 searches last month. It is no big surprise to note that "hardcore sex" is next on the sex list, with 532,568 searches. It is surprising that "world sex" beat out other such contenders as "amateur sex" and "free sex" for the #3 position, with 532,000. Who says globalization isn't working?

"Britney Spears" is another winner, with 2,246,813 searches, far outdistancing "Christina Aguilera" (580,058 searches) and "Madonna" (315,326 searches). At least Christina beat "hardcore sex" and "world sex!"

On the other hand, even Christina couldn't beat the might "MP3," which accounted for 1,727,390 searches. "RIAA" meanwhile, registered 120,083 searches, even fewer than "Kobe Bryant" (189,874 searches)

Sadly, all of these figures easily left the Peace (34,981 searches), Love (452,235 searches), and Understanding (1,633) in the dust, proving that on the Internet at least, vice is more appealing than virtue.

The Beauty of the Internet

The beauty of the Internet is that you can find anything. Including a blog which combines photographs of bunny rabbits up for adoption, and detailed discussions of lethal ordnance.

Those bunnies can be tougher than they look!
Why Do People Hate America?

I am currently listening to "The Longest Walk," an excellent book by Englishman George Meegan, about his quest to walk the length of the Americas, from Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. His journey takes seven years, and along the way he acquires a wife and two children, all while walking through desert heat, torrential rainstorms, and furious mosquito attacks.

I'm currently listening to his journey through Nicaragua, shortly after the triumph of the Sandinistas over the Somoza regime. As he walks through the country, Meegan is constantly jeered and insulted, because the people believe that his blonde hair makes him "a hated American."

This begs the question, why do people hate America? In the case of the Sandinistas, the reason is pretty clear; the US supported the Somoza regime, which, if it's possible, was one of the more horrific Latin American dictators that we supported. On the other hand, billions of people apparently hate America, including many Americans, despite any direct reason. For example, there are a significant number of Germans who believe that 9-11 was a CIA/Israeli plot to generate a pretext for American imperialism.

Fortunately, Google, the source of all knowledge, is here to help.

Why Do People Hate America (a book by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies)

"The economic power of US corporations and the virus-like power of American popular culture affect the lives and infect the indigenous cultures of millions around the world. The foreign policy of the US government, backed by its military strength, has unprecedented global influence now that the USA is the world's only superpower - its first 'hyperpower'.

America also exports its value systems, defining what it means to be civilised, rational, developed and democratic - indeed, what it is to be human. Meanwhile, the US itself is impervious to outside influence, and if most Americans think of the rest of the world at all, it is in terms of deeply ingrained cultural stereotypes."

Why I Hate America (letter to Pravda)

"I would be dishonest if I said I didn-t hate the American government. I do hate it, so really, so deeply and, yes, so rightly. America is the tormentor of my people. It is to me, as a Palestinian, what Nazi Germany was to the Jews. America is the all-powerful devil that spreads oppression and death in my neighborhood. How can I not hate this great Satan, the evil empire? Does anyone expect people to love their tormentors?

In short, it is virtually impossible for me, as indeed is the case for most Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims, not to hate America so much. For me, in order not to hate America, I would have to be an imbecile, bereft of dignity, or without senses and feelings completely numb. Only infra-humans and quasi-beasts wouldn-t hate their evil tormentors and grave-diggers. And America is the Palestinian people-s ultimate tormentor and grave-digger, as well as the oppressor and killer of millions around the world."

My personal opinion is as follows:

1. The reason that people say they hate America is because they have been harmed by our foreign policy. For example, the Arab world hates America because America supports Israel, and therefore implicitly condones the disastrous settlement policy. There is some legitimacy to these complaints, though America's critics rarely acknowledge their own role and culpability. After all, the Israelis are not the only ones doing the killing, nor did they launch the Arab-Israeli wars in the 20th century.

2. The real reason that people hate America is because they don't want to take responsibility for their own situation. It's easier and more satisfying to blame America or "The Man" for one's lack of success in achieving one's goals. The Iraqis blame the US for not solving all their problems, just as the Russians blamed the fall of communism for their ills, just as Castro finds it convenient to blame the US for Cuba's economic woes, just as "blame the Yankee" is a favorite pastime of various Latin American regimes. The truth is that America does not control the world. If we did, we sure as heck wouldn't allow our critics free reign to rouse hatred against us. People need to take responsibility for their own lives. And oh yeah, it probably would help if we got rid of Sharon.

3. The other contributing reason that people hate America is because they hate the Americanization of the world. The French are the champions of this practice, but plenty of other folks around the globe lament the encroachment of David Hasslehoff on their age-old traditions. Guess what folks, the culture wars are being fought in the minds of the young, and you lost. Everywhere, even those kids who hate America and protest against its policies are eager to take up its lifestyle. We won. Deal with it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

My New Favorite Blog

Jeffrey Nolan's SAP Ventures blog just earned the title of my new favorite blog. How do I know it's my favorite? Because I just moved it to the top of my "Blogs" bookmarks folder, right below the link for posting to my own blog.

