for Chappy Wrap #2

for Chappy Wrap #2
for Chappy Wrap #2,
originally uploaded by swhiser.

I'd like to thank Monica Shelton Reusch & Beth Lasala for inviting me to do my first commercial photo-shoot -- back in October.

It's for the Chappy Wrap web site. Nice, warm blankets!

The blankets are special: they're made of 60% cotton and 40% acrylic and woven on a Jaquard loom. This means the patterns are woven in and not just printed on. Consequently, they do not pill, they last a long, long time and the patterns last as long as the blanket.

Everyone has a blanket story like Beth's "Lammy"; so they make a great gift ;-).

Pogue Blasts RIM's "Storm"

RIM's attempts -- plural -- to catch up to Apple in the smartphone space have been prima facie pathetic.

The Blackberry Bold was still-born as an iPhone lookalike without the touch-screen. Now Storm lacks WiFi. I mean, what are they smoking up in Waterloo?

We know that the high-profile master of gadget punditry, David Pogue, is a Mac-o-phile, but even still it is remarkable that here he has pulled no punches ...

Says the Pogue ...

I haven’t found a soul who tried this machine who wasn’t appalled, baffled or both. And that’s before they discovered that the Storm doesn’t have Wi-Fi. It can’t get onto the Internet using wireless hot spots, like the iPhone or other BlackBerrys.

... But wait, there's less.

It's been two years now since iPhone launched to define the usable smartphone market segment and it is entirely validating of Steve Jobs' talent that competitors can't get even close this many months along.

Message to RIM: do better.

3 Readings on the Financial Crisis

(1) "Good question, Ma'am" | The Financial Times | 14 Nov 2008

Alan Beattie explains the financial crisis to Her Majesty, The Queen of England, who apparently asked, “If these things were so large, how come everyone missed them?”

One of the best outline sketches of the forces affecting meltdown ...

House buyers took the view that as long as someone was prepared to lend them money, things would be OK. The mortgage lenders reckoned that as long as they could package up the mortgages as newfangled financial derivatives (it’s a long story, Ma’am) and sell them on, that would be fine. The financial institutions surmised that as long as the credit ratings agencies were giving the derivatives their seal of approval, everything would be dandy. The credit ratings agencies thought – actually, it is pretty hard to work out what in God’s name the credit ratings agencies were thinking, except that as long as their rivals were giving these assets the thumbs-up, they had better do so as well.

Two Books ...

(2) Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity | by Michael Lewis | WW Norton

Michael presents Panic as the bookend to his maiden voyage, Liar's Poker, an inside job from his vantage at Solomon Brothers about hubris on Wall Street in the late 1980s'. Panic is among the clearest and most successful journalistic pieces in explaining what the CDO & CDS market participants -- the people -- have been doing, their intentions, their objectives & their attitudes.

As a side-note, read Micheal's funny piece in Conde Nast Portfolio, about the Americans' propensity to take on too much house.

And his other funny piece in the same venue about lunch with Gutfreund ... the man whose career Micheal ended when he published Liar's Poker ... "The End" | Micheal Lewis | Dec 2008

(3) Mr Market Miscalculates: The Bubble Years & Beyond | by James Grant | Axios Press

James Grant is Da Man at Grant's Interest Rate Observer, the wonderfully entertaining and insightful brief on the financial markets.

Review of Mr Market in the FT by John Authers | 23 Nov 2008

Of most interest will be the chapters entitled “Mr Market Buys a House” and “Mortgage Science Projects”. His prescience is alarming. In August 2001, when many were preoccupied by the fall-out from the tech boom and the risk of deflation, he devoted a column warning that US house prices were up 8.8 per cent from a year earlier. “What could explain a bull market in a non-earning asset in a non-inflationary era?” he asked. “Ample credit is the first answer, low interest rates the second. An overly narrow definition of ‘inflation’ is the third.”

