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Huslage's Thoughts

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Google Wave works in iPhone Safari

Many have probably noticed already. In iPhone’s Safari browser if you “continue at your own risk” through to wave.google.com things just work! It’s pretty cute, but I didn’t see anyone editing anything while I was testing it out…here’s a shot.

Google Wave on iPhone

More later.

How Clouds change the enterprise

The relative youth of cloud services makes them susceptible to being used for things that they aren’t designed for and, probably, should never be used to do. Of note is this recent entry on Amazon’s EC2 message boards. Richard Haas points out what he sees as a detriment of the service:

What if you want to host highly configured persistent system instances?  Imaging a work group server — every other day you may add cron tasks, additional SMB shares, more Postfix configuration commands, etc.  The “thing” that you care about is the system itself, not some separate volume of data.  The system itself and its capabilities/functions continue to evolve daily, perhaps by the work of multiple administrators across the globe.

You’d like to retain that information/configuration/function across multiple start/reboot cycles … how do you do that?

Right now, the only method that is obvious (to me) is performing instance backups … then constructing new instances from the backups — boy that’s labor intensive and fraught with peril.

Or is EC2 only useful where the system configuration is fixed/generic/non-persistent?  That would IMO be a waste, given the disaster recovery/continuous operation capabilities of cloud computing.

I know nothing about Richard Haas, his motives or his understanding of IT issues, but I see this as a naive view of how the cloud is supposed to function. I think he sort of understands the idea, but the execution has been missed in his mind.

This is, unfortunately, the predominant wisdom of most IT people out there. You set up a server to do some task, like serving files to locally connected users, and then that box runs forever until you get a new one. This model doesn’t work exactly the same way for clouds. Clouds aren’t designed or meant to serve data like that. They are meant to be generic server containers attached to some data storage that contains everything they need to do their job.

Enterprise IT has long held the notion that the data and the server OS are somehow tied together. They are not. The IIS web server is no more a part of of the OS than is MS Word. Apache may come as a package on most Linux systems, but that doesn’t make it any less of an application.

The heart of cloud computing is returning to the model that applications, data and operating systems are completely separate beasts that should not be intimately intertwined. Any one server or application or dataset is completely independent and can live anywhere in the cloud.

Gone are the days of the server request for a big Sun V890 server with gobs of RAM and Terabytes of expensive storage. Those things simply don’t matter in the cloud world. What matters is what application is running, what services it needs, how its data is stored and how it can scale horizontally across many server instances. We have to think more like mainframe people than open systems people.

Enterprises will not be able to take fill advantage of cloud computing services as long as they see them as simple replacements for their current infrastructure. The new model is an update and resurrection of an old one of centralized mainframe computing. Tell me your workload and I’ll make sure the thing keeps running…no matter what physical server it’s on.

Found

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Thoughts on Economy

These are notes. I am needing narrative.

Read these things:

http://www.slate.com/id/2213029/?from=rss
http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2009/03/assorted-links-3.html (yes i do agree with this)
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/05/opinion/05geanokoplos.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=matters%20of%20principal&st=cse

Put on top of that, this startling statistic. The actual unemployment rate (counting those who have stopped looking for work and those who are part-time employed due to economic reasons) is 14.8% as of Friday [http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t12.htm]. Astounding. To say that we shouldn’t be stimulating the economy from the government angle is dangerous, I think. The damn bill was too small [http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2009/03/bleak_house.php, http://mediamatters.org/items/200903060025?f=h_latest] and a lot of economists do too.

Now is not the time for idealistic musings about the size of government and their role in our lives. The government is back-door nationalizing the banks, will end up taking over mortgages at some point, and will likely be the economic engine of our country for the short-term. This is a good thing because it cannot work any other way. The market failed us this time. There simply isn’t enough “there” there to make things better without serious intervention.

The right wing whines about how Obama is pushing some far-left progressive agenda. It’s awful. It’s inhumane. [http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2009/03/what-was-the-point.html]. What’s the point.