Jeffrey posts so fast and furiously that he has the occasional typo, but that's easily forgiven because of his appealing mix of high-tech information and offbeat links.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

They're Just Big-Boned

This just in: not only are fat people discriminated against, but their repellent aura affects those around them as well. A study conducted at the University of Liverpool found that a sample of 144 female students were 22% more negative in their opinion of a man in a picture if he was standing next to a fat woman.

"When seen with the large woman, he was more likely to be described as miserable, self-indulgent, passive, shapeless, depressed, weak, insignificant and insecure."

Interestingly enough, the fat students were harsher in their opinions than the thin students, reflecting their self-loathing.

Of course, in an era in which American obesity is at an all-time high--over 30% of Americans are considered obese--perhaps we'll be able to solve this discrimination by the simple expedient of all becoming fat.

For example, have you ever noticed how Wal-Mart shoppers are fatter than Target shoppers or even Costco shoppers? It's even been commemorated in haiku:

The aisles are quite wide
Yet fat shoppers block my path
Their butt cheeks jiggle

Perhaps the fattening of America is due to Wal-Mart's steady conquest of the retail world. Think about it.

The grand irony of weight-loss is that it's pretty simple how to lose weight: eat less and exercise more. Read how it worked for Autodesk founder John Walker. Unfortunately, it's just too hard to lay down those Krispy Kremes.

Monday, October 13, 2003

The King is Dead, Long Live The King

In 1999, a completely unknown former grocery store bagger and Arena football star, Kurt Warner, replaced injured, high-priced quarterback Trent Green and led the St. Louis Rams to a Superbowl victory.

In 2002, a completely unknown former 6th round draft pick you had been cut three times, Marc Bulger, replaced injured, high-priced quarterback and two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner, and led the Rams on a 5-game winning streak.

And it hasn't just been the Rams. In 2001, unknown Tom Brady replaced perennial pro bowler Drew Bledsoe and led the New England Patriots to a Superbowl victory over MVP Kurt Warner and the 14-2 Rams.

Two observations: First, this seems to happen a lot more in football than in baseball and basketball, despite baseball having the legend of Wally Pipp (who took a day off, was replaced by Lou Gehrig, and never played again). Second, doesn't this seem to happen a lot when you replace CEOs as well?

Saturday, October 11, 2003


When do children become finicky eaters? I was definitely a picky eater as a child. I refused to eat many common food items, including:

  1. Eggs (because my mom used to put raw eggs in my milk)
  2. Strawberries (because I was afraid of the seeds)
  3. Hamburgers (because I didn't like ketchup or mustard)
  4. Fish (except for tuna fish; my aunt once paid me $10 to eat one bite of steamed cod)
  5. Mushrooms (I'm not sure why)

When we went to McDonalds, I refused to eat anything except french fries and Filet-o-Fish buns with tartar sauce. When we went to Chinese restaurants, I'll I'd eat would be the chow mein.

In contrast, in just the past few weeks, Jason has eaten:

  1. Various Indian curries
  2. Chicken Marsala
  3. Fried Calamari (especially the tentacles)

He pretty much eats anything as long as it's meat. Will this adventurous eating continue?

Friday, October 10, 2003

What should you do about warts?

No, no, not that kind of warts. I'm talking about the warts in your product, or the warts in your pitch. You know what I'm talking about. Those inconvenient little facts or nagging problems that you wish weren't there.

Should you hide your warts? Show them off?

Back in 1999, the answer was clear: hide them, and hopefully no one would spot them before you went public and were sipping umbrella drinks on your own private island.

Today, I think the best way to deal with warts is to tell your customer (or VC or significant other) about them, and explain how you've mitigated their risk or minimized their effect.

For example, I'm thinking about switching to T-Mobile. T-Mobile has poor coverage in the Bay Area. However, they have the best cell phone rates. To mitigate their risk, T-Mobile lets you have a two-week free trial of any of their phones--that way, you can figure out for yourself if their coverage is acceptable in your usual haunts.

That to me is a great example of acknowledging your warts and mitigating them in a way that builds, rather than tears down customer trust.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

There's no excuse not to have your own domain.

There really is no excuse not to have your own domain. You can register your domain at GoDaddy for just $8.95 a year, and host it, with POP mailboxes and plenty of bandwidth for just $11.96 a year at DINSOL.

That's just $19.91 a year, or roughly a week's worth of Starbucks lattes. Can you seriously tell me that you can't afford $20 a year?