He also warned that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had extended their lending by more than 12 per cent over the preceding year and that Americans owed 45 per cent of the value of their homes, up from 14 per cent after the war. To end the column, he disparaged comments by Alan Greenspan, then the chairman of the Fed, that rising house prices were “a very important contributor to the American economy”, warned against the “day trading of houses” and said that “the American house market can be described as speculative”. This is exactly what we should have been worrying about in the summer of 2001.

Open-Source the Board

My friend Michael Schrage has an interesting prescription for corporate governance on the FT's Comment page today.

His object is financial corporations, but I believe there is substance here for all corporate stewards and shareholders to take on board (so to speak).

"How to sharpen banks' corporate governance" | The Financial Times | 19 Nov 2008

Well worth your time.

Michael says, in part: 

The most important governance reform in financial services would make risk management the explicit duty of the board. The experience of the past decade shows that non-executive directors cannot rely on representations by management about risk exposure. Companies trading hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of credit instruments had inadequate risk management systems that were neither understood, challenged nor improved by boardroom review. This suggests that even boards of top-tier financial institutions accepted overwhelmingly almost all management’s risk assessments.

In danger of blowing through my own etiquette risk-parameters I'll interpret Mr Schrage's point, if for nothing other than to save you time.

His points, boiled down, resonate thusly ...
  • fire your Board;
  • replace them with smarter people (at higher pay), who understand modern financial markets, particularly derivatives, and who are smart & humane enough to not fear the new transparency;
  • yes, transparency: tape the Board Meetings;
  • make these audio clips available in Quicktime files on the web -- like SEC filings;

The problem with this is that only Warren Buffett, George Soros and Micheal Schrage have enough smarts, common sense and self-effacing humor (read 'humanity') to qualify for this new kind of corporate Board of Directors and still have the meetings be productive, useful & free-flowing exchanges of information rather than rote, scripted legalistic affairs in which everyone is -- despite being maxed out on Corporate Directors' & Officers' Libility Coverage -- covering their assets.

Despite the difficulties noted, I still think this is a great idea. Not because we can clone Schrage; although there is something to that. It's because we've learned so much in the software development realm in the last 20 years about the benefits of sharing through transparency.

It figures such an idea for bank corporate governance would emanate from MIT because MIT is the home of an open couse-ware curriculum and arguably the birthplace of open-source software development. The chief lesson from MIT's sharing modi is that knowledge is more effective when many eyeballs attend any particular problem.

How this would impact Board governance -- and the local and widespread understanding of risk -- is obvious if you think about it for as long as it takes one average home-owner to stare at and comprehend the workings of the ball-cock mechanism governing the water flow of a common ceramic toilet. Open-sourcing the Boardmeeting means we don't need Soros or Buffett or Schrage -- or at least we don't need multiples of them -- to execute.

The new Open-Source Governance can be replicated if only few companies lead the way to show how its done. The transparency would be self-reinforcing and cause best-practices to spread around the world. The total propogation might take less than a year, once the practical conduct and benefits become visible in a few well-publicized audio Board minutes.

In addition to the crew who took the "bail-out" funds, who shall be first to start taking the Board's responsibilities seriously?

Mr Immelt?

Understanding the Financial Crisis

Even before the financial crisis plays fully out -- it may yet be a huge disaster where our banks cannot clear our checks -- it is important to assess what has happened and why.

To that end NPR and The New York Times are doing a great job.

To understand the situation, go read and listen to the streams here. In particular the Times' coverage is Pulitzer stuff ...

"The Reckoning: Agency's '04 Ruling Let Banks Pile Up New Debt" | Stephen Labaton | The New York Times | 2 Oct 2008

(Definitely play the slideshow here and hear the nervous laughter among the SEC staff when they make the decision to let The Big Five increase their leverage potential and note the hopefulness as they discuss the difficulties facing the agency in monitoring the firms. 'Fateful' is the best word for this decision.)

See all articles in The Reckoning series.