These are my thoughts today.

The Publishing industry has lost the thread

I am researching a new idea that has a lot of potential to revolutionize and, in many respects, help the book publishers to expand their reach and significantly lower their costs. I have been reading a lot of trade rags to get the pulse of what’s going on with them and to see what their views are towards emerging digital technology. One of the most revealing articles I’ve ready is called “The Perfect Storm” by the editor of Book Business Magazine Noelle Skodzinski.

In this sadly misguided post, she makes me wary of doing any business with the publishing companies by calling Google’s deal with the American Association of Publishers and the downturn in the economy a perfect storm for book publishers. “Book Business columnist Andrew Brenneman refers to this perfect storm—brought on by digitally induced changes in the fundamentals of how we publish and sell books, and the global financial crisis, among other things.” This is a dangerous road to hoe given that very few publishers have any right at this point to deny any technological solution to their growing problems.

The publishing industry is poised on the brink of major changes that will allow it to continue to bring us high quality and vetted books and magazines. This “digitization” is inevitable and actually a great thing for the industry. There will be more need to print and ship millions of volumes. The idea of returns and printing fees will disappear. The publishers can focus once again on the thing they are best at and that’s getting books written and distributed.

Obama and Gay Rights

Unless you live under a rock, you’ll know by now that Barack Obama invited the very influential minister Rick Warren to give the benediction at the upcoming inaugural. My first reaction was one of mild disbelief followed by “why the hell not”. I didn’t see Rick Warren as particularly divisive in the main. Sure, he’s made lots of noise about gay people being this that and the other thing, but whatever – he has the right to his opinion and it doesn’t preclude Obama from liking the guy. Respect of others’ views is important to me, and seeing that Obama picked someone that sort of, kind of, disagrees with his views on gay people made me think more of both of them.

Then I thought about it a little.

Rick Warren is a pretty amazing guy with a good story. He’s not my kind of guy, mind you (religious zealotry not being my thing), but he seems like he wants the world to be a better place. Warren has a HUGE following all over the world due to his writing and his major big-ass church. In short, he’s exactly the type of person that Obama would be attracted to.

So what Obama doesn’t agree with him on one issue, that’s not the point. Obama agrees with him on most things. They are both christian guys. They both like basketball. They both seem to want a better world (in their own image, I’m sure). They are both extremely powerful. These are key points for Obama. I kinda like that, actually.

Then I thought about it a little more.

Surely the left are just being their normal reactionary hyperbolic selves and blowing this out of proportion. Surely Warren isn’t that bad. But then I read this post by Hodgman. These words are of particular interest to me:

THOSE OF US, however, who foolishly refused to take Obama at his word when he told us he didn’t support gay marriage OVER AND OVER AGAIN must now take him at his deed. He really, really doesn’t want gays to get married. SRSLY.

BUT AFTER MCCLURKIN and now Warren, it is hard not to conclude that Barack Obama is somewhat tone deaf when it comes to gay issues. And at this point, if he is interested in convincing us otherwise (and I’m not presuming he is), it will take more than a few words or a second pastor or some other symbolic gesture. It will take deeds.

Hodgman’s silly headline writing style aside, he has quite the point. Obama doesn’t really want gays to marry. Ever. Really. The difference between “Civil Union” and “Marriage” is actually important to him. Really. A Harvard educated man with a long history of progressive views deigns to enter a debate over SEMANTICS? Wow.

Oh. If you didn’t notice, he’s black too. This means he should understand “separate but equal” more than most. C’mon Barack. Endorsement of this silliness is just sad. I’m not angry at all at his openness and willingness to “cross the line”, but I think in some fundamental way he really isn’t crossing any line here. And he’s letting us know in no subtle way that he’s not going to deal with one of the larger social injustices of our time. Sad. Truly sad.

Obama will win on Nov. 4; McCain already knows it.

