Archive for April 2006

Sun Marketing, Innovation and Commoditization

I have a couple friends who work for Sun. One is well-placed up in the Sun food chain and the other has been heavily involved in Java standards for a number of years. Both are loyal to Sun.

Below is an edited snippet of email conversation between one of my friends and me regarding, at first, the departure of Scott McNealy as CEO, and then a discussion about the strategy of Sun as it has been unwinding over the past year or so. I asked him what he thought of Sun’s strategy as it relates to cheaper servers. His response was, “The low-power server is a big deal, I think. If you are just buying 1 of them, you don’t care. If you are going to buy 100 of them, you care a lot: the air handling costs really do add up. It is certainly a unique strategy to try to market a server (not just a chip) as low-power, but I think that we are doing so because we were listening to customers.”

I’m including my response because it sums up my current analysis of Sun:

“but I think that we are doing so because we were listening to customers..”

That’s an interesting dynamic, for three reasons:

1. Are Sun’s customers listening to Sun? http://blogs.sun.com/roller/page/jonathan?entry=the_dell_premium

2. In the book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, the argument is made that innovators who listen to customer feedback can actually inhibit innovation because customers tend to only think in terms of incremental performance improvement with incremental cost reductions. Customers typically can only conceive of existing technologies once and then create demand that drives downward price pressure along with incremental performance/feature improvements. For an innovative company like Sun, listening to customers could (not saying it will) inhibit innovation. Sun needs to be careful not to allow themselves to be pulled into Dell’s commodity server market because I don’t think Sun has anywhere near the manufacturing efficiency that Dell does. That would mean loses for Sun. Sun cannot compete against Dell on the basis of price. Neither should Sun compete against Dell with the server as a commodity because that conflicts with Sun’s innovation DNA.

3. Last year, when I was visiting my buddy Scott, we had dinner with a Sun exec. He made an interesting observation: he said that Sun has been an incredible innovator from the beginning but that Sun was terrible at marketing. He contrasted Sun with Microsoft, who he characterized as primarily a marketing machine and a technology innovator secondarily. He might have even scoffed at the notion of anything from Redmond as being innovative. I silently disagreed but listened to his point.

Bringing these three together might lead to the following idea: Sun may be taking marketing more seriously because they recognize that marketing is important to capturing more market share. I read Sun press releases and Schwartz’ blog and both sources tell me that Sun is successful at large computing deals, particularly with developing nations and academics. Listening to customers is part of that but so is leading customers to better technology.

The links in Jonathan’s blog tell a story of U-B’s decision to go with Dell servers even though they were (if I remember correctly) Sun customers as well. U-B coulnd’t afford to power and cool the Dell servers so they could only run a portion of them. What is interesting about this article is that the University of Buffalo didn’t consider electricity consumption and cooling needs as part of the total decision-making process. I think this is in large part because most accounting types want ROI and TCO calculations that don’t consider cooling and powering servers. Plus, as I wrote here: http://bimmergeek.blogspot.com/2005/09/technology-and-cost-of-capital.html ROI and TCO calcs are accounting gibberish that frequently have little value in IT decision-making.

The question to ask here is Why? And I think the answer is because a lot of decision-makers aren’t thinking of power and cooling issues because they view electricity and cooling as overhead expenses not direct costs. Overhead expenses are difficult to include in these kinds of calculations because they are… well, overhead and overhead is hard to tie to a specific point. You can get around it with an allocation of overhead but that’s not entirely accurate. I think Jonathan refers to a per square foot cost for chilled server rooms but again, that allocation rate is based on assumptions about cooling and power needs, labor, cost of real estate, etc.

My point is that listening to customers is good and its good that Sun is taking customer input more seriously but what Sun really needs to accomplish is to sensitize decision-makers on the value of lower power consumption, particularly as you mentioned, with 100 servers or 1,000 servers. I think the mistake Sun marketing is making is by trying to pitch the new servers as eco-friendly, however. The only people who care about eco-friendliness are the bearded Birkenstock-wearing, Prius-driving IT guys.

My theory right now is that businesses see the server room as a commodity. They see value-add from IT purchases on the desktop in terms of what the dektop enables from a functionality and business process perspective. This is because software is on the desktop where users see the functionality. Once the philosophical and business decision of platform is made (Windows, Linux, OS-400, Solaris, etc.), it is easy to view the hardware of the server infrastructure as a commodity. This is due to two reasons: decision makers see only the desktop as evidence of IT, which makes the cold room invisible (except when a server goes down); and there is relative parity of price:performance ratios across server competitors and their products.

So, Sun is trying to compete on a selection criteria that isn’t part of the thought process for a lot of organizations. Because of the emphasis on ROI in purchase decisions, IT guys need to justify up-front costs of server purchases because it is assumed that the back-end costs of server ownership are equal. The notion of eco-friendliness is not valuable to most people. Dollars, however, are, but from a marketing standpoint, it’s a bit of a trick to get people to consider electricity and cooling factors, not only in terms of cost, but also in terms of capacity, i.e. do we have enough electricity and cooling to take these boxes live, because these costs are simply seen as overhead, not direct costs.

I think Sun has come up with a very cool innovation: more computing power, less electrical consumption, less heat generation. The challenge is to get existing and new customers to see it as a value-add feature/benefit set that puts Sun ahead of Dell instead of just something nice you do for the environment.

Harmon Kardon Drive and Play

A few days ago I wrote about the new BMW iPod interface that is going to be released in July. I decided not to get it.

Yesterday, I called my BMW dealer in Grand Rapids and asked about the real release date of the interface and he said late summer or early fall is likely. And they want about $350 to install it. The new version will definitely be an improvement over the current one, but still, the BMW interface will only display a single line on the stereo and I have a lot of different artists on my iPod. Plus, using the stereo screen to select music means I would be taking my eyes off the road.

I’ve been lusting after the Harman Kardon Drive and Play for several months. I saw it this past winter at Circuit City and thought it was cool. Even though I didn’t have an iPod it was something that was definitely lustable. I called Todd to ask him if he had ever seen it and after looking on the Harman Kardon site, he too began to lust. Lust is one of our common bonds LOL (but not for each other!).

I have done a tremendous amount of research on iPod interfaces over the past few weeks. There are a number of solutions. Some are blunt and stark, others are well-designed. The Harman Kardon unit is easily the most elegant and functional design of all that I found. What amazed me about the other products I saw was how little documentation there was on their web sites on actually installing them. This lack of information was one of the primary reasons why they weren’t considered and didn’t make the short list. I knew the BMW interface would work well because BMW stuff simply works and the H-K unit has received outstanding reviews from numerous sources.

I decided to get the Drive and Play instead of the BMW interface because a). it’s available now, b). it has cooler functionality than the BMW version and c). I think it will be cheaper to move to subsequent cars than having a BMW dealer move it for me.

I went in to Circuit City Monday night to ask some questions about installation and talk it over with my CFO, who had not quite yet approved the Capital Expenditure Request. Even though I’ve written a couple articles here on the absurdity of ROI and TCO calcs, she wanted thos spreadsheets as well. Sigh.

I bought it Tuesday night but when I saw the gnarly dude that was going to install it, I was concerned. Then I saw him open the box, spread out the parts and say, “Gee, I’ve never done one of these before.”

