Thursday, June 29, 2006

New York State Flooding and Global Warming

With all the flooding that has been happening in upstate NY this week I wonder if Americans are starting to think there might be something to this global warming 'thing'.

I mean we all know half of Florida and Texas became water front property last summer but no one of any real consequence lives down there but now we are talking about 2 of the worst floods in New York states history in the last 50 years.

I'm still stunned that SUV's seem to be selling in record numbers even though oil is now at $70 a barrell but to be honest nothing surprises me about Americas narrow focus anymore (I'll save the rest for my next post on why USA will be the number 2 super power within the next 10 years).

As a side matter we went and saw Al Gores movie last week, not bad but I couldn't help but thinking the entire time....where was this enviromentally friendly platform the entire time you were in office, it's easy to scream from the bleachers now he is out of politics (though I'm happy to admit maybe this was his stance all the way through 8 years-but anyways...lets not ruin a good story).

Check it out as you might learn something (also a good link for a technical discussion on ice cores below :) - all the stuff you never thought you'd want to know.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Cisco invests in Akimbo


hmmm I'm not sure if I'm happy or pissed about this development but Akimbo has just received $15.5 million from Cisco.

I'm wondering if Akimbo will get back into the hardware market after dropping out to become just another channel on the Microsoft Media Center Platform or if they will become just another line of technology built into the Scientific Atlanta boxes.

Either way, congratulations and you have my phone number for when you are ready to invite me back for export discussions.


Murder in NY

This post started by Jodie asking.... hmm you don't see as many murders in NY reported in the press, well not as much as you would think when we moved from Australia to NY (we only see about 1 murder a week on the news).

hmmm .... a bit of googling lead me to this page (do you drop the 'e' when referring to the verb of using google?)

it's a link to a google map mashup between various crime databases (have I told you recently how much I love mashups).

The basics of the information is that there are approx 500 murders each year in the 5 Manhattan boroughs for the last 3 years and they are fairly roughly spread out at 100 per borough (so any thoughts of the Bronx being a pit of murder is just plain wrong) however what is really interesting is the 'collectivity' around certain blocks, what also surprised (well maybe not) was the lack oh physical murders (strangulation or beatings) vs shooting.

On average there are only 10 strangulations in NY each year, for 20 million people that seems kind of low.

BTW in case you are interested, Washington DC has the highest murder rate per capita and I found that Honolulu is at 32nd with only 18 last year (for 900,000 people).

Looks like those Hawaiins know how to have a good time hanging out enjoying life.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ethanol - the next great savior?

There has been a lot of hype here in the USA about Ethanol being the great saviour (one thing I have really noticed in the USA is how dominant the farming lobby think Australian farmers get some decent political deals, in the USA they have their foot in a truly organised and militant way of the neck of the politicians).

The USA's refusal to conform to the WTO over farming subsidies (or outright cheat) is an example of basically wanting their cake and eating it too.

Ethanol production in the USA (where the subsidies almost totally cover the cost of production) is just another way of getting around growing subsidies, I'm sure at the next round of talks they'll argue for something else but in the mean time this article is a great overview of where we are at.

Ethanol war brewing
Grain alcohol is seen as the new gasoline. But which recipe is the one for investors to bet on?
By Chris Taylor, Business 2.0 Magazine senior editor

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0 Magazine) - Everywhere you look these days, tech and business world luminaries - like Richard Branson, Paul Allen, Steve Case, Vinod Khosla, John Doerr, and Bill Gates - are laying down big bets on ethanol, a substitute for gasoline that's already finding its way into pumps.

The price of the stuff has shot up 65 percent since May from $2.65 a gallon to $4.50, largely thanks to the oil companies who have started to put small quantities of it in our gas as a clean-air additive (most cars can handle a blend of up to 10 percent ethanol in their tanks).

That means the fuel for our cars is now about 60 cents a gallon more expensive than it would be if it were just gas, according to analysts at JPMorgan. As drivers, ethanol is lightening our wallets; as investors, though, it could well fatten them.

But before you jump on the ethanol bandwagon, consider this: There is an ethanol format war looming that will make the Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD tussle look like a schoolyard spat. If you're making an investment for the long term, you have to ask yourself whether the future's dominant fuel is going to come from corn, sugar, rape seed, or switchgrass - or if it's going to be synthesized from scratch.

The winner is going to be whoever can make ethanol in mass quantities for as little money per gallon as possible - a tall order, no matter how you go about it.

