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Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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April 30, 2007 2:26 PM

Silverlight video freebies: First million's on the house

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's what Microsoft's offering to get Web developers to use its flashy new tools and video-hosting service:

One million minutes of DVD-quality video streaming free, per month. Or unlimited streaming if you let Microsoft place ads around your video.

Grant County PUD had better lube up the turbines.

Here's how the Silverlight video giveaway is described on the Windows Live developer site:

While the product is in pre-release, storage and delivery is free up to 4 GB, with outbound streaming up to DVD quality (700 Kbps). As we move out of beta, developers/designers will have continued use of the service with up to 1 million minutes of free video streaming at 700 Kpbs per site per month. Unlimited streaming will also be available for free with advertising, or with payment of a nominal fee for the service for use without advertising.

If the Silverlight application contains a video, the video file must be smaller than 22 MB. This is equivalent to a continuous video stream of 10 minutes at 300 Kbps. If the video stream is encoded at any higher bitrate, it will have to be shorter than 10 minutes. For example, if the video stream is encoded at the highest allowed bitrate of 700 Kbps, the maximum length of the video is just below 4.3 minutes.

For broader coverage of Silverlight and other news out of Mix, check out Ben Romano's stories from the show.

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April 30, 2007 11:30 AM

Beyond the Prius: Plugging in to green transportation

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's the general theme of a high-level conference on alternative energy that Cascadia Center and Microsoft are hosting next Monday at the company's conference center in Redmond.

It's one of two events focusing on electric cars in May, so don't be surprised if you see more than the usual assortment of hybrids humming around the area.

Cascadia's shindig is open to the public but costs $75. Session topics include the future of plug-in hybrids, government incentives and flex-fuel infrastructure needs.

Among the speakers at "Jump Start to a Secure, Clean Energy Future," are Bill Reinert, Toyota's U.S. engineer in charge of advanced vehicle planning; Nick Zielinski, GM's chief engineer for the Chevy Volt, and Michael Rawding, Microsoft's vice president in charge of special projects and corporate affairs.

Also speaking are elected officials, federal officials involved in energy policy and research, academics and investors in green transportation ventures. The keynote speaker is Tyler Duvall, assistant secretary for transportation policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Here's the full agenda.

If you don't get your fill (ha!) at the conference, there's another green transportation conference the following week in Wenatchee.

The Power UP! electrifying transportation summit takes place May 14 and 15 at the Wenatchee Convention Center.

Its keynote speaker is the "father of the plug-in hybrid," Andy Frank, director of the National Center for Hybrid Excellence at University of California-Davis.

Power UP! costs $175, or $75 for students, but it will have a zanier assortment of vehicles. Among the rigs on display are a plug-in Prius, an original EV-1 and an electric tractor.

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April 30, 2007 9:42 AM

KEXP radio story annotation

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here is some supporting material for today's expanded column on KEXP and radio royalties.

KEXP stats: The station reaches 175,000 people: 115,000 terrestrial listeners plus 60,000 online listeners. About 30 percent of the financial contributions to the station come from outside of Washington. Locally it has about 1,000 volunteers who donate time to the station.

KEXP is run from a Paul Allen-owned building on Dexter Avenue, near the Pink Elephant car wash. It has a fiber-optic connection to the University of Washngton and its transmitter at 18th and Madison on Capitol Hill. Allen is no longer covering the station's deficits, but he's providing the building for $1 per year for five more years or so.

The station's 4,700-watt broadcast has a roughly 18-mile radius.

Working with the UW, KEXP has added HD radio capability. That gives the station the capability to add a second or third broadcast channel. Director Tom Mara said they're still discussing how to use the additional channels.

At the Dexter building, the station has four studios and they all have turntables as well as digital disc players. The station has 10,000 CDs in its collection.

KEXP added a "click to buy" button on its Web site in response to listener requests. The button directs users to an assortment of local music sellers, who give the station a percentage of the sales. The station's proceeds are neglible - the sales added $6,000 to the station's $3.4 million operating budget last year.

I also need to correct something on the technical side -- it was the UW Computing and Communication Department, not the UW Computer Science and Engineering Department, that developed KEXP's Web streaming service and other technologies.