"Another Freightening Show About the Economy" | Alex Blumberg and NPR's Adam Davidson | This American Life | 3 Oct 2008

(Here they offer easy to understand explanations about why the commercial paper market froze last week and how the 65 trillion-dollar CDS ("Credit Default Swaps") market grew past good sense into a house of cards.)

If blame is necessary -- and it's always part of a constructive approach to coping with assessment and work-out -- it is already clear where the blame lies.

No one was driving the bus!

President George W. Bush and his administration -- led by Dick Cheney -- established on the heels of faith rooted in Reganomics the extreme laissez-faire atmosphere in which Wall Street was set off in 2004 to police itself, in which it became socially unacceptable, unpopular, to regulate; and in which the SEC avoided doing its job.

To a lesser degree Christopher Cox, the SEC Chairman, is to blame for non-performance, but these things are always composed of a series of multiple, cascading failures.

Another Bush disaster.

Interestingly, Labaton makes the point that the motivation to increase the freedom of the investment banks originated in the feeling that it was necessary in order to allow the American firms to compete in the new, flatter global arena. It seems we were heading down already.

Nor are we consumers blameless. Drunk on home-equity credit.

Thanks to my info-guardian-angel -- Lee Folger -- for the NYT links.

UPDATE (10/19/2008):

Here -- thanks to O'Reilly's Nat Torkington -- is a deck from none other than the (Mike) Milken Institute (the once & always Junk Bond King, founder of Drexel Burnham Lambert, who knows about debt markets and how they break) explaining with numbers and charts how preditory lending practises provided the catalyst to purge our global debt-binge.

Pioneers of the World Wide Web: The Glazz is Full

Here is an Interview -- the first in a series -- with Pioneers of the World Wide Web. These are the people you need to thank for making the Web experience we know today -- for better or worse -- possible.

This is a Q&A with Daniel Glazman, programmer of the old Mozilla Composer HTML editor, who is leading the effort to rescue Nvu from end-of-life obscurity in the form of KompoZer. As Daniel says, "Stay tuned."


Q: Nvu, wtf?

Nvu was based off the Mozilla 1.7 trunk and it was too hard to make it evolve from that codebase. Nvu is dead and won't be updated. But it still has a large users community, estimated to more than 3 millions users...

I am currently working on Nvu's successor, nicknamed "Composer" for the time being but that won't be the final name. Compared to that new Composer, Nvu will look like a prehistoric beast. Floating panels, extensibility API, syntax highligh in the source view, advanced CSS editing, and more. Stay tuned!

Q: I was looking to download Nvu but the site seems to be unavailable. Apparently, the project & its sponsorship are evolving (away from Linspire). What happened?

Linspire was recently sold to Xandros. The site itself does not belong to Linspire, but to its former CEO, Kevin Carmony. Kevin was kind enough to preserve a home page at redirecting to Linspire's Nvu site and Kompozer's site. Apparently, there's nobody at Linspire caring about nvu any more and   seems to be unreachable. Ping Michael Robertson ?

Q: You're French! We've watched the Gendarmerie (Firefox | | Linux) and heard about some important French government and private-sector (Peugeot + Novell) leading-edge movement toward Software Freedom. Have you been involved with some web-oriented engagements you can discuss that would shed further light for the rest of the world on commitments to better web-infrastructure and information-architectural techniques involving the software we love? What are the Universities up to? Or are they completely lame like in the USA (excepting MIT & Stanford)?

Free Software steps more into european administrations and universities every day. The usual reasons: cost, maintainance, freedom of choice, independance from big software monopolies. But there is a big issue behind FOSS spread: support... there are not a lot of companies offering serious support for free software and/or adaptation to corporate/governmental needs. When I mean serious support, I mean being a correct proxy between developers and users, able to correctly identify and escalate complex or security bugs, and even fix simple bugs.