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Will Outsourcing Become The Rule?

I had drinks today with Sameer Bhatia of Octane Technologies, an IT services and software company that helps US companies outsource to India. Sameer and I are both members of the Stanford mafia, and we both ran venture-backed companies during the bubble, so we have a lot in common. He stopped by my office in Palo Alto before running off to the airport to pick up his parents.

After discussing various outsourcing projects, I said to Sameer, "I can understand outsourcing well-defined projects, but I can't imagine developing a complex new product on an outsourced basis." Sameer disagreed.

"All the VCs I talk with these days insist on an outsourcing strategy," he said, "They don't want to see their companies to blow their first $3 million on development costs before they launch."

I'm not sure he's right, but I'm not sure he's wrong.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

The Accent Is Always Greener

It is a long-held belief among US business school students that students with English accents get better grades on classroom participation because of the "Masterpiece Theater Effect": To the American ear, anything said with a high-class British accent sounds more intelligent.

I never really considered the opposite. As it turns out, the Brits think that people who speak with American accents are more successful in business. I guess we can call this the "Baywatch Effect."

Monday, October 06, 2003

The First Swallow Returns?

A hearty "Adventures in Capitalism" congratulations to Sam and Theron of Neoteris, who just sold their company to NetScreen for $265 million.

Theron and I met because our wives were friends and roommates at Harvard as undergrads, and Sam and I met when he came to speak at the Founders Forum (Theron was sick that day and had to cancel).

What's interesting is that Sam and Theron founded Neoteris in mid-2000, after the crash. Just 3 years later, they managed to sell the company. Could this be the first sign of the economy's return to vibrancy? Sure, Google and Salesforce.com will produce boffo IPOs, but they were started during the height of the bubble. Neoteris is a creature of the post-bubble era, and its success bodes well for the future.

Friday, October 03, 2003

The Time Machine

Do you ever think back to what the world was like BIB (before the Internet boom)?

In another year, I'll be heading to my 10th year reunion at Stanford. 10 years ago, I was living in Okada House in the Wilbur dorm complex. While I had email, which I used religiously, I had to go to the dorm computer cluster to access my Unix-based elm account.

Ah yes, the good old days of the command line interface!

There was no such thing as the Web as a mass medium. Mark Andreessen was still a roly-poly grad student at UIUC, probably happily munching Doritos while playing Castle Wolfenstein 3D.

If you wanted to find something out, you had to go to a library and look it up in a bunch of dusty books.

If you wanted the news, you had to turn on a TV and wait for the story in which you were interested to come along.

If you wanted to hold a party, you had to either send out paper invitations, or spend a day on the phone.

Only doctors and drug dealers had cell phones.

Your primary means of communication was to, gasp, actually talk with people.

Thank God we live in modern times! The frightening thing, of course, is that this was just 10 years ago. What will our lives be like 10 years from today?

Thursday, October 02, 2003

One final note on the ladder theory--while I never developed my own thoughts to such a systematic extent, I have provided advice to many women (including the lovely poetess--I just love saying that word--Camille Dungy) on how to attract men, with some success:

1. Men divide women into two categories: Those that they think are attractive and want to sleep with, and those that are not attractive enough to sleep with. (Note that Dallas' Ladder Theory adds several additional refinements, such as women that you would only sleep with while drunk, and women that you would only sleep with while drunk and would deny having slept with afterwards. These are definitely there, but not as relevant in terms of what most women want from a man.)

2. As a woman, your status with a man depends on the peak attractiveness that you achieve in his mind. This is similar to the "forward progress" rule in football. As an example, I once lived in the same dormitory complex as Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Connelly. Jennifer often came to the dining hall fresh from a long run, covered in sweat, with her hair plastered in a fairly unattractive fashion. This did not prevent men from swarming over her, since their conception of her attractiveness was based on her performance in The Rocketeer.

3. Once you convince a man that you are a romantic possibility, it's hard to lose that status.

4. Your attractiveness is subject to many conditional modifiers. For example, a man is more likely to find you attractive if you have engaged in strenuous and/or dangerous physical activity together. This is a well-known scientific effect, and helps explain why firemen are so popular with the ladies.

Based on these principles, my advice was simple: If you're interested in a man, make sure that he sees you in a situation where you look your best, so that he puts you on the "romantic possibility" list. Then, arrange a situation in which several conditional modifiers apply, like running across a frozen lake, where there is danger, exertion, and a good chance of ending up horizontal on top of each other.

I'm proud to say that my pupils put this advice to good use.

What Women Want

Thanks to Pud and his excellent Ask Pud Web site, I ran across Dallas Lynn's "Ladder Theory," which carefully analyzes how men and women have different criteria for attraction.

