Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Examining the Industry's Scat

Like a biologist picking through owl pellets, the best way to figure out what’s going on with an entity is to examine its leavings. That’s why I try to go to the ACCRC at least once a week. The Alameda County Computer Resource Center is a non-profit computer and electronics recycler in Berkeley, Calif. There, they reformat old desktops, install Ubuntu and then donate the machine to someone in need. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that my wife works there, too.

My weekly visits to this den of IT leavings has taught me a few things about the current state of enterprise IT. First, I’ve learned that cathode ray tube monitors are finally becoming the exception, rather than the rule. For a long time, these beasts would make up the mainstay of donations, but recently they’ve become somewhat less common. Old CRT televisions and CCTV monitors, however, are still plentiful in the wild.

Laptops have become so prevalent that they are frequently appearing without any molestation. In the past, laptops donated for recycling have typically been stripped of RAM, hard drives and often their screens. But these days, most laptops arrive fully intact, a sign that the precious pieces inside are no longer at a premium.

DLT tapes are also a common sight at the center. It would appear that they have become somewhat passe in enterprise backup systems. There is irony to be had here, however: despite the wealth of backup media donated, actual hard drive and RAID case donations are way down. It would appear that the need for cold backups isn’t as great as the need for online systems with warmer storage. All data, accessible all the time, in other words.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned from my visits to the ACCRC, however, is the lesson of waste. It never ceases to amaze me how much equipment arrives in its original packaging, unopened, unused and unneeded. If I was able to track these items back to their origins (something that is next to impossible at this massive warehouse), I bet I’d find someone who was either fired, a newbie or was looking for another job behind these donations. I like to think that the experienced and caring managers and buyers out there tend to purchase only what they’ll need. Whereas the less experienced tend to buy in round numbers with huge smudge factors. Honestly, there’s never going to be a need for 10,000 individually wrapped 3-foot ethernet cables in any enterprise. There will always be a need for 30,000-foot spools of cable, however, which can easily be cut into any size or length needed.

Unless you want to feed the ACCRC more fresh gear, I’d recommend calculating and re-calculating your buying numbers when purchasing equipment. Remember, like a salad bar, you can always go back and fill your cup again when you’ve finished what you’ve got. But you can never put the cottage cheese back in the tub if you don’t finish it.
--Alex Handy

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Live, from Interop, it's Tuesday morning!

Well, we’re off to a great start, I thought. It was 9:40 am, and I hadn’t hooked up with my 9:30 meeting – the first of the first day of this massive conference for networking (in every sense of the word). It didn't bode well. However, that time lapse did give me a chance to briefly thumb through a new book by this morning’s keynote speaker, C.K. Prahalad, titled “The New Age of Innovation: Driving Co-Created Value Through Global Networks.” Prahalad, a noted professor at the Ross School of Business on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, believes new principles of innovation need to be followed if businesses are to remain competitive in this 21st century. One of his guiding principles is that companies should focus on the user experience of each individual customer. He adds, though, that no business has the resources to fulfill each individual’s desires, so there needs to be a shift from owning resources to having access to them. Prahalad notes that businesses have been built on a model created by Henry Ford; each car is the same, has the same features, and is the same color. When customers demanded differentiation and customization, car companies offered different colors, air conditioning, power steering and windows. But again, the choices were limited to what the car company had at in its warehouse. (How many times have you settled for a silver car because the salesman told you that there were no more dark blue cars available?) Prahalad cited Apple as a company that is winning by implementing the twin principles above. With the iPod, for instance, users can download their own songs and create individual experiences. Carrying it further, users also can download videos, podcasts and other assets that Apple neither owns nor controls – creating a truly innovative business model. This new competitive landscape reflects a social movement, in Prahalad’s estimation. There’s a whole generation of consumers who, thanks to Facebook, YouTube and other sites, “will grow up expecting to be treated as unique individuals, and they will have the skills and propensity to engage in a marketplace defined by” this notion of individualized experiences, Prahalad writes.
It’s a fascinating book, just published and released, and available at

-- David Rubinstein

Quite a discovery!

