September 30, 2004

From Lerach to Franken In The Same Morning

Talk about your juxtapositions. I went to hear Bill Lerach, the attorney so famously (or infamously) associated with class-action securities lawsuits, speak at the San Diego Venture Group breakfast session this morning.

"How many CEOs are there in the audience?" the moderator asked at the beginning of the session. Hundreds of hands went up. "It's a target-rich environment," the moderator then quipped to Lerach.

"I haven't eaten breakfast this morning," Lerach said.

Some highlights of some of the things Lerach spoke about over the course of the hour:

  • Corporate fraud is still going on, despite all the high-profile criminal suits, people going to jail, etc. "There's just as much fraud as ever", he said. "The insiders are still cooking the books".

  • "Billions of dollars [due to litigation] are going to change hands in the next 24 months."

  • He spoke a lot about the "unintended consequences" of both Sarbanes-Oxley legistlation, as well as the 1995 securities reform legistlation that limited shareholder power.

  • He spoke a lot about "derivative lawsuits" -- "historically the red-headed step-children of class actions" but now coming into favor by many law firms -- particularly suits over 401k's and other issues

  • Asked by the moderator why the majority of cases he deals with are small- to mid-cap companies as opposed to big-cap companies, Lerach said: "Look, you get up each morning and take what comes. It's like we're hunters. A big animal walks in front of you and you shoot. A small animal walks in front of you and you go after that."

  • Sarbanes-Oxley has been helpful, he said, because it serves as a "discovery roadmap", and it has changed judicial attitudes. Federal judges, even conservative ones, are far less sympathetic to directors and officers who claim they weren't aware of fraud or corruption going on in the company.

  • As for the term "safe harbor": "We used to call it, 'safe ocean'".

  • He twice mentioned Cardinal Health and the $155M of insider trading that went on there. Enron and Cardinal Health were probably the two most-often mentioned companies over the course of the hour.

  • He spoke about a new case that hasn't gone public yet, where the emails exchanged really blew him away. "I don't know how humans can write these emails," he said. The case involves millions of dollars of fraud and fake warehouses and other things. In this case, his investigators found an email dated 9/11/2001 from the CFO to the CEO of this company that said, "Today's a bad day for America, but a lucky day for us."

  • "These cases are not frivolous. You know that."

  • But at one point during the talk, Lerach admitted that the main thing that causes him to go after a company is a sudden price change in the company's stock price. That's pretty much it. And that's why so many people think his suits are frivolous. It's why people look upon Lerach and other such attorneys as predators, hyenas on the savannah of the marketplace.

  • During the Q&A, I asked him what he thought of the Google IPO, and whether or not that type of IPO was a good or bad trend if other companies go that route in the future. I was surprised he didn't want to comment on it. "That's beyond my expertise to answer," he said. "It seems they were successful with their IPO."

From the Lerach event I make a quick stop over at UCSD to catch a bit of the live broadcast of the Al Franken Show at Mandeville Auditorium.

I only stayed for the first hour of the three-hour program, but it was great. Franken has a great wit, and the audience was great as well. The media were all over the place outside, with those newsvans with their 100-ft antenna poles popping up on top.

Meg Ryan made a surprise appearance, sitting down next to Franken at the table onstage to perform a funny skit about "liberals" in Hollywood. Funny line from Meg during the skit: "These frivolous lawsuits [the very ones Lerach & Co are famous for!] cost America jobs -- like the one I didn't get for Erin Brockovich!"

I've not listened to the Franken show much, or anything else on Air America (it only recently became available in the San Diego market, on, of all things, a ClearChannel-owned AM station), but he is pretty damn good at what he does, and he makes some really good points. Also, until today, I never quite understood Air America's choice of using recordings of live Grateful Dead concerts as the background/theme music on the show. But seeing Franken live, with the Dead music blaring from the PA during the breaks, and hearing it blaring from the PA outside the building and echoing around the campus, it was really exciting and affective. Suddenly it all made sense and I now see how it works.

