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Archive for January, 2006

Searching Google in simplified Chinese

January 31st, 2006 No comments

In re: my previous post about searching Google for Tianenmen, a couple people pointed out that in China they don’t use the English spelling of the word, and in fact don’t even use Western character sets. The simplified Chinese version of Tianenmen looks like this: 天安门

(Mainland China except Hong Kong uses the simplified character set.)

So FYI here are the results one would expect to get searching Google for 天安门 in the US vs. China:

US: Google.com

Mainland China: Google.cn

Also, I just found a great (and also disturbing) overview of the differences one gets when searching for “falun gong.”

Categories: China, Web/Tech Tags:

Put down your coffee…

January 31st, 2006 No comments

…before checking out Chewbacca’s blog. I warned you.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

I’m not worthy

January 30th, 2006 No comments

Sometimes I have to remind myself that there is a war going on. It’s easy for me, a high-tech yuppie living in a beautiful place with a view of the mountains out my office window – and no close friends in the military – to just see the war as a series of duelling straw-man arguments between the right and the left. (It helps that I don’t watch TV, so I never see the images of combat.)

Not only are young men and women dying (and killing others) on my behalf, they’re forced to endure memories like this for the rest of their lives:

He won’t talk about the weeks that followed. He only mentions moments, like still frames from a film. The day his column barely survived an ambush, escaping through a broken door as bullets struck near their feet. The morning he woke up to discover that a cat had taken up residence in the open chest cavity of an Iraqi body nearby, consuming it from within.

Whether you oppose or support the war in Iraq, I’m sure none of us want to see this: “People don’t want to know the Marlboro Man has PTSD.”

Categories: Politics Tags:

The Future of Corrections?

January 27th, 2006 No comments

When a newspaper or other publication makes a mistake, they typically run a correction a day or two later in a section of the paper that no one ever reads. Usually it’s out of context: the reader probably no longer has the original story at hand, so they can’t re-evaluate what they read in light of the new facts.

So I was surprised and happy today to see that my alma mater’s campus newspaper is trying something new. They run the correction at the top of the story and republish the story via RSS. Here’s an example of a corrected story that showed up in my reader today. The correction is highlighted in bold between the byline and story proper, so it really stands out. It also is the only thing shown in the feed, which just displays excerpts. I hope this trend catches on.

Categories: Media Tags:

Pictures worth a Thousand Yuan

January 26th, 2006 No comments

The  blogosphere has been abuzz of late about Google’s apparent caving in to the Chinese government’s request that they censor their search results. I’m of mixed feelings about this. Being radically moderate and having spent time in China, I think it’s silly to have a binary view of how things should be done there. (Though I’ve always thought Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” stance was a bit pompous and destined to fail.)

That said, I had a very visceral reaction when I came across the links below on a Slashdot thread.

Here’s a Google image search of “tianenman” as in Tianenman Square: http://images.google.com/images?q=tiananmen

Here’s that same search on Google’s Chinese site: http://images.google.cn/images?q=tiananmen

Where did the tanks go?

Categories: Media, Web/Tech Tags:

VC Innovation

January 26th, 2006 No comments

There’s an interesting thread going on between Doc Searls and Rick Segal about the need for innovation in the VC industry. I wrote a somewhat snarky comment arguing that it’s silly for VCs to try to innovate around the notion that entrepreneurs are their customers. They should recognize the entrepreneurs are their raw materials and innovate from that perspective. Doc had a follow up question. I tried posting a reply to his comment but kept getting a server error, so I’m putting it here. Doc wrote:

Seems to me you’re saying A) innovation in venture capital can only benefit VCs and cannot benefit the companies they invest in, and B) blogging by VCs and a general increase in transparency is the one good thing to come about in the VC business in the last 25 years. That right?

Close. To carry the Wal-Mart example a little further: though their customers have gotten the most benefit in terms of lower prices, their suppliers have benefited somewhat thanks to, for example, their awesome ability to predict demand. Net-net, the cost to deliver a product to a customer is lower, and those savings disproportionally accrue to 1) the customers (in aggregate) and 2) Wal-Mart. Suppliers save money or make money too, but they’re further downstream in the value chain.

There were discount stores before Wal-Mart, of course, but they changed the game so radically that many of them are now gone or have reinvented themselves as niche player.