Prices as high as an elephant's eye
First of all, consider corn - which, thanks to the farm lobby and the importance of Iowa in presidential politics, is the source of nearly all the ethanol in the US. It has the most government subsidies, and is the form of the fuel that Richard Branson says he will invest in, and market, to the tune of $400 million. Last month, Kleiner Perkins – the VC firm where Doerr and Khosla are partners, and which brought us (Charts) and Google (Charts) - invested in Altra, a Los Angeles-based corn ethanol company.

Corn has the advantage of being planted in the ground now. But it has one vast economical disadvantage: Corn, according to a much-cited Cornell study, takes more energy to grow, harvest, transport and refine than you get out of it at the pump. The Department of Energy is more generous, putting the ratio of energy in to energy out at 1 to 1.4. Whatever the exact numbers, the costs grow considerably for those of us living in coastal states, so far away from the amber waves of grain in the heartland.

Sweet alternatives
There is already a sweeter alternative. "Ethanol from sugar cane is far more efficient," says Steven Schneider, CEO of San Rafael, Calif.-based Zap, an alternative transportation outfit. That's why ethanol-fueled cars are all the rage in Brazil, where 70 percent of new cars are equipped to run on the stuff. Zap has started importing a particularly popular Brazilian model of "tribrid," a gas-electric hybrid car that can also run on ethanol.

In theory, sugar cane is the cheapest substance you can make ethanol out of - unless you live in the U.S., that is, where import tariffs make it prohibitively costly. (Blame the corn lobby, which doesn't want a competitor to high-fructose corn syrup, and domestic sugar interests.)

So where is the better corn alternative? Step forward, cellulosic ethanol. This is the kind of ethanol that's produced from any part of a plant that you don't eat - straw, stalks, corn husks. All of that waste is rich in cellulose, which, in theory, can be converted into sugar, and then ethanol.

Cellulosic ethanol has more than its fair share of eager investors. Last month Goldman Sachs (Charts) put $27 million into a Canadian company called Iogen, which wants to produce ethanol from switchgrass, a perennial grass that's cheap to grow. Iogen is building the world's first cellulose-to-ethanol factory.

Microsoft (Charts) co-founder Paul Allen is investing in a Seattle firm that wants to use canola oil, which comes from rapeseed, to create ethanol. And Vinod Khosla, the Kleiner Perkins partner and Sun Microsystems (Charts) co-founder, has investments in two cellulosic ethanol companies.

The advantage of cellulosic ethanol is its potential efficiency. It can use wild-growing plants that we wouldn't have to cultivate - and it promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent.

The problem: Making it involves a complicated process that breaks down plant material into sugars using enzymes that aren't yet commercially available. The most promising methods, like one at the University of California at Berkeley to use an enzyme derived from a cotton-eating fungus, are still at the laboratory stage, and the first commercial enzymes aren't expected until 2009 at the earliest, according to some experts.

Brewing ethanol from scratch
So keep your eye on Craig Venter, the scientist who helped map the human genome. His latest venture, Synthetic Genomics, is using $31 million in venture-capital funding to make genetically modified plants and plant-eating enzymes. Such an ambitious, DNA-level project will take a lot longer than three years.

And by then, Bill Gates' bet may prove to be the smartest of all. Microsoft's chairman, who will step down from his day-to-day role at the company in a couple of years, has bought 25 percent of Pacific Ethanol, a Fresno, Calif. company that is planning to build dozens of ethanol refineries in the U.S.

Those refineries will be easy to adapt to whichever ethanol production method ultimately wins out. That could put Gates in a familiar spot – as the gatekeeper to a must-have product.

And he's a pro at winning format wars.

I'm also not sure where this leaves us with greehouse gases, and production costs per kilojoule against the environment but it is what it is, and until we decide to invade Canada for their black oil sand (hmm I wonder if there are terrorists in Canada) if you are not familiar with black oil sands read this article it's been 'discovered' that Canada now has more oil than all of Saudi Aribia, unfortunately the process of recovery is only profitable if oil costs are above $50 a barrel but I love how this sizable reserve has only become widely known since the oil in the middle east has peaked.

Either way, it's obvious that the USA will bend the rules to change their lifestyle, not change their lifestyle to meet both the financial and physical environment we live in.


P.S. when I was involved with my first dotcom in 99 someone who had been through a boom/bust cycle before gave me the words of wisdom "when the cab drivers start talking stocks it's time to get out".

All I can say about ethanol is ... when every man and his dog is googling ethanol, it's overpriced.

I've had 40 hits to this blog in the last 24 hours that have come from people googling the term "ethanol" be warned this market space is overpriced with the suburban mum's and dads - you read it here first.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Red Bull X-Alps Challenge

Red Bull X-Alps is a competition where the task is to cross the Alps as fast as possible by flying with a paraglider and then hiking up the next mountain range to get enough height to take off all over again, starting in the East (Dachstein Mountain Range, Austria) and finishing in the West (Monaco).