Regarding the royalty situation, here are some sites with more info:

The Copyright Royalty Board is the body that approved the higher royalties, at the request of Sound Exchange, a group representing copyright holders. Sound Exchange was created by the Recording Industry Association of America.

On April 16, the CRB refused to hear an appeal of the higher royalty fees. The next step for broadcasters opposing the new fees is to seek relief from the U.S. Court of Appeals or from Congress.

Discussions are taking place between interested parties that could produce a settlement. Sound Exchange, for instance, extended an olive branch to Webcasters on April 19.

On April 26, U.S. Reps. Jay Inslee and Don Manzullo announced a royalty limits bill.

Here's a great primer on radio royalties provided by David Oxenford, a lawyer at Davis Wright Tremaine's Washington, D.C., office. Oxenford also writes a great blog on the topic. I interviewed him last week to learn more about the situation. Davis Wright is also The Seattle Times Co.'s law firm, but that's not why I called him. I stumbled across his Broadcast Law Blog and wanted to know more about the appeal process.

Another great blog is Kurt Hanson's Radio and Internet Newsletter.

More disclosure: I had no idea The Times would editorialize on the radio royalty situation in today's paper. I've been working on the KEXP story for about a month now; it would have run sooner but vacations and the full pipeline delayed things.

It was worth waiting, I think, because last week we were able to put together a nifty music slideshow featuring Lymbyc Systym, an Arizona band that sounds a little bit like Seattle's The Postal Service minus the vocals.

During my reporting, the most amazing thing to discover was how much sound Lymbyc Systym produces -- it's just two skinny young guys with a drum kit, a laptop, a glockenspiel, a clavinet and an assortment of keyboards. Alan Berner's picture really captures their sonic effect.

KEXP DJ Cheryl Waters invited the band to play after she heard them en route to the bathroom at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, one of the national events that KEXP participates in to raise its profile and broaden its reach.

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April 25, 2007 4:14 PM

Bill Gates says: Vote for Ed

Posted by Brier Dudley

Who is Ed?

Is he the reason Bill Gates opted not to run for president?

Gates and fellow billionaire Eli Broad are pouring $60 million into the "Ed in '08" political campaign.

The Ed in '08 Web site has a guy's picture, but it belongs to Roy, a former Los Angeles school superintendent chairing the campaign.

Actually Ed is short for education, a topic that Gates and Broad want to be emphasized in the 2008 presidential election.

"Ed in 08" is the slogan for their political group, Strong American Schools.

A sample Gates quote, from his foundation's announcement today:

"Each year more than 1 million students drop out of high school. That's one child every 29 seconds. We all must demand that candidates and our leaders share their opinions and policies on how our country will offer all young people Strong American Schools."

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April 25, 2007 3:15 PM

A great, global Mother's Day gift

Posted by Brier Dudley

Unitus started a brilliant campaign Monday to raise money for its microfinance program helping impoverished and mostly female entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Just in time for Mother's Day, the Redmond non-profit created a special Web site where you can make a $5 donation that will "empower one woman by connecting her to a life-altering microfinance loan."

Donors can also write a tribute to an empowering woman in their life.

The site already has a collection of poignant essays, like the one from Glenda of Nottingham, England, who donated enough to support 20 women:

"Mummy -- you touched & empowered so many people. I miss you more every day but I know your energy is around out there somewhere, empowering us all still."

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April 25, 2007 1:48 PM

Blodget on Amazon.com: Still hoping for $400

Posted by Brier Dudley

Split adjusted, that is.

Henry Blodget probably helped make a lot of Amazonians in Seattle rich, if they sold after his upbeat forecast goosed the stock in the late 1990s.

Blodget bought himself Amazon.com stock at $50, as it headed down in 2000, and he's just now breaking even.

From the fallen analyst's blog today:

"Amazon hasn't become the company I hoped it would back when I put that $400 target on it ($67 in today's split) in December 1998. As you may recall, the stock blasted through the target in two weeks, soared to $600, and then, over the next 18 months, collapsed. Amazon's still a great franchise, and I'm still a happy customer. I don't own the stock because I expect it to soar. I own it because ... well, for old times' sake and because I'm going to own it until it breaks through $400 ($67) again or goes bust, whichever comes first. I don't even follow the company that closely anymore (too depressing). But last night's quarter, and today's 25% pop, certainly come as a breath of fresh air."