If you apply this same experience to venture capital, the analogous outcome is not that VCs become more efficent and pass on those savings or growth to entrepreneurs. Rather, it’s that they get removed from the equation altogether.

This assumes your goal is to increase the number of successful companies and their products. If your goal is to increase the profits of VCs, then yes, you probably want to innovate within the current VC framework.

And I stand by the notion that “the biggest benefits of innovation flow to buyers, not sellers.” They have to in order for capitalist economics to work. Yes, the web has increased distribution and the number of sellers, but it’s also driven down profit margins and introduced more foreign competition. To be sure, it’s not a zero sum game. Otherwise Bill Gates wouldn’t be so rich and hundreds of millions of people wouldn’t have immense computing power on their desktop.

Also, blogging by VCs isn’t the one good thing to come about in the industry over the last 25 years, but it’s in the top five. I went shopping for VC money 10 years ago, when a $4 million deal was very big and the typical VC fund was less than $100 million. It was awfully hard to get an introduction and even harder to learn the mechanics of dealmaking. In other words, VC in 1996 was much closer to the way things were in 1976  than they are now in 2006. (Though the wheels were in motion after Netscape’s IPO in 1995.)

Nowadays you can introduce yourself to and impress a VC remotely by putting up a smart blog and/or product that’s available over the web, VC funds of more than $1 billion are common, and it’s really easy to take a crash course in everything from term sheet negotiations to how your PowerPoint should look. The last 10 years have seen far greater change than the previous 20.

Which is not to say I don’t like VCs or the VC paradigm. As the something goes, some of my best friends are VCs. But, you know, it’s best to call a spade a spade. If there’s going to be a major innovation in small company finance, I suspect it will look more like mutual funds (aggregation of “the little guy’s” assets into the hands of a professional) or day trading (direct investing by “amateurs” at the expense of the professional) than the current model.

Which is really to say, I don’t think there ever will be a major innovation that dislodges or marginalizes VCs.

(As an aside, I first started learning about VC from a book called Risk and Reward by Thomas Doerflinger and Jack Rivkin. Unfortunately it’s now out of print and isn’t even listed on Amazon. It’s an excellent history of private capital that starts in the age of railroads and carries through to the PC revolution. They explain how private capital got its start, how it’s changed and the role of bubbles in its development. Even thought he book was published in 1987, the information is still very relevant.)

Categories: Misc Tags:

EQ wins out over IQ

January 26th, 2006 No comments

I saw variations on this meme linked all over the place today: people ignore facts when making decisions.

The study focused on politics, but something tells me a similar dynamic is in play in the stock market, except that there are too many facts. People hold on to stocks too long, sell them too quickly and generally beat themselves up for falling in love with a stock (or deserting it against fundamental evidence). Pick your poison. According to economic theory, the stock market should be one of the most rational markets possible. So how come it’s so volatile, and does something similar, if less obvious, go on in other markets?

The answer has to be “yes.” The Sandler Sales method is based on the premise that people buy emotionally but justify their purchases with “facts.” While it’s important that you have a good product to sell, a good salesperson knows how to use emotion to close the deal (and also prevent buyer’s remorse). At it’s most basic level, this is why you can go a long way in sales just by getting people to like you.

Michael Milken is a great example. Though he is thought of as a “quant jock” who figured out how to make low-risk but above-average returns on junk bonds, my guess is that a great deal of his success is driven by his emotional intelligence, not IQ. A few years ago Jack Welch had to testify in a trial involving Michael Milken. (Not the trial that sent him to prison. This was related to some advice he gave to Ted Turner about selling out to Time Warner and whether that advice was considered securities industry work, from which he had been barred for life. There was a great article about it in the New Yorker, but apparently it’s not available online.)

Welch talked at length about how close his relationship was to Michael Milken. He said that when Milken called to talk business, the first 15–20 minutes would be Milken asking him questions about his wife and children in a way that came across as really caring, not phony-baloney salesmanship. He also said that this intimacy had a powerful influence on his decisions to do business with Milken. Even in the world of Six Sigma, emotion rules.