Ummm. OK. I am really picky about this sort of thing. The car stereo manager had told me Monday night that they had an experienced installer and this guy obviously wasn’t it. So, as tactfully as I could, I told the gnarly dude that I was going to speak with the manager the next day and take it from there. I ended up finding out when Chris was going to be available (today) so I took the afternoon off so that he could install it. He did a fantastic job.

The cords are not very visible, which was a key thing for me. Most installations are mounted on the center of the dashboard. The problem with this is that the cord can be quite visible. So, I chose to have the display unit mounted on the left side to minimize the cord visibility. I’m happy with the decision and the result.

The first two pictures show the display unit.

These two pictures show the control unit. It functions similarly to the control circle on the iPod.

iPod in the glove box. Once it’s hooked up, you have no need to access the iPod except to remove it.

Business Processes

It’s not just marketing. It’s just half-assed business minds thinking in isolation from the whole business. It amazes me anything ever gets done in companies.

My Next Car

I’ve had three BMWs and all of them have been sedans. My next one is going to be a coupe.

BMW will release the E90 3 Series coupe in the 2007 model year.

Here is BMW’s absurdly long press release on the coupe. Scan it. It has some exciting information on the 335, which will be a twin turbo generating 300bhp. Yum!


Arrives in showrooms this September

* Unique in its design and interior
* New twin-turbo inline six-cylinder engine with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque
* Intelligent BMW xDrive all-wheel drive system available for the first time in a coupe
* Xenon Adaptive headlights enhanced by four corona rings for characteristic BMW look
* Exclusive interior with seating for four and an enhanced lighting package
* Automatic seatbelt feed for added convenience

Woodcliff Lake, NJ – April 21, 2006… Introducing the latest expression of individual style – the all-new BMW 3 Series Coupe. With totally new looks, the newest BMW Coupe once again sets the benchmark for elegant design, luxury and value. In true BMW tradition, it also establishes a new standard of performance and driving dynamics with the introduction of an exceptional engine: the first inline six-cylinder with twin-turbochargers, high-precision fuel injection, and an all-aluminum crankcase.

The performance potential of this new 300 horsepower engine ensures that the 335i Coupe offers a significant improvement in performance while maintaining a level of efficiency for which the BMW 3 Series is renowned. The 335i Coupe will be joined in the U.S. by the 230 horsepower 328i Coupe.

In addition to the standard six-speed manual, both models will be offered with an available six-speed STEPTRONIC automatic transmission. Designed for responsiveness, the new automatic enhances driving dynamics without sacrificing fuel efficiency.

An additional dimension of driving dynamics, with the benefit of outstanding traction, will be offered with the introduction of BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive. BMW xDrive is the most sophisticated and responsive all-wheel drive system on the market. It has proven its merits, in terms of agility and safety, in the ten models currently offered with xDrive in the U.S. Beginning this fall these merits will become available to Coupe drivers for the first time.

The premium character of the newest BMW Coupe is recognizable from the very first glance. Over and above the basic shape of the car and its elegant lines, the graphic design of the headlights, the detail of the rear taillights, the interior and even the exterior mirrors were specifically crafted for the new Coupe. These unique design elements reflect the unique character of this elegant and sporty new car.

The buyer who chooses a Coupe wants a car that satisfies their demand for elegant looks as well as driving dynamics. With all this in mind, BMW engineers and designers set out to create a unique yet unmistakable blend of design, features and – most particularly – driving pleasure.

Designed to reflect performance and elegance in the tradition of BMW Coupes

The new Coupe is unquestionably a BMW 3 Series. Yet despite its close technical ties to the Sedan and Sports Wagon, the new BMW 3 Series Coupe is unique in its design details. A genuine BMW from every angle, the new Coupe is an individualist through and through.

The character of any coupe is reflected in its profile. On the new BMW 3 Series Coupe the profile is unmistakably BMW. The long hood reflects BMW’s adherence to its tradition of inline six-cylinder engines. The long wheelbase, the passenger compartment set back as well as the low, sleek roofline which slopes gently into the trunk, are all characteristic of BMW Coupes.

In addition to the classic proportions, the shoulder, character and sill lines serve to enhance the sleek appearance. Both the shoulder line and character line stretch uninterrupted to the back of the car, allowing one’s eye to move quickly and smoothly from front to rear along the entire length of the car. The sill line on the lower edge of the door also flows into the front and rear air dams, reinforcing the dynamic nature of BMW’s newest Coupe.

The combination of lines flowing into one another reflects the performance potential. While the shoulder line rises slightly but consistently from front to rear, the character line flows in a long, stretched arch all the way from the front fender to the taillights. As the sill line, by contrast, moves up slightly to the rear in a slow and gentle curve, the distance between the character and sill lines becomes smaller around the rear wheel arches. The flare of the fender around the wheel also serves to give the character line extra tension in both an upward and outward direction.

The front view also shows a significant distinction from the 3 Series Sedan and Sports Wagon. The contours of the hood as well as the design of the front air dam and headlights give the new BMW 3 Series Coupe a particularly low and sporty look. The powerdome on the hood foretells the performance potential which lies beneath. Its lines follow a powerful silhouette extending all the way from the A-pillars to the outside corners of the BMW kidney grill.

The kidney grille, a typical feature of every BMW, stands out from the surfaces around it. Interaction with the three-dimensional kidney frame creates a look of power and unique style.

The headlight units on the new BMW 3 Series Coupe also have a unique look. With the hood extending beyond the headlights as such, the characteristic four round headlights appear to have been cut-off at the top creating a sense of powerful, concentrated focus.

The new 3 Series Coupe will come standard in the U.S. with xenon adaptive headlights, accented by BMW’s corona light rings. The corona light rings not only serve as daytime running lights, but also draw attention to BMW’s characteristic four round headlights, making this new Coupe instantly recognizable as a BMW, day or night.

The design of taillights is also unique to the new 3 Series Coupe. Integrated flush into the body of the car, the lights are split into two sections and extend all the way up to the trunk lid, blending with the character lines from the side profile. Horizontal LED taillights give the car an unmistakable look at night. The horizontally flowing lines accentuate the wide track and low stance of the new Coupe.

The designers’ objective was to give the new 3 Series Coupe a balanced and harmonious look. The traditional “Hofmeister kink” at the bottom edge of the C-pillar now extends at an even more distinct angle into the shoulder line. To further accentuate this flow of lines, the window accent surround is now made in one single piece.

The exterior mirrors have been specifically designed and matched to the unique character of the new 3 Series Coupe. The contours of the mirrors reflect the profile lines while the mirrors blend seamlessly with the car’s overall design.

The emphasis on individual style, dynamic performance and exclusivity continues within the interior. Horizontal lines dominate the surfaces on and around the instrument panel which blend with the lines of the center console and door panels to give the interior a light but dynamic feel. In true BMW fashion the instrument cluster and key controls are angled toward the driver. Controls for the climate
control as well as the audio and navigation systems are within easy reach of the front passenger. Given that the new Coupe is a four passenger car, the rear seat passengers are treated to a storage compartment between the rear seats.

An elegant ambience is created in the interior by special lighting and switches with a premium look and feel. The light contour edge on the door and side panels, which runs from the door pillar all the way to the rear passenger area, creates a particularly warm, indirect lighting effect. Controls and switches used frequently by the driver and passengers such as the door handles and gearshift are finished in high quality metallic trim for an elegant appearance as well as a premium tactile experience.