The hard-fought battle between Barack Obama and John McCain comes to a head this coming Tuesday with the general election in the US. The public tracking polls all show Obama with a decent lead on McCain going into the big day. They basically seem to average out to Obama winning about 50% of the vote and McCain ending up with 44%. This may seem a small difference, but it is statistically significant given our country’s recent history. A Harris Interactive poll in 2004′s election had Kerry losing to Bush by 49% to 48% and it came out to just about that in the end.

McCain has been touting his “closing the gap” in some of his stump speeches over the past few days. This is an indication to me that his campaign knows that they are going to lose. McCain’s rhetoric has not only begun to sound increasingly desperate by using underdog terminology, but he (and his surrogates) are now attacking Obama with arguments that were heretofore unheard of in this campaign.

On October 4th, VP candidate Sarah Palin began talking about Obama’s connection with William Ayers, but this was only just the beginning. In the past few days they have brought up the failure of Obama to “spread the wealth” to his own family, his connection with a former PLO spokesman and his apparent socialist bent. These are attacks that are borne of a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” philosophy in the waning days of a losing campaign, but I think they are more than that in reality.

McCain knows he is going to lose. His campaign’s internal tracking polls are almost certainly telling him this. Cynicism has overtaken conservative American politics and this is its latest manifestation. The game now is to put as much doubt about Obama’s positions into the minds of the conservative base as is possible. This tactic will serve to grease the wheels for future political maneuvering whenever the GOP has something to rail against.

Even though these accusations often amount to nothing real, they feed an echo chamber of right-wing talk show hosts, bloggers and other activists that will harp on them for more than just a news cycle. They will bring up this garbage “news” whenever it is necessary to distract us from real issues. They will call Obama “anti-American” as they already have and continue to do. They will continue rob the already stretched attention spans of good people with drivel and hyperbole until that is all that is left. Only then has the proper amount of suspicion been cast into minds unprepared.

Instead of fostering true debate within our political system, they aim to supress it with hyperbole and deception. This is the most heinous form of the conservative war machine we have yet seen and is the culmination of 20 years of work by folks like Karl Rove. This has created a political system where critical thought is impossible and true disagreement meaningless. The default milieu for this scenario ends up being something like: “I disagree with you, therefore I hate you and you are un-American for even bringing it up. Let’s talk.”

Sadly we have chosen to allow this to happen in our society. The conservative movement, and even John McCain, used to have a place in my heart as true rivals to my liberal viewpoint. I did not agree with them, but I respected their positions. In recent months I have begun to see that movement as hopelessly broken and in need of serious overhaul. I can only hope that they survive this to fight another day with real issues and true meaning once again. America needs many points of view to thrive and resorting to dogma and cheap tricks that demean its citizens as unthinking voters is not particularly useful.

Obama will, I hope, help begin mitigate this insidious conservative cynicism with a new rhetoric of understanding. Bear in mind that this is not truly new, but a return to the philosophy that our country was founded upon. Anti-American indeed.

The VCs have lost their minds.

For the longest time Venture Capital firms have said to their CEOs and partners: “Don’t worry about cash flow or profitability, just get it right.” This is absurd on the face of it from the perspective of an outsider who tends to ask the question “What kind of business do you have if you don’t make anything or make any money?” From the CEO’s perspective it seems like a gift horse which they definitely won’t look in the mouth. From the VC’s perspective it sounds like payday.

The view that the VCs put forth for so long was extremely loaded. On the one hand there was the feel good “We’ve got your back” sentiment that made CEOs and employees of their companies feel like they had the complete support of their investors. On the other hand it allowed VCs to increase their leverage over a very short amount of time. This is no doubt a sinister play on the VC’s part. But to illustrate this, I need to tell the story of what I see as a typical startup that these guys fund.

Say I start up Xcorp to make the next great web application. I have no cash of my own, but I have a super idea and a few folks who will come along on this adventure with me. The “team,” as it were, puts together some powerpoint slides and a “business plan” (sometimes these are one-and-the-same) and takes off for Silicon Valley to hock their wares. At this point our new company has no product, but definitely some slick presentation fu.

