Bookmarks for March 2nd from 10:48 to 21:40

These are my links for March 2nd from 10:48 to 21:40:

Bookmarks for February 28th through March 1st

These are my links for February 28th through March 1st:

  • Community Data – Swivel – User contributed datasets, for visualization and graphs with Swivel
  • Obamameter – Map visualization of economic stimulus outlays. "Keep tabs on the the US economy, the global economy and the stimulus through our dashboard for the economy."
  • recovery.gov.pdf – Slide presentation on data sources and construction of initial Recover.gov site in Jan 2009, from talk at Transparency Camp.
  • Virtual Hoff : DoxPara Research – Slides from Dan Kaminsky's talk at CloudCamp Seattle on network and application security issues in cloud and virtualized computing environments.
  • Can You Buy a Silicon Valley? Maybe. – from Paul Graham – "If you could get startups to stick to your town for a million apiece, then for a billion dollars you could bring in a thousand startups. That probably wouldn't push you past Silicon Valley itself, but it might get you second place. For the price of a football stadium, any town that was decent to live in could make itself one of the biggest startup hubs in the world."
  • Berkshire Hathaway 2008 shareholders letter (PDF) – Warren Buffet reviews the state of the financial markets, his worst year ever, and the outlook for 2009.
  • White House 2: Where YOU set the nation’s priorities – Not the actual White House, but an interesting experiment in collaborative input for setting government agenda.
  • Python for Lisp Programmers – Peter Norvig examines Python. "(Although it wasn't my intent, Python programers have told me this page has helped them learn Lisp.) Basically, Python can be seen as a dialect of Lisp with "traditional" syntax (what Lisp people call "infix" or "m-lisp" syntax). One message on comp.lang.python said "I never understood why LISP was a good idea until I started playing with python." Python supports all of Lisp's essential features except macros, and you don't miss macros all that much because it does have eval, and operator overloading, and regular expression parsing, so you can create custom languages that way. "

Bookmarks for February 26th through February 27th

These are my links for February 26th through February 27th:

Bookmarks for February 26th from 10:39 to 20:05

These are my links for February 26th from 10:39 to 20:05:

Bookmarks for February 23rd through February 24th

These are my links for February 23rd through February 24th:

Bookmarks for February 16th through February 17th

These are my links for February 16th through February 17th:

  • Top 100 Network Security Tools – Many many security testing and hacking tools.
  • FRONTLINE: inside the meltdown: watch the full program – "On Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008, the astonished leadership of the U.S. Congress was told in a private session by the chairman of the Federal Reserve that the American economy was in grave danger of a complete meltdown within a matter of days. "There was literally a pause in that room where the oxygen left," says Sen. Christopher Dodd"
  • The Dark Matter of a Startup – "Every successful startup that I have seen has someone within their ranks that just kinda “does stuff.” No one really knows specifically what they do, but its vital to the success of the startup."
  • Why I Hate Frameworks – "A hammer?" he asks. "Nobody really buys hammers anymore. They're kind of old fashioned…we started selling schematic diagrams for hammer factories, enabling our clients to build their own hammer factories, custom engineered to manufacture only the kinds of hammers that they would actually need."
  • Mining The Thought Stream – Lots of comments around what is Twitter good for and how will it make money, revolving around real/near-time search, analytics, marketing, etc.
  • Understanding Web Operations Culture – the Graph & Data Obsession … – Comparison of traffic at Flickr, Google, Twitter, last.fm during the Obama inauguration. "One of the most interesting parts of running a large website is watching the effects of unrelated events affecting user traffic in aggregate."

Bookmarks for February 15th through February 16th

These are my links for February 15th through February 16th:

May as well put this guy in charge of the banks

Another day, another subprime-related fiasco. Today GE Asset Management announced that one of its not-quite-money-market short bond funds, the Enhanced Cash Trust, took a loss from subprime holdings, and is offering customer redemptions at 96 cents on the dollar. Normally these funds are considered to be a higher-yielding version of a money market fund. This would make you pretty unhappy if you were looking for 5%-ish stable returns while waiting for the stock market to settle down.

Along these lines, here are British comedians John Fortune & John Bird chatting about the state of the banking system, Northern Rock, and subprime in another interview of “George Parr, investment banker” from last month.