While I could go on at length about the rigor of Dallas' analysis, I'll simply recommend that you go to the source. Suffice it to say that many men I know would do well to heed Dallas' advice. Be forewarned, the site uses the "F-word" quite a bit, but always accurately.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

I was speaking with a friend today who was reluctant to ask for a much-deserved freebie. "I grew up poor," she said, "and I always lived in fear that people would find out how poor my family was. So I didn't want to ask for things."

My wife also grew up in a not-wealthy family, and is similarly reluctant to make waves.

On the other hand, I grew up as a child of (relative) privilege, and I never hesitate to ask for freebies. In fact, I often tell telemarketers, "I'm a cheap bastard, so I never buy anything." I sign up for all those free children's book clubs, and then cancel and keep the free gift.

I think it's quite ironic that those who most deserve our praise and admiration are reluctant to ask for favors, while those (like me) who have already gotten all the breaks expect and ask for the world.

Maybe I should hold selfishness seminars for those of modest means!

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

What's Your Number?

I met the team over at RedCoil today. They're a bunch of savvy veterans ("Over 70 years of executive experience," notes their Web site) who are onto an interesting market in the security space.

The interesting question is, why are a bunch of guys with so much experience and plenty of their own money are still working long hours in a subleased office by a trailer park?

The answer, of course, is that it's *fun* to work with smart people, make a difference, and oh yeah, make even more money. I work with folks every day who have more than enough money never to work again, yet they still work longer hours than I do. This may have something to do with the fact that they no longer have to pick up their kids from day care every day, but it's still impressive.

When I was at my first job with folks like Matt Josefowicz, us youngsters often asked ourselves "What's your number?" That is, how much money would you have to make before you'd retire. The assumption was that once you had, say, $10 million, you'd stop working your ass off. This discussion was prompted by one of us receiving an email from our ultimate boss, David Shaw (net worth at the time: an estimated $500 million), which he had written at 2 AM on a Saturday morning.

Obviously, not all of the wealthy continue to work--witness the career of heiress and quasi-celeb Paris Hilton. But most of the entrepreneurial set do. Dave Filo at Yahoo! is still known to sleep under his desk.

Is the entrepreneurial life more fun than the traditional means of gaining wealth? Are we just more driven to achieve? Who knows! But I'd love the opportunity to find out what I'd do after I made my first $20 million.
Beam you a drink, sailor?

Techdirt has linked to this article about an entrepreneur who has built a touch-screen/kiosk version of my Bluetooth dating concept.

Again, if any of you loyal readers out there is interested, I can point you to a Bluetooth company that swears that this could be done very easily!

Monday, September 29, 2003

I Know It When I See It

A new set of studies shows that, surprise surprise, Internet pornography is still going strong. In fact, there are now 260 million pages of pornography available on the Web.

In contrast, the Library of Congress contains a paltry 18 million books. I guess we have our priorities straight (or queer or bi, as the case may be)!

July alone say the addition of 28 million pages of porn. Meanwhile, another source estimates that 1/8 of all Web sites and 1/4 of all search engine requests are pornographic in nature. 2.5 billion pornographic emails go out every day, or an average of four for every Internet user in the world.

Chris Wu, Director of Yahoo! Mobile, reports that 1/2 of all searches conducted from mobile phones are pornographic in nature.

Yet as disturbing as all of these trends are, perhaps the most disturbing is that the average "session time" for a visit to a pornographic Web site was just under 5 minutes. I tell you, sometimes this stuff just writes itself!

Sunday, September 28, 2003

The Governator

While Arnie may not have a lot of political experience, those who dismiss him as a lightweight would be well-advised to pick up a copy of Studs Terkel's American Dreams: Lost and Found.

Not only is Terkel a genius and American Dreams his masterwork, the book contains a short oral history from a little-known bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the time, he was still trapped in the insular, muscle-bound world of bodybuilding. Yet when you read what he told Terkel, you can see that he had already planned to become a superstar. The remarkable thing is how closely Arnie's achievements mirror the plans he told to Terkel, over 25 years ago.

I would never bet against someone with that kind of determination and savvy. While he has had his stumbles (Planet Hollywood, anyone?), Arnie has never failed to achieve what he set out to do.
Size Doesn't Matter--Oh Wait, Yes It Does

The Economist reports that people with larger than average cranial capacity (i.e. big heads) are five times less likely than people with small heads to experience mental degradation as they age.

Finally, I have a good response when people say that I have a swelled head!
Hail Caesar!

I've been reading Michael Grant's The Twelve Caesars, a history of the first 12 Roman Emperors, starting with Julius Caesar.

One of Grant's observations is the old saw that power corrupts. Figures such as Nero and Vitellius used the resources of the Empire to satisfy their own personal desires (which could be pretty deviant at times!). It's not hard to jump from Vitellius' absurdly expensive feasts to Dennis Koslowski's $10,000 umbrella holders. In fact, it's easy to see that human nature and psychology hasn't changed in 2000 years. Scrub off the Latin names, and it's hard to tell that Grant isn't talking about modern-day politics.