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April 25, 2007 9:48 AM

Seattle's low-tech crisis

Posted by Brier Dudley

The city urgently needs a Dutch boy with a very large thumb.

I just walked past a few million dollars' worth of equipment trucks, tractors, fire engines, pickups and police cars and dozens of municipal employees watching water gush from a big leak near KING 5's office on Dexter, waiting for someone somewhere to somehow make it stop.

No wonder my shower today reminded me of being in a cheap Italian pensione. Some are fretting about one of Paul Allen's nearby condo projects getting wet, but I doubt it will crimp his style.

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April 24, 2007 1:47 PM

Arrington raves about Yapta, disses Seattle weather

Posted by Brier Dudley

Power pundit Michael Arrington said Yapta, a Seattle travel-deal service launching next month, "will be awesome for heavy travelers":

"I don't know what it is about Seattle and travel startups, but newcomer Yapta now joins Farecast and TripHub, two other startups we've been tracking from that cold, rainy place."

Expedia's the most obvious influence, but Seattle's been spawning innovative travel companies for a while now.

Yapta's passel of founders include Chairman Brett Allsop, who started sports retailer Fogdog in the late 1990s, former Microsoft program manager Amy Terrell, and Chief Executive Tom Romary, who has been a marketing executive at Fogdog, RealNetworks and Alaska Airlines. They're working out of Pioneer Square and Bellingham, with $750,000 in seed capital.

Arrington said it will offer a bookmarking tool for compiling and comparing flights and travel options. Buyers that purchase via Yapta may also be notified if the price falls, with a suggestion that they seek a refund or a coupon.

Glad to have TechCrunch reminding his California pals how terrible the weather is up here in the freezing northern territories.

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April 24, 2007 12:47 PM

Microsoft's P2P YouTube and Joost killer?

Posted by Brier Dudley

So Silverlight gives Microsoft another tool to bushwhack its way into the living room.

If you hadn't thought of this, Microsoft's Sean Alexander called attention to the platform's video potential in a blog post today.

He pointed out the work of Skinkers, a Microsoft-backed company in London. Skinkers has created a system called LiveStream, which provides multiple streams of live TV via the Web so they can be viewed on a PC desktop.

Skinkers is built on Silverlight, and uses peer-to-peer technology called Pastry that was developed by Microsoft's Cambridge research labs.

Alexander is amplifying kudos the Skinkers project drew from Gartner analyst Alan Weiner, who called the application "Sling without the Box," referring to the Slingbox place-shifting video device. Weiner wrote it up on his blog, after seeing a demonstration at the National Association of Broadcasters show last week:

So, the threats to cable and satellite, and for that matter IPTV, begin to line up. Certainly Joost is up there giving the cable and telephone companies something to worry about, but LiveStation (in which Microsoft has an equity stake) could be a bigger game changer as a viable live platform for the TV 2.0 crowd, as well as other content providers looking for new ways to reach the digital consumer.

The Microsoft TV portfolio is getting pretty fat, with LiveStream joining IPTV, set-top box software, WebTV, MSN Video, Media Center and the company's investments in providers like Comcast and AT&T.

Whether LiveStream rises to the top of the heap remains to be seen. But one thing's clear: Microsoft ought to lean on its pals in England for advice on product names. It's hard to beat Pastry and Skinkers.

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April 24, 2007 9:22 AM

Signs that Nintendo has boosted Wii output

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm seeing signs that the Wii supply crunch may be ending, now that the company is ramping up production and most fanatics have found their consoles.

Details will come Thursday or Friday when Nintendo will provide a financial report, a spokeswoman said, but it's obviously going to be positive.

Nintendo said April 19 that it has already sold more than 1 million Wiis this year and shipments will increase this month.

There are plenty of clues of increased Wii flow. One was a job ad I saw a few days ago, seeking people to work at Nintendo's North America distribution center in North Bend. Nintendo is hiring more people to handle distribution and assembly tasks.