Our senior editor Alex Handy’s blog about the discovery of some lost game chips at a California flea market (see entry below) has been discovered, and a very nice article about Alex, his find, and his difficulties in getting to the data has appeared in the Wall Street Journal. You can read it here:

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Long Lost Game Chips

I made a find at the flea market that has made me something of a celebrity in the world of video gaming. I found a handful of chips at a shop stall that seem to contain some long-lost Colecovision and Atari 2600 game code. As a game collector, this was the find of a lifetime. As a lover of free and open technology, this was a chance to give something to the world as well. There is, in fact, a great deal of interest out there in finding and playing games that were never published.

But this whole affair has confronted me with an age-old dilemma: profit versus philanthropy. The moment I mentioned my find on a popular Atari forum, people came out of the woodwork to wage a holy war over this lost prototype videogame.

“Copy the code, print up cartridges and sell them!” said some.

“Copy the code and release it for free on the Internet!” said others.

“Send me the chips, I'll dump the info for you, promise!” said even others still.

It's a tough thing to decide. If I were to simply sell these chips off to the highest bidder, I might make a quick bundle of cash. Not what I'm after. If I were to print new cartridges based on these chips, and sell them as collectors' items, I might get sued by the owners of the intellectual property behind these games (some appear to be games based on movies).

It's not an easy decision for me at all. But right now, I'm far more concerned with another problem relating to these chips: how the hell do I get the data off of them?

They're all EPROMs, and I have found someone local to dump the info off them. But some of these are on console sleds; circuit boards made to be stuffed into a game console. For those, I'm afraid I might damage something when I try to pull the EPROMs out for individual reading.

In some ways, this discovery has been almost more of a curse than a blessing...

No, wait. I take that back. I wouldn't trade these in for anything else in the world. I'll find out what's on them this weekend, so I'll update here to let everyone know what was on them.

-- Alex Handy

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Hip, the Geeky, the Single, and the Taken Unite at Love 2.0

When sent me an invite to Love 2.0, a kickoff event for the Web 2.0 conference, I have to admit I was intrigued. Having met my husband in 1998, I missed the online dating revolution and have always been curious about the logistics of shopping for love online.
But was quick to point out that this wasn’t online dating 1.0. No siree, says the company. Rather, it aims to eliminate the randomness factor of online dating by providing a social networking platform that turns your single or taken friends into your matchmakers, and even uses a voting system to rate your dating behavior. Your chances of scoring are raised or lowered based on comments and ratings from those who know you. It’s kind of like the LinkedIn of online dating companies.
Distracted by an open bar and the ID labels everyone was wearing (you chose between hip or geeky, and single, taken or matchmaking), I learned nothing about online dating. I did, however, learn how to manipulate a 10-person-deep bar that resembled the New York subway station at rush hour.

And the people-watching was second to none. Hoards of geeky and adorable singles huddled awkwardly at the beginning of the night. Some were pushed into forced conversations with other labeled singles by their “taken” friends. I heard a lot of “Ummm….so are you here for this or the whole thing?” in the first hour of the party. I’m assuming they were referring to the Web 2.0 thing....but who knows?

Nevertheless, the booze and funky music loosened them up in no time. Conversations were increasingly risqué , eye contact turned into arm touching, and the dance floor really heated up. In fact, my night ended with a spectacular show of two of the most unlikely dance floor candidates (I swear I saw a pocket protector) getting down and super dirty, while a crowd of Harry Potters cheered them on.

If this party represents what online dating is about, I really missed out. The vibe was laid-back, the crowd was far from creepy, and good times were to be had. And the hosts didn’t skimp on the parting gift—the Love 2.0 tee-shirt was from American Apparel, my personal tee-shirt-fave. Viva!
--Michelle Savage

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What's It Used For?