My company developed MPL-based software for a few organizations, here in Europe and in the US. They all wanted to use the quality and adaptability of Gecko, the rendering engine inside Mozilla Firefox, to build their own piece of software. Firefox has an impressivemarket share here on the Old Continent. In some european countries, Firefox went beyond the 50% market share, and that of course triggers a lot of interest from companies who originally had only commercial solutions in front of them to build software...

Q: One of my favorite things (along with Coltrane, Pilsner Urquel & Laphroiag) is CSS. Have you been involved in its development at W3C?

I joined the CSS WG on behalf of Electricité de France back in 1996. I worked on CSS 2 and remained involved in the CSS Working Group until today. I was appointed co-chairman of the Group in april 2008, along with Peter Linss from Hewlett-Packard. In these twelve years, I authored or edited several specs or proposals in the Group. The spec I am currently authoring with Dave Hyatt from Apple is CSS Variables.

Q: Mathis or Sinatra? Moore's (Law) or Maxwell's (Demon)?

Mozart, Depeche Mode, Clayton Christensen, and Richard Feynman :-) [links added -- Ed. ;-0]


Read more about Daniel Glazman on his interesting sites ...

on Wikipedia

and under his L'animal space.

Interviewing Google's Founders

If you had a chance to interview Google's Sergey Brin & Larry Page, what questions would you ask them?

I have a few of my own and would enjoy hearing yours in the comment section, below.

Here's a teaser ...

Q: In Search, what lies beyond PageRank?

Q: How would you rate the semantic approaches to search?

Q: Is IT attracting the best & brightest? (For example, are biotech & energy getting an outsized share of the young lights?)

Q: How important are Google's green initiatives to your company? Will they eventually save money?

Q: For many, the 1990's was all about Moore's Law. Are the Naughties about Maxwell's Deamon? How so?

There's a few; how about yours?

BOLD's Timid Path-Dependency

One question lurking in the subconscious of the gadget cognoscenti is what will Nokia's and RIM's answers to iPhone be like? What will Nokia's & RIM's best efforts at the touchscreen produce?

If last year's HTC Touch being marketed by Sprint -- a telco in freefall -- is any example of iPhone-inspiration, then we are in for some funny-ass cellie punditry.

As Apple rolls out telco partnerships in Europe, iPhone's awesomeness is by now a matter of universal agreement and enters lore as a notch on the tech-timeline. Don't ask me. Edward Tufte, information design guru, characterized the iPhone's humane integration of hard- and soft-ware as a design leap. He called out the iPhone interface as newly, uniquely, devoid of "administrative debris".


Bold looks an attractive package. It's an iPhone with a Hasselblad-like leatherette back that will surely add a luxury feel and make the device easier to grasp.

Bold is an iPhone with a keyboard. This is odd, if hardly surprising. RIM figures Blackberry users must have that keyboard. After all, they are used to that keyboard. The Blackberry interface has been defined by that keyboard.

Ready for irony? That keyboard defeats the purpose of the touchscreen. That keyboard is nothing if not what Tufte called administrative debris. It is all administrative debris. Nothing but administrative debris.

That keyboard crowds out screen real estate to the extent that Bold must be wider and larger than the iPhone to achieve a touchscreen with some, any, utility. This makes Bold something of a hybrid: part touch experience with icons and part text-maniac's-best-friend. Which is to say, something that will not take anything away from the suits but which adds some of the sexy iPhone mojo that the suits would like to have along with the Microsoft Exchange Server access.

Enough mojo, perhaps, to keep the suits from migrating to iPhone. And that's the point: this is a defensive, stop-the-bleeding design strategy manifest as a clock-stopping hot pocket rocket. 

It's all about the Individual v Enterprise market segmentation that is the landscape of the Blackberry v Apple Device War. Apple & iPhone own the house, and RIM & Blackberry own the glass-house. Tension will mount over the next few chapters as to who will penetrate the other's ... house.

RIM have that word 'innovation' on the Bold website, which is unfortunate. I'm reminded of the (excellent & entertaining) DirecTV commercials featuring the guy, a parody of a cable TV exec, in the marketing strategy board room who pretends to have an MBA, some pompous panaceae for killing DirecTV's market penetration and a few slick Kung Fu moves. Cameo by Ed Begley, Jr ...