Inline six-cylinder engines enter new dimensions of performance.

The first impression the new BMW 3 Series Coupe delivers is one of stylish elegance and powerful dynamics. Its long hood reflects BMW’s longstanding tradition of inline six-cylinder engines.

The new BMW 3 Series Coupe will arrive in the U.S. with a choice of two six-cylinder engines including the world’s first inline six with twin turbos, high precision fuel injection, and an all-aluminum crankcase. It is the most powerful engine within BMW’s wide range of inline six driving machines that does not wear an “M” badge. This brand-new version develops maximum output of 300 hp in US-spec from 3.0 liters and generates peak torque of 300 lb-ft for powerful acceleration in any situation.

The combination of turbocharging and direct gasoline fuel injection offers a new dimension to efficient dynamics. Featuring high-precision fuel injection, the engine boasts a highly sophisticated and advanced direct fuel injection system. In true BMW fashion this results in outstanding performance combined with a significant reduction of fuel consumption.

A further advantage of turbocharging is that this is the most economical option to boost engine power and performance. For example, the turbocharged inline six weighs approximately 150 lbs less than an equally powerful eight-cylinder displacing 4.0 liters. And this lower weight means a significant advantage not only in fuel economy, but also in balancing the weight distribution of the overall car.

This new high-performance engine gives the light, aerodynamically sculpted Coupe truly outstanding acceleration and flexibility on the road. The twin turbo powerplant in the BMW 335i Coupe develops its power and performance much more spontaneously than a turbocharged engine of conventional design. Thanks to their lower inertia, the two small turbochargers build up pressure much faster than a single, large turbocharger, thus eliminating even the slightest turbo “lag”.

At the same time the new engine offers all the smoothness and refinement which has made BMW’s award-winning inline sixes so admired. Last but certainly not least, the impressive increase in power on the twin turbo engine versus a conventional normally aspirated six-cylinder comes without any significant increase in fuel consumption.

Featuring two turbochargers each supplying compressed air to three cylinders, the new turbocharged engine offers a new standard of spontaneity and responsiveness. Peak torque of 300 lb-ft comes smoothly and without delay, extending over a wide speed range from 1,400 – 5,000 rpm.

On the road, this power and torque result in outstanding performance. The 335i Coupe accelerates from 0 – 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds. This sense of urgency continues all the way to the electronically-limited top speed of 150 mph, when equipped with sport package.

This extremely efficient increase in power and performance is attributable in large part to gasoline direct injection. The high-precision fuel injection concept developed by BMW ensures a measurable advantage in fuel economy, without limiting the dynamic qualities of the engine.

To enhance this efficiency to an even higher level, the turbochargers are made of a particularly heat-resistant material which makes them immune to high exhaust gas temperatures in the interest of a fuel-efficient combustion process particularly under full load. As a result, the twin turbo technology in the BMW 335i Coupe represents a significant achievement in terms of both performance and fuel economy. The advantages over a conventional turbocharged engine are not only clearly measurable, but also easy to feel on the road.

BMW’s new twin-turbo inline six is making its debut in the new 335i Coupe. One cannot overlook the new 328i Coupe with its normally-aspirated inline six-cylinder engine. This is the latest model to take advantage of BMW’s weight-saving blend of magnesium and aluminum for the crankcase. The cylinder head cover and the bedplate are also made of aluminum. Fully variable Valvetronic valve management, an electric coolant pump and a fully controlled oil pump are features which serve to enhance the 328i Coupe’s efficiency and responsiveness.

The new engine in the 328i Coupe offers 230 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. With

0 – 60 mph acceleration in just 6.2 seconds, this new “entry-level” Coupe is quicker than the previous top-of-the-line 330Ci Coupe.

Both models come standard with a six-speed manual gearbox for the pure driving enthusiast. For those who prefer an automatic a six-speed STEPTRONIC automatic is available. When ordered with the available sport package on the 335i Coupe, steering wheel mounted shift paddles are included, maximizing the sporting potential of the automatic.

The new six-speed STEPTRONIC automatic uses an innovative torque converter and enhanced management software to improve shifting responsiveness. The response time of the automatic transmission on the new BMW 3 Series Coupe is down by approximately 40 per cent compared with a conventional automatic transmission. While fast, responsive gear changes can make driving more fun, the optimized selection of the appropriate gear for all driving conditions helps to reduce fuel consumption. This new automatic is a textbook example of BMW’s pursuit of Efficient Dynamics.

Chassis and suspension: where power becomes performance.

Even with great looks and outstanding performance, it would not be a BMW Coupe if it did not also offer equally outstanding handling and responsiveness.

The new 3 Series Coupe offers class-leading agility through a combination of significantly enhanced dynamic potential on one hand, with the most sophisticated chassis control and assistance systems on the other. Together they provide a margin of safety for any situation in which the car might reach the limits of driving physics. In other words, the driver and passengers in a BMW 3 Series Coupe enjoy superior safety at all speeds.

Traditional rear-wheel drive and a near 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution give the new BMW 3 Series Coupe ideal qualities for optimum driving dynamics. This, in combination with the high-tech suspension, enables the driver to convert the power and performance of the engine into an exhilarating driving experience. Boasting a double-pivot front suspension with spring struts made almost entirely of aluminum in combination with a five-link suspension at the rear, the new BMW 3 Series Coupe has the most advanced and sophisticated suspension in its class.

Reinforcement and support elements on the underfloor of the car serve to optimize the stiffness of the chassis which enables the suspension to work with the highest possible degree of precision. Interacting with the low centre of gravity and the specific set-up of the shock absorbers, the chassis and suspension work in perfect balance.

BMW’s rack-and-pinion steering has been widely praised for its precision and feedback and the steering in the new 3 Series Coupe is no exception. For the ultimate balance between agility at lower speeds and stability at higher speeds, BMW’
s innovative Active Steering will be available. By adjusting the steering ratio, steering angle and power assistance to the speed of the car, Active Steering enables the driver to maneuver the 3 Series Coupe with minimum effort when parking and keep the car precisely on track at higher speeds.

The high-performance brake system requires 17-inch wheels to match the larger diameter of the brake discs which ensure outstanding stopping power and deceleration. Brake performance is further enhanced by BMW’s latest Dynamic Stability Control. Introduced on the 3 Series Sedan, BMW’s latest DSC incorporates several new functions. For example, DSC works to counteract the slightest brake fading effect even at extremely high brake temperatures by increasing brake pressure accordingly. This ensures maximum brake power even under the toughest conditions, without requiring the driver to exert any higher pressure.

Brake Standby positions the brakes closer to the discs after sudden lift off of the accelerator pedal to further reduce stopping distances in an emergency. Dry Braking, in turn, optimizes brake performance in the wet by using the brake pads to periodically dry the brake discs. Dynamic Brake Control automatically maximizes brake pressure whenever required in an emergency stop. Start-Off Assistant briefly holds the car when setting off on an uphill grade.

In a 3 Series Coupe equipped with Active Steering, DSC helps keep the car stable and under control when applying the brakes on surfaces varying in their frictional coefficient. DSC corrects the steering quickly and precisely for optimum control.