Posted by brian at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

September 29, 2004

Testing flickr's "Blog this photo" feature

Esther takes a picture of a conference session in London, posts it in flickr. Caterina then makes a very interesting comment about the body language of the three men seated on the panel (she notes they're making fists, and their crossed legs are not pointing to each other).

Meanwhile, I'm testing out flickr's "blog this photo" capability to see how well it works -- or how much damage it does to my blog.

Fingers crossed.

UPDATE: It worked. The formatting was a little weird, and Flickr inserts a bunch of CSS and HTML into the posting, which I'm not too fond of. Still, it's a great feature that fotolog ought to have.

Posted by brian at 04:28 PM | Comments (0)

Mister Jalopy's Hooptyrides

Stumbled upon a new blog called Mister Jalopy's Hooptyrides.

It's like a steampunk version of BoingBoing with heavy emphasis on restoration of beat-up old automobiles. The writing is delightfully weird and amusing. This is a great new blog.

Be sure to check out his iPod casemod! It's like something right out of Brazil.

Posted by brian at 12:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 27, 2004

Making a Name for Itself

Interesting juxtaposition of advertisement and news content in this Sept 21 article at TechWorld, a UK technology website:

The headline: Microsoft server crash nearly causes 800-plane pile-up.

The MSFT ad slogan: Make a name for yourself with Windows Server System.

Posted by brian at 08:40 PM | Comments (0)

September 26, 2004

Parents and Kids in the Information Age

I saw this on Fred Wilson's blog:

Jerry's daugther won't let him read her blog any more. She moved over to Live Journal and put up a password. I think that's her perogative and if my girls want to do that, it would be OK with me.

But I'd miss the ability to find out what they are thinking. Take Emily's trip to Greenkill this week. When I asked how it was, I got back "it was OK". I asked a few more questions, but that was all I was going to get.

Then she blogged the whole trip and I got to find out what she did and what she liked and what she didn't. That's what I wanted and through her blog I got it.

Sad, that.

It got me thinking . . . how many of the following product ideas will never happen in a million years, how many exist now, and how many will exist soon?

  • Instant Notification of Kid Actions. Kid does something, goes somewhere, writes something online, watches a prgram on TV, joins some website, subscribes to something, sees something, hears something, gets within N yards of a place or person(s) he or she's not supposed to be near, and the parents get an instant electronic notification.

  • Big Mother: The kid has a personal cellphone. Mom has one too. One big difference: Mom's phone lights up whenever the kid's phone is in use. Press a button, and Mom can see who the kid's talking to, or listen in on the kid's conversation. Or review the kid's call log. Or monitor the kid's location via GPS. Or browse the directories of photos or digital videos or MP3s stored on the kid's phone.

  • Blog Reader Tracking: Who's reading my kid's blog?

  • RFID-embedded clothing and accessories: RFID-embedded jeans. Sneakers. Backpacks. Lunchboxes. Hats, gloves, coats, and scarves. Skateboards. Bikes. LoJacking everything in sight.

Of course, if parents can keep an eye on kids, kids can keep an eye on parents. I sometimes wonder if the future is going to be like the scene in the Scorsese film Casino, where DeNiro's character describes how everyone's watching each other in Vegas:

Since the players are looking to beat the casino, the dealers are watching the players. The box men are watching the dealers. The floor men are watching the box men. The pit bosses are watching the floor men. The shift bosses are watching the pit bosses. The casino manager is watching the shift bosses. I'm watching the casino manager. And the eye-in-the-sky is watching us all.

It's been a while since I re-read Forster's 1908 The Machine Stops:

"The Machine," they exclaimed, "feeds us and clothes us and houses us; through it we speak to one another, through it we see one another, in it we have our being. The Machine is the friend of ideas and the enemy of superstition: the Machine is omnipotent, eternal; blessed is the Machine."

Posted by brian at 12:17 PM | Comments (1)

September 24, 2004

foo fotos

Better late than never. Some random Treo-shots from Foo Camp two weeks ago (has a Web Year already passed since Foo Camp? Amazing.):

Someone from Microsoft distributed these squishy, nerf-like figurines on the dinner tables at Foo. At first I thought they were number 9's that you'd buy to decorate a child's 9th birthday cake. But actually they were for "Channel 9", Microsoft's internal blog thingie for Microsoft developers. Of course, it took about 0.02 seconds for Foo Campers to tear the heads off and arrange the Microsoft numbers not as 9's in a row, but as "666"... If life gives you Channel 9 figurines, destroy them as quickly as you can. What else would you expect from an Open Source crowd?

Here's a random shot with a rather interesting collection of individuals (how many can you identify?):

Posted by brian at 06:26 PM | Comments (0)

Battlin' Zithromax w/ The Kleptones

I was out of town yesterday on a short business trip, and when I got up this morning I discovered my blogs had been bombarded with comment spam once again --- over seven hundred messages, almost entirely about something called Zithromax.

After cursing and contemplating the value of continuing to blog when the spam's so bad I can't keep up (I already 900+ spams a day in email, and now I get 100's a day in my blogs) I decided it was finally time to upgrade to Movable Type 3.11 and the latest MT-Blacklist, something I've already done for one of my other blogs, Nettle.

Upgrading MovableType is a pain. Not only is it a pain because it's a pain, but it's a pain because this problem is so fixable. I wish SixApart would dedicate some resources to creating a reliable installer that completely automates the upgrade process, from uncompressing the tarball to installing all the plugins.

Where is InstallShield for MT?

While I battle the forces of Zithromax, I'm groovin' to the Kleptones thanks to Andy Baio. Over at Waxy, Andy is blogging about and hosting The Kleptones' new mash-up album, A Night At the Hip Hopera in its entirety. I've been a fan of plunderphonics, Negativland, remixes, and mash-ups for years, and I agree with Andy that this is a pretty remarkable mash-up. I love reinterpretations of familiar music and the way technology is letting us "rearrange the bits", as Cory might say. (Just wait until we start seeing movie mash-ups.)

Posted by brian at 04:17 PM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2004

Going Local

There's a lot of activity in the social-network-based local listings recommendations arena right now. Think "friendster meets epinions meets local.yahoo.com".

There's Judy's Book (a name instantly reminding me of Craig's List), based in Seattle. Andy Sack, its CEO, has a new blog where he's going into amazing detail about the company's financing (amazing as in, I'm surprised the VCs are comfortable with him outlining the day-to-day saga of how he got funded). Nevertheless -- I'm really glad to see this openness and I hope it continues, and spreads.

Then there's Local-i.com, out of Boston, focusing on restaurant recommendations in various cities. Seems to me to be more of a feature in someone else's business than a business in its own right, but we'll see.

Finally there's IdeaLabs' InIsiderPages.com, another "local epinions" service which is running a beta test for the LA metro area. As of this moment, InsiderPages' homepage says there are 1053 "members" and 2585 "reviews".

InsiderPages and Judy's Book are social networks (notice the emphasis on "friends helping friends") geared at trusted recommendations of local goods and services. The hope is clearly that if your friends recommend something, you're more likely to try it out than if some stranger posts a recommendation in a local message board, or the local newspaper or other media outlet recommends it.

I suppose that would be true. Question is: will people be willing to join yet another social network and drag all their friends over to these services? Judy's Book lists as its #1 benefit getting "connected" -- "find your friends" and "learn more about them -- where they like to eat, shop and more!". I guess I wonder, if they're already your friends, don't you already know where they like to eat, shop, and more? Will a service like this add value to you and your friends, or are you and your friends doing most of the value-add back to this company?

I wonder if this application of social networking is going to work. I intend on keeping an eye on these three companies to see how they do.