They can have only 1 support member who carries food supplies, navigation advice etc but generally the athlete is either flying or hiking 20 hours out of every 24 trying to fly as far as possible in the turbulent air high over the Alps, land safely, walk most of the night with a 20 kg pack containing their flying gear, sleep as little as possible, hike 1500M up a peak (always with the glider!) before breakfast, take-off... and repeat until reaching the beaches of Monaco, 800 km to the west!


way cool, almost makes me want to go for a jog tomorrow morning.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Ze Frank

So you think you are talented and have what it takes to entertain people if only you could get your big break...... bullshit.

Here is a guy who is doing it and proves you don't need to have anything apart from a basic PC and raw talent.

Ze Frank has over 10,000 people a day hitting his website to watch his daily 3 minute video and has become an internet phenomenon

He even had people flying to opposite ends of the world to make an earth sandwich

More info in this NY Times article - how awesome

This guy is way cool, and way talented, not sure if he's as good at his day job but as far as creating an internet phenomenon A+

Now go and do your own thing and stop bitching.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Iacocca Montage

Iacocca, what a legend - this guy is amazing and a true legend.

If you haven't read it get this book today,

I read an article in this months Fortune on what he's doing at 81 and it inspired me to make this montage as my desktop for the week.


Friday, June 16, 2006

"Race for Hard Zero"

This is a weird post and can be ignored but I need to post a copyright statement on a public server I dont own and can be independantly documented for date etc.

"Race for Hard Zero" © Dean Collins 16/6/06

I've used this term in a number of reports I've written over the years about pricing structures and business methodologies.

It refers to the commercial act of reducing prices to the point that you are selling a good or service for the cost of production, eg. phone calls are priced by the vendor with the biggest balls who is prepared to reduce the price closer to the cost of production which eventuates in another round of discounting by competitors in a "race for hard zero".

Feel free to use the term as long as you reference my copyright :)


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cyborg ready? ......ready or not here we come

News broke on Wired this week about a group of people who have implanted super magnets in the tip of their finger this week.

What if, you could feel the hard drive spin up under the load? Or you could tell if an electrical cord was live before you touched it? For the few people who have rare earth magnets implanted in their fingers, these are among the reported effects -- a finger that feels electromagnetic fields along with the normal sense of touch.

It's been described as a buzzing sensation, a tingling, an oscillation, movement, pure stimulation and, in the case of body-modification expert Shannon Larrett's encounter with a too-powerful antitheft gateway at a retail store, "Like sticking your hand in an ultrasonic cleaner.",71087-0.html?tw=rss.index

Now this may or may not surprise you. It depends on what your thoughts are and if you've read Ray Kurzweils book "The Singularity Is Near" this is nothing but a predetermined step for the human race.

But my question is this...."would you?"

Are you ready for the next step? What would your 6th sense be? (or 7th for my friends who already believe they are 'psychic').

Lasik eye surgery has become the default 'modification' of choice for people with poor sight, but if you had the option of increasing eyesight bandwidth so you could see at night, or see infra red heat....would you?

If correction of a deficieny is acceptable (hearing aids, internal pacemakers etc) then what is wrong with pushing our physical limitations, who didn't want to be the 6 Million Dollar Man or The Bionic Woman when they were kids.

And if you are vehemently opposed to cyborg modifications why is the step to part mechanical such a horror when your feelings on plastic surgery are laissez-faire?


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Cool Tshirts

There is definitely one thing that they do very well here in the USA, funny cool tshirts.

Ok so this is a geek shirt that only 1 percent of the people you meet will understand, but you'll see the ones who do easily as they burst out laughing.

Life's short - laugh hard.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Shhh it's a secret

You know it doesn't matter how many times I try to justify how hard it is to find an apartment in New York I still find it ridiculous to justify a brokers fee of 15%

Basically everytime you move you are pretty much up for this fee, and do you want to hear the worst bit....they dont do much for the money most of the time.

So whats the secret....

This is the most amazing real estate website I have ever seen. Technically half of the things you see on this page wasn't even possible 12 months ago.

For the tech heads in the room it is written in Ruby On Rails, for everyone else, it's this cool new coding language.

It basically takes a whole heap of information from other agents web sites and then imports it into a database before displaying it clearly and co-herently, while adding a whole heap of cool features like A9 street level vision (which I wrote about in my blog 6 months ago and love :) - ah it's great to be cutting edge).

