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Preview: Tim Oren's Due Diligence

Tim Oren's Due Diligence



Letters from an inhabited dataspace



Updated: 2011-03-28T14:20:58-07:00

 



A Family History Interlude

2011-03-28T14:22:32-07:00

Back in the mid-90s I self-published a book "Dearest Sattie: Civil War Letters of Capt. Charles Oren, 5th USCT", which as you might suspect from the title is the war correspondence of an ancestor, who was an officer of black...



Go Vote!

2010-11-02T07:21:24-07:00

If you don't vote, you can't complain. People died for that right, use it!



Sherlock

2010-10-25T13:22:56-07:00

(Spoiler alert!) Thanks to the good folks at Cubachi, I found out about PBS' scheduled airing of the BBC's reinterpretation of Conan Doyle's great detective, Sherlock Holmes, just in time to catch its first West Coast showing. I was quite...



Seeing Apple Through Different Eyes

2010-10-20T10:01:13-07:00

(Based on an e-mail to a friend, that I decided should be a post.) Have you ever had one of those moments, when a chance encounter with a voice from the past causes you to see a chunk of your...

(Based on an e-mail to a friend, that I decided should be a post.)

Have you ever had one of those moments, when a chance encounter with a voice from the past causes you to see a chunk of your own history in a different way?

I had such a moment when reading the excellent interview with former Apple CEO John Sculley at Cult of Mac. The specific passage was this:


"The board decided that we ought to sell Apple. So I was given the assignment to go off and try to sell Apple in 1993. So I went off and tried to sell it to AT&T to IBM and other people. We couldn’t get anyone who wanted to buy it. They thought it was just too high risk because Microsoft and Intel were doing well then."

At the time, I was involved with the ill-fated Kaleida, one of the IBM/Apple joint ventures. And I had my own theories about the meaning of some of more off-center or squirrelly goings-on in the Kaleida board, at meetings with IBM, and in the related office politics. That quote suddenly snapped things into focus: I, Kaleida, and the equally ill-fated Taligent were part of an arranged date with IBM, that didn't work out.

The whole Sculley interview is worth the read, and he comes across as remarkably open and even magnanimous to Steve Jobs (in both his incarnations). If anything, he omits some of his own positive impact: The company would have died in the late 80s without the 'Open Mac' transition, which he fostered. But his reflections on the 'design thing' are right on target: The best way to sell John, or to get your project on stage with him was the 'big vision', a clear assertion of a direction and what Apple would do for a new set of users, no matter how half-baked your first version might be. For both better and worse, the shadow of Steve Jobs hung over Sculley for his entire tenure.

He's also on target in saying that his lack of technical background left him disarmed against both internal and external engineering controversies. As an example, much of impetus for the famed Pink vs. Blue schism (that led to both Taligent and the equally disastrous Copland) came from an internal engineering report that the existing MacOS was so entwined with the Mac hardware that it was impossible to either port it to an Intel platform, or to 'jack it up' and insert a real multi-tasking operating system kernel. The latter assertion was given the lie when the A/UX team did exactly that, showing that it was a hard and ugly task, but not infeasible. John may never have known about it, and certain never understood the implications, and so ran without knowledge of another set of strategic options that might have been available.




Transaction Costs and Feeping Creaturism

2010-10-13T22:29:23-07:00

Is the a reason for adding new functionality to a perfectly good app (or website), other than providing something for marketing to tweet or write press releases about? As it turns out, yes, and it hinges on the economic concept...

Is the a reason for adding new functionality to a perfectly good app (or website), other than providing something for marketing to tweet or write press releases about? As it turns out, yes, and it hinges on the economic concept of transaction costs, in this case a user's time and monetary costs of searching for, understanding, and perhaps purchasing the new bit of behavior rather than finding it to hand (albeit perhaps less well implemented) in an already familiar setting.

In the past, I've used this argument on advocates of fine-grained object systems at the user level, and mostly been rewarded with blank stares. I put this down to my own lack of persuasiveness rather than bogosity. Now there's a nice post from John D. Cook laying out the consequences of transaction costs in an unix app setting, which I recommend as a bridge between economic and developer thinking.

(Hat tip: TJIC.)