Dynamic Traction Control is another feature of DSC. Activation of DTC raises the threshold for intervention by the brakes, enabling the driver of a BMW 3 Series Coupe to set off smoothly on low friction surfaces such as snow. A benefit of DTC for the enthusiast is that it allows slight, easily controllable slip on the drive wheels even on a dry surface.

Of course, as in all BMWs, the driver also has the option to completely deactivate DSC in the new 3 Series Coupe.

BMW’s intelligent xDrive all-wheel-drive system will be available as an alternative to rear-wheel drive for those who need an extra measure of traction with BMW responsiveness. Acknowledged as the most sophisticated and responsive of all-wheel drive systems, BMW xDrive allows the new 3 Series Coupe driver to enjoy the ultimate driving experience in all types of weather and driving. xDrive not only distributes power to each of the four wheels as road conditions require, it partners with DSC to play an active role in helping to stabilize the vehicle at the onset of oversteer or understeer. It will be available this fall in the 328xi Coupe.

The new BMW 3 Series Coupe comes standard with runflat tires for both models. Featuring the most advanced failsafe running qualities, these tires allow the driver to continue for up to 150 miles even under complete loss of pressure. The standard Tire Pressure Monitor gives plenty of warning and alerts the driver when the pressure of any tire falls 30 percent below the ideal level.

Ultra-modern body structure: lower weight, greater safety, improved responsiveness.

The new BMW 3 Series Coupe is light, strong and stable at once. Its structure is tailored to improve agility, safety and comfort while also contributing to overall vehicle efficiency.

Low vehicle weight and a high standard of torsional body stiffness is also crucial to the car’s agility. In the event of a collision, the use of high-strength steel in critical areas, together with the exactly defined deformation zones, ensures effective absorption and, respectively, transfer of forces acting on the body of the car.

Reinforced B-pillars are a particularly impressive example of the high standard of development and excellence in design that the new BMW 3 Series Coupe has achieved, with a tubular structure throughout the B-pillars featured for the first time for added strength. This tubular reinforcement is made of ultra-strong steel in a warm-molding process and is heat-treated for top quality while still in the mold. The reinforcement tube is variably contoured in its cross-section, exactly matching the space available. Together with the crash box tailored to the loads, which act on the body, this ensures maximum safety.

The choice of materials and the arrangement of components at other points on the body also serve to optimize crash safety. The various properties of different types of steel and other materials are used to best effect. The space available for deformation on the new BMW 3 Series Coupe is used to minimize even the slightest impairment of the passenger cell. In a head-on collision, for example, dynamic deformation areas at the front keep impact energy away from the bulkhead and, accordingly, from the car’s footwells. In the event of a side-impact collision, the specially designed floor assembly ensures controlled transfer of forces acting on the car to the opposite side of the body.

The bulkhead support is made of innovative multi-phase steel offering outstanding strength and stability even on thin-gauge panels. Efficient interaction of the doors, the reinforced b-pillars, the seat structure and the instrument panel between the A-pillars serves likewise to maximize the strength of the side structure. The consequences of a collision from the rear are minimized by longitudinal carrier bars, a wide range of reinforcement elements, as well as the extra-strong luggage compartment floor panel, rear panel and side walls. Stable pillars and crossbars also help protect the passenger area in a rollover.

Naturally, BMW’s safety engineers sought from the start to fully maintain the passenger cell as a safe environment even in the most severe crash impact. Centrally masterminded restraint and support systems within the passenger compartment ensure individual occupant safety tailored for any contingency. The frontal, hip, side airbags along with curtain-type Head Protection System, belt latch tensioners and belt force limiters are activated by sensor-controlled electronic safety systems as a function of the type and severity of a collision. With its robust body enhanced by a wide range of active and passive safety features, the new BMW 3 Series Coupe meets all requirements for optimum results in all crash tests.

With active driving calling for optimum visibility at night, the new BMW 3 Series Coupe comes standard in the U.S. with xenon adaptive headlights. Light rods in the rear light clusters stand out distinctly for a significant improvement of safety in the dark.

Whether in the dark or during the day, two-stage adaptive brake lights make an important contribution in enabling following drivers to recognize a dangerous situation well in advance. Whenever the driver applies the brakes particularly hard, and when the ABS function is activated, light intensity in the two-stage taillights is increased accordingly, prompting drivers following from behind to brake harder, too.

Impressive standard and optional equipment

The list of comfort features boasted as standard equipment in the new BMW 3 Series Coupe is just as long and impressive as the list of safety elements. Particularly in the area of top-quality audio, navigation and telematic solutions, BMW offers optional high-tech concepts originally developed for the most outstanding luxury performance cars.

Here again, the focus is on the actual driving experience. The seating position at the rear is lower than in the Sedan, for example, gives the car’s occupants optimum headroom despite the low roof line of the Coupe. At the same time not only the driver and front passenger, but also the rear passengers will immediately feel and enjoy excellent side support.

The door handle trim, gearshift lever cover and vent grille adjusters, as well as the decorative trim in the leather sports steering wheel all come in Pearl Gray chrome surf
ace finish developed exclusively for the new BMW 3 Series Coupe. The starter button is also finished in this material.

Through its design and configuration, the cockpit emphasizes the sporting and driver-oriented character of BMW’s new Coupe. Taking a seat behind the wheel, the driver will immediately focus on a newly designed instrument cluster which includes an oil temperature gauge positioned below the tachometer.

Buckling up in the new BMW 3 Series Coupe, both the driver and front passenger benefit from the newly developed belt feeder arm: The seat belt integrated in the B-pillar, moved back in typical coupe fashion, is automatically “delivered” to the driver and front passenger once they close the door and once the key has been inserted into the ignition slot. Connected to the seat occupancy detector, the passenger-side belt feeder arm is only activated when the front passenger has actually taken a seat. With the belt delivery unit housed conveniently within the side panels, this new system does not impair the elegant look of the interior.

Access to the two seats at the rear has been made even easier. The lever for releasing the seat position is fitted in perfect ergonomic arrangement at the top on the outside of the backrest.

The new BMW 3 Series Coupe was conceived from the start as a four-seater. Comfort for rear seat passengers is further enhanced by the center console which includes individual storage boxes with a cover on top, additional air outlet vents and footwell lights.

The world of the BMW Coupes: combining traditional and new values

The mission to develop a coupe has always been a particularly demanding but interesting challenge for the automotive engineer. After all, the driver opting for a coupe is a truly discerning driver looking for the ultimate driving experience. With this in mind, BMW has succeeded time and again over the years in meeting the great demands made of the coupe buyer while, at the same time, consistently resetting the benchmark in this segment.

The coupe has a long tradition at BMW. Even back in the 1930s, the BMW 327 was lauded as a truly outstanding two-seater and remains a legend to this day. Even back then, the coupe was widely appreciated as a particularly sporting grand tourer with two doors and a fixed roof.

These fundamental features remain virtually unchanged to this day. The lines typical of a coupe combine a long and sleek front section with a dynamic roof line tapering out gently to the rear. Unlike a thoroughbred sports car, the typical coupe offers ample space for more than just two occupants as well as a separate luggage compartment providing room for ample luggage.