See also: Subprime crisis explained, by British comedians

A day later, a little bounce


Got a relatively weak bounce today after yesterday’s excitement.


Here’s a look at today’s market heat map after the close. There’s a lot of green, but this was pretty unenthusiastic.


I wasn’t too impressed with John Thain on CNBC today explaining yesterday’s weirdness with the NYSE trading and reporting systems. The official story seems to be that the systems that compute the DJIA got backlogged with transactions, and separately an internal messaging system for floor traders also got backlogged, so they’re upgrading their servers. Today they had to delay closing a number of stocks to allow transaction queues to clear at the end of the day. Thain mentioned a volume of over 20,000 msgs/second. This is all plausible, but not reassuring. It sounds like something that would happen to a growing e-commerce site, not one of the world’s largest stock exchanges. I wonder how much reserve throughput they can actually deploy. If we get a “real” market crash, they’re going to have to handle a lot more than the 2.4 billion shares they traded yesterday.

Update Thursday 03-01-2007 0616 PST – Premarket looks pretty messy this morning so far.

Correlated risks


Today was a notable down day for most investors. This is a snapshot of the WSJ’s market heat map after today’s close, as monochromatic as I’ve ever seen it. (Update – see TraderMike’s recap of the intraday trading.)

It’s interesting to observe that diversification across asset classes and markets didn’t help you today. All 30 Dow stocks closed down. 99 of 100 Nasdaq-100 stocks closed down. Nearly all of the S&P 500 closed down. Oil, gold, and other commodities closed down. Emerging markets closed down. Basically, equities and commodities got sold, and the proceeds went to cash and bonds. (Update – here’s the summary from today’s Worden Report: “Zero Industry groups advanced while 239 declined. There was one winner in the Nasdaq-100, two in the SP-500 and zero in the Dow. HalfPoint+ Movers were seven against 2174. The Leadership Index was 34 versus 2228.”)

One nominal trigger for today’s selling was a 9% drop on the Shanghai exchange, but there have been any number of reasons to be concerned and raise a little cash for a while.

In general, diversifying an investment portfolio across asset classes and markets reduces overall risk for an equivalent level of returns. This works because the price behavior for different markets is supposed to be relatively uncorrelated over time. Lately, disparate markets have been more correlated than in the past, mostly going up. Today the risk was clearly to the down side, making it likely that your investment portfolio closed lower today, unless you were in cash or bonds. (I’m pleased to have reduced my trading positions in India and China over the past couple of weeks.)

Another unexpected systemic risk exposed today was in the odd behavior of the NYSE around 3pm. The new hybrid (electronic and open outcry) trading system was apparently getting backed up due to heavy order flow this afternoon. The DJIA appeared to gap down by 180 points when the backlog was cleared. Anyone trading intraday off a NYSE data feed probably had some problems. (Update – here’s TraderMike with more detail)

I think the price action today is overdone, but I’m also happy to have exited many of my positions in India, China, and other emerging markets over the past few weeks. This is a good time to think about where to invest after the dust settles, or focus on short term and day trading. (Some of you may be interested in using the Ultra and Ultrashort ETFs.)

Mark Hurd’s letter to the troops

SV Watcher posted the text of a message that went out to HP employees from Mark Hurd today. Looks like the official corporate values are pretty much the way I remember:

Clearly things have happened here that are unacceptable. But we will not react to speculation. Instead, we will continue to gather and review all the relevant facts. I can assure you we will get to the bottom of this and take appropriate action.

HP’s values are at the core of this company. These have not changed and will not change. HP’s shared values are a set of deeply held beliefs that govern and guide our behavior.
• We are passionate about customers
• We have trust and respect for individuals
• We perform at a high level of achievement and contribution
• We act with speed and agility
• We deliver meaningful innovation
• We achieve our results through teamwork and
• We conduct our business with uncompromising integrity.

He also mentions that he believes the current board flap has nothing to do with the strategy or operations of Hewlett-Packard. I agree, provided it gets resolved promptly and fairly.

Gene Becker, who’s still at HP, is starting to think about what the HP Way 2.0 might look like. But a set of values or ideals is just words on paper until people begin to live and breathe by them, and people will learn them by their shared experience. The board affair is a great “teachable moment” in progress, the question is – what lesson gets taught?