After countless meetings, hiring some Silicon Valley lawyers and signing term sheets the VC deposits some ungodly amount of cash in our bank account. And then the fun starts. The VC comes to our newly acquired hipster office space and tells us not to worry about making money, just make something that people want to use. Follow through with your vision. We’ll stay out of the way.

After a few months, Xcorp has a product that is launched to the world. Since we don’t throw lavish parties anymore (that is SO 2001) we just grab some beer and open the doors to whomever walks in to check things out. Everything is going great. We’re about halfway through the cash that the VC gave us and they are “thrilled” at the amazing progress we’ve made. On the first week 100,000 people sign up to use our product that is already starting to revolutionize things. We hack on.

A few months later the VC firm asks us to come to Silicon Valley to catch up and show everyone at the firm our progress. We buy tickets (expensive last-minute ones) and jet on out. We hang out at their posh Palo Alto offices for a couple of days. The VC folks give us warm fuzzies and watch us hack on the stuff for a while. Suggestions are made that we talk to this or that person to get more help and to make things move faster. A recruiter is hired back at home-base to work out deals with some folks. We have 250,000 users now and things are feeling really good. The only problem is that we need more servers to make sure the service stays solid.

8 or 9 months into this adventure we have 400,000 users, 20 servers, 10 employees and zero revenue. The cash will be gone in 4 months or so. Back to Silicon Valley to ask for more money. Another transfer of cash is made, new investors are welcomed to the fold and my own personal stake in the company has gone from an initial 75% to somewhere around 50%.

The new folks come out, sit down with us and ask us when we’re going to start working on revenue. We say we want to make $2m this year, down from initial projections because of external market conditions and slowing adoption. This makes them a bit unhappy, but they go with it because they trust us. After all they invested in the founding team, not just the company.

A year in and we have enough cash to last us for another two…at least on paper. We’re at 30 people, 500,000 users and have made about $20,000. At some point we realized that our usage statistics were wrong and that our user base…those who actually use the product…is somewhere along the lines of 50,000 people. Online advertisements are purchased and it’s time to see what that 5 person marketing team can do to earn their keep.

3 months later and our actual user base is up to 150,000 and we’ve made an additional $20,000. The VCs are frustrated. They send in the clowns to clean up things and get us back on track. Ultimatums are made and we are forced to lay off 15 folks, including one of the founders. Further tranches of money are canceled pending our getting our act together. We secure a bridge loan from one of our sympathetic investors so that we can stay in business.

These actions take their toll on my personal stake in the company. I’m now down to around 40% of the company. Additionally, I’ve bought enough Tums to fill up my house twice over and my family hasn’t seen me in weeks.

One month later and plane trips back to Silicon Valley become routine. Meetings with investors and potential purchasers of the company become de rigeur. We have layed off all but the most important folks…down to 5 people. The office has been closed and people are working from home. The user base growth has plateaued. Life is hard.

A deal is struck that brings us to the end of this adventure. We are purchased for an amazingly paltry sum by a third-tier search engine. This may pay off my back taxes and the back payments on my car. We work for this company for a year and then it’s off to do it all over again.

Unfortunately this is an all-too-common story in the tech world. I see it as completely broken, dehumanizing and plain wrong in a lot of ways. Venture Capitalists have gone off their rockers. They leave little room for allowing companies to truly innovate. They “guide” companies to do things that make no long-term business sense. They take more equity away from the founders every time something goes funny. There is no reason for this nonsense. They force good people to do bad things in the name of profits that have very low probabilities of appearing because of their expectations set in the beginning. They treat PEOPLE as objects to be “dealt with”.

Up until recently, VCs have been going about their business as normal: raising capital and dispersing it to a decreasingly successful or interesting portfolio of companies. Things have profoundly changed over the past months. They are still happy to give the axe to some folks. They are still happy to take more equity from the founders based on short term budgetary constraints.