Then I saw that big retailers were confident enough in Wii supply to advertise consoles in the preprinted ads inserted in the Sunday paper. They weren't pushing costly bundles, just straight consoles at $249, so the channel must be turning its attention to mainstream buyers who care more about price.

What really sealed things, though, was a visit to the Redmond Target. I walked in the door and saw people pushing carts with Wiis inside.

Back in the electronics section, the Wii case still had about eight consoles sitting there untouched. I spent about 10 minutes watching the sales clerk hover with his key chain, in case anyone wanted to buy one, and saw only a few buyers.

But then, that Target is just a couple of miles or so from Nintendo's U.S. headquarters, and a stone's throw from Microsoft's Xbox offices.

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April 24, 2007 8:42 AM

iLike reports 1 million subscribers

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Seattle "social music discovery" network and referral service is picking up steam, apparently. Today iLike announced 1 million users, up from 500,000 that the company reported on Feb. 28.

It's also raising the profile of live concert events by flagging artists that are on tour and sending concert alerts to registered users. That should please Ticketmaster, which bought 25 percent of the startup for $13.3 million in December.

Today's announcement also noted that iLike is processing more than 200 million track plays per month.

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April 23, 2007 4:22 PM

Martin Taylor update: he's working with another Vista

Posted by Brier Dudley

A tipster noted that former Microsoft executive Martin Taylor is now a principal at Vista Equity Partners, a San Francisco-based investment firm.

According to Vista's Web site:

Martin Taylor joined Vista in December of 2006 as an Operating Principal. He is responsible for driving the transformation and operational improvements with the firm's portfolio companies.

Vista is a $1 billion tech-focused firm that was started by two investment bankers who had worked at Goldman Sachs and CSFB.

There are still few official details of why Martin abruptly left Microsoft.

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April 23, 2007 2:50 PM

Watch for offline startups

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's column touched on a theme I'll probably revisit a few times this year: As Web 2.0 crests, tech entrepreneurs and investors will look for new places to apply their resources and expertise.

Startups like Metron Systems and Mobile Semiconductor don't have a chorus of promoters raising their profile, but they're creating jobs and fascinating products.

This should make for interesting times in the Northwest, where we have lots of capital and talent in software, hardware, services, devices and materials.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on where things are headed and whether I'm seeing a trend or blinded by the spring sunshine and a few good pitches at last week's investor forum.

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April 23, 2007 2:27 PM

A chat with Charles Simonyi

Posted by Brier Dudley

What does the International Space Station look like at sunset, as you approach in a Soyuz?

That's one of the things Charles Simonyi talked about when he called this morning from Star City, where he's going through post-space rehabilitation. We've posted a Q&A and photo slideshow of Simonyi's space adventure.

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April 20, 2007 4:23 PM

Geek gaming alert issued for Capitol Hill

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Ignite folks are organizing a SmartMob game Saturday afternoon around Cal Anderson Park.

So don't be alarmed if you see cellphone-sporting hipsters talking about booty and saying strange things to each other on Capitol Hill. They may not stand out.

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April 20, 2007 3:51 PM

Simonyi from space: Once is enough, work's calling

Posted by Brier Dudley


AP

Charles Simonyi, before he headed into space. He is scheduled to return to Earth on Saturday.

Charles Simonyi's been busy in space doing experiments -- and searching for room in the International Space Station to store the books he brought up.

There may not be enough space (pardon the pun) to start the extraterrestrial library he envisioned, judging from a chat he had today with Tim Garrigan, the Seattle marketing consultant running the Charlesinspace.com Web site.

Simonyi's comment:

This is a sore point, it's not quite done yet. But it's not positive, but it's not negative. I still have to discuss with the Russian segment. There is no room in the American segment.'

Otherwise the trip has been a big success, Simonyi said. He believes he's raised awareness of science and space travel, judging from the millions of visitors to his Web site and conversations he's had with students online and via ham radio.

I think that was probably the most successful part of this mission. It's really beyond anything I would have imagined, the success of the Web site and the enthusiasm of the feedback through the radio. I'm really grateful to the ham community for facilitating these exchanges.'

The experiments Simonyi conducted for various agencies were simple but successful, he said, adding that that's good because he was able to free up the astronauts and cosmonauts to do more complicated tasks.