The HP board is holding an unscheduled meeting over the weekend. Patricia Dunn has apparently offered to resign if they ask, but isn’t volunteering to step aside. Perhaps there are more facts here in her support, but let’s see what lessons we learn. So far it looks like “Don’t get caught”.

See also: What would Bill and Dave do?

What would Bill and Dave Do?

HP has a culture problem.

Put aside for a moment the (probably illegal) methods used to obtain the personal phone records of the HP board members.

Yes, HP’s private detectives were using social engineering and pretexting, but honestly, does it surprise you to hear that a senior executive got carried away trying to identify their secret “enemies”? Didn’t think so.

The surprising part is that this wasn’t an Oracle (sending private investigators out dumpster diving for evidence) or an Apple (filing lawsuits and requesting subpoenas to learn the names of leakers), or some other Valley company built around tightly controlling founders.

The surprising part is that this was at HP, the company formerly known as “Hewlett-Packard”, where by tradition Bill Hewlett left his change on his desk, demonstrating his trust in his co-workers. This is like expecting Gerald Ford and getting Richard Nixon.

HP has been getting its act back together for the past year. Less talking, more doing. This affair won’t have any short term effect on the operation of the company. But it how it is resolved (or not) will have a long lasting effect on the internal values of the organization and the external perception of the company by partners, customers, and competitors.

If Patty Dunn worked for Mark Hurd, I think he would be nearly obligated to fire her at this point, or at least move her to the “penalty box” of sidelined executives. However, board directors aren’t exactly employees, and she’s the chair. It’s difficult to fire your boss.

But…would you want to do business with (or work for) a company whose management thinks it’s OK to conduct illegal searches because it thinks you did something it doesn’t like?

What would Bill and Dave do? (After they stop spinning in their graves.)

Yes, I know it’s a vastly different company now. That’s a good thing. This is still wrong.

More at Newsweek, MSNBC, Smoking Gun, TechDirt, Fred’s House, Infectious Greed, Intuitive Life

On the care and feeding of online forums

IMG_6402
I’ve had two online forum transition experiences in a week now. It’s interesting to observe how quickly an existing user base can be fragmented or even lost altogether.

The Yahoo Finance message boards uproar continues. Now that I’ve tried it more than once during the past few days, I’m still finding it difficult to scan quickly. More importantly to Yahoo, there are signs of mass migration to other message boards by very active participants looking for a new home. Much of the flock may still settle back at Yahoo, but it looks like there’s been a lot of people checking out the alternatives during the past few days.

On a completely different front, I have been part of a running forum which has been at Runners World magazine. I usually check in once a week or so, and participate in a weekly motivational game in which teams of runners post their weekly mileage. A few weeks ago, Runners World changed their forum software. In the process, the site went completely offline for a while, and later required re-registration by existing members. Their new message board there isn’t as much of a change as the Yahoo boards, but the extended outage appears to have dispersed many of the participants to other message boards. I only check once a week, and haven’t succeeded in re-registering my account yet, so I effectively disappeared. A few people from the Marathons forum eventually tracked me down today and pointed me at an “escapee” forum set up during the interim, which seems to have picked up many regulars in just a few weeks.

Assuming that either Yahoo Finance or Runners World finds it constructive to run an online message board, it’s interesting that there has been very little (no?) dialogue that I know of between the operators of the sites and their respective user communities. I suspect that a few bread crumbs of communication would have kept more people on board.

Yahoo Finance Message Boards upgrade – ugh

Dropped by the Yahoo Finance message boards this evening to scan through comments. The Yahoo Message Boards have been around in the same form for nearly as long as Yahoo, and for the past several weeks Yahoo has been testing a new format, which I find hard to read. Fortunately, there was a link to return to the original version, and I think it’s been popular.

Sometime over the weekend, all Yahoo Finance message boards have been upgraded to the new version, with no way to get to the old version.

This post captures the sentiment of many members:

IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM YAHOO!
Hi, I am the Project Manager for the new Yahoo Message Boards. I just wanted to let you all know that we will be adding even more new features to the stunning new boards next week:

1) Starting next Monday, all new posts will automatically be translated into Norwegian. Our Yahoo Finance development team decided that users would want this, and since we do not speak directly to users before updating our site, we will assume this is a highly desired feature. The brilliant Stanford Ph.D.’s we hired to update the site thought it would be cool! Due to disk storage issues, we regret that we will no longer be able to offer your posts in English. Please learn Norwegian, and let us know how it goes on our Feedback form! We read every form you send us!