Sequoia Capital recently gave a presentation named “RIP: Good Times” that tore down many of their own widely held beliefs. This is really very interesting in many ways. It exposed them for the cronies that they are. They are cynical bastards hell bent on making money without any regard for their companies or, more importantly, the folks that work for them.

On slide 47 entitled “OPS Review” there is a bullet point that says “Decrease headcount for next version” and later on “What payments can be deferred.” These points illustrate how disconnected these people are from the realities of life. In an economy where BANKS don’t trust each other, how can one be expected to entrust their money to a firm that so obviously wants to defraud their accounts and devalue their human resources. All of this in the false hope that somehow a rabbit will appear and make their portfolios profitable.

This was supposed to be a piece about how Sequoia “gets it” and finally has decided to turn to profitability in its portfolio companies. As I thought about it more I saw the cracks in the system for what they were. I see this presentation as illustrative of a larger problem in this global economy we have created. The example of the VCs further illustrates to me that our economy is a house of cards.

We have created a monster that we can’t control and the VCs are but a small part of this. If we can’t trust those that fund our most innovative technology companies, then who can we trust? Credit runs both ways. Further confirmation of the ideas that the VCs espouse in this presentation just tells me how crazy we have gotten in this world. A few questions to these VCs are in order as a result of this revelation:

  • How much money does it take to make you feel valuable?
  • What is the ceiling for greed?
  • How much do you NEED to have and how many people’s lives do you have to destroy to get it?
  • What are the moral boundaries that must be crossed to make you feel like whatever you are doing is OK?

Honestly I have no clue as to the answers to these largely rhetorical questions. They are probably asked any time there is some economic crisis. We must remember that these crises happen as corrective actions to a market that has lost its way. I don’t think this is some Marxian devolution of capitalism, but I’m sure that the VCs are going to hurt for their excesses.

iPhone 3G Activation Nightmares, Courtesy of AT&T

Since Apple announced the 3G upgrade for its (now) venerable iPhone, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get one. I’m not a line waiter, so I ordered one through AT&T’s National Business Ordering department at the uncommitted price ($399 for the 8GB). I received the phone yesterday and was ready to activate it by the evening.

Since my employer, who pays my phone bill, and I have decided to part ways things have changed with regard to my mobile needs. I decided to activate the phone on my family’s account instead. With any other phone this would not be an issue at all. With iPhone things are different.

I called up what AT&T calls “Customer Care” at about 7pm last night to begin what I thought would be an easy process, after all I had the phone in my hand and it wasn’t configured for any account as of yet. Then things went wonky.

The first thing the agent said was “How did you get this phone?” I told her that I had ordered it via phone on my business account, but that I now needed to add a line and activate it on my family’s consumer account. She said that no one could order a phone and that they all had to be purchased at an AT&T Core store or from Apple. I retorted that I did exactly that and had the phone in my hands. She then asked for the SIM card number, did some things, and the iPhone magically came to life. Then my father looked at his phone and saw “SIM Card not Provisioned. Error: A05″. Not good.

It turns out that the representative had turned the iPhone into my father’s phone. This had the knock-on effect of deactivating my father’s SIM making it useless and leaving him without a phone until he could go to AT&T to get a new one. This would not do, as one could imagine. After making a brick out of both my iPhone and my father’s phone, the representative told us that she couldn’t add a line or activate iPhones. Nice of her to think of this before causing pain to the customer.

We then were transferred to the “Add a Line” department where they informed us that they couldn’t activate an iPhone either. This happed at about 9pm. I gave up.

This morning, I went to the AT&T store here in Redmond to get a new SIM card, which they happily provided. The man at the counter told me he couldn’t activate the iPhone or do anything else on the family’s account, which is based in North Carolina, because it was out of his market. He said I could call customer care and that they could activate the phone instead. This did not bode well for the day’s activation activities.

I came home and got on the phone to customer care once more. I got a person in their Austin call center who was convinced that I had picked up the phone at a retail location. No matter what she was told. This made me laugh with disgust. She transferred me to another person who talked to his supervisor and tried to make good, but he was told that he had to find the source of the order first. He couldn’t figure it out and transferred me yet again to Small Business Care to see if they could sort it out. This is when I met Don Blackmon. After 44 minutes on the phone I had finally found who I thought was my savior.