The new BMW 3 Series Coupe takes up proven traditions in terms of drive technology as well. Developing a coupe, BMW always seeks to enter new dimensions in driving dynamics. This is why particularly powerful engines and new chassis control systems regularly make their debut in a coupe. Now the new BMW 3 Series Coupe is continuing this tradition with BMW’s new twin-turbo inline six featuring high-precision fuel injection.

As a modern interpretation of a traditional car concept, the new BMW 3 Series Coupe is unquestionably a very special car. Even more than its predecessor, the new 3 Series Coupe stands out from its Sedan counterpart through its distinctive design. In the process the new BMW 3 Series Coupe ensures a particularly refined combination of active driving pleasure and visual appeal.

Total Utter Sophistry

So Jonathan Scwartz wrote the obligatory ego-stroking blog entry today that lauded what a gigantic contribution Scott McNealy has made to the IT industry and the world. It’s the kind of softening technique one would expect from the newly minted CEO of Sun after he replaced McNealy, who has been unable to convert some cool strategy and vision into market acceptance.

What led me to comment on Jonathan’s blog was this assertion he made:

There is no single individual who has created more jobs around the world than you. And unlike Henry Ford and some of the industrialists that preceded you, not all of those folks just work for Sun – I’m not talking hundreds or thousands of jobs, I’m talking millions. They ended up in America and India, Indonesia and Antarctica, Madagascar, Mexico, Brazil and Finland. They ended up everywhere. Everywhere the network travels.

No single individual has spawned so many startups, fueled so much venture investment, or raised so much capital without actually trying – just with a vision of the future that gets more obvious by the day.

To say that McNealy has had this level of impact on the world is to say that Sun as a company has had this effect. While it is certainly true that Sun has had influence on the world and technology, that influence comes nowhere close to the positive, wealth-creation effect of Microsoft and Bill Gates.

Bill Gates and Microsoft have produced more wealth than McNealy and Sun. I don’t see any validity in Schwartz’s argument. How can a company with nowhere near the market-share and revenue claim to have generated wealth, employment and the economic rails that equals, much less surpasses, Microsoft and Bill Gates?! I see no evidence of the Scott McNealy Foundation but I do see the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill and Melinda give away billions of dollars a year on health and education needs around the world.

I completely understand the need to run some good PR for Scott’s demise lateral move to focus on Chairman roles but to pump up his contribution like this borders on absurdly idiotic. I wonder if Sun’s current shareholders agree with Jonathan’s assessment of McNealy’s contributions.

Rating Retail Computer Purchase Experiences

Mike forwarded this article to me and a couple other people. It is a review of someone’s experiences shopping for a computer at various electronics stores.

I’ve read a number of these over the years. I just read a couple last week on experiences at Apple stores.

The problem with these kinds of write-ups is that they are not properly researched so that the results are statistically meaningful. Rather than being a measurement of a chain’s shopping experience from a probability perspective, they end up being anecdotal and therefore may or may not be representative of the typical person’s shopping experience at various consumer electronics stores.

The proper way to assess shopping experiences is for an organization like JD Powers and Associates to conduct a systematic survey of consumer experience. Such a study would target multiple stores in multiple geographical locations. In each store, researches would work off a pre-defined list of criteria and each of the criteria would be measured based on the experience. Ideally, the criteria must be objective, e.g. amount of time that passes before getting attention from an employee, proper answers to various technical questions, etc. Some criteria are both subjective and objective, e.g. “What’s the best amount of RAM to have for my computer?”, so the study would need to be able to rate subjective experiences.

My point here is that in all the articles I’ve read that rate consumer experiences are single-visit, single-store stories. A reader cannot fairly extrapolate a general judgment about a chain based on very narrow experience articles.

Coincidence?

Two headlines off CNN this morning. Bush has low popularity (surprise!) and he knows people are getting pissed about gas prices. So, is his “probe” into gasoline pricing an effort to buoy his declining popularity?

Reminds me of how Homeland Security danger levels seemed to correlate to Bush popularity levels… and how Willie lobbed missles to get people’s minds off Monica humming a tune in the Oral Office.

I’m ok with tightened oil supply and rising gas prices, even though I know that oil supply is almost always artificially constrained (New Orleans was an exception, though a few weeks after Katrina, gas prices seemed to stabilize so its hard for me to tell whether supply truly does have natural supply constaints). What I’m not okay with is reading about how oil companies report record profits on the heels of an ostensible shortage of oil supply.

Do I trust the Bush probe into prices? No because most likely, before any substantive investigation takes place, oil prices will recede back to more tolerable levels and fewer people will clamor for an investigation. Profits.. I mean, problem solved. Bush’s approval will still suck though.

Jonathan Schwartz Named Sun CEO – Buh Bye McNealy

Six days ago, I made the following comment in a letter to a friend of mine who works for Sun: “I think Mr. McNealy needs to step down and let someone else try; he hasn’t led the company well since the 2000 burst. I’m not sure if Schwartz is ready yet for CEO duties but he does seem to be leading Sun’s thinking. Jonathan is definitely the less strident and more articulate Sun exec.”

Mr. McNealy’s record with Sun in a competitive, commoditized server market has been unimpressive.

Today, I read in my RSS feeds for Sun’s press releases that Scott McNealy will step down as CEO but will retain his position as Chairman of the Board and the thoughtful COO Jonathan Schwartz will replace him.

Sun is a company full of potential. Their Achillies heel, however, is how to adapt their legendary history of innovation to a market where their innovation has been largely commoditized by Dell and Linux. I am puzzled by Sun’s marketing strategy as it relates to their product mix.

When you read Sun press releases, you see a preponderance of large-scale computing deals: record-setting throughput with products like Oracle and SAP, large developing-country computing deals, etc. Yet, the focus of Sun marketing appears to be toward the x86 market with the Sun Opteron server. Sun also markets their eco-friendly designs.

This puzzles me because I struggle to see how Sun can gain market traction by competing against Dell in a commodity market for x86 servers using eco-friendliness as the value-add criteria by which people would desire Sun Opteron servers. Sun’s historical competence has been in the large-scale server market and their press releases tend to focus on these kinds of deals. I don’t understand what seems to me to be a strategy polarized between commodity servers with questionable value-add and Sun’s legacy of large-compute solutions.

So, Sun is working its historical niche but is also trying to compete in the x86 world plus is trying to incorporate an intriguing mix of open-source software with a intellectual property license that is different from the GPL (the primary difference is that IP developed on Sun Solaris belongs to the developer and does not need to be returned back to the Solaris community. Schwartz commented in his blog that the value of this is that developing nations can create competitive advantage without being required to return their IP back to the world’s richest nations).

I’m hoping that Schwartz brings some clarity to the strategy and execution. I’m also hoping that Scott goes fishing a lot.

How the BMW z4 Is Made

Here’s an interesting video on the making of the BMW Z4. I’ve been to the factory and this video does not do justice to the plant or the process.

Watch video from here.

Two Standards of Fair Use of Intellectual Property

There are two standards of conduct in the IT industry: those of Microsoft and those of everyone else but Microsoft. Nearly every action that Microsoft takes in the industry is contested but when Microsoft’s competitors take the same action, there is no vilification or acerbic attacks. When Microsoft buys functionality and wraps the new capability into Windows, they are accused of suppressing innovation. When Larry Ellison buys PeopleSoft or Sun Microsystems buys StorageTek, they are adding shareholder value by improving their competitive capabilities. Some will even say non-Microsoft companies are buying functionality to extend innovation into the marketplace.

It’s a double standard that the industry exploits over and over again.

ZDNet has been publishing articles that have pushed my buttons lately. I don’t consider ZDNet to be overtly biased toward open source or against MS, but in the past week or so, I have read stories — usually “analyses” — that have done a pretty good job getting me cranked up. As I write on Saturday, I’m a little wound up after reading this analysis of the implications of virtualization software.

The author, Charles Cooper, seems to have two components to his argument: a).virtualization implies that Microsoft ought to let the licensing of virtual servers slide a bit to the advantage of the IT department and b). Microsoft ought to do this because they were accused but not fully convicted of predatory antitrust business practices.

The business value of virtualization accrues to the wise IT shop that sees an economic, operational and administrative advantage to the virtualization of servers. There are a number of reasons why virtualization is cool. First, a virtual cmputer is easily rebuilt if you screw up. Take a snapshot of the build, putz around with the config and when you screw up, revert to the snapshot. Second, once you have a good server or workstation build with all the current patches and settings you like, you use it as a template. When you need a new image, you make a clone of the image and in less than a minute, you have a well-tweaked box. As I heard a Microsoft guy say at a seminar once: PFM. Pure freaking magic. The third reason why virtualization is cool is that you can actually associate meaningful numbers to the cost savings of server virtualization. My friend Mike pointed this out to me as a comment on my article on Technology and the Cost of Capital. In that article, I scoff at ROI and TCO as meaningful measures of value for computer hardware and software purchases. Mike stated that with VMWare in a production environment, you actually can measure the ROI of server virtualization by counting the number of physical boxes you are not buying and comparing that to the cost of building out a single beefy server.

The author seems to be implying an argument that since virtualization software runs on an OS, the extent of license compliance ought to be solely for the host OS. This is an argument predicated on physical use. But virtualization is a logical use not a physical one: VMWare and MS’ Virtual Server enable the creation of logical servers and each of those logical servers provides the same functionality of physical servers. Whether that functionality is provided on a physical server or a virtual one is irrelevant to the cost of licensing.

Cooper attempts to build a connotative case against Microsoft using the double-standard of fair use of IP. He refers to a largely meaningless DoJ case against Microsoft in the first part of this decade to imply that the notion of charging customers for a Windows Server license for every instance of Windows Server is evidence of Microsoft’s predatory anticompetitive behavior. Cooper insinuates that such a requirement is an economic artifact belonging to misguided libertarians (me being one) and evil capitalists who haven’t yet appreciated the economics implied by virtualization.

But here’s the question to ask to penetrate the author’s accusatory thesis: Would he be challenging Microsoft’s requirement of 1 license per Windows Server prior to the existence of VMWare?
The answer is No because the absence of virtualization technology would mean the policy would not be questioned.

This allows you to conclude that the issue is not whether licensing ought to slide for a virtual server but whether an IT department derives value from both physical and virtualized boxes.

It’s hard to imagine a more sophomoric closing statement than what Cooper says here: “Last time I checked Microsoft was not in the philanthropy racket. Any company that tries to get out of paying for the full costs of virtualization will find itself on the receiving end of a sweet lawsuit, courtesy of Bill Gates & Co. ”

Lovely.IT shops are not charities and they should expect none of the absurd “philanthropy” Cooper implies Microsoft ought to graft to them. There is honor in being a profitable company. There is also honor in paying for the licenses a company uses. Cooper’s thesis has no merit.

Waving At Truck Drivers

So, yeah, I work for a manufacturing company. We make big lumpy objects for other people to put even bigger lumpy objects on to (and yes, the actual grammatical structure of that sentence did in fact blow but I’m just not in the mood for grammar. I know the syntax is a bit awkward but I’m sure you can work through it). We have engineers and assembly people here, along with accountants and purchasing folks — you get the point: the whole scope of professional and skilled trades.

So out of maybe 450 employees, here is the approximate inventory of higher-end, non-truck vehicles:

1 – BMW 325i (mine)
1 – Infinity something or other
1 – Audi S4
1 – Audi station wagon
1 – Lincoln’s BMW knock-off, the name of which I can’t remember right now

Add in a few other nice cars just to make sure no one feels left out.

Additional auto inventory:

200 – regular cars
250 – trucks

Here’s why this is important. I’m a computer guy and so I interact with a lot of our employees. So, a lot of people know me. They also know I drive the only BMW at the company. In fact, a while ago, there was this person who would introduce new people to me by saying, “This is Dave. He works for IT. He drives a BMW.” I never understood this. I never heard anyone get introduced to other people by, “This is Felicia. She works in HR. She drives a Saturn.”

Anyway. So, people see my black BMW and they quickly go, “Oh there’s Dave. I’m going to wave at him.” Hi Dave.

Now when it is the Infinity or either Audi, I know the people who drive those cars. I’m a car guy and they are sufficiently distinctive that I know the car and therefore have an association to the drivers.

But here’s the problem: a truck is a truck to me. Four wheels, taller than a car, higher off the ground, big box in the back. That’s about the extent of my ability to identify trucks.

Now, I am sure that to a truck driver, putting a sticker of Calvin pissing on a Ford logo on your back window has significance. I’m sure there are deep, meaningful distinctions between Fords, GMs Chryslers and what not. But to me, a truck looks like a truck. I can spot damn near any model BMW from 3/4 of a mile away but show me a train of trucks leaving the plant at lunch time and I’m just not going to be able to go, “Oh there’s Mike’s truck, and Bob’s truck and Steve’s truck. There’s Frank’s truck (nice truck!).”

I’m just thinking: “Who the hell was that who just waved to me in that truck?”

I used to wait to wave until I figured out who it was in the truck because the truck itself didn’t provide enough information for me to realize, “Yeah, that was Frank who waved. Hi Frank!” The problem was, I didn’t figure it out until I could actually see the driver’s face because I see green truck,white truck, red truck, black truck, green truck, red truck, white truck, black truck and none of this means anything to me. But once I saw their faces, I’d be good to go because fortunately, faces provide enough visual cues that I can actually conclude, “That’s Steve driving that truck. Hi Steve!” But by that time, they had already passed me and didn’t see me wave.

Of course, I concluded that everyone figured I was a cock because I never waved. “That butthead: I wave at him all the time and he never waves back. What a dink.”

So now I wave at everyone. If I see a hand so much as flinch, I wave. A guy could be brushing a fly off his dashboard and I’ll wave at him because I don’t wait anymore to see the face. I see a truck and I have a wave cued up and ready to go. I’m so paranoid of dissing a truck-driving co-worker that I have this reflexive waving spasm that activates whenever I see a truck on the roads near work. This of course, leads me to wave at people — I realize moments later — who don’t know me.

And I know those people are thinking: “Who the hell was that who just waved to me in that BMW?”

Pictures from Flickr

Killing time tonight. Here are pictures I like on Flickr.

Max likes it when I do this to him too.

Gmail Adds Customizability to Hosted Domains

I noticed a New! flag on the login page for the administration section of my Google-hosted Gmail. When I clicked it, I found that I can add a custom logo and customize the color of the login section.

Pretty cool.

The more I experience it, the more I like Google’s iterative development methodology. I like discovering a new but simple new feature.