Do You AOLhoo?

2010-10-13T21:20:42-07:00

Last year I speculated whether AOL and Yahoo might fit together after they had morphed into low-rent content shops. Seems I'm not the only one thinking that way, as AOL and a couple of private equity firms are reported to...



Driving With Google's Bots

2010-10-11T15:18:31-07:00

Back in the spring, driving home at dusk along 280, I noticed a Prius up ahead with a curious spinning truncated cone on its roof. From my experiences at the DARPA Urban Challenge I knew I was looking at a...

Back in the spring, driving home at dusk along 280, I noticed a Prius up ahead with a curious spinning truncated cone on its roof. From my experiences at the DARPA Urban Challenge I knew I was looking at a lidar range finder, often used on robotic vehicles. Intrigued, I pulled up alongside and could see a glowing LCD panel mounted in the passenger seat. I could tell that there was someone in the driver's seat (phew!) but not what he or she might be doing.

At the time I guessed this was a calibration run for another vehicle from the Stanford Center for Automotive Research. But it seems that what I saw was identical to a car video'ed by Robert Scoble (it even looks like 280 on his vid) and since identified as one of Google's self-driving cars. Less than three years from a set of rather twitchy military-funded demostration projects to something that was doing at least as well as the average Silicon Valley commuter (and was presumably signed off by Google's attorneys). A decent learning curve!

From a technologist's point of view, this is of course awesome and great fun. From an investor's POV, I'm left scratching my head a little. Some of Google's seeming digressions, such as Chrome and Android, actually make a lot of sense. They're about making sure that Google's end user touch points won't be compromised by closed networks or proprietary software. Jumping clear over telematics and into robotics is a bit of a stretch, though, along many dimensions: product cycle, capital requirements, channels and regulation, to name but a few.

The other possibility is that there is NO business plan. Perhaps what we're seeing is the result of the biggest cabal of Google engineers ever, using their 20% innovation time to pull off a state-of-the-art robotics project right under the eyes and flapping ears of Silicon Valley's pundits. Which would be doubly cool, and a sign that Google is assuming one of the social roles of companies with (near) monopoly margins over time, sponsoring open ended research. Shades of Bell Labs back in the day, minus the centralized planning?




Magic Buys Metaphor: What Will Google Do With BumpTop?

2010-06-16T14:31:27-07:00

Back in 2007, I took note of the BumpTop animated desktop replacement interface, which takes advantage of modern machines' 3D graphics capabilities to provide an even more realistic interpretation of manipulating information. I contrasted BumpTop's literal interface to a more...



Bayes Theorem Tutorial in Graphics

2010-06-07T14:15:57-07:00

Here's a nicely done introduction to Bayesian reasoning, for those more inclined to visual learning versus formulas. I'm going to steal this approach next time I have to explain it to a non-engineer. As a bonus, it includes a clear...



Congratulations to SpaceX!

2010-06-04T22:38:44-07:00

For a successful launch to orbit, on the first try, of their Falcon9 clustered engine vehicle. YouTube'd here. (Unofficial video, with background sound and buffer jumps. Will link to official vid when available.) Update: here's the official SpaceX video page.



Review: Joel Kotkin's "The Next Hundred Million"