A company called RAID Inc. has come out with a compact RAID-based storage solution that it says in a news release "is ideal for small spaces such as cockpits, tanks [and] submarines..." As such, one of the company's biggest customers is the U.S. government.
While I was chatting with COO Bob Picardi, I supposed that the 2 1/2-inch, 15,000 RPM drive was used in those setting to store data about gun firing sequences, or intelligence about the enemy. I was surprised when Picardi told me he isn't exactly sure how the government is implementing the solution. Then, of course, I realized that military intelligence (I know, an oxymoron) is something the government just doesn't share, even with the vendors that supply the hardware and software to run these systems. It must be strange to have your biggest customer not reveal to you how it's using your product. Talk about flying blind... To find more about the Razor storage solution, which was unveiled at Storage Networking World earlier this month, visit .
-- David Rubinstein

Monday, April 21, 2008

Al Gore Dissed Me

Al Gore is so high school! He totally blacklisted me from his party. OK—it was a keynote address and he banned the entire press. Still, those who were invited said the speech was “far from groundbreaking” so what’s with the press ban?
In a keynote address at the RSA Conference, Gore, the former U.S. vice president, highlighted the importance of using technology to combat global warming. Beyond that, I can’t tell you what he said because, as a member of the press, I wasn’t allowed in.
Hmm, I thought, maybe I could watch the trade show talk on video afterwards? Not a chance, said the public relations folks parked outside the conference room, as all video recordings, broadcasts and photography are prohibited, also.
“What’s up with the secrecy?” I asked. “Why would Gore ban the people who can best deliver his message to the world?” PR would only say that the ban was part of his speaking contract.
But wait—there is good news. Gore’s people didn’t sew audience members’ mouths shut or brainwash them to forget what they had learned, so I was able to gather a few tidbits of information on the speech. According to attendees, Gore told them that:
* global warming is real and worse than previously thought;
* businesses needed to step it up when it comes to developing technology that conserves energy and fights global warming; and
* CO2 is invisible, so we need information technology to track it.
None of the attendees with whom I spoke could think of a single reason why the press would be banned from such a talk. All thought it was strange—one guy added that the speech was “far from groundbreaking” and “you didn’t miss much.”
Maybe next time, Gore should focus less on the press and think about banning hecklers. Apparently, he was interrupted by four singing, shouting hecklers who called him a liar and told him to stop trying to depopulate the earth. Sheesh…..we journalists have better manners than that!
-- Michelle Savage

The RSA Party Scene

Every conference has parties. I've been to thousands of them. They're always at the same restaurants, bars and hotels, and they always have the same food. But what makes these parties worth attending? What separates one vendor soiree from the next? In truth, it's the people.

I hold the enviable position of “someone the vendors want to talk to.” That means when I head into these various parties--and for the purposes of allegory, let's focus on the just-finished RSA conference. When I arrive at one of these parties, invariably, I am introduced to the PR manager, communications director, CEO, CTO, or whoever the folks at the front desk have been told to send the press to.

These meetings are always pleasant, rarely caustic, and frequently involve alcohol on both sides of the table. But no matter what the subject, I can usually tell right off the bat if this is going to be a good party, or a bad one.

At the good parties, the CEO/CMO/Engineer is talking about the show -- the people they've seen, companies they've worked for, or interesting talks they attended. At the bad parties, the PR/Marketing/manager immediately launches into a memorized speech detailing all the bullet points of importance on their product.

It's not exactly surprising. If you were at a dinner party, or wedding reception, would you want to talk to the guy who's chatting about the Mets or the guy who's discussing his company's new meat mincing solution? Parties are a time to get to know people, not a time to make sales.

Thus, companies like Voltaic, Vormetric and Splunk succeeded at their parties, because the folks in attendance were simply themselves. These three events, at RSA, were basically cocktail parties in pleasant venues. Meanwhile, other companies tried to run their parties like businesses, with sales reps moving through the crowds, and Power Point presentations being regurgitated over sushi and carrot sticks.

Selling is for the show floor. If you really want to make a connection with your customers and the press, be yourselves. I know I can't stand being pitched while I have a mouth full of crudite, and I'd imagine most of the systems administration managers these companies hope to woo are just as uncomfortable in such a situation.

When it comes right down to it, the best business relationships are founded in personalities. They're based on the guys in one organization feeling at ease when they pick up the phone to call and make a purchase at another organization. The best clients are ones that call up and talk like friends, not like robots.

If there's one way to endear your company to a customer or a media type at one of these industry events, it's to give them plenty of good food, good drink, and good toys.

-- Alex Handy