2) As you know, we recently stopped listing stock board posts chronologically, and went to a thread-based system. We feel that stock investors do not need to clearly see the latest posts in chronological order, during the trading day, and our Ph.D. geniuses from Stanford think you would prefer to dig through threads to find old posts on your stocks. More importantly, later this month, we will be removing the dates and times from all posts, and then in September we plan to mix them all up randomly. We hope that you are not inconvenienced by reading 8 year old posts when making investment decisions. Please use the helpful Feedback form to let us know what you think. We read every one!

3) As you may know, in the Beta we switched from a simple and effective system of “recommending” posts with a click, to a more complex one in which you rate posts with stars. Of course, you can only see the number of stars for the first post in a thread, but we feel this is better even if no one ever uses it. Our Ph.D. developers informed us that “complex” equals “better”. So next month, we will replace the star system with a new even more complex one, in which you will manually calculate the cube root of how much you like the post on a scale of 3.4 to 11, and then divide by pi. Please let us know what you think on the Feedback form, which next month will only accept entries in Hexadecimal. We read every post.

Finally, just to get you excited and build some anticipation, I wanted to let you know that our Ph.D.’s are working on a new feature for 2007. Posts will be automatically scanned for keywords by our cool super-complex search technology, to determine if they would be better suited to a different stock board, and if so, they will be automatically moved. We feel the slight inconvenience of having posts moved around by the system will be outweighed by how cool the technology is!

Regards,
Yahoo Finance Development Team Manager ”

The new version defaults to thread-oriented, has a 5-star rating system, and provides a filter to view only highly rated posts, similar to Slashdot. This seems like it could be helpful to people who want to see popular topics. Unfortunately, the new message board format makes it very difficult to view posts in time sequence. It also doesn’t have the old message numbers, so people who kept lists of “useful” posts are out of luck, and in general seems to make it difficult to get to older posts except through search.

There are typically many more readers/lurkers than writer/posters on any message board. The board revisions seem geared toward helping the occasional reader, but also seem unpopular with the current board communities who actually generate the content. There’s a lot of grumbling, and at least some early signs of migration to other boards, such as Investors Hub, Raging Bull, Silicon Investor, and Investor Village.

After some experimenting, I’ve found it a little easier to use after changing the view preferences to “expanded” and “message list”. I suspect the threaded format may eventually help separate traffic between the buy-and-hold crowd and the short term traders, if people stick with the new system. In the meantime, there appears to be a surge of people trying out the other services.

It will be interesting to see how the transition works out. I find the new format more difficult to read, and it seems to be unpopular among the existing communities. On the other hand the new message boards format may be easier for new people to participate, and could grow new communities to replace the existing ones.

There’s some speculation on Yahoo’s intent, this post is representative:

It’s puzzling that yahoo would enforce this new system when there’s been clear evidence (from neglect of the trial format in the last weeks) that it’s not popular. I suspect there is a familiar style of coercive industrial ad mgt driving things. If you use the new format, you are coaxed/forced into playing a sort of teenage interactive popularity contest, like voting for pop stars. I assume this is to persuade advertisers that the system gooses up user enthusiasm. The problem is, as in consumer mkting, the “threads” preselect what you can see and respond to, channeling your attn the way news reporting and ads preselect the reality you can see. In effect, yahoo is part of a larger industrial paradigm in which life is a consumer decision-tree rather than a play of curiosity and discussion / analysis. Part of the frustration being felt is that you know you’re a mouse in a maze. You’re being trapped inside a teenie bopper fan magazine rating “products” rather than sharing ideas. It’s a shame to see such a useful forum crippled by childish advertising trickery.

I’m less cynical about the intent of moving to a threaded view, but it’s clearly an uncomfortable change for many participants who are more engaged there than myself. The challenge for Yahoo is that much of the value in the Finance boards is that there’s enough traffic and/or useful posts on many of them (AAPL, GOOG, TIE, most highly traded stocks) to make it worth checking out from time to time, but the interests of the active board community are different than those of a casual viewer, and for the moment there’s a disconnect in progress. Yahoo may have also picked an inopportune weekend to switch over, since posting volume is likely to be high during the next few days, reacting to events in the Middle East.