Categories: Misc Tags:

Ward Churchill’s brother speaks

January 26th, 2006 No comments

Interesting that:

  1. The Rocky Mountain News runs a letter from Ward Churchill’s brother Dan Debo on publisher John Temple’s blog, not the editorial page (though it may still run there)
  2. Such an apparently lefty, alternative-type person as Dan Debo goes to the mainstream media, not blogs, to get his opinion out

Beside the fact that he’s related to Churchill, there’s nothing noteworthy about his letter, at least not in the sense that it has any relationship to the Churchill affair. Isn’t it amazing how fame helps your cause? It even works on veteran journalists.

Categories: Media, Misc Tags:

Curiosty Killed the CPU

January 26th, 2006 No comments

My primary computer is getting a little long in the tooth. It’s over three years old. It was one of the fastest non-specialized computers on the market when I bought it, but time has left it behind.It’s exacerbated by the fact that I’m one of those nightmares for corporate IT – always downloading and installing new software, fiddling with my computer’s settings etc.

Every now and then I do something that, while it doesn’t break the computer per se, in retrospect I wish I hadn’t done it. Today someone on a discussion list mentioned that he got a lot of speed improvements from his computer by upgrading the memory. That got me thinking, “maybe it’s time for me to do an upgrade,” Which in turn led me to check out my current settings to see what I currently have.

So I launched the Control Panel’s System applet. It confirmed what I was looking for, but there were a lot of other buttons there. Curiosity got the better of me and I started delving a little deeper. Here’s what the applet looks like:

Xp-system-applet-1

See the “Settings” button under “User Profiles?” I decided to click on that and see what that was about. Big mistake. The hard drive started churning and churning and churning. And churning and churning. Also churning and churning. It didn’t totally shut down my computer, but everything slowed to a crawl for something like five minutes!

I thought “well, with that much activity it must be something really important.” So I waited and waited and waited and waited until this ultimately popped up:

Xp-system-applet-2

Excellent. Really useful info. I’m glad I took five minutes out of my life to learn that.

Something like this seems to happen to me at least once a day. I’ll be typing an email and need to copy a url, open a file or otherwise jump out of email mode to get some information. Next think you know, Outlook has crashed, I spend five minutes getting it running again, and by the time I return to the task at hand I’ve wasted several minutes and forgotten what I was doing in the first place.

Yes, I know the ultimate answer is “Get a Mac.” I get closer and closer every day. The main barrier is that I do a lot of work in Homesite and WikidPad. While WikidPad can probably be hacked to run on a Mac, I don’t believe Homesite is available on the Mac. Plus I’m also a heavy user of NewGator for Outlook. Wasn’t Java supposed to make all this moot?

Categories: Misc Tags:

For sale: our 1997 Lexus LS 400

January 25th, 2006 No comments

Sorry to interrupt you, but just in case you know someone who might be interested, and assuming you didn’t already see it on Craigslist, my wife and I are selling our 1997 Lexus LS 400. Details are below, but the short description is, it’s everything you imagine when you think of the word “Lexus.”

Price: $14,280

Smooth running four-door Sedan. 93,000 miles. Excellent condition, drives like a dream, body and interior in mint condition. We don’t want to give it up, but we’re leaving the country, so now it’s someone else’s turn to enjoy it.

We also have an extended warranty on the vehicle that lasts until 100,000 miles or August, 2007, whichever comes first.

Elegant white pearl color with gray accents and tan interior. Fully loaded, including:

  • 4 speed automatic transmission
  • Air Conditioning with automated climate control
  • Top grain leather seats and door siding
  • Dual Memory Power Seats
  • Tinted windows for UVA and UVB protection
  • Power Sun/Moon roof
  • Power Steering
  • Power Windows
  • Power Door Locks
  • Power Tilt Steering Wheel
  • Power Antenna
  • Heated outside remote control mirrors
  • Cruise Control
  • Premium sound system AM/FM, 6 CD changer and cassette player
  • Driver side Air Bag (SRS)
  • Font passenger air bag
  • Anti-lock Brake System (ABS)
  • Alloy Wheels
  • Halogen headlight with integrated foglamps
  • Lexus emergency tool kit and First Aid kit

Reviews

Don’t take my word for it, here some other reviews of the 97 Lexus LS400:

Pictures

Unfortunately it was a cloudy day when I took these pictures. Also, I did this with a cheapo camera. They don’t do it justice.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: