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Amazon Q1 2023 Financials
· In recent years I’ve posted a quick analysis of Amazon’s results each quarter in a Twitter thread. I don’t use Twitter much any more, and Mastodon doesn’t make it easy to post threads, so the blog it is; this is the second outing. Summary: Amazon’s retail business loses money (as usual) but the AWS and Advertising businesses are huge, throw off loads of cash, and continue to grow fast. They subsidize the money-losing retail operation in a way that seems deeply unfair to me ...
Amazon Q4 2022 Financials
· For the last couple of years, each quarter I’ve been posting a quick analysis of Amazon’s quarterly business results in a Twitter thread. I don’t use Twitter much any more, and Mastodon doesn’t make it easy to post threads, so the blog it is. Summary: Amazon’s retail business loses money (as usual) but the AWS and Advertising businesses are huge, throw off lots of cash, and continue to grow fast. They subsidize the money-losing retail operation in a way that seems deeply unfair to me ... [5 comments]
Lock-in and Multi-Cloud
· Alone in a room with the customer’s CTO, I said “So, I spent this morning talking to your people, and it looks like you’re using low-level generic tech for everything and managing it yourself. You could save a shit-ton of money by using high-level managed services and get load-scaling for free.”
“Yeah,” he said, “but then we’d be locked in and the next time our enterprise contract comes up for renewal, you can screw us.” ... [9 comments]
Jassy Talking Points
· Following on Tuesday’s big succession announcement at Amazon, I was apparently the only human who’d been in a room with Andy Jassy more than once in recent years and was willing to talk to media. By about the fifth conversation, my talking points were stubs because the points wore off, leaving a well-polished gleam. So I might as well share them directly. If you’ve read any of the other articles this may sound familiar ...
· There’s financing news today: Yalochat closed a $15M B Round from B Capital, with follow-on from Sierra Ventures. The reason I’m writing this is that I’ve signed on as an advisor to Yalo; they’re a fun outfit and it’s an interesting story. Also, they’re hiring ...
Not an Amazon Problem
· The NY Times profile quotes me saying “We don’t really have an Amazon problem. What we have is a deep, societal problem with an unacceptable imbalance of power and wealth.” But the URL contained the string “amazon-critic-tim-bray” and the HTML
<title> says “Tim Bray Is Not Done With Amazon”. I feel like I’m being pigeonholed and I don’t like it ... [11 comments]
Just Too Efficient
· On a Spring 2019 walk in Beijing I saw two street sweepers at a sunny corner. They were beat-up looking and grizzled but probably younger than me. They’d paused work to smoke and talk. One told a story; the other’s eyes widened and then he laughed so hard he had to bend over, leaning on his broom. I suspect their jobs and pay were lousy and their lives constrained in ways I can’t imagine. But they had time to smoke a cigarette and crack a joke. You know what that’s called? Waste, inefficiency, a suboptimal outcome. Some of the brightest minds in our economy are earnestly engaged in stamping it out. They’re winning, but everyone’s losing ... [30 comments]
· I’d like to see AWS split off from the rest of Amazon and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. So to help that happen, I’ve drafted a PR/FAQ and posted it on GitHub so that it can be improved. People who know what a PR/FAQ is and why this might be helpful can hop on over and critique the doc. For the rest, herewith background and explanation on the what, why, and how ... [2 comments]
AWS’s Share of Amazon’s Profit
· I’ve often heard it said that AWS is a major contributor to Amazon’s profitability. How major? Here’s a graph covering the last ten quarters, with a brief methodology discussion: ... [3 comments]
· I recently read The Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Competition by Jonathan Tepper and Denise Hearn. For a decade or two now I’ve felt the economy is over-concentrated and in recent years I’ve been super-concerned about concentration of market power in the Big-Tech sector where I’ve earned my living. Reading this book has reinforced that concern and been very helpful in introducing new angles on how to think about monopoly. The issue is central to the travails and triumphs of 21st-century Capitalism and if you care about that, you might want to read it too ... [8 comments]
· One of our admin people walked into my office, saying “Five-year anniversary, new badge, gimme your old one”. Which means I’ve been here five orbits of the sun, my longest job tenure since my seven-year stay last century at a company I co-founded ... [2 comments]
· As I continue slowly ingesting the 900 classical LPs I inherited, I’ve developed a relationship with Discogs. It’s a good place to track your collection (here’s mine, in-progress). This is the story of my first attempt to use it to buy music, a laughable failure. It’s by way of public service, just leaving a marker, a warning others to be careful about charging into the marketplace ... [3 comments]
· Today I learned things that I think every environmentalist and investment manager should know: A coherent argument that we are more or less at Peak Oil. Not the Nineties version, which worried that we might be running out of fossil fuels, but rather that global human petroleum demand is about at its all-time peak and about to start drifting down. Some of the key data points involve electric cars, which I care a lot about, and China, which is always interesting ... [5 comments]
· The Wikipedia article on Electric Car Use by Country is interesting. Below I excerpt a graph (misspellings: theirs) of the leading electric-car jurisdictions: As I write, Norway leads, at over 20%, while the US average is 1.5%. (Visit the Wikipedia link for the latest whenever you read this.) How are all these cars going to be fed? Let’s consider the future business of car-charging ... [14 comments]
· Many of us (speaking from the tech sector where I work) think the sector’s workplace diversity isn’t very good. Specifically, there aren’t enough women. Large companies — all the ones I’ve worked for, anyhow — have goals, and generally work hard at meeting them. Many companies now say they care about diversity, and have goals around improving it. But improvement is painfully slow; why? Maybe part of it is that those aren’t the same kind of “goals” ... [4 comments]
· I used to do quite a bit of reviewing on TripAdvisor; enjoyed the feeling of contributing and used the service when picking hotels and restos. But then I realized that this little warm glow was really all about making money for Silicon Valley VCs, and I have a major attitude problem about that. Which raises the issue; Is it ethically OK to participate in review sites at all? [Spoiler: Yeah, sometimes, but definitely not on Google Maps.] ... [4 comments]
You Might Be Evil
· Or at least, your employer might be. Over the years we in the tech sector have gotten used to being well-regarded. After all, we make people’s lives better, on balance. That’s changing. At the moment it’s rumblings from thought leaders, not pervasive popular anger. The other thing that’s new is that they’re thought leaders who are progressives and liberals; just like most of us in the tech professions. It notably involves the M-word and those of us on the inside need to be thinking about it ... [9 comments]
Geek Career Paths
· Suppose you’re doing technology, and like doing technology, and your career’s going well, and you find yourself wondering what you’re going to be doing in twenty years. I’ve been down several of the roads you might decide to take, and it occurs to me that talking them over might amuse and inform ... [19 comments]
Game of Homes
· What happened was, I got on an airplane, unexpectedly finished my book, and discovered there wasn’t much else downloaded on that device. So I started re-reading what was there, namely Game of Thrones. It’s hard to stop doing that once you start, and what’s worse, I can’t help thinking about Vancouver Real Estate ... [7 comments]
· I just finished reading The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook, which taught me that the big hits being pumped at us via the big divas with the great thighs are mostly the output of a reproducible mechanized process, and the mechanics are Swedes. No, really ... [5 comments]
On Piketty on Capital
· Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century may well be the most important economics book published this century; or maybe just the most important book. Its physical version is sold out. I just finished it, and while it’s been reviewed to death (by Nobel-Prize winners, forsooth), I haven’t heard any Net-head or software-geek voices. And there are angles there our tribe should pay attention to ... [10 comments]
Twenty-first Century Home Repair
· What happened was, a horrible windstorm took a big branch off the neighbors’ maple; it reduced one of our eavestroughs to scrap metal on the way down. Getting it fixed was (surprisingly) Net-mediated and pain-free ...
Springtime Tab Sweep — The World
· The only unifying theme is that they’ve been building up in the browser for months, and are generally consistent with my worldview ... [3 comments]
· I got a package in the mail today from Oxford University Press, containing The Architecture of Theology by Prof. A.N. Williams of Cambridge University’s Faculty of Divinity. This pleases me intensely ... [4 comments]
· Today I see in Slashdot a suggestion that there’s some sort of a no-poaching agreement among big Silly-Valley tech companies. I’d never heard of such a thing until, by chance, yesterday. I was flying from San Francisco to Vancouver and was talking to the guy in the next seat (it’s remarkable what a conversation piece the Galaxy Tab is). He said he worked in Microsoft’s Valley office and at some point in the conversation told me that you couldn’t jump either way between, specifically, Microsoft and Apple; that if you were talking to a recruiter from the one, they’d drop you if you came from the other. He said “They do that to keep people from going back and forth to get raises.” [9 comments]
The Great Game
· Is it VHS vs Betamax, Mac vs PC, or Coke vs Pepsi? The current multibillion-dollar mobile-market war is a confusing tangle of software makers, hardware makers, and network operators. This isn’t what a theorists would call a perfect or even very clean competitive market, but it does seem to be delivering a regular flow of better, faster, more usable products to the people of Earth. It’s a privilege to be in it ... [27 comments]
Disclosure re Twitter
· A while ago, I made a small investment in a Vancouver company called Smallthought Systems, which has now been acquired by Twitter. Thus, I am now the owner of a small number of Twitter shares, and may fairly be suspected of bias when discussing that company. I continue to admire and use Twitter, and also continue to think that it’s a bug when an apparently-fundamental medium for human communications is the product of a single company. [9 comments]
Corporations and Emotions
· Is meaningful or useful to have emotional reactions to business organizations? Right now there’s a lot of that going around; the atmosphere swirling around my employer and That Fruit Company a short commute away in Silicon Valley grows steamy. Which pales compared to the global outpouring of fear and loathing directed at a certain English oil corporation. I’m going to argue (after some personal digressions) that hating on BP is perhaps actively harmful ... [26 comments]
· Young men’s fancy turns to thoughts of, well, it depends ... [2 comments]
· Something about my Current Status post the other day touched a nerve, and a substantial number of people wanted me to pass on the fact that they’re hiring and might well be interested in Sun alumni. (Hmm... now this piece is provoking “us too” notices. I’ll update, for a while anyhow.) ... [1 comment]
· It’s been a hairy few days, starting with Amazon firing a broadside at Macmillan (I like Charlie Stross’ summary the best) then, within 72 hours, backing down. The ensuing conversation (mostly on Twitter) has been very interesting ... [18 comments]
Disinvesting In the USA
· Tuesday on Twitter I said “Moved the % of US equities in my long-term portfolio down from moderate to basically zero.” I got a lot of questions so here’s more ... [14 comments]
Where The Crooks Are
· Sun was one of the first companies to open the blogging floodgates, officially. We wrote a policy document to help keep people out of trouble. Many others in our industry followed our lead. There was a lot of worry around the business that empowering ordinary employees to talk to the world could lead to damaging leaks and get us or them in trouble. Hah ... [11 comments]
Where’s the Mobile Biz?
· I’m not sure there’s much chance of building a successful business selling through an App Store. And I know how hard it is to generate service revenue off a Web site, whether you’re aiming at mobile clients or not. So, I have a question: Is there really any money to be made in mobile apps? ... [18 comments]
Tab Sweep — The World
· In the current Twitter era, link-blogging has become something of a lost art. But damn do I ever have a lot of tabs open, dating back months. This first instalment mostly full of anger and negativity, sorry ’bout that. But we’ll start out with a beautiful must-read on human genetics ... [6 comments]
What’s “Cloud Interop”?
· I’ve seen verbiage on this echoing around the Net while the various Cloudy festivities go on down in the Bay Area. You could spend a lot of time partitioning and taxonomizing the interop problem, but I’d rather think of it from the business point of view ... [6 comments]
· In two separate finance-biz meetings last week: “You date your hardware vendor, but you marry Larry Ellison.” [4 comments]
· If you’re interested in the ongoing financial calamity, or maybe even if you’re not, and whether or not you think you understand what happened, I highly recommend that you set aside a few minutes to read Michael Lewis’ remarkable The End. I find myself, off and on, suffering from unmanageably severe anger at the financial professionals who paid themselves millions for driving the economy into a brick wall at high speed, then walking away while we pick up the pieces. Reading The End didn’t help. So what are we going to do? ... [16 comments]
· Once we do enough fire-fighting to move the financial crisis from existential-threat status to just another hole we have to climb out of, the time will have arrived to redesign the developed world’s financial regulation framework. I’m not a pro, but I’ve been in business for some decades and I’m an investor and know quite a bit of accounting, and I have opinions ... [20 comments]
On Tough Times
· As the clock ticked toward my Friday-morning keynote at FOWA London 2008 I was seriously tense, because late Thursday I’d torn up my nearly-cooked speech. What I gave instead was a dark-hued scary message entitled Getting Through the Tough Times. Because, you know, I’m scared ... [19 comments]
· What’s the single most important thing that can help us all get by in tough times? Other people. And if it takes an effort to get out and build a network, well that’s an effort we all need to be making. [This is part of the Tough Times series.] ...
· If you want the Web to help you earn a living during tough times, you’d better be giving something back. [This is part of the Tough Times series.] ... [13 comments]
· What can you, as an individual, do to maximize your chances and minimize your pain during tough times? Suggestions: lose your religion, look over the fence, and learn something. [This is part of the Tough Times series.] ... [14 comments]
Understand Your User
· We’re hearing that lousy times are good times for creativity, for building new things, precisely because the mainstream things aren’t working. Well, and maybe you’re out of a job too. If you’re building something new, who should you build it for? [This is part of the Tough Times series.] ... [11 comments]
Answer the Phone Call
· I think that if you’re looking for opportunities in tough times, the telecoms market is a really good place to look. [This is part of the Tough Times series.] ... [3 comments]
· Almost everyone in this business has put in time working on crufty, calcified old software deployments; the polite word is “Legacy”. Well, they’re not going away any time soon. And in tough times, there might be some real opportunity lurking in these dark, dusty corners. [This is part of the Tough Times series.] ... [6 comments]
· [This is part of the Tough Times series.] In the series so far, I’ve been writing generally about organizational behavior aimed at getting through the ugliness. I’d also like to offer some suggestions for areas that are likely to be fruitful growth opportunities in tough times. The most obvious one, a no-brainer, is the tools and technologies we’ll need to comply with a massive change in the regulatory climate ... [4 comments]
No Venture Capital
· Doing a startup is always tough (been there, done that) and the economic meltdown isn’t going to help; well, unless you’ve found a works-great-in-bad-times niche. Every startup considers venture-capital investment. For most Web startups, this is a lousy idea, and I think the current business climate makes it worse. [This is part of the Tough Times series.] ... [4 comments]
Join the Conversation
· If your business is hurting and money is tight, I have an idea: How’d you like to deploy an application that lets you get closer to your customers, hear about trouble before it gets serious, and doesn’t cost much? [This is part of the Tough Times series.] ... [8 comments]
Get In the Cloud
· When times are tough, money is tight. Which means, you’d think, that the golden era of Cloud Computing, as in pay-as-you-go infrastructure, is upon us. It should be, but we’re not there yet. [This is part of the Tough Times series.] ... [24 comments]
Free Software Now
· I’m talking, sans ideology, about “free” as in no-money-up-front. When business is already hurting, up-front software license fees hurt especially hard, and I just don’t believe that Enterprise Software, as currently priced, has much future, in the near term anyhow. [This is part of the Tough Times series.] ... [5 comments]
A Good Time for Agility
· When business is lousy, getting projects approved and budgeted is challenging. Which means, tough times are good times to be agile. [This is part of the Tough Times series.] ... [5 comments]
· Speaking from middle of the financial storm, voices are raised blaming the tumult on the speculators, on the banks, on the hedgies, on the shorts, on the Republicans, on the ratings agencies, on the Democrats’ Community Reinvestment Act, on CDO’s and CDS’s, on people buying houses above their station, you name it. This is all at one level right, but that level doesn’t matter. The system, by definition, will always contain a measure of knaves and fools, because it’s populated by instances of homo sapiens. Thus, it has to be regulated to keep it running. Thus, the current meltdown is a failure of regulation and nothing else. The long term solution has to be about regulation too ... [18 comments]
· Business failure is much in the news. I have personal experience, having on a few occasions been in the management of a hard-pressed company that needed money to stay afloat. I learned the Golden Rule: He Who Has The Gold Makes the Rules. I’ve also been there advising people trying to deploy money to save a troubled business. I learned something else: making good rules is hard. [1 comment]
Seems Simple To Me
· The world’s finance industry, led by that of the United States, bet the business on the proposition that real estate prices always go up. Seemed plausible at the time, but they lost the bet. Now the world’s taxpayers, led by those in the United States, have to pick up the pieces. But I’m old-fashioned, I actually believe in the benefits of both free markets and intelligent regulation. One of those benefits is accountability. So pick up the pieces all right, but the people who bet their businesses now have to lose their businesses; and with no compensation, because they’re losers. Putting them in jail is probably not cost-effective, but we taxpayer/voters could revisit that finding if we hear any whining. Otherwise capitalism doesn’t work and we’re looking for Plan B. [18 comments]
No W Suites
· I regularly visit Sun’s big Menlo Park campus, which at the west end of the Dumbarton bridge. I’d developed the habit of staying at the W Suites in Newark, at the east end of the bridge; convenient, and the bridge commute is scenic and refreshing. No longer ... [8 comments]
· Lauren has already written about UPS’s sleazy practice of slapping a “customs clearance” fee on ground shipments from the USA to Canada; people who are clued-in to this just don’t use UPS Ground any more. Well, as of last week, I’m not using UPS Express either; here’s why ... [5 comments]
Time To Twitter
· I spend quite a bit of time talking about leading-edge Web stuff to mainstream Enterprise types. I have a well-polished explanation for the rise of PHP and Rails and so on: Time To Market. Here’s the sound-bite: “If you and I have the same good idea for a community-based Web site on the same day, and mine is on the air in five months and yours in eight, then you’re dead. And it doesn’t matter if yours is better, because the community has gathered.” Well, Twitter would be the canonical example. They went with Rails because it let them build fast; and they built fast. They suffered terrible pain for months trying to take Rails places it’d never been before; but they fought through it and they’re in a very good place. Smart people tell me that Pownce and Jaiku are slicker and better but who cares? Apparently 140 characters, distributed appropriately, gives you what you need. [39 comments]
Service in 2008
· What happened was, I wanted to buy a Ricoh GX00 and, in North America, there’s only one place to do that: Adorama (gotta love that name), a New York camera store with online pretensions. It didn’t work out well, but while we don’t know yet if the story has a happy ending, it certainly has a silver lining ... [6 comments]
· I don’t often devote a whole post here to just one link, but I think Simon Phipps’ The Adoption-Led Market deserves it. If you’re in the business of technology you probably need to read it. Especially the “Consequences” section. [3 comments]
The Big Switch
· Clearly, Nicholas Carr disapproves of much of the culture in which I’ve immersed myself and which I nearly-wholly embrace, to which I would apply labels such as “online” or “Web” or “Internet” or “Twenty-first century”. (Carr and I have written back and forth already on the generalities.) So it would be reasonable to suspect me of bias in writing about his recent The Big Switch—Rewiring the world, from Edison to Google. And indeed, I do think that several of its key arguments are, well, wrong. But it’s a good book anyhow; well written and extremely apposite ... [5 comments]
Tab Sweep — The World
· Yes, I’ve been posting fewer substantive original pieces here. Working on a couple of things that aren’t very public, and also feeling itchy because what was radical three years ago has become conventional wisdom, which leaves me feeling empty and in need of something radical. Today an amusing antique camera, Iranian video, where we went, nine days of winter, and what happens when everything’s free? ...
Microsoft + Yahoo
· I have a Yahoo userid. I bet you do too. I wonder how many of those there are, in total? I wonder what that number divided by $44,600,000,000 is? [16 comments]
· Last week I gave a talk at the 16th International XBRL Conference here in Vancouver. XBRL is an XML-based system for packing up companies’ financial information, and I think it’s real important. But its take-off has been kind of protracted and arduous. I was there as an Ambassador From the Web. Here’s a quick XBRL news overview ... [5 comments]
Message From the Web
· Last week I gave a talk at the 16th International XBRL Conference here in Vancouver. XBRL is an XML-based system for packing up companies’ financial information, and I think it’s real important. But its take-off has been kind of protracted and arduous. I was there as an Ambassador From the Web. Here’s what I told them ... [7 comments]
· I’m hardly alone in being fascinated by the current financial tumult; all these mortgage-backed financial instruments, and nobody really knows how much they’re worth. If there’s good news, it’s that the immediate short-term bloodletting will mostly involve high-roller investors, hedge-fund customers, those best able to afford it. Will it spill over into the broader economy? My personal bet is probably not. But anyhow, I don’t have anything new to say on the subject. I think Bram Cohen does, though. [8 comments]
· Read the excellent play-by-play from Andy Updegrove: Update on the US Vote on OOXML (and What Happens Next). He seems to have all the public facts, but speaking as one who’s been through a few of those processes, I thought I should highlight something that’s going on right now, but won’t be talked about much. The problem of figuring out the US vote is in the hands of the 16 members of the INCITS committee. So does that mean that everyone’s sitting still waiting for them to make up their minds? Nope. What’s happening right now is that the big players with skin in the game are applying executive-to-executive pressure, behind the scenes, to the committee members’ bosses’ bosses’ bosses. In a few cases it’ll work, and the members will be issued here’s-your-vote marching orders. I’ve seen it happen. In fact, when the intensity level gets up there, I’ve never seen it not happen. Nobody will ever know the whole story on what’s happening right now under the covers. I really don’t envy the committee members. [3 comments]
· Mostly technology-centric, this time ... [4 comments]
· There are a couple of browser tabs I’ve had open for at least a week now and they’ve been making me think and I think they’re related but I still don’t have a synthesis. The first is Bill de hÓra’s Matchstick Men, which says a bunch of smart things about WS-* and REST, but that’s not what resonates, it’s this: Critically the upkeep and maintenance of legacy systems has come to dominate business software spending. Most large enterprise IT divisions now have the equivalent of a pensions fund crisis, except that all the money is being spent on old systems instead of old people. The second is Nicholas Carr’s Citi whacks IT, from begins: In yet another sign of the vast amount of waste inherent in big-company IT operations... ... [7 comments]
· You know, I don’t often post here saying “check out this YouTube clip”, but today I’ve got two, both featuring Dick Dale. The first one I saw was this interview, where Dick offers advice based on bitter experience that illustrates, were that needed, how dysfunctional the music business is. Then serendipity led me to this 1963 video of Dick playing Misirlou. Because, you know, there are many different genres of music stretching back over the decades and centuries, but it seems obvious to me that anyone with taste and intelligence would have to acknowledge that the surf-guitar-instrumental stands head and shoulders above all the rest as the pinnacle of human musical achievement. [4 comments]
· Check out The Web 2.0 Address Book May Have Arrived by Tim O’Reilly, passing along (with approving remarks) David Pogue’s pitch for GrandCentral; it gives you a single phone number that rings all your phones wherever you are. Says David: “Its motto, ‘One number for life,’ pretty much says it all.” Since I have a similar service through AccessLine courtesy of Sun, I can appreciate a resource like this. But there was something about the announcement that was bothering me ... [8 comments]
Twenty-First Century Recruiting
· Google is hiring. And there was a Tuesday in last week. Mind you, everybody’s hiring. But jeepers, I got a friendly email yesterday to my @sun.com address from a Google recruiter, subject “Exciting Job Opportunity with Google!” saying “saw your blog, we sure are a great place to work, want to talk?”. Now, it’s really easy to dig up my private non-Sun address. Not to mention my phone number. Am I old-fashioned, or does this seem a little desperate? I assume that more or less everybody in the biz who’s got a blog or is otherwise publicly visible will be getting email @work from the big G. Anyhow, I wrote back saying “Thanks, but enjoying my job just now.” and she wrote back saying OK and “Feel free to pass along my contact information to any friends or colleagues who you think might be interested in exploring opportunities with Google.” I’ll get right on it. What’s next; sandwich-men in high-tech parking lots? [8 comments]
· Last week I spent time talking to a lot of different technology people, from all over the world geographically and organizationally and culturally. The conversation kept looping back to Microsoft, and to the same sentiment: They’ve lost their mojo. Lots of people will end up using Vista, but does anyone care? The Microsoft execs look haggard and joyless, and half the interviews feel phoned-in. There’s real innovation in the Office UI, and everyone says “But it’s OK, the old keyboard shortcuts still work”. The advertising campaign is vapid and lame, but then that’s nothing new; they haven’t run an effective one in years. I’m sure that Microsoft can come back, the way IBM did after their bad patch last century; maybe the energy is building in a building in Redmond where nobody’s looking. I’ve never liked Microsoft, but now I realize how much energy they used to inject into the ecosystem, because it’s not there any more and I miss it. [9 comments]
Hot Job Market
· It seems that everybody I’ve talked to in the last little while has found a way to work it into the conversation: “Oh, and I’m hiring; know any good developers?” Plus, the pace of calls from head-hunters has picked up. It’s about as hot as I can remember it being, ever, including the bubble. [9 comments]
· I spent Thursday and Friday at Startup Camp, at the Computer History Museum. This event was sort of originally my idea, but smart Sun people retained the good parts—make it an unConference, involve David Berlind—and discarded my silly theming notions; the “Startup Camp” pitch obviously touched a nerve, because the place was packed ... [3 comments]
The Money Statement
· Somewhere in the code running inside our big HP household printer (and, I suspect, every other printer on the planet) there’s a line of code, something along the lines of
if (drum_age > drum_warning_level)
Well, that warning message comes up awful early. And it dawns on me that the value chosen for
drum_warning_level has an impact on HP’s cash flow that’s measured in billions: smaller value, more money. And the temptation to move it down and then down again over the years, that’d be irresistable. [4 comments]
· I spent a couple of fascinating hours Tuesday at a round table hosted by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. The subject was Interactive Data, a term which is hardly self-explanatory but really means “Business Transparency”. This in the same week that Jonathan sent a letter on the same subject to SEC Chairman Christopher Cox, who was also around the table. Mr. Cox and the SEC are definitely on the right track; I expect bumps in the road, but there’s a chance that Accounting As We Know It could be blown up. Which would be a good thing; and not just because Open Source is creeping in ... [7 comments]
Web Hacking With Real Money
· Looking for some new data for your next mash-up? How about playing with real money? The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Interactive Data Initiative has an RSS feed of company financial filings; not just the text, but in a highly-structured XML format called XBRL. I glance at the feed this morning and see data from ADP, Dow Chemical, Molina Healthcare, Xerox, GE, Infosys, 3M, Bristol Myers Squibb, and lots more. XBRL isn’t the world’s easiest format to grok; that’s partly because the formalisms that govern accounting are non-trivial in the extreme. But I’m quite sure there are fortunes to be made by people who combine hacking chops with financial savvy, and figure out how to automate digging insight out of this data. Of course, in most gold rushes, the best business angle is selling tools and entertainment to the miners; so there is obviously more than one way to work this territory. And a great big tip of the hat to the SEC for getting this stuff on the air. [1 comment]
How Much Work?
· Here are links to two explorations of the same question: why do we work the amount we work? Suw Charman recently reported on a thought-provoking EuroFOO session by Ryan Carson, who has decided as a matter of policy to put his company on a four-day week. Then today Brad DeLong quotes Robert Frank on Keynes having been wrong about wealth and desire, but is left unsatisfied, still wondering “Why 40 hours?” Some of us, of course, have vocations not jobs and are happily writing code and chatting with colleagues and blogging at 11PM. But still... one would like the amount people work to be explicable by rational economics. DeLong doesn’t try, he veers beautifully sideways into Cowboy Economics or rather Junkie Economics; well anyhow, he quotes six verses of a song usually sung by Margo Timmins. Which is a sane way to address a mystery. But if I were going around again, I think I’d be an economist.
· I really owe Nicholas Carr a vote of thanks; I believe no other single individual has provoked so many ongoing entries of the form “A is right about X” or “A is wrong about X”. Today, Nick is wrong about innovation. To be fair, this is something that has driven management practitioners and theorists crazy forever; the people running a company tend to know pretty well where some innovation would be useful; adding product value to give some price leverage; revamping manufacturing operations to tie up less capital; it depends on the company’s pain point. And that kind of works, but only for the little innovations. Maybe the best-known example is Kaizen, as applied in the Toyota Production System; which explicitly acknowledges that it’s chasing small, incremental, steps forward. But fortunes are made, and industry titans are built, where management isn’t really looking, almost always. The big pieces of innovation come out of garages and low-rent offices in lousy locations, and they’re produced by small groups without much management backing. It can be done at big companies (the business personal computer at IBM, Java at Sun) but then it’s always in an off-the-mainstream skunkworks. Nobody—I repeat, nobody—is smart enough to predict where the next big strategic innovation is going to come from. So if you “narrow your innovation focus”, you’re almost guaranteed to miss it. The best approach, I think, is a combination of conscious focused incremental innovation—kaizen—combined with a structure that’s loose enough that when someone wants to hide in a corner and try something crazy, you don’t get in the way too much.
Smallthought and Me
· I’ve written before about Dabble DB, about being an unabashed fan of the people and company and technology. Since I think transparency is important, this is by way of disclosure: as of today I’m a shareholder in Smallthought Systems. After I’d advised them not to take any investment money, and then advised them that they should probably take the Ventures West offer, I asked if I could have a little piece of the deal, and everyone was fine with that, so today I signed the papers and gave them the cheque. I guess there may have been a little Vancouver home-side boosterism in my wanting to do this but not that much; I think I’m gonna get my money back and then some.
· This fell out of a conversation at JavaOne, which, these days, is more or less the heart of the IT Establishment; we were wondering what the equivalent event might be for everyone else in the world. I said it ought to be an unconference or a camp or something along those lines, so there was more talk, some of it with David Berlind, who’s launched the very successful MashupCamp series. Now we’re seriously considering an Autumn event in the Bay Area. I wanted it to call it “Scaling 2.0”, but the consensus seems to be for “Startup Camp”, since the idea is to address people who are building new things from scratch, as opposed to working in the existing application space. Here’s an address: email@example.com. Would you come? Is the idea lame-brained? If we do it, is there something we should be careful to do or not do? Let us know.
Freedom to Leave
· That’s the title of a remarkable piece by Simon Phipps, long but worth reading all of. I suspect that most people who read ongoing have had a chance to hear Simon speak; but if you haven’t and you get a chance, take it. I think he’s actually better on the stage than on the page, and since this is a very good piece, the speech that went with it will have been outstanding.
Innovation Happens Elsewhere
· Tantek Çelik writes, on the subject of work by Scott Reynen: “Companies take note - on the internet, there will always be smarter, more clever people building on each other's work than your secret internal committees, your architecture councils, your internal discussion forums — no matter how many supergeniuses you think you may have hired away and locked up with golden shackles in your labs. Either play open or expect your proprietary formats and protocols to be obsolete before they've even seen the light of day.” [Update: It’s been pointed out to me that some might not recognize the title, which was originally uttered by Bill Joy and is also the title of a book by Goldman and Gabriel.]
· Maybe in an ideal world We’d All Just Get Along and there wouldn’t be attack bloggers, but that’s not where we live, and if we have to have attack bloggers I think we should have good ones. My fave is Billmon, and he’s just fired off one of the best take-downs ever.
· On Friday morning I flew down to Portland, drove to Salem, and helped out with a Sun sales presentation to the state government from 10AM to 5PM. I don’t get to do many sales calls which is a pity because I love them. I probably shouldn’t queer the pitch by going into details (I will if we get the business, because it’s interesting), but I have to say that the state-government people we were pitching to had smart questions and were endearingly obsessive about the application; and I would be too in their position, it’s one of the Things That Matters. I flew home out of PDX that same evening and damn was I tired. But the State Capitol is worth looking at, so I took a couple of pictures ...
· I ran across this Dow-Jones story entitled Dissident XM Satellite director a good role model; it’s about a Board-level dispute at XM Satellite Radio. The argument is simple and straightforward: whether they should focus on costs and profitability, or go all-out for growth; the right answer isn’t obvious. Lots of businesses have had this kind of argument; I’ve been in a few myself. What’s unique here is that they’re having it out in the open. In my two decades in business, I’ve seen a whole lot of management (sometimes Board-level) arguments, and the more important they are and the harder the problem is, the more fanatically determined people were to keep things secret. For most of my lifetime, the dominant school of management thought has held that the company must present a cheerful, united, confident face to the world and speak always with one voice and only one voice. I think a reasonable case can be made that this thinking is, in its essential characteristics, Fascist. It also strikes me as really, really dumb. How could anyone think the less of XM Radio because we know they’re agonizing over profitability-vs-growth? Unless the issue is something like “Oops, the new product is causing users to develop liver cancer”, I think that in general businesses would benefit from working on their hard problems a little more transparently.
· It looks like talent is getting damn short out there. The frequency of calls from recruiters is up, way up. Total ice-cold calls, like “We need a CEO for a enterprise-class social software offering.” In a lot of cases they’re not after me, just “We heard that you know lots of people in the space.” The shots are noticeably longer and the frequency is up and up, particularly since the start of the year. No, I don’t know what it means.
Upcoming Gig: XBRL San Jose
· On Wednesday Jan. 18th I’ll be at Adobe in San Jose talking at the XBRL Meeting. XBRL is about something that I’ve long felt is important: standardizing financial reporting. I’ve struggled a whole lot over the years with accounting principles and financial reporting, which are generally speaking a snake-pit. Those of us who’ve dealt with this stuff were less surprised by Enron and friends, because “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles” have historically included lots of latitude for egregious lies. The best answer is transparency, give intelligent investors enough information and they’ll sniff out the bad guys. Getting from the mess we’re now in to complete transparency has two essential steps: first of all, the regulators have to make Generally Accepted Accounting Lies punishable with lots of jail time. Secondly, we need technical infrastructure so we can build some standardized tools to do financial analysis; these exist today, but require a whole lot of hand-tweaking to weed through the GAAP-approved hand-waving and make one company’s numbers comparable to another’s. XBRL isn’t the solution, but’s an important piece of the puzzle, and if there’s anything I can do to help, I’m there.
· For some time, I’ve been appending “Disclosure: I may have a conflict of interest with respect to Technorati” whenever I mention them. I’m happy to report that, as of this week, I do have a conflict of interest; the approval process worked its way through multiple levels of executive committees and I’m officially allowed to be a member of the Technorati advisory board. Who knows, maybe they’ll start taking my advice. While I wish I could see how this whole Web-as-living-data-stream thing is going to turn out, I can’t. But it’s clearly a world-changer.
Activa vs. Mrs. Lanteigne
· That would be Mrs. Louisette Lanteigne of Waterloo, Ont., who has an extremely amateur GeoCities website that she’s been using to post illustrated complaints about what look like dangerous, shoddy, and environmentally damaging construction practices in her neighborhood, illustrated with her own pictures. Activa, one of the developers she’s been complaining about, has slapped her with a 2-million-dollar libel action. Plus, Slashdot knocked her site off the air (Google cache here). The litigation seems a little over the top to this non-lawyer; are there any good Waterloo-area geeks who’d like to fix her up with a higher-grade Web presence?
· Who is Infrae.com? And why the flaming hell
are were they replicating the full text from ongoing, and doing the same to Jon Udell, Dare Obasanjo, and Paul Everitt? This really seems over the top. Whoever you are, please stop now. [Update: It has been pointed out that this may fall within the terms of my Creative Commons license. I guess they’re attributing properly, and it doesn’t look like they’re charging. On the other hand, this looks like it may be a product demo, and that would be skating close to the line. Hmph.] [Update: Infrae, who do Zope stuff, seem to be a decent bunch of people; Martijn Faassen, one of their founders, sent a nice note explaining that this was indeed a demo of their Silva product. And they’ve taken it all down; thanks.] $46,213,000,000.00
· I was doing research for a Canadian TV spot I was on earlier this week, and I looked up the answer to the question: “What is IBM’s consulting revenue?” In 2004, IBM’s gross revenue was $96B, of which $46B was Global Services, i.e. consulting. I see that basically as testimony to how our profession—the IT profession—has failed our customers. Nothing against IBM; in fact, as solution-providers go, my experience is that IBM GS is pretty good. But if you see IBM as a microcosm of the industry, it shouldn’t cost $46B in consulting to deploy $50B worth of technology. It’s not going to be easy to get there, and it’s going to take a long time, but we just have to focus on making things simpler.
Adobe + Macromedia = ?
· Seems straightforward to me. Adobe is in at the center of print production (PhotoShop & friends, InDesign, PDF), while Macromedia’s DreamWeaver is the single most important Web-design product. Dave Shea says this might be about Flash, but let me suggest exactly the opposite: if you’re hitching your career to Flash, it might be a good time to look at alternatives. Why’s that? Because, near as I can tell, Macromedia has never made any serious money with Flash. They’ve accomplished one of the great, heroic, marketing coups of all time, getting the plug-in onto substantially every desktop on the planet; and this bought them, uh, what exactly? They sell authoring tools, but seriously, how many Flash designers does the world need? Anyhow, most of the good things you can do with Flash, you can do about as well with DHTML (oops that’s called AJAX now) and your “back” button still works. I guess there’s no reason to actually shut Flash down, the tool revenue must about cover the engineering costs. But Adobe, historically, has been good at focusing on what works and dropping the distractions. (Can you remember PageMill?) Flash is a distraction. [Update: Smell something burning? That would be me, sizzling in a torrent of Flash-flavored flame.] ...
Errors and Omissions
· Attending a meeting in a downtown office building in Vancouver, I photographed the nameplate on the door of a business that I hadn’t known existed ...
Per-CPU Pricing is B.A.D.
· Today in the news, reports that Microsoft per-CPU pricing will treat multi-cored CPUs as one. The fact that intelligent people should even have to think about this is further evidence, if any were needed, that per-CPU software pricing is Broken As Designed. To start with, it’s unstable in the face of Moore’s law and things like multi-coring. Second, and this argument is really unanswerable, it’s radically decoupled from both the cost to the vendor and the value to the user. For infrastructure, the per-employee pricing that we’re trying here at Sun out seems to be the best bet for capturing the buyer value. There are some other classes of applications that deliver a lot of value but are used by small groups; CRM, traditional BI (but my last company Antarctica is trying to break that mold), trader’s-desk systems. For small-group software per-identified-user or per-parallel-user can each sometimes make sense. But I am completely at a loss to think of a single software scenario where per-CPU pricing is rational or defensible.
· Today in Victoria (which is British Columbia’s capital) I spoke at an IT-focused conference called Strategies for Public Sector Transformation. It turns out that by “transformation” they meant mostly outsourcing; the current jargon is “Alternative Service Delivery”. These are smart people and they are in the same squeeze as a lot of other governments: on one side tax-cutting politicians and on the other inexorably rising health-care costs. So outsourcing looks attractive, because lots of times it drives costs down. On the other hand, these are after all IT projects and, as such, a high proportion of them fail. I also think we should be honest and acknowledge is that some of the cost savings come, not from core competencies and all that, but from paying people less for the same work. There was also a fairly horrifying presentation by a woman from Texas about the state legislature leaning very heavily on the public-service agencies to outsource not just infrastructure but basics such as qualifying people for benefits. Huh? I thought the point of outsourcing was to focus on your core competencies. In any case, I was there mostly to talk about identity standards, which isn’t getting nearly enough attention; if I were a hotshot young developer looking for a niche to build in with lots room and upside, that’s where I’d go.
Bad Day at Work?
· Well, things could be worse; check out David Morse’s epic struggle with the system. And those who fret about Microsoft’s chewing us all up with their ruthless efficiency may find their worries eased.
· Right now we are encountering an irritating failure of the free market. We had some ductwork done a couple of months ago, and have a chunk of missing drywall in our living room. There are some other bits and pieces of drywalling that need doing here and there around the house, too. No problem, call up an expert, right? Wrong. At this moment in Vancouver, no drywaller can be bothered to take on a job that’s only one or two days’ work; they’re all coasting along doing ten-thousand-dollar-and-up mansion renovations. Drywalling is tricky, irritating, messy work best left to professionals... but it looks like we’re going to be taking it on. At any Vancouver social gathering, the general unavailability of tradespeople is a reliable conversation-starter. Hey kids, consider staying away from that expensive and arduous college education and taking up a trade; for damn sure your job won’t get outsourced to another continent.
Mark on Microsoft
· OK, this is positively the last time I’m going to post here saying “Go read Mark Cuban’s latest,” the word about his high-energy naked-truth-at-great-length unpunctuated explosions must have pretty well gotten out by now. The subject this time is the Microsoft dividend, which is pretty big news.
· That title stands for “Computing Without Sending Money to Microsoft, and right here, with Java One and the Apple WWDC both happening here in San Francisco, we’re pretty well at the C-$2MS World Headquarters. Herewith some closing notes and pictures ...
Cuban on Sweat
· Via Mark Cuban, some very wise remarks about how to build a business from scratch, and why you should avoid taking VC money if you possibly can. [PS: I’m not going to turn ongoing into a collection of pointers to other Web stuff, this is just a coincidence, partly due to the fact that I’m hovering over the aggregate PlanetSun feed to see how this experiment goes, and I keep seeing interesting things go by.]
· This gentleman writes regularly in The New Yorker on issues of business and economics, and is one of the reasons I regularly buy that magazine. Today he’s got a fascinating essay in Wired on collective corporate wisdom. Seems to me that there’s a good case to be made that the companies who figure out how to put this to work are the ones that are going to win.
More Pricing Craziness
· Down here in Oz, we’re making quite a few calls home over this and that, and while both of our cellphones work fine, even God couldn’t afford the roaming charges. But you can call Canada from halfway around the world for 2.8¢/minute, here’s how: ...
· I’ve been hearing these stories, several times in the last month, from both here in Vancouver and down in the States, of entrepreneurs having drop-kicked a VC termsheet and walked away, on the basis of terms and/or valuation. If you don’t know what this jargon means, a crash lesson on how the VC process works. For those who do know, a few remarks on VC trends ...
To Customer Service
· Dear Customer Service: Today I had a problem and called your help-line. I (like quite a few people) would prefer to solve the problem myself using your website, and I (like an increasing portion of the population) am perfectly competent to do so. Unfortunately, your web site does not have a solution to this particular problem, so I need to talk to a person. Imagine my dismay when, at three successive levels of telephone menu, I have to listen to lengthy exhortations on the wonderfulness of your Web site and on how it could solve my problem if I would go away and (please, please) not call you. If I could use the Web site, I wouldn’t be calling. This guarantees that by the time I eventually get through to a person, I will be irritated and prone to unfriendliness. As the proportion of people who are Web-connected and Web-competent increases, the cost-effectiveness of this kind of go-away message is going to fall. Please bear this in mind.
· This morning, my news aggregator served up this innocuous-looking piece from Infoworld (take a moment and check it out) which I read and suddenly found myself angry. The anger is because what this article describes as “what looks more and more like the way of the future” strikes me as more or less like complete bullshit. Details follow ...
The Intangibles Market
· The book business is easy to understand. An author writes a book, a publisher edits, prints, markets, and distributes it, and bookstores sell it. The money gets split up between the bookstore, the publisher, and the author, and it all works well enough to keep the books flowing. This is a successful market mechanism; not perfect but there aren’t any obvious better alternatives. Around the universe of brainware, it doesn’t usually work that well; wherever you look you see markets that are twisted or compromised or just broken. And it’s not obvious what the way forward is. Examples include TV, journalism, conferences, and increasingly what’s on your computer screen ...
· My brother writes to tell me of an unnerving experience, involved with hiring someone to manage a computer lab. It’s more than just a little tough out there. [Update: A Boxed pearl.] ...
· Summer is distinctly here and I took a side-trip on a coffee expedition to the sunglasses emporium; the sharp-dressed young woman explained that the inexpensive sunglasses were on this side, the designer models on other. But then she wouldn't take my money ...
Microsoft Wants Your Love
· Today, Don Box of Microsoft appeals for love (well, at least polygamy), inviting us all to snuggle up with their .NET stuff and pointing out that it works with Open Source technology. Scoble takes a Redmond job and also wants to start dating. I have this problem with loving Microsoft, it's just that I fear them so much ...
LA Times Whacks 'Em
· An awfully good editorial in the LA Times (free registration required) about executive-pay follies in the decomposing corpse of Key3Media, best-known as promoter of Comdex, another decomposing corpse ...
A Lot of People Looking
· Somebody wondered what old friend X is up to, and I know he's on the Web so I checked, and he's looking for work. This has happened a lot in recent months. There is a lot of serious, deep, high-quality talent out there waiting for the economy to snap back ...
· In a coffee shop: "Business was OK but I had to quit because the CEO and I, one of us was gonna kill the other. He was a lying fuck and a pompous self-important asshole ...
By Tim Bray.
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