Login Page:
hosted domain features

Inbox:
hosted domain inbox

Seed the Hobbyist Programmer

Microsoft has decided to continue its free release of Visual Studio Express beyond their original plan of one year. According to ZDNet and other tech RSS feeds, VSE has been downloaded 5M times since November 2005.

Download Visual Studio Express here.

When combined with SQL Server 2005 Express, VSE provides a great learning platform for secondary school students as well as college students. VSE and SQLE also provide a powerful and affordable (how about $0?) development environment for hobbyist programmers who don’t want to pay $260 for Visual Studio 2005 Standard.

SQL 2005 Express takes MSDE several steps better. First, the maximum database size is 4GB versus MSDE’s 2GB. SQLE can run on a box with up to 1GB of RAM and 1 processors. Third, SQL 2005 SP1 adds graphical interaction with VSE to allow you to design databases without needing SQL Enterprise Manager.

With VSE and SQLE 2005 available for free, Microsoft is seeding the interests and development of future programmers. This is a wise move on Microsoft’s part. As I have argued on other articles, software is where innovation and value are delivered. I think the OS platform is primarily a philosophical and business decision but once that decision is made, the hardware and OS are commodities. It’s the software that creates value (one could argue that the OS has implicit value because the chosen OS yields a set of innovation that can only be used on the chosen platform). Kevin Kelly argued that the value of a network is a function of the number of nodes on the network. In order to sustain high numbers of Microsoft nodes, there needs to be innovative software to drive demand for the Microsoft platform.

Now This Is An Example of Well-Designed Packaging

In this article on my blog, I complained about hard plastic shrink packaging. I included in the picture the utility knife I used to open the package to convey the idea that these are just super user-friendly forms of packaging.

Today, we received a vacuum from Amazon. I bought it to clean up the copious amounts of cat hair we have this spring on our furniture. The vacuum got consistent 5 star reviews.

What I want to comment on though is the packaging. I was immediately impressed with the packaging. Clean, efficient and a perfect use of form-fitting hard-plastic. The box served as the frame for the plastic. It was easily removed to expose the two halves of plastic.

Great Packaging1

Great Packaging2

Great Packaging3

This Is A Truly Wonderful Open Source Indictment

For at least the past three years, I’ve heard numerous rants from some of my friends and online contacts about how insecure IE is and how inherently secure FireFox is. I’ve debated with them with a bias not toward defending Microsoft but with a bias toward security that is platform indifferent. I won’t rehash my arguments here because you can Google Blog search my blog and find those articles yourself.

In this incredible news item, Mozilla users are urged to upgrade their early-model versions of FireFox and Mozilla derivatives because they have significant security weaknesses that can be exploited.

Users have been urged to upgrade to the latest versions of Mozilla’s software to protect themselves from a series of critical security holes.

The Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) warned on Monday that earlier versions of Firefox, and other Mozilla software based on Firefox code, contain a clutch of vulnerabilities that expose users to attack.

The Mozilla Foundation released a new version of Firefox last week, version 1.5.0.2, which it said contained fixes for several security flaws.

According to security firm Secunia, there are a total of 21 flaws in the older versions of Firefox, such as Firefox 1.5, some of which it described as critical.

How utterly humiliating for all the people who have arrogantly mocked IE users and Windows advocates on slashdot and IT news boards that their browser was clearly more secure than IE. All their arguments have been completely undermined. Now all they have left is, “Yeah? Well, my browser has better functionality than your browser does!”

I have this glowing, warm feeling inside right now. Vindication feels wonderful. It’s a beautiful day.

Comments About Novell and Sun

Just days after I made fun of a Senior Analyst for imagining IBM, Oracle and Novell coming together to defeat Microsoft, my friend Mike sent me this article on Larry Ellison’s potential interest in Novell.

I wrote back to him:

“It’s interesting but buying Novell to get into open source seems to me to be similar to buying a 1998 Chevy Lumina to race the Indy 500. Ellison has a tendency to buy and absorb into the Oracle brand, so it’s possible he has no plans to maintain the Novell brand; he may just want SUSE as an asset that can be rebranded as Oracle Linux.

What interests me about this is what database Oracle would use. Would they support an OS database like MySql or would they develop an OS version of Oracle?”


In a note to a friend of mine in Dallas, I made the following comments about Sun:

I just don’t think Sun is going to be able to get their poop in a group any time soon to please the institutional investors’ desire for profitability and the market’s desire for innovation that means something to customers. I think Mr. McNealy needs to step down and let someone else try; he hasn’t led the company well since the 2000 burst. I’m not sure if Schwartz is ready yet for CEO duties but he does seem to be leading Sun’s thinking. Jonathan is definitely the less strident and more articulate Sun exec.

I think the big problem with Sun is that it is innovating in back office hardware, which is largely a commodity space. I’m not sure I follow the business logic of leading their marketing with entry-level x86 servers. With few exceptions, i.e. iPod, hardware is a commodity. Sun has a couple innovative takes on servers, namely thermally cooler and less demanding of energy, but the problem with that is its hard to market those criteria when TCO calculations don’t typically involve cooling and power costs. (TCO calcs are acts of accounting gibberish anyway, but no one wants to admit that). I think most people view the server as a commodity with a low lifespan and therefore the costs associated with powering and cooling them are essentially the same as the costs of powering and cooling cubicles: it just goes to overheaed electrical expense.

I think that most of the interesting innovation occurs on the software side rather than hardware and I think there is more market demand for that kind of innovation because software is what drives business value. The computing platform is a philosophical and business choice, i.e. do we go with Solaris, Windows, Linux, Unix, whateverix, but once that decision is made, a server is a server. Software, however, is what creates value for a computing infrastructure.

Sun is still primarily a hardware company hoping to make some back-end money on servers and services by giving away Solaris and by selling tape backup systems (????). I think Sun is trying to innovate in the wrong area and the StorageTek acquisition seems to me to be an expression of hesitancy from Sun that their direction is on track: why invest $4B (net $3B cuz StorageTek had $1B in cash) to supply commodity storage servcies? What I do not see in Sun’s marketing or in Jonathan Schwart’s blog are PR pushes that bring Sun software to the forefront. Why should a business choose Solaris? Where is the value? Why (God, Why??) should a business choose StarOffice just because it is cheaper? See? Sun is innovating a commodity product and yet shipping commodity software in a market that expects software innovation.

Microsoft is doing some hella cool stuff. I saw some technology in Dallas that blew my mind. Office 2007 is bringing in functionality that is incredible. Office is tightly integrated into SQL, Windows and SharePoint portal in a way that allows companies to deliver information and analytics that are truly exciting. One session I went to demo’ed this stuff and twice the audience erupted in applause and “Oh my God”‘s and “Wow”‘s. After watching this demo, the relevance of Office costing $300/user completely disappeared from my mind. It was the first time I’d ever seen value in Office beyond, “I have to buy this to keep compatibility with everyone else in the world.” My thought was, “How can a company not buy Office after seeing this?” Yes, it requires initial setup and implementation but the value it can deliver is truly exciting.

Buh Bye iTunes

One of the reasons I was resistant to the iPod was iTunes. On Windows, iTunes is one of the most horrendous programs I’ve ever used. I don’t like its interface but mostly, I hated the way iTunes would take total control of my computer for minutes at a time.