Another way this might work is if it were more peer-to-peer based --- with your friend information (e.g. FOAF) maintained on your local machine, and the recommendations kept private among your trusted friends, but the directories of local goods and services distributed around the net as a web service that anyone could access. Such a model doesn't help these three companies, but it might get faster adoption since you're not joining yet another network.

Posted by brian at 09:51 AM | Comments (3)

September 20, 2004

Startups Then vs Now

In Joe Kraus's new blog Bnoopy, he posted an essay called Oh, the difference a decade makes that resonated powerfully with my own experience.

Joe writes about the great expenses of hardware and software that were a part of the technology startup experience ten years ago. For Coconut, my first startup, founded in 1987, this was painfully true. I spent several months evaluating different hardware and software platforms for the server software: what was the cheapest, fastest, and most popular platform out there to develop for? Once I decided the server software had to be Unix based, the decision became, which hardware and which Unix? By 1988 it was time to start coding, and I decided the hardware would be x86-based, and the software we'd first support would be SCO Xenix (remember SCO, back when they were the good SCO?).

We needed a server and we bought one. At the time it was considered fast, relatively affordable, and a great platform for SCO Xenix: the AST Premium 386. It cost $10,000 and came with 4 megs of RAM (yes, megabytes), and -- gasp -- a 90-megabyte hard disk. The CPU? A 20-mHz 386. I remember splurging on a color graphics card for the machine (can't remember if VGA was out yet) and a Zenith "Flat-Panel" monitor (flat CRT). I remember taking the Zenith out of its box, putting it on top of the AST, plugging it in, turning it on, and watching a small mushroom cloud apear above the monitor as it blew up.

We soon needed more disk space and more RAM. We could only afford 3 more megabytes of RAM -- because that alone cost us around $1200. And then there was the disk drive. We splurged on a $2300 CDC WREN V drive with a massive capacity of ... 340 megabytes. Whoooo-ooo!

Then there was the expense of the SCO Xenix license. Then the other desktops and all of their Microsoft, Borland, and other software licenses. Then the licenses for other Unix platforms (and the costs of buying hardware for all those other platforms) that our customers wanted our software to run on. I remember considering joining the Go developer's program (remember Go? the handheld "Slate" computer?). Then I saw they wanted $7000 just to join their program.

Being a software company in the late 80s and early 90s was really an expensive proposition.

As Joe points out, today, development tools now cost nothing. And commodity hardware is dirt cheap. It's remarkable how things have changed.

Joe also brings up the global market for labor, and the fact that even the smallest startups now have access to it. I can see the benefits of outsourcing some specific development projects, but I don't see the benefits of outsourcing the whole development effort. Maybe I'm old-fashioned: I care about building a company culture as well as great products. I've not arrived at the point where I could be comfortable with a company where everything is virtual: everyone works in different regions of the world, and communicates only through phone, IRC, AIM, email, wikis, and other electronic means. That's fine for project matrix teams that form and break up and re-form in different groups for the next projects, but where's the fun in that for a company?

Posted by brian at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2004

Busy

I've had no time to blog here in a while -- this month is looking pretty thin so far. Spending most of my time on the startup. Hope to have some new material in the blog soon.

In the meantime, I finally posted a long-pending little commentary about 404-not-found pages over at Nettle.

Posted by brian at 10:11 AM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2004

From Avoidance... to Healing

For decades one historical meme of ARPANET was that if a hub on the net was damaged (by anything ranging from human error to nukes), the rest of the network would "route around" the problem and the network would still work.

Wikipedia is becoming a fascinating example of a new meme: that "damaged content" (where "damage" might from simple error to intentional malicious misinformation) will heal over time. The most fascinating thing about this trend seems to be that "time" is in hours, if not minutes --- not days, weeks, or years.

Here's a great article from Joi Ito's site that references some studies done on how fast Wikipedia content damage heals itself.