"Jim! Whip Up Some Numbers"

"Make it Louder"

We'll need to demo Bold to find out if its hybridity is ridiculously contrived or makes some sense for users already accustomed to Blackberry and, more importantly for RIM, for individual users who are native to the iPhone wheel-house.

iPhone-Envy -- Scourge of the Original

Larry coined it -- "iPhone Envy". It's the feelings Windows Mobile and Blackberry (the people responsible for those brands) have in regard to the innovative iPhone Experience.

All smartfone brands are converging on The iPhone Experience, which I keep saying in Tufte's way, is devoid of administrative debris. That's a pretty high hurdle, as we shall come to find out, for the sucky interface designers at the leading software and hardware companies who are trapped in the legacy features of their past products and in the soggy, undemanding design cultures of their corporations.

HTC Touch (a lame device Sprint is marketing ... lame because it runs Windows-sucky-Mobile) is one of the mee-too iPhones.

Blackberry's Bold is RIM's defensive attempt to keep Crackberry addicts in the glass house from migrating to Apple's opium den next door. I mean, an iPhone with less screen and full of text keys is simply a Blackberry with iPhone characteristics (I'm thinking of the Chinese bureaucrats who said, in effect, 'we seek a centralized system with capitalist characteristics' -- or some hilariously fudged nonsequitur like that).

Now Microsoft, according to its usual lame PR playbook, is trying to rally its mobile partners with a pep talk designed & timed to usurp at least some mojo from Apple's 3G iPhone marketing ramp.

Conclusions. I have none yet. Unfortunately for the truly innovative, customers are pretty dumb and after a while tend to be unaware of the real original. Look at how many Original Ray's Pizza venues there are in New York City. You can tell the real original: it doesn't say "original".

Apple's iPhone -- the Original iPhone!

Is there any more proof than that provided by this current Pied-Piper scenario that money -- especially in committees -- makes you stupid? Why has Andy Lees not evidently read the Cluetrain?

Hodding's Life Aquatic

Finn, Hodding's sister, writes that Hodding Carter (IV), that's Finn's brother, will be interviewed on NPR this morning and it will air at 6:51 and again at 8:51 and, if we're lucky, again at 10:51 US EST (Eastern Standard Time).

Tune in to your local NPR station. Or listen on the Web (click the "Listen Now" link and hear Hodding chatting with NPR's Steve Inskeep for Morning Edition -- 6'47" ).

His new book, Off the Deep End, is about this 45-year old, ex-collegiate swimmer's bid to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. 

Without having read it, I can say it sounds even more Plimpton-esque than his previous books: one about building a Viking knorr, assembling a crew of characters and retracing Leif Eriksson's sea-path from Greenland to the fabled "Vinland" (somewhere in Nova Scotia, I personally believe Vinland was actually Brooklyn -- there is simply no alternative explanation for Flatbush Avenue, Coney Island and Junior's Cheesecake); the other about retracing Lewis & Clark's river-path to the Northwest Passage (this has quite hilarious segments depicting Hodding, himself, and his side-kick, Preston, discovering mosquitoes and garbage on the Missouri River; Lewis & Clark will have had the one but not the other -- apart from deer poop).

There are a few others in the H Carter IV catalogue, one about the history of plumbing (a scatological indulgence) and another about the blight of the Florida Everglades (too far gone). While they too are about water or, specifically, about Hodding in water they are comparative placeholders in the auto-documentation of Hodding's life aquatic.

I anticipate this one about swimming is closer to the bone, even if the author is today still in Maine and not in Beijing with the rest of the U.S.A. Swim Team; perhaps because so.

Tune in today or later run the audio. Hodding is a funny, self-effacing very good read. Despite appearance, his scope of subjects is wider than himself and water, though he might not admit it.

Sam Hiser



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