Apple seems to have fixed those problems but what I dislike about iTunes now is that it doesn’t allow me to:

1. Backup the contents of my iPod into a directory separate from my iTunes library. This could otherwise be called a redundant backup set.

2. I can’t plug my iPod into two different computers and synchronize the content of my player on each computer.

When I had my Dell, I purchased Red Chair Software’s Dudebox, which was inexplicably changed later to DeuxBox. I’ll give you three guesses as to why: can you spell “a cease and desist letter from Dell’s law firm?” I knew you could.

Anyway, it was a great program and far more capable than the Dell driver program and the horrid MusicMatch interface.

So, I bought Red Chair’s Anapod software for $25. It allows me to overcome the two annoying iTunes problems and adds some other nice features as well.

This means iTunes is no longer the default app for my iPod and the only thing I use it for is to convert WMA tracks to AAC-formatted tracks. Buh bye.

Terrorism and Child Pornography Used As An Excuse

I’ve argued a few times in my blog that 9/11 has served as the foundation of fear to enable the President and Congress to gradually erode American civil liberties in the name of safety. The ignominiously named Patriot Act has been a federal government power grab to allow law enforcement to sidestep pesky due-diligence requirements like probable cause. Americans have largely accepted the justification that we need to sacrifice civil liberties in the name of catching terrorists. We have been told that we don’t have to worry: law enforcement only uses these Patriot Act powers to conduct unreasonable searches and seizures on people suspected of terrorism, so lawful citizens need not fear these powers.

At least not until the government redefines what constitutes terrorism.

The latest thread of justification from the President and Attorney General Gonzalez is to “protect the children from child pornographers.” Who could possibly be against protecting children from exploitative pornographers? No one, including me. What I do have concerns about, however, is the means by which the Administration and Congress accomplishes such protection. Washington seems to be increasingly willing to suspend due process and justify this willingness by pointing to clearly evil criminal groups and asking, “Are these the kinds of people you want to have the benefit of due process?”

The latest chapter in this power grab can be read here. In this story, we read that Washington wants ISPs to record and retain the on-line activities of customers. “Mandatory data retention requirements worry privacy advocates because they permit police to obtain records of e-mail chatter, Web browsing or chat-room activity that normally would have been discarded after a few months. And some proposals would require providers to retain data that ordinarily never would have been kept at all.”

What is the justification? The same one used to try to compel Google to give up search terms: protect children from exploitative pornographers.
Who could possibly be against catching child pornographers?

I don’t want my objection to be construed as defending child pornographers. At the risk of that misunderstanding, I strenuously object to this seizure of power by the federal government. I’ve watched Washington use terrorism time and again to justify violations of due-process and I have blogged about it. I have expressed my concern that the field of suspect groups can expand where Americans and law-enforcement excuse the disposal of due-process and the burden of probable cause the Constitution requires. I am concerned that expansion has begun with the inclusion of child pornographers as those kinds of evil people for whom there is no due process.

Washington got us to swallow the Patriot Act provisions by promising that it would only be used against terrorist suspects who probably weren’t even American citizens. I’ve yet to read any similar assurance that the effort to require ISP traffic archives would only relate to foreign child pornographers. Since Washington isn’t making similar exclusions, we can assume now that both American and foreign child pornographers would be in the cross-hairs of this requirement. This is significant because it now allows warrantless searches against citizens that have nothing to do with terrorism but are potentially involved in the heinous crime of child pornography. Have we begun the slippery slope down justifying two kinds of due process: those suspected of normal crimes, for whom we still enforce due-process and those suspected of heinous crimes like terorrism and child pornography, for whom we suspend due process? R

emember that being suspected of a crime is a lot different from being prosecuted and convicted of one. Also remember that the Constitution specifically and intentionally places burdens on the goverment to prove probable cause and to follow due-process to justify that suspicion merits prosecution.

One of the lessons of McCarthyism is that information about people, collected at a time when the information wasn’t necessarily relevant, was used later during McCarthy’s inquisitions of suspected communists. While I am no fan of communism, I am a fan of people having the right to believe in communist principles and still be an American. In a democratic, pluralistic society, there will always be competing ideologies, no matter how whacked they are. The issue with ISP archiving, however, is that information collected today can be used to insinuate something about a person later.

Let me give you an example: Do you think that someone who gave money to a Muslim charity 10 years ago would face the same suspicions then as someone who donates money to a Muslim charity today? The same act is interpreted in completely different lights because of the context of the act. Similarly, data collected today about your internet surfing habits could mean nothing today but suppose 10 years from now, a cultural shift occurs or new laws are passed that make what you surf today suspect at a later time?

The feds can brush off our concerns by saying, “Hey, if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you don’t have to worry.” Right. But what if your internet activities reveal proclivities that are evidence of the next group of evil people for whom due process is suspended? What if you make fun of retarded people and in 2012 the government wants to crack down on the mockery of retarded people? What if you write blog articles critical of the government and that’s the next group the feds point to as evil?

Is that too far-fetched of an argument for you? Okay, how about a more straightforward one:

If this precedent is accepted, archived recordings of VOIP conversations are the next step of the slippery slope toward increasingly invasive government. VOIP is nothing but IP traffic. This means that through a requirement for ISPs to track your IP traffic, law enforcement agencies will by default have access to phone conversations if one or both parties use VOIP for phone calls. What used to require a wire tap search warrant has been significantly diminshed by the Patriot Act so that the FBI doesn’t even have to appear before a judge to get a wire tap approved. Even this flimsy requirement would be sidestepped by this archival requirement of ISPs. VOIP traffic is now just part of the total data stream for an internet customer and this entire data stream would be available to law enforcement without search warrants.

Now, let’s talk about security. You can read almost weekly of another organization that lost private personal data because security was compromised by a lost laptop or a hacked network. This archival requirement means ISPs will be required to maintain huge databases of customer internet activity. Imagine if your ISPs security were compromised and someone was able to find out about your internet activity and have access to your VOIP calls.

This is a huge privacy and civil rights issue. It sounds innocent because today’s targets are terrorists and child pornographers. Who will be tomorrow’s targets?

Alliteration Is Fun

The drive into work today was interesting. Lot’s of traffic on 69 – more than normal.

I used to get coffee at Beaner’s and a sausage McMuffin at the West Saginaw McD’s but their quality was so consistently horrific, I just get my Beaner’s, drive to work and get off at the main exit into town.

I love this exit because it comes at the end of a big sweeping turn where you can carry some nice speed into the exit ramp. Then there’s a quick section to the left where it helps to scrub some speed with brief braking to complete the turn. Then hard braking before the light. Much fun.

There was a semi and an Exploder in front of me just before the ramp, so I passed them and exited just at the nick of time, but alas there was a gold Buick Saber in front of me. Ugggh. Bummage – no ramp fun for me.

But wait!

The Buick carried speed into the ramp! So I said out loud: “Nice job, Buick guy!”

As I got closer to him, I saw he was bald, so I said, “Nice job, bald Buick guy on the exit ramp.”

We had a green light at the exit and he took impressive speed into the turn, which led me to exclaim, “Nice job, bald Buick guy on that turn!”

Then he turned into Big Boy for breakfast, leading to the final exclamation: “Nice job, bald Buick guy going to Big Boy for breakfast.”

I’m easily entertained. And so are you if you made it this far. Sucker! LOL