Posted by brian at 01:04 PM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2004

Nettle on Meetup's new homepage

Oh yeah... I did a little commentary on Meetup's new home page over at the Nettle blog.

Nettle's now running MovableType 3.11. I installed it so I could run the new MT-Blacklist 2.0, which was supposed to be so much better. It is better, but it isn't that much better. I was stunned to see that there were 850 spams in the comments for the Nettle blog. Took FOREVER to remove them, even with the new MT-Blacklist 2.0.

I'll be migrating all my blogs over to 3.11 over the next week, hopefully. I just have no time for spam anymore. Comments are going to be moderated.

Posted by brian at 03:59 PM | Comments (0)

foo camp

Doing O'Reilly's Foo Camp this weekend.

Will follow up as events unfold...

Posted by brian at 03:15 PM | Comments (1)

September 09, 2004

On the Road

"Good Morning. I'm Michael Summerthwaite. We're going to do some meditations. Begin to breathe slowly . . . that's it . . . nice and slow . . . "

Nothing like being woken up at 5:14am by the sounds of the harmonies of New Age synthesizers, bubbling brooks, and the voice of Michael Summerthwaite telling you it is time for your morning meditation.

I thought it was the TV, but no, it was this damn "Dream Machine", an alarm clock on steroids that the hotel provides its guests. It has a built-in CD player with a hotel-provided CD of "soothing" audio to help you sleep -- ha! It may be a "Dream Machine" but to me it was a football, and as I reached for it my intent was to throw it out the hotel room's window and see how far it might go before it hit the ground. Ah, it seems the hotel has anticipated this reaction from its guests: the damn Dream Machine is bolted to the table.

Why is it these devices are so poorly designed? Sure, at first glance, with all its sleek lines and curves, one could see how it might win an Industrial Design award. But when it comes to being woken up by one at 5:14 in the morning, the only thing I care about is how to shut it off. And it's always impossible to find the TURN THE NOISE OFF button. Even in full light, it's hard to figure out. I never trust something called "Snooze". I suspect it means the damn noise will start up again in 10 minutes. Best thing to do is pull the plug. At least the hotel management didn't bolt that into the wall.

Posted by brian at 07:00 AM | Comments (1)

September 04, 2004

Barnett on the World of the 21st Century

Once again, amazing television from C-SPAN. Who needs HBO when C-SPAN is this good?

I'd never heard of Thomas P.M. Barnett before, and was doing the proverbial flipping-thru-channels around dinnertime when I came across Barnett's presentation about the U.S. military in the 21st century. The presentation dates from early June 2004 and is airing again tonight at 11pm apparently.

While I didn't agree with everything he had to say, I found it an amazing and compelling lecture worthy of serious consideration. (Is there a blog debating Barnett somewhere? I wish.) He included historical perspective, post-9/11 analysis, and how things might go in the next 50 years. The hell with war: he shows how weak America currently is at waging peace (witness the mess of Iraq), how that's one key element to a stable future globally. And he makes recommendations on how we might address that weakness. Needless to say, I now plan to buy and read his book, The Pentagon's New Map.

The AntiTufte
One notable thing about Barnett: Barnett is the AntiTufte. His Powerpoint presentation (or whatever presentation software he uses) was fascinating. Fascinating in its cheesiness: pops, groans, whooshes, goofy uses of fonts, bad graphics, hard-to-read and way too dense text, silly and far too much use of animation, inclusion of "Groovy, Baby" clips and Law and Order clangs and various musical clips . . . it was like 1988 all over again when we were all playing with WAV files for the first time. But it was fascinating in how effective the cheesy multimedia was. Perhaps Barnett has learned this is the best way to keep an audience of military and intelligence officials awake.

I was pleased to see he uses the Peters projection when depicting maps of the world, throughout his presentation. Given how so much of the story of the 21st century is going to be taking place in the places that the Mercator projection always shunk, it's fitting that he chose Peters as those places -- Barnett's "Gap" regions of the world -- are much larger (in fact, more accurately sized) in Peters. Particularly Africa and the Middle East.