More useful, at least in my mind, are the patterns that emerge in terms of the emperors' rise and fall. Each emperor attained the purple by cultivating a power base, generally the army or Praetorian Guard. Those that survived maintained their power base and reached out to other influencers like the Senate. The less successful, like the unfortunate Galba, who lasted less than a year after replacing Nero, neglected their power base and were quickly deposed. In Galba's case, he made the suicidal move of breaking a promise to pay bonuses to the Praetorian Guard that had brough him to power.

We may live in a different time, and my goals (making the various projects I'm involved with more successful) may be more modest that ruling a globe-spanning empire, but all of the same lessons apply.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Convergence Redux Redux

Every couple of years, the mania for "convergence" returns. Somehow, we keep forgetting the hideous losses and failures of each previous convergence wave, be it video-on-demand, picture phones, or what have you.

This time, though, I think it's going to stick. While the first phone/PDA combos were bricks reminiscent of the famous Iridium satellite phone, which prompted its incoming CEO to ask his management team, "What business traveller did you think would buy this sh*t!," the latest phones are small, slim, and increasingly stylish.

Nokia just released this fashion-forward beauty, the 7600. It's a 3G phone with built in digital camera, MP3 player, and Web browser.

I wouldn't buy it, because a) I'm a cheapskate, and b) I always let someone else pioneer the bleeding edge, but I'm sure that my old buddy Justin Kromelow is lusting after one right now.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

For the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades, I went to the Mirman School for Academically Gifted Children. I had to take an IQ test to get in and be interviewed by a psychologist!

It was a truly unique experience, which, incidentally, left me completely unprepared for the harsher world of public junior high and high school, and led directly to my skipping the 8th and 9th grades, and ending up at Stanford at 15. Of course, at the time, none of us thought that our lives were unusual.

It's been close to 20 years since then (I'm 28), and we've gone our separate ways. Nonetheless, I think that the roll call of our alumni and their doings since leaving Mirman show that 1) Yes, we were an unusual bunch, and 2) Success comes in all shapes and sizes. From entrepreneurs to chefs to singers to actors to animators, we've ended up living fairly unconventional but ultimately happy lives.
I Spent $10 Million And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

I met with a potential vendor yesterday and really hit it off. One of the main reasons is that we had both started venture-backed companies during the boom, and had failed to get rich. Ryan had actually raised much more than I had ($10 million versus $6 million), but at the end of the day, had ended up where he had started, albeit wiser for the wear.

There's probably a large number of us ex-dot-com founders running around, and what may be surprising to some people is that we're generally doing pretty well. Some, like Ryan, are still working for themselves, albeit in bootstrap mode; others are playing an important non-CEO role, like my friend Bob at OQO, or Ranjan at SAP. And some, like my friend Frans, have taken advantage of the last couple of years to actually write a book for HBS Press.

The point is, we're probably better off for having taken the plunge, than if we had simply gone to work for big companies (even if we hadn't been laid off). I suspect that one of the underappreciated effects of the bubble will be a surge in innovation and entrepreneurship for the next 20-30 years, much like the Baby Boom's lasting effects on American demographics.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

And now, for your delectation, the poetry of Donald Rumsfeld.
Sometimes, I run across a Web site that is so brilliant that I have to share it with the world. Today's winner is Losers.org.

I urge you to check out this most excellent list of freakish Web sites. I am ashamed to admit that I spent 10 minutes reading one fellow's detailed quantitative comparison of Star Trek vs. Star Wars technology.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

More on the Social Networking bubble:

More thanks to Noah Mercer of Tribe.Net for pointing out that the Howard Dean campaign has its own Social Networking service!

Good Lord, when the crash comes, it's going to be brutal.
Another Social Networking startup crawls out of the primordial ooze:

"Sona is an online environment for meeting new people, connecting with friends, and sharing ideas. We noticed that online services have become overly specialized. For example, many services focus on a singular purpose such as dating, connecting classmates, or organizing by interest groups. But, people are soical beings and don’t like being forced into separate buckets for different things. So Sona has understood that need and taken a more broad approach, we want to make the Internet more comfortable and enjoyable for everyone. For a Sona member, purpose can evolve over time and expand in unexpected directions – from reconnecting with old friends, just casually meeting new friends, or to finding someone that you might want to date."

I must admit, I'm pretty skeptical of a "me-too" service that has typos and believes in being less specialized than its competition!
Systematic, with high tolerances

Being a good marketer/entrepreneur depends on being systematic, but with high tolerances. I came to this conclusion after examining times when I've been successful in the past.