I was recently pointed at Instant Bull, a new site intended to scan multiple finance boards. Unfortunately it wants Firefox 1.5, and I’m still running 1.x for now, so I’ll have to check it out later.

Update 07-16-2006 23:00PDT: More from PaidContent, GigaOm, CNet

Update 07-18-2006 19:45PDT: There’s an impressive level of antipathy toward the new message board format. Yahoo Finance members have rapidly started setting up beachheads on other sites. One anecdote from the YHOO board:

ELN on Investor Village shows that over 800 members and over 1800 guests (probably folks checking out alternative boards) have visited in the last 24 hours! Who even heard of Investor Village before this week?

I did a search of messages on Yahoo’s ELN board and saw that there were almost 500 postings between 6AM yesterday and 6AM today (for some reason, Yahoo’s search function is not showing any results for postings after 6AM today), most of which were probably related to complaints about the new format. Then I did a search on the number of postings done since 6AM today on the ELN board on Investor Village and there’s been over 400 posts! Considering they only have 1805 posts in total on the board and considering the number of people that have visited the ELN board on Investor Village in the last 24 hours, it tells me if Yahoo doesn’t find a way to bring back something similar to the old format and the complainers on Yahoo see that their complaints are getting them nowhere, there’s gonna be a mass exodus of all these people that are now posting on or at least checking out Investor Village.

This ‘upgrade’ implementaion has been a disaster. Competitors like Investor Village are taking advantage. Even if Yahoo gains some of their traffic back, they won’t recover all of it just like Coke didn’t gain all of their market share after the New Coke fiasco. If this an indication of Yahoo’s current business model, do you really want to be an investor in this stock as future ‘upgrades’ are implemented????

Vestiges of the “old” system are still around in the non-Finance sections of Yahoo, so others have been trying to set up shop there, such as this alternative AAPL board. I suspect these may not last for long.

Tom Foremski has commented on the uproar about the new message board format in the context of user interface design: “people are creatures of habit and nobody wants to have to learn a new user interface”. I agree, but I think there’s more to it than people not wanting to change. I personally find the new format difficult to visually scan, and in retrospect I see that I tend to watch for interaction among certain individual contributors, as well as for general noise level around various topics. The new system would probably work well for topically driven forums, while many of the high volume forums border on IRC chat.

Message boards are pre-Web 1.0 social software, dating back to the days of dialup BBSes. One view might be that the users just don’t “get” the Web 2.0 fit and finish being wrapped around Yahoo Finance. However, I think the clash here has mostly been about a mismatch between the existing community of users and the use of the site as envisioned by the Yahoo Finance product management team.

I conclude that there’s either a serious gap in how the user testing and feedback process worked, or there’s been a conscious management decision to change the character of the Finance Boards product, to clean up the content and make it better behaved by making it less interactive. Historically, many of the posts are of questionable merit, laced with profanity, innuendo, misrepresentation, and other disinformation. However…if you knew that already, then the flow of the pumper/basher posts itself was a useful data point, along with posts from individual traders and investors offering up independent opinions. Looks like that’s another bit of history now.

YHOO shares dropped hard in after hours trading today, the latest earnings matched, but search monetization isn’t growing well. Ironically, it sounds like at least a few traders shorted YHOO at the close, out of a combination of spite and a sense of management distrust following the message board fiasco. Not a sound rationale for the trade, but it clearly worked out for them.

Update 07-20-2006 14:36PDT – Yahoo has added a link to the old message list view, labeled “view all messages”, next to “view all topics”. The individual posts are still formatted in the “new look” though.

I’m really curious about what effect this is having on traffic and monetization at Yahoo Finance. I recognize a number of user handles that have moved to Investor Village or Investors Hub, and there are daily notices there from the site operators on server upgrades and other steps to accomodate the unexpected boost in traffic.

Some of you may also be interested in checking out SaneBull, an example of an AJAX-based stock info scanner. via TechCrunch

What was Zidane thinking?


France lost the final match of the World Cup to Italy, on a 5-3 penalty kick shootout after a 1-1 tie through regular time and two 15-minute overtime periods. Penalty shootouts can be a bit random, so either team could have won, and it was a fun game to watch since I’m not partial to either side.