But then if you go to his website, it's just as cheesy: broken graphics, old-school layout. But then, he's got a blog, which is now added to my list here at brianstorms.

I wish Barnett's thought-provoking C-SPAN program was shown in theatres just like F9/11.

Posted by brian at 09:40 PM | Comments (2)

September 03, 2004

Oops

I was flipping through the channels tonight and noticed some sort of conference session was airing on C-SPAN. I stopped to listen a moment because they were talking about blogs, Meetups,s and other internet trends. Then I noticed I recognized the panelist sitting on the right.

Thanks to C-SPAN, we now know what you get when you cross Billmon with Gillmor. :-)

Luckily my Treo was nearby and I quickly snapped a blurry shot above right off the TV screen.

Looks like not only did they get Dan's name wrong, but the event did not happen "Today", despite the text C-SPAN superimposed in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen (it didn't show up in the big photo but is barely visible in the little photo, above Dan's head). I believe this panel session was held on August 24th at the Aspen Summit conference.

Addendum: some of the sessions from this conference are archived as video webcasts here, including an interesting session called "Future of the Internet: Pipes, Devices, Services & Applications" with Larry Babbio, Halsey Minor, Craig Mundie, and Kyle Dixon.

Posted by brian at 11:26 PM | Comments (0)

FSU Enters "Deal" With Apple Re: iTunes

Florida State University forms an "Online Music Committee" to help figure out how to cut the rampant downloading of copyrighted music by students. The outcome? A "deal" with Apple Computer whereby FSU will distribute "for free" the iTunes software and let students download music for $0.99 each.

Here's the story in something called FSU News.

Scroll down to all the comments at the bottom of that page. Everybody's immediately asking, um, how is this a "deal"? Since iTunes software is already free, and it costs $0.99 for anyone to buy music from iTunes, not just FSU students. Is FSU really that dumb?

Or did FSUNews miss out on a key part of the story?

Here's the MacDailyNews coverage of the story, and here is the Tallahassee Democrat's take ("FSU cracks down on illegal file sharing and offers free music-swapping software").

It continues to amaze me that the music industry and the media completely overlook IRC. Who needs P2P for file-sharing when you've got more music than you can possibly ever listen to flooding through IRC channels? (Not to mention USENET too!)

Posted by brian at 11:44 AM | Comments (1)

iTunes Affiliate

The same week Microsoft launches its online music store, Apple launches an iTunes Affiliate Program. Miracle of miracles, Apple let the brianstorms blog into the program (in fact they told me they were "thrilled" to welcome me as a partner . . . I bet they'd been fretting about "will brianstorms sign up or not!?" all week), so yer now lookin' at a gen-u-ine iTunes Affiliate. Um, what to do next . . .

iTunes_RGB_9mm

The odd thing is, Apple outsourced its whole Affiliate program to a company called LinkSynergy. (Never heard of 'em.) It'd be ok, if LinkSynergy had figured out a way to fit within Apple's domain name. In other words, when you mouse over the little emblem right here, your browser would show you that you'd be going to something reasonable and predictable like "click.apple.com" or "affiliate.itunes.com" if you clicked on it. As opposed to what your browser actually tells you, which is a big long link for "click.linksynergy.com". What's that? Who are they? Is it safe? Some people notice these things.

I also noticed, at least here on this Mac, that if one's iTunes app isn't running when you click on the little logo here, nothing happens other than the browser reloading the page. If iTunes is running, it goes to the main page of the iTunes Music Store.

I wonder what happens on Windows machines. Well, to be honest, I don't. But seriously: shouldn't there be some smarter behavior on the part of the Affiliate links? If a user doesn't have iTunes installed on their machine, shouldn't clicking on an Affiliate's link at least take you to Apple's iTunes website?

Posted by brian at 07:08 AM | Comments (1)
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