Whenever I need to solve a business problem, I try to take a systematic approach. Being systematic gives me a clear set of tasks, and minimizes the chances that I'll overlook some glaring issue.

For example, if I need to do something I haven't done before, like come up with a positioning statement for an enterprise software product, I start by asking my friends what's worked for them in the past. By sifting through the varying responses, I can craft a compromise plan that (hopefully) is superior to the individual responses. This takes advantage of the general principal that groups are often smarter than individuals, as proven by the classic Subarctic Survival exercise.

Once I have a plan, I follow each step, and proceed systematically towards my goal. Here's where the second part kicks in:

Even though I'm being systematic, I need to have high tolerances. In engineering, when I was machining metal parts, I needed to keep my tolerances to within 1/10,000th of an inch. In marketing and entrepreneurship, I have to have a much bigger tolerance for imprecision and ambiguity. Or, as Guy Kawasaki puts it, I have to be willing to be crappy.

Applying the engineering mentality to marketing (be systematic and have low tolerances) simply doesn't work--the raw materials lack the necessary precision to support those kinds of tolerances. On the other hand, applying a lazy man's mentality (be disorganized and have high tolerances) doesn't give you enough structure to be successful.

You have to balance the two extremes of organization and be systematic with high tolerances.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Blog/Not a Blog

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about blogs:

"A weblog (often web log, also known as a blog, see below) is a website that tracks headlines and articles from other websites. They are frequently maintained by volunteers and are typically devoted to a specific audience or topic.

Blog usually means a personal web log, a type of online diary, or journal (LiveJournal is a good, popular example) run by special blog software. Blog sites make it possible for users without much experience to create, format, and post entries with ease. People write their day-to-day experiences, complaints, poems, prose, illicit thoughts and more, often allowing others to contribute, fulfilling to a certain extent Tim Berners-Lee's original view of the World Wide Web as a collaborative medium. In 2001, the popularity of blogs increased dramatically.

The word blog was coined by Peter Merholz who in April or May of 1999 broke the word weblog into the phrase "wee' blog" in the sidebar of his weblog [3]. This was interpreted as a short form of the noun [4] and also as a verb, to blog, meaning "to edit one's weblog or a post to one's weblog". Usage spread during 1999 and the word was popularized by Pyra's creation of their weblog service Blogger. The Oxford English Dictionary has considered including it in their dictionary (see the editorial). "

A couple of random thoughts:

1. Back in 1993, as part of a class project for Product Design, I proposed the need for a new kind of computer-aided art form that would allow ordinary people without artistic training to express themselves and share that expression with others. At the time, I didn't know how to achieve these aims. In retrospect, it's clear that the blog is this new art form, and its exploding popularity reflects the very needs I outlined in 1993.

2. Peter Merholz and I went to SAMOHI together back in the late '80s. He had more hair back then. We both worked on the school's literary magazine, where Peter was the Editor-in-Chief who published my gruesome and bloodthirsty allegories.

At any rate, let us consider the two criteria that Wikipedia lists: 1) linking to other Web sites and articles, and 2) acting as an online diary or journal. While I agree in general with these criteria, I think that a better way of stating them is:

"A blog is an art form which draws readers in with its own content, directs them to potentially interesting external content, and presents the author as the main character."

This definition makes three important points:

1. Blogging *is* an art form, and will continue to increase its role in self-expression, entertainment, and inspiration.

2. Blogging is an increasingly important means of distributing and searching for content.

3. Blogging is ultimately an egotistical endeavor, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Otherwise why would so many people do it, despite the vanishingly small chance of actually becoming a blogosphere celebrity?

Friday, September 19, 2003

Eat Less, Live Longer

New studies seem to indicate that going on a low-calorie diet can extend lifespan, regardless of when you start the diet.

Conversely, the beneficial effects disappear as soon as you stop the diet.

Hmmm, I smell a whole new basis for suing McDonalds! Super-sizing = death.

On the other hand, McDonalds could take advantage of these new findings by offering "Longevity-Sized" meals, charging more for smaller portions!

Thursday, September 18, 2003

The fast-followers continue; now Techdirt is running a story on the Social Networking bubble. There's a couple of good links to coverage of the recent Social Networking panel at Stanford. I especially liked Ross Mayfield's blow-by-blow.

Ross said something very interesting: "I actually like how cynical we have become these days. Anything with the slightest market traction or investor interest is immeadiately suspect. Keeps us in check."

This kind of skepticism ends up benefiting all the parties--the original entrepreneurs have less competition (both Ross and CBS MarketWatch noted Jonathan's attempts to discourage other people from starting Social Networking companies). The VCs get saved from overinvesting in something just because it shows a spark of like, and consumers aren't forced to sort through hundreds of me-too services.