Don was a fabulous fellow who really did want to treat me with respect and believe what I had to say. He pulled up my order quickly (as quickly as the always slow AT&T systems would allow at least) and listened to my story. He tried to pull up the family’s account, but was hit by the barrier that exists between different disparate systems within AT&T.

He dug and dug through documents and procedures that are on the company’s Intranet to find a way to make it happen. Apparently there are certain things (which were not named) that could have gotten him fired, but actually helping a customer was apparently not one of them. After the digging he finally found a nugget of gold buried in an iPhone 3G provisioning document under a section entitled “Consumer Customer Requesting to Add a Line” that gave another phone number to call. We called.

Don stayed with me as we went through the standard voice prompts of AT&T’s customer care obfuscation mechanism (aka menu system) and were finally connected to a representative. She gave the same spiel as the other consumer representatives I had talked to and told us that I would have to talk to sales to add a line, but that she wasn’t sure that they could activate the iPhone since that had to be done in-store. I told her that I was in Washington and that the account owner, my mother, was in North Carolina and it would be nigh-on impossible for us to be in the same place at the same time to get this done. She went off to talk to someone and Don had to leave to handle other issues.

She came back and told me that sales could add a line, but they weren’t sure that they could activate the iPhone even if I gave them the SIM number. I had to go, since I had been on the phone for 1 hour and 45 minutes and I have an actual life with things to do and blog posts to write about my experiences. She gave me the sales department’s number and wished me luck.

There will be more to this story, I am sure, as I continute to try to activate a phone. Thanks Don Blackmon of AT&T’s Small Business Care department in Joplin, Missouri for doing what you felt was right and taking the time to make the customer happy. He is doing his job very well where others in his company are falling over left and right. Let’s hope his example propagates. More in a bit.

iPhone Ridiculousness 2.0

Well well well. It seems that AT&T hasn’t learned anything from the sham that was iPhone 1.0 activation for corporate users. Instead of allowing anyone to switch to the new iPhone 3G, they have decided to impose the über ridiculous 2 year upgrade cycle on everyone. At least they’re equally distributing the pain.

I inquired of friends at the company about how to switch my current Blackberry Curve to the new iPhone. They informed me that since the line I am using was opened just over a month ago, I am not eligible for an upgrade at this time. I’m on a corporate plan with 20 or so lines all sharing the same pool of minutes and every device has unlimited text and data, so we aren’t a tiny customer for them — not huge either, but good solid monthly revenue.

Not only am I ineligible for an upgrade, but they insist that they cannot simply add the iPhone 3G to our existing pool of minutes. Every iPhone must use the iPhone plans. Period. If a small company has an account like ours, that apparently means nothing to AT&T. My friend then suggested that I either open a new line or purchase the iPhone at the noncommitted price of $699 (!). Ridiculous. Again.

Of course the guy blamed Apple for all of this nonsense. Published reports say that AT&T and Apple no longer have a revenue sharing deal and that AT&T just buys the devices outright from Apple. Therefore Apple no longer has a say in the plans or deals that AT&T makes with its customers. Not to mention, Apple has completely ceded the customer’s initial experience with their device.

So in summary, our company gives AT&T a decent amount of recurring revenue and are, in most ways, their ideal customer that delivers very high ARPU month over month…for years. They aren’t willing or able to provide us with a device that we want because of politics and flawed marketing. If I were to open a new line under their new iPhone plans, they would actually be making LESS money from us than if they just added it to the pool. Go figure.

AT&T continues to not value its existing customers in any way. They force us to use devices for two years, regardless of whether the device was purchased on contract or not (mine was brought in and not purchased from AT&T). They are willing to lose money in the name of strange policies and contractual “obligations”. When will they learn that the customer just wants what they want and they should give it to them so that they can preserve their market and improve their reputation?