2010-04-08T12:27:29-07:00

(This blog has been suffering its usual fate during California's spring. Neglect, that is. I've been out putting some miles on my hiking boots, thereby completing my rehab from getting the metal out of my leg. I'll try to unload... (This blog has been suffering its usual fate during California's spring. Neglect, that is. I've been out putting some miles on my hiking boots, thereby completing my rehab from getting the metal out of my leg. I'll try to unload a few things from the blogging queue before heading East to Virginia for vacation in a couple of weeks.) I first noticed Joel Kotkin through bumping into links to his regular Forbes column. That led me on to the New Geography blog, where he's a frequent poster. A feed well worth following for those, like myself, looking for data and analytic points of view on location options. For any who follow Kotkin at all, the main theses in this book - subtitled "America in 2050" will come as no surprise: Unlike other developed nations, America is still growing its population, and this is a good thing if we take advantage of it. The suburbs and exurbs are alive and well, will continue to prosper from the growing population, and are shifting from strictly bedroom communities to multi-faceted hubs in their own right. There is little sign of an aging population moving back to the urban cores. Locales that welcome development are growing and prospering, while those with regulatory land rationing stagnate. The American Heartland may be poised for a resurgence, due to overall population growth coupled with regulatory ossification of the coastal states. Race is diminishing as a factor in American life, while class and social mobility remain important. The biggest challenge facing America is finding work for the growing population which permits class mobility, while retaining the benefits of healthy seniors who wish to continue to work. The biggest threats to that future are centralized planning and overcommitment to foreign adventures. If you're a believer in American exceptionalism, this is all good red meat. If you're an adherent of the 'New Urbanist" school, you'll hate it. What makes this book worth having, even if you've already ingested Kotkin's ideas elsewhere, is his exhaustive footnoting of analysis and forecasts, including both primary demographic and other data, and more accessible secondary sources. That's a luxury tough to fit into the blog post or opinion column formats, and if you're doing your own analysis, you'll almost certainly find something new in Kotkin's massive bibliography. This also serves to highlight another valuable distinction of Kotkin: His work is largely descriptive and evidence based, grounded in both demographic fate and observable aggregate behaviors of people, rather than polls and theories. When he uses 'is' or 'will be', he's earned that formulation by observation. Contrast the futurist schools whose works are studded with 'should' and 'must', and are willing to lend their credibility to those who would use coercion to make it come out their way. (I consider it highly ironic that while 'progressives' of a century ago agitated to get the working classes out of tenements, those with the same label today seem determined to put them back there.) Kotkin builds his theses of (sub)urbanism, ethnic blending, class, and Heartland resurgence brick by brick. In the his final chapter, titled the same as the book, he both sums up and inevitably ventures into politically-freighted territory. While he's no friend to GWB-style interventionism, and repeatedly cites the election of Obama as a positive in the decline of race consciousness, his conclusions on demographic outcomes, and what can be done to benefit from continuing American growth, are all at odds with the instin[...]



This Is Your Economy On Government

2010-03-23T12:46:15-07:00

Here is the effect of the taxpayer-funded 'Cash for Clunkers' program on auto sales. Given this, what estimate would you make of the effect of the taxpayer-funded 'First Time Homebuyer' credit program? Check your answer here. Any questions? (Hat tip:...



The Roving Eye: Clamatology, A Bio-Garage In Silicon Valley, Mickey The Crony Capitalist

2010-03-11T11:50:00-08:00

I checked, it's not April 1st. This report on a use of prehistoric mollusk shells to estimate temperatures appears to be genuine. With a worldwide sample size of 26 such shells, it's not going to change science overnight, but it...

I checked, it's not April 1st. This report on a use of prehistoric mollusk shells to estimate temperatures appears to be genuine. With a worldwide sample size of 26 such shells, it's not going to change science overnight, but it could prove informative in time. It also has multiple linguistic possibilities, leading to the informative but punishing comment thread on the post. Bonus points for the "shopped" illo, at least for those who follow AGW insider ball.

Waiting for VCs, or DHS, to knock. Outside of the probably excessive attention being paid to the amateur DIYBio movement, there are some serious folks working in minimal facilities. Rob Carlson documents one such, in an undisclosed garage in Silicon Valley. Whoever is behind it is attempting serious work - anti-cancer compound screening - but is lying low due in part to credible fears - documented by Carlson - of finding not venture capitalists but armed agents from DHS at their doors. There are legitimate issues of WMD proliferation here - Carlson himself has credibly proposed micro-brewing as a reasonable comparable to the potential scope and scale of low-rent bio-production. But an uncoordinated, antagonistic approach by bureaucrats toting guns is not going to lead to any sort of containment. It's more likely to cause the same swift proliferation of enabling knowledge as that sparked by the misguided Federal policies on cryptographic technology in the '90s.

The thug in the mouse suit. Back as far as the 60s, there's been a feeling that ugliness sometimes lurks behind the squeaky-clean, family-oriented facade at Disney. Maggie's Farm documents some of the recent questionable deeds of the mouse. You can choose from using the Federal government to extract fees from foreign visitors to help promote Disney parks, to suppressing politically uncomfortable content about 9/11, to getting a non-profit that exposed an ineffective Disney education product thrown out of its offices. And of course we all know about the 'copyright event horizon', ensuring that nothing created since the first appearance of Mickey will ever go out of copyright.