The problem with Social Networking is that it's just so darn easy to create a service; it reminds me of the bad old days of advertising-supported Web sites, where everyone (including me) believed that you could always monetize traffic through DoubleClick. Now it's even worse--people are getting into Social Networking without any good idea of where the money is going to come from. Unless VCs and entrepreneurs show some restraint, this bubblet could grow into a full-fledged bubble.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

For those of you who are fans of military hardware, the Atlantic Monthly has written a fascinating article about the procurement process behind the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The JSF is the largest, most expensive military weapons program in history, yet James Fallows' article describes how, by applying civilian techniques and innovations to the procurement process, it may end up being one of the most affordable at a mere $28 million per plane (versus the current $100 million per plane for the Air Force's F-22 Raptor).

Of course, what the article is missing is the whole Tom Clancy treatment...

"The setting sun glinted off the gunmetal grey twin tailfins of the F-35. The fighter jet, $28 million of the most deadly machinery ever created by man, seemed to poise lightly on the tarmac, as if waiting for a signal to roar into the sky with its deadly payload. Jack Ryan, Emperor For Life of the Planet Earth, tugged on his flight helmet. Time to kick some alien ass."

This link came from the one and only Gregg Easterbrook, whose Tuesday Morning Quarterback column is surely the only regular feature on ESPN.com that includes geopolitical analysis, photos of scantily-clad cheerleaders, and endless criticisms of Star Trek plot holes.
Once again, you heard it here first:

Andrew Anker of VentureBlog is now reporting on Social Networking as a bubblet. Remember, you heard it here first last Thursday!

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The new new thing:

Check out Terra Nova, a new blog dedicated to the wild and woolly world of massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs).

For those who have never heard of EverCrack widows, MMOGs are online role-playing games (RPGs), often with a fantasy theme (a la EverQuest). Now instead of "Ted from Accounting," you can be "Gorthon the Destroyer, despoiler of fair maidens."

These games are so addictive that at least one player died from exhaustion and dehydration. This, of course, makes them great business, since any opportunity to legally sell an addictive substance tends to be enormously profitable.
Fart-smeller? Animal masturbator? No, these aren't insults from a deleted scene in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. These are actual scientific jobs, as explained by Popular Science.

Monday, September 15, 2003

The San Francisco Chronicle ran an article discussing how some failed dot-com CEOs are getting a second chance from VCs.

This isn't big news; anyone who has been through the startup process before knows just how much leaders learn from the experience, win or lose. In fact, even in 1999, failed entrepreneurs were more sought after than first-time entrepreneurs--a fact that I didn't appreciate the wisdom of at the time, being in the second category.

What's bigger news is the following:

"After declining four consecutive quarters, funding for startups in seed or early stages of development rose 44 percent, from $408 million in the first quarter of this year to $588 million in the second quarter, according to industry data."

VCs haven't been investing in seed-stage deals because they could invest in later-stage companies at a similar valuation. This increase in early-stage investing indicates that a) we have finally worked through the overhang of excessive company formation during the bubble, b) there are hot new technologies on the rise, c) VCs are again bullish on the future (which means that they believe their startups will be able to achieve liquidity events), or d) all of the above.

It's too early to call it a recovery, but things seem to be looking up.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

America's Political Matrix

I try to avoid politics like the plague. For one thing, espousing a political view is bound to alienate a significant number of people with alternate views. For another, I have no desire to reach into my wallet, which is the only effective way to play politics in the United States.

On the other hand, even politics can be analyzed using the same strategic frameworks as any other human endeavor, and that's what I feel like doing this morning.

In America, we tend to think of politics as a continuum from left (pinko commie) to right (gun-toting, fundamentalist zealot). Yet this left-wing/right-wing approach fails to capture the true flavor of politics.

In actuality, America has a political matrix. One axis is the standard liberal/conservative continuum. The other is what I call the idealist/pragmatist continuum.

An idealist believes that his/her ideology is correct, and refuses to compromise them. A pragmatist believes that his/her goals are worthy, and does whatever is practical to achieve them.

Thus, we end up with four quadrants:

Quadrant I: Conservative Idealist
Quadrant II: Liberal Idealist
Quadrant III: Liberal Pragmatist
Quadrant IV: Conservative Pragmatist

I believe that the majority of Americans, like me, fall into the two pragmatic quadrants. Unfortunately, because we view politics principally through the lens of the left/right axis, politics ends up dominated by idealists. Here's why:

As long as Americans identify themselves as liberal or conservative, a pragmatist candidate, can, at best, appeal to one Quadrant. A Conservative Pragmatist will generally not appeal to Liberal Pragmatists, who already have an unwritten rule in their minds that they will only support Liberals.