More interesting to me than the actual outcome of the game is Zinedine Zidane, captain of the French side, who headbutted Marco Materazzi from the Italian team, which got him red carded and thrown out of the game during the second overtime. Not in the middle of play action, mind you, but while walking back down field between plays, so it was completely pointless in terms of advancing the game for his side.

Zidane isn’t exactly a hotheaded youth, having already stated his intention to retire from soccer after the World Cup. Up to the headbutting, the US commentators had been comparing him to Beckenbauer and other elder statesmen of the sport, which might have been overdone. But after leading the French side to the finals, heroically coming back in late in the game after a minor injury, and standing on the verge of ending his career on a high note, perhaps leading off the game-ending penalty kicks, what on earth was he thinking?

More from SI.com, video clip at YouTube

Update Wed 07-12-2006 13:55PDT – Anil Dash presents the Zidane World Cup Headbutt Animation Festival.

It’s better to change your vision than to lose your money

Signpost at the Beach Bar

Would you rather be “right” or be successful?

Changing your mind about an investment – intellectual, emotional, or financial – is difficult.

Munjal Shah, founder and CEO of photo search company Riya, has been writing a series of posts narrating his experience over the past few months getting his startup off the ground. Highly recommended reading for entrepreneurs and others with an interest in startups, online web services and software applications.

In startups and other forms of investing, it’s common to have a vision or thesis guiding your decisions. Technology companies, and especially technology startups, tend to be big on vision, which can be helpful in achieving internal alignment and for building external awareness among potential customers and partners. It can give everyone a common sense of purpose or mission, and can sometimes take on a religious or political tone (i.e. Apple fanatics, the first Internet Boom, George Gilder’s Telecosm, or lately “Web 2.0″).

An important skill is recognizing when the facts on the ground are diverging from the vision and it’s time to reconsider. Some relevant investing adages:

  • It’s cheaper to lose your opinion than to lose your money
  • It can be very expensive to convince the market that you’re right
  • The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent

In today’s installment of his startup journal, Munjal recounts their discovery that their users weren’t behaving the way they had expected. Riya was conceived as a platform for users to upload their own images for tagging and search, but more and more people come to the site to search for images without uploading anything. The Riya team has been puzzling over what’s going on with their beta users for weeks when they see:

The answer to the question we had been seeking. It didn’t come from our brains but from the silent majority of people who were using our site each and every day. For most people Riya was not a replacement to their Flickr accounts. Riya was not a replacement to Y! Photos. Riya was becoming a replacement for… you guessed it: public web image search!!

Munjal’s comment on entrepreneurs’ drive to change the world with the power of their vision, and the corresponding difficulty in assessing incongruent facts, is right on:

Entrepreneurs are an odd bunch. As an entrepreneur you create a vision of what can be and then work really hard to make that happen. It is your imprint on the world. It is your legacy. Maybe 2000 years ago if you wanted to leave a mark you would be Julius Cesear or Genghis Khan. Today you start a technology or Internet company. I believe almost all entrepreneurs seek immortality through their products. This is one of the reasons we all seek to build products that are used by and benefit the lives of as many people as possible. We want to do good, but we also want to be remembered. Some admit this and some don’t, but it is true. The greatest crusades in the world are always for the intangible. There is no other explanation for why founder’s of companies work so hard and sacrifice so much. Money can only account for so much of this. You have to believe that you are on this planet to somehow change it.

However, this is the achilles heel of the entrepreneur when changing strategies.

The desire to imprint can leave you deaf to the input from your customers. Like Alexander your men can want to go home and you want to press further into India. So you ignore the facts and continue trying to imprint your first vision on the world. When the data doesn’t support you, you say words like:

“We were ahead of our time.” – Full Denial

“I just have to hold out longer and people will see the value.” – Almost full denial

“If we only had this feature people will use it” – Medium denial

As a startup, Riya is in the midst of defining (and redefining) itself, and is taking rapid steps to revise their vision, rather than ignoring the mismatch between their original vision and the behavior of their growing user base.