It's the beginning of the end as far as brokers go, once you have centralised data available to everyone.... :)


EFF - Patent Busting project

Tired of bogus software patents? So are we! To combat these annoying and often dangerous legal weapons, EFF has launched the Patent Busting Project to take down some of worst offenders.

I. The Problem
Every year numerous illegitimate patent applications make their way through the United States patent examination process
without adequate review. The problem is particularly acute in the software and Internet fields where the history of prior inventions (often called “prior art”) is widely distributed and poorly documented. As a result, we have seen patents asserted on such simple technologies as:

One-click online shopping (U.S. Patent No. 5,960,411.)
Online shopping carts (
U.S. Patent No. 5,715,314.)
The hyperlink (
U.S. Patent No. 4,873,662.)
Video streaming (
U.S. Patent No. 5,132,992.)
Internationalizing domain names (
U.S. Patent No. 6,182,148.)
Pop-up windows (
U.S. Patent No. 6,389,458.)
Targeted banner ads (
U.S. Patent No. 6,026,368.)
Paying with a credit card online (
U.S. Patent No. 6,289,319.)
Framed browsing; (
U.S. Patent Nos. 5,933,841 & 6,442,574.) and
Affiliate linking (
U.S. Patent No. 6,029,141.)

II. The Harm
The harm these patents cause the public is profound.
Unlike most technologies, software and the Internet have attracted a vast number of small business, non-profit, and individual users each of whom has adopted and built upon these resources as part of their daily interaction with computers and the online world. From open source programming to online journaling to political campaigning, the average citizen is using new technology online and on her desktop as often as any traditional company.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments:

Got to make you smile first thing on a Monday morning :)

What happens when you combine 200 liters of Diet Coke and over 500 Mentos mints? It's amazing and completely insane.The first part of this video demonstrates a simple geyser, and the second part shows just how extreme it can get. Over one hundred jets of soda fly into the air in less than three minutes.It's a hysterical and spectacular mint-powered version of the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas, brought to you by the mad scientists at

and not to spoil the fun but in case you are wondering; copied from slashdot is the answer.

Not chemical, so it should work just as well with other sodas/nucleation devices:
"These chemists are saying that the primary cause is physical, not chemical. Their explanation: nucleation sites. If you have a liquid that is supersaturated with gas (like soda, which is pumped full of carbon dioxide), a nucleation site is a place where the gas is able to form bubbles. Nucleation sites can be scratches on a surface or specks of dust - anywhere that you have a high surface area in a very small volume. That's where bubbles can form.
Mentos seem to be loaded with nucleation sites. In other words, there are so many microscopic nooks and crannies on the surface of a Mento that an incredible number of bubbles will form when you drop it in a bottle of soda. Since the Mentos are also heavy enough to sink, they react with the soda all the way to the bottom. The escaping bubbles quickly turn into a raging foam, and the pressure builds dramatically. Before you know it, you've got a big geyser happening!"


Sunday, June 04, 2006

11th Circuit to Webmasters: Telling Someone To Go Away Doesn't Make Them

There currently is a very interesting and very confusing (read political) court case going on at the moment that the 11th Circuit has just ruled on (which in my mind has to be inevitably overturned in the Supreme Court).

A good summary is located here at the't-make-them.html
The Eleventh Circuit in the case of Snow v. DirecTV, a "private support group website for individuals who have been, are being, or will be sued by any Corporate entity".

In order to access Snow's site, a user was required to register a username and password, and to agree to a statement affirming that the user was not associated with DirecTV, inc.

He claimed that several agents of DirecTV ignored this warning and accessed his site. According to Snow, such unauthorized access violated the Stored Communications Act (SCA), which forbids accessing an electronic communication "without authorization".

The Eleventh Circuit rejected this claim. According to the court, the SCA does not apply to communications which are "readily accessible to the general public". On Snow's site, any member of the general public could access the site by merely registering with a username and password and clicking on the words "I Agree to these terms."

Such an easily surmountable barrier to access is, according to the court, insufficient to make a site not "readily accessible to the general public".

While the court did not explain just what sort of security measures would invoke the SCA, it did hint that a webmaster who "screens the registrants before granting access" would have a stronger claim than one who merely asks his registrants to "self screen".

Now this goes against all contrary law that I'm aware of eg: If I break into a website I can go to jail-

What about Benjamin Smith III who was arrested and charged with unauthorized access to a computer network, a third-degree felony in the state of Florida. For merely using an unsecured access point to connect to the internet

Or Adrian Lamo who was prosecuted for accessing web site databases, not hacking, or "breaking and entering" but just accessing poorly configured websites built by people who should have known better

This is the same as posting a no tresspassing sign. The 11th circuit court says because it's easy to ignore and walk right past the owner cannot kick you off his property. I think NOT! This will be reversed.