On the other hand, a Conservative Idealist can appeal to both Conservative Idealists (the true believers) and Conservative Pragmatists (who would rather hold their noses and support Conservative Idealists than vote for a Liberal Idealist).

Until we recognize that political parties can be organized along idealistic and pragmatic lines, rather than liberal and conservative, the American political matrix will continue to be dominated by the Idealist Quadrants, to the detriment of the silent majority of pragmatists.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Most Extreme Elimination Challenge is now an inter-species hit. One of my wife's co-workers report that his two cats are avid fans of MXC. Apparently, whenever they hear the distinctive sounds of horrible injuries and the crypto-obscenity of Kenny Blankenship and Vic Romano's commentary, they sprint for the couch and fight for their favorite viewing spots.

Once can only imagine what they're thinking. "Oh, how entertaining it is to watch the two-legged food providers maim themselves!"

This sign of intelligence almost, but not quite, forces me to reconsider my position that housecats are foul creatures of darkness.

Friday, September 12, 2003

You heard it here first--now Techdirt is covering the "Social Networking as emerging bubble" story.

Among the interesting tidbits is the cross-board membership between Friendster and Plaxo: Tim Koogle and Ram Shriram invested in both.

In other news on the Social Networking front, former Internet millionaire Thomas Leavitt reports that Arianna Huffington is now on Friendster and using it as a campaign tool. Apparently, she's a big Eminem and Missy Elliott fan. And no, apparently it isn't a Fakester.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

This just in from The Smoking Gun: The cast members of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the second best show on television (behind the uproarious Most Extreme Elimination Challenge) make just $3,000 an episode.

On the other hand, helping straight slobs queer up still beats eating cow brains, getting covered with scorpions, or milking a goat with your mouth.
Party Like It's 1999

I'm starting to get concerned about the Social Networking market. At this point, I've joined Ryze, Friendster, Tribe, and LinkedIn, and they're all mixed together in my mind.

I joined Ryze first, but it's done very little to suck me in, other than mailing me a weekly list of upcoming events. Perhaps the lack of activity is because the Ryze system doesn't notify me when someone else links to me as a friend.

As I've previously written, I joined Friendster after meeting Jonathan Abrams. Friendster's focus on dating distinguishes it from the other services, but it's precisely that focus that makes it less useful for old married guys like me.

Tribe.net seems to be an up-and-comer, thanks to its "fast-follower" status. It also has a more transactional focus, which helps keep my interest. The problem is, does it offer enough value to overcome other services' headstart? I also think that Tribe needs to show full names, not just first names and initials; otherwise it's too hard to find the people that you know.

LinkedIn has a number of interesting features (you can search by industry, and it sorts its list by who's most connected), and it seems to attract a high caliber of participants. Unfortunately, it has a huge flaw in that you cannot view other people's connections. This makes it impossible to use LinkedIn to meet your friends' friends--unless you know who you're looking for.

At any rate, my concern is that with so many entrants, mostly undifferentiated in any meaningful way, all of the potential value capture will be competed away. Back in 1999, it was hard to charge money for services when someone else was always willing to give it away to get eyeballs. The same thing seems to be happening today. It will be interesting to see what the uptake is of premium services.

The parallels to 1999 also point out that these companies just don't feel like independent ventures. Eventually, they should be integrated into a larger product suite, by Yahoo!, AOL, Microsoft, or even Amazon.

Nonetheless, they clearly are filling a useful niche, and I'm glad that they exist. My favorite service, however, is InCircle, the Stanford Alumni networking service, which, alas, isn't open to the general public.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

I just wanted to send a quick tip o' the hat to Kindercare in Mountain View. For the past two months, they've taken great care of Jason. He loves his teachers and little friends, and vice versa. I know that I'll miss them too, especially little Grant and Trent, who always beg for crackers whenever I show up to pick up Jason.

Alas, we're moving Jason to Knowledge Beginnings at Stanford to cut down on my daily drive. Hopefully he'll like his new school just as well!

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

I had lunch today with Ray Conley, which is always a mind-expanding experience (in a perfectly legal way). Unlike me (a fallen intellectual who has succumbed to cognitive laziness, and, coincidentally, gone from technical work to business), Ray still thinks big thoughts, and visiting him is always fun.

We projected today's technology trends into the future, with the following result:

1. Storage + Moore's Law + 20 years = PCs that are more powerful than the human brain.

2. Bioinformatics + Moore's Law + 20 years = Complete knowledge of your personal genome, what you'll die of, plus how to fix it.

3. Nanotechnology + 20 years = The ability to assemble any material object from a template or plan.

The result? When we're old, we'll be able to know when our time is up, transfer our neural configuration to software, upgrade our OS, and download it to a new, improved, genetically enhanced body.

Of course, it's one thing to predict this kind of thing; it's another to sign up for the beta test!