Some would argue that they should stick with their original vision, the one that’s gotten them this far. But when a startup business is faced with flat to slow growth in it’s initial proposition versus strong demand growth in an unheralded aspect of their offering, it’s a good time to consider whether a new vision is order.

Long ago, I once had a company that spent a lot of time and effort building an advanced signal processing system, only to discover that most people wanted to do very simple things with it. It took us a while to realize that our “vision” helped customers find us, but most of them actually wanted something different than what we had in mind. (It didn’t help that were really proud of our product.) We eventually came out with a product that actually did what customers were asking for, which was predictably, far more successful than the original.

One of the things I’ve learned (and am still learning) over time is the value of recognizing and reevaluating a broken thesis (or vision), the sooner the better. One of the biggest inhibitors to changing one’s mind is the fear of looking silly, that other people will think badly of your decision. This can be an expensive fear, when it causes you to stubbornly follow an investment thesis or startup vision which is showing clear signs of being flawed.

It looks like Munjal and the Riya team have elected to change the vision rather than trying to convince the market that they were “right”. I’m looking forward to seeing how the new vision shapes up.

Bob Colwell on being a CPU architect

An excellent guest lecture at Stanford’s EE380 sometime around February 2004 by Bob Colwell, chief architect of Intel’s IA32 microprocessors from 1992-2000. (90 minutes, Windows Media).

On the history of CPUs, chip processes, power and heat dissipation, Itanium IA64 versus IA32, target markets and economies of scale, FDIV, CPUID, lifetimes of architectures, organizational politics, learning to deal with branded consumer market rather than pure technology customers.

Architects must take the long view
Architect’s job is to make valuable products
- not clever microarchitectures or instruction sets
- not “blue crystals” – useless differentiating features
- look for intersection between what technology will be able to do and what buyers will want, then sell that vision to rest of company

This presentation was made a couple of years ago, in the middle of Pentium 4 and the early days of Centrino, Itanium was the path forward, Opteron was under the radar, and power dissipation and mobility were rising in perceived importance compared with higher clock speeds and CPU benchmarks alone.

via The Inquirer

Update 03-08-2006 23:03 PST: Here’s the abstract and speaker bio from Stanford EE380

Harmony and Disharmony – Organizational issues in Al-Qaida and startups

There’s an interesting new report out today from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (the US Military Academy), titled “Harmony and Disharmony: Exploting Al-Qa’ida’s Organizational Vunerabilities“, which has some useful insights for entrepreneurs and corporate managers as well as for those dealing with global jihadist movements or with a general interest in global security issues.

The report is based on a collection of captured documents which have been recently declassified, and examines some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Al-Qa’ida organizational structure. The merits of a 21st-century, networked, mobile, internet-enabled insurgency have been observed elsewhere at length, as summarized by James Na at Korea Liberator:

Martin van Creveld of Hebrew University, the author of the highly influential Transformation of War who has been lauded (including by me) as a leading prophet of military transformation, even went on to suggest that the small/weak would always beat the big/strong in a long war. (The stronger side is more constrained in methods; it also loses morale more rapidly from inability to defeat the weak completely over a long period of time; on the other hand, the weaker side often enjoys a more flexible, networked organization, and has a faster decision making cycle, i.e. the OODA loop).

The captured documents (available online in both original Arabic and translated English) have a remarkably familiar feel to them. Take out the parts about politics, religion, and carrying out jihad, and it looks kind of like an odd startup, with position descriptions (“must have work experience of no less than 5 years and have complete military operational experience in the battlefront and bases”), employment contracts (“vacation requests must be submitted two and a half months before the travel date”), and bylaws (“Goals – To spread the feeling of Jihad throughout the Muslim nation”).

Part of what makes the report interesting is that it’s based on Al-Qa’ida’s own self-assessment of what’s working and what isn’t working. Here are some sample items from a post-mortem summary of Al-Qa’ida’s experience in Syria:

  1. Absence of an advanced comprehensive plan and strategy
  2. The faithful mujahideen were spread among numerous organizations
  3. Failure to explain the mujahid revolutionary theory and clarify it’s objectives on an ideological level
  4. Low level of religious instruction and scarcity of revolutionary and political awareness
  5. Dependence on quantity after the 1st blow did away with the quality
  6. Weak public relations campaign both inside and out
  7. Dependence of the mujahideen on outside sources for support instead of being self-sufficient
  8. Getting bogged down in long term gang warfare unsuitable for the country
  9. Moving out of the country for an extended period of time, losing touch with the masses, and the decline of the religious and revolutionary level among the members
  10. Not benefiting from the Islamic and international gang warfare experiences
  11. Dealing with the neighboring regimes as if they were permanent supporters of jihad
  12. Operating publicly was a grave error
  13. Deficiency of military operations on the outside and failure to deter the enemy and their friends
  14. No planning for the aftermath of the regime
  15. Not rallying around the religious scholars and benefiting from them

A lot of this looks like the “before” part of a management consulting project.