If it doesn't what happens to the legal protection of webmasters who offer adult content but allow you to self certify by clicking a box saying you are over 18.

When I sell certain cryptography software outside of the USA my only protection is that I know that on installation the end user has to agree not to export to certain countries, does this mean that all EULA (you know...the I agree box when you install software) is no longer valid, does this mean that because the general public is easily able to bypass this process on pirate software that EULA's are no longer enforcable.

You cant have one law for the big business and one law for the public.

Whats even more disconcerting is that the EFF an organisation I fully support... actually filed a friends of the court statement for the DirectTV side of the case, (though I think this had to do with the legal mistake in the ruling of the lower court than the actual "vibe" of the case.

I'm off to do more research but I think this one needs to kept an eye on because if it's not overturned there are going to be far wider implications.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Weak Spot Guerilla Marketing

I haven't seen any of these in person but I wanted to post about it because this is a perfect example of weak spot marketing (the best was Universals attack on Disney's stranglehold of the theme park holiday - read about it in Michael Eisners autobiography).

Marketing so often comes down to speeds and feeds and whilst there is a place for it, real marketing is striking a sweet spot with your target audience that is emotive and cannot be refuted by your competitor in any way without changing their base position.

Apple is in such a strong position with their iPod that there is no way they can reposition themselves to compete against this type of guerilla marketing.

I'd like to know who came up with this for SanDisk and buy them a beer.


SanDisk goes after the iPod iPuppets

If you've been on public transport this past week, you'll have noticed what looks like a counter-culture uprising against the iPod. Posters and stickers have appeared showing chimps, donkeys and sheep listening to music on iPods. Underneath the images there are taglines like 'are you an iChimp?' and, 'Don't follow the iPack'. One advert shows a man strung up by iPod headphones, like Pinocchio, beneath him the tagline reads, 'have you become an iPuppet?'

The adverts have a pseudo-street graffiti style. The stencilled graphics and ancient typewriter font give the impression of an underground movement against cultural homogenisation. But visit the Web site espoused by the ads and you'll uncover a different story. Far from a triumph of AdBusters or a campaign financed by Naomi Klein converts, these posters are actually SanDisk's new marketing campaign.

SanDisk is Apple's archrival. Since May 2006 SanDisk has been the world's second most popular MP3 player manufacturer, behind Apple. Its e200 player looks very much like the nano, but unlike many other iPod clones it sells well.

This anti-iPod advertising campaign represents a spark of genuine retaliation against Apple. It's a relief to see a rival bring out its guns, in what had become a landscape devoid of any major competition for the iPod.

SanDisk is the first company to market its player as an ideological rather than technological alternative to the iPod. To do so is to fight Apple on their own terms. The SanDisk e200 is not being touted as more advanced than the iPod, it doesn't claim to have longer battery life or a larger capacity. Instead the e200 is being marketed simply as what it is not. It's not an iPod.

The SanDisk assault doesn't end there. SanDisk is reported to have quietly approached the open source developers behind Rockbox, a free operating system for MP3 players. The company is said to be interested in porting the Rockbox software to its e200 player. Rockbox was first conceived as an alternative to the flawed software provided with an Archos MP3 player, but it has evolved into a multi-platform alternative interface supported by many different players. The latest version supports everything from an iPod to an iRiver MP3 player.

Not only would a Rockbox port earn SanDisk credibility with grassroot geeks, but the software offers a number of appealing features, including support for nearly every codec going.

It looks like Apple may finally have a fight on its hands. iPod critics are quick to bemoan Apple's reliance on marketing over the player's technical advantages, now SanDisk will be putting this to the test. If Apple really won the west by manipulating the iPod to the point where it became a lifestyle necessity for any self-respecting music lover, can SanDisk unseat it by turning the iPod's ubiquity against it?

In many ways, SanDisk's advertising campaign has the phony ring of Sony's heavily criticised faux-graffiti campaign for the PSP. Sony hired graffiti artists to paint what looked like street art on city walls, but the characters depicted suspiciously clasped PSPs. Critics on some forums said Sony was "shamelessly appropriating a culture". Effectively that is what SanDisk is doing here. The adverts may use the graphic vocabulary of anti-capitalist campaigns, but the object of the exercise is to sell SanDisk MP3 players. Still, competition is exactly what Apple needs right now, and this is an ingenious attack. Now get back to your iPods, chimps! -CS