Startup Helps MSM Sites Become SEO Spammers

2010-03-11T11:55:37-08:00

How often do you find a cross-over story about three notable Left Coast industries: venture capital, media, and -- err -- sex? It seems that noted San Francisco sex writer Violet Blue did some checking on what the SF Chron... How often do you find a cross-over story about three notable Left Coast industries: venture capital, media, and -- err -- sex? It seems that noted San Francisco sex writer Violet Blue did some checking on what the SF Chron and sfgate.com were doing with her content (NSFW WARNING) and didn't like what she found. Her past columns had been copied to another domain, all outbound links (and some punctuation) stripped, the articles split into multiple pages, the pages stuffed with keywords - some inappropriate, and festooned with pay-per-click ads. And it emerged that multiple domains had also been aliased to these dead-end copies. Now where have we seen that kind of behavior before? Here I should mention that sfgate.com is apparently - by admission of the author - within the letter of her contract by making this use of her work. That relationship, now terminated, was based on a level of trust that she feels has been abused, and made no explicit stipulations on how the content can be reused. The interest here is what this incident may say about the ongoing behavior of the MSM online, and its implications for the industry's business model. This occurrence is not a one-off. The Violet Blue post also mentions the LA Times as creating similar ad-stuffed dead end pages, also with a list of multiple aliased domains. What caught my attention was that both the Chron's and Times' alias lists incuded subdomains of one common domain: perfectmarket.com. Perfect Market is an LA-area startup that claims to:[help] newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters with a web presence and other online publishers grow their revenue with little effort and no risk. Our proprietary technology solution better fulfills the needs of intent users – people who arrive at their sites through keyword searches seeking specific information – with exactly what they're looking for in our customers' online content. Optimized content with relevant ads generates higher click-through rates for advertisers, and dramatically more revenue for publishers and their ad network partners. That glowing description does seem to fit the prosaic implementation discovered by Ms. Blue, so it seems safe to conclude that Perfect Market is the technology and services partner that assisted the Chron and Times in stripping the original content into its SEO'd counterparts. Perfect Market is a well backed venture. It has raised over $20m in venture capital, the most recent round closing in February and announced yesterday. Interestingly, this round was led by the bankrupt Tribune Company, parent company of the LA Times. Perfect Market also has solid backing from more traditional VCs, including Trinity, Rustic Canyon and IdeaLab. (Mayfield also has a board seat, though no publicized investment.) Again, nothing to see here from a legal perspective. The company is selling a service and technology to its MSM clients, who bear responsibility for its operation against content that they have bought or licensed. There are three business perspectives that do emerge. The first is the potential reaction of authors who find their work used in this fashion, and the consequent ability of MSM sites to work with those with an established byline. Ms. Blue has pretty much covered that by example, so I will pass. The second is the reaction of the so-far-unnamed party to the transaction: the search engine. The keyword and ad-stuffed dead end pages apparently produced by Perfect Markets's technology are isomorphic, f[...]



Could California Borrow This Guy II

2010-03-03T09:39:13-08:00

Chris Christie of New Jersey: You know, at some point there has to be parity. There has to be parity between what is happening in the real world, and what is happening in the public sector world. The money does...

Chris Christie of New Jersey:


You know, at some point there has to be parity. There has to be parity between what is happening in the real world, and what is happening in the public sector world. The money does not grow on trees outside this building or outside your municipal building. It comes from the hard working people of our communities who are suffering and are hurting right now....

We need to understand we are all in this together. And you know, all of you know in your heart, what I am saying is true. You all know that these raises that are being given to public employees of all stripes, we cannot afford. You all know the state cannot continue to spend money it does not have. And you all know that the appetite for tax increases among our constituents has come to an end.


Yes. When the average wage in the private and public sectors are once again in line (and the unemployment rates ditto), then 'justice' will be served.

And we get girly-man Ahnuld and reruns of the Governor Moonbeam show. Poor California!