Some items here remind me of Noel Tichy’s views on management, on the need for aligning ideas and values to achieve effective action within the organization. At the same time, many of their operational problems are linked to “agency” problems. This is when individuals or affliates have an incentive to do something in their own interest rather than those of the organization, and which get worse in the presence of personal risk and operational secrecy. This tends not to happen as much in companies, but there are still spectacular failures from time to time (think Enron’s SPEs).

If you’re interested in thinking about startup organizations and competition from a very different perspective, check it out.

Update 02-14-2006 23:37 PST: You may also be interested in “Unrestricted Warfare“, on asymmetric warfare, a 1999 paper by senior Chinese PLA officers, and Scott Maxwell’s recent series of posts, “How David can beat Goliath“.

Update 03-08-2006 10:58 PST: You may be interested in “Stealing Al-Qaida’s Playbook” which reviews other writings from active jihadists, also from the Combating Terrorism Center, although it’s probably less useful in a business context than the ideas on asymmetric warfare.

Ten views of project management

Ten views of project management

Various versions of these observations on project management have been kicking around for a long time, probably for as long as there have been large scale projects. I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually found something like this painted on a cave wall or inside one of the Pyramids at some point.

This one is from Troy Angrignon’s blog. The illustration style reminds me of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons.

How the customer explained it
How the project leader understood it
How the analyst designed it
How the programmer wrote it
How the business consultant described it
How the project was documented
What operations installed
How the customer was billed
How it was supported
What the customer really needed

Continue reading Ten views of project management

A Rocket to Nowhere

An excellent and depressing post at Idle Words about the US Space Shuttle and how we got here. (via Anil Dash)

Future archaeologists trying to understand what the Shuttle was for are going to have a mess on their hands. Why was such a powerful rocket used only to reach very low orbits, where air resistance and debris would limit the useful lifetime of a satellite to a few years? Why was there both a big cargo bay and a big crew compartment? What kind of missions would require people to assist in deploying a large payload? Why was the Shuttle intentionally crippled so that it could not land on autopilot? 1 Why go through all the trouble to give the Shuttle large wings if it has no jet engines and the glide characteristics of a brick? Why build such complex, adjustable main engines and then rely on the equivalent of two giant firecrackers to provide most of the takeoff thrust? Why use a glass thermal protection system, rather than a low-tech ablative shield? And having chosen such a fragile method of heat protection, why on earth mount the orbiter on the side of the rocket, where things will fall on it during launch?

Maciej Ceglowski goes on to detail the broad history of the decision making and funding process that led to the current state of the program, and highlights the conflicted goals and politics around US space exploration:

The people who work at and run NASA are not cynical, but the charade of manned space flight is turning NASA into a cynical organization. For all the talk of building a culture of safety, no one has pointed out the inherent contradiction in requiring that a program justified on irrational grounds be run in a rational manner. In an atmosphere where special pleading and wishful thinking about the benefits of manned flights to low earth orbit are not just tolerated, but required of astronauts and engineers, how can one demand complete integrity and intellectual honesty on safety of flight issues? It makes no sense to expect NASA to maintain a standard of intellectual rigor in operations that it can magically ignore when it comes to policy and planning.

Incremental compromises and shifting customer requirements for a major program are all too common in the business world as well. A series of “reasonable” or “expedient” changes are made over a period of time, and eventually the official plan becomes nothing more than wishful thinking. Forcing rational people to operate with irrational assumptions then leads to inconsistent, unexpected, and sometimes disastrous outcomes. Unfortunately, in a large organization, programs (or official strategies) can take on a life of their own, and can be nearly impossible to change or shut down, short of replacing the management or restructuring the company.

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