Asked by Garrigan if he'd like to make another trip to space, Simonyi said he didn't think that would be possible, even though he'd like to take more advantage of his spaceflight training. One reason is he has to get back to his Bellevue software business.

"You know it takes a lot of time, not to mention the expense, and I have many other things to do now, with the company, Intentional Software corporation. We'll have to work on that, redouble our efforts,'' he said.

He's scheduled to land Saturday.

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April 20, 2007 3:33 PM

Cool Earth Day sites

Posted by Brier Dudley

The state Department of Ecology just launched a couple of nifty Web sites.

One is the Coastal Atlas, a zoomable map of shorelines in Western Washington, perfect for plotting that next oyster hunting expedition.

The other is a site that reports several times per day the stream flow levels in key watersheds. In announcing the "Instream Flow Data" service, the agency's release said:

Ecology is launching the new feature during Earth Week 2007 to underscore the challenges we face in effectively managing water resources for the benefit of people as well as salmon.

I wonder if you'll be able to see the flow levels change when Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! get traffic surges at their hydropowered datacenters along the Columbia River.

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April 20, 2007 2:29 PM

Pioneer Square image firm hooks up with Yahoo!

Posted by Brier Dudley

Imagekind just announced a partnership with Yahoo!'s Flickr photo service, giving the eight-month-old startup big visibility.

The company provides a print-on-demand service to artists and photographers. If you see the artists' work online and want a framed copy, you can buy it through Imagekind's service. It's free to artists, who decide how much to markup their work.

Even before the Flickr deal, the company was growing fast, according to spokesman Ben Rogovy. He said it has 15 people on staff and is hiring three interns.

The company was started by Kelly Smith and Adrian Hanauer. Adrian's part of the entrepreneural Hanauer clan that bought Pacific Coast Feather about 70 years ago; his brother is Seattle VC Nick Hanauer.


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April 19, 2007 2:14 PM

Windows mobile platforms boss responds to Intel piece

Posted by Brier Dudley

Before I wrote the piece yesterday on Intel's new mobile hardware and Linux support, I asked Bill Mitchell, vice president of Microsoft mobile platforms group, for his perspective.

Mitchell's the perfect guy to ask -- he's in charge of developing mobile versions of Windows for Tablets, Spot devices and other advanced Windows gadgets. He's also a former Intel engineer.

Today he sent me a lengthy response. He didn't say anything about Intel's Linux announcement, but he explained why Microsoft is sticking with a full version of Windows on the Origami/UMPC platform.

He also reiterated that Intel is broadening its line of "smaller than a PC" devices beyond the UMPC with the "Mobile Internet Device" category that was talked up at this week's Intel Developer Forum in Beijing.

In size and function, these MID devices fall between the UMPC and smartphones -- roughly the same place Apple is going with the iPhone, and Nokia has already gone with its Linux Internet tablets.

Intel describes MIDs as having 4-in. to 6-in. displays (vs. 5-in. to 7-in. for UMPCs). MIDs are also instant-on devices that boot to a simplified interface, and run on embedded Linux.

They'll target consumers and "prosumers" and will be sold at consumer price points. UMPCs boot to the Windows interface, target mobile professionals and prosumers and have "IT driven price points."

In other words, Intel is pushing UMPCs toward the productivity box and creating a new category for the little consumer models that were expected to be the third or fourth generation UMPCs.

The consumer models are what captivated people a few years ago when Microsoft's Origami Project video leaked and created the intial buzz around UMPCs. They were supposed to get smaller and hipper after Intel started producing the new mobile chips, but now Intel's pushing Linux for the small ones.

At the same time, Microsoft's Smartphone business seems to be rolling ahead and the company has started building wireless music players that will probably evolve into something pretty close to an MID.

I'm digressing. Here's an excerpt from Mitchell's email:

"Intel has announced much broader ambitions for their low power architectures (such as their recently announced Mcaslin) than simply for use in UltraMobile PCs. They have had a gap in their processor offerings since their exit from the XScale business. So pushing down from UMPCs into phones and hybrid devices makes sense for them/their business. At Microsoft we've worked hard for years to make sure that we have an OS offering continuum. Our range already spans from the .Net Microframework (aka Tiny CLR), up through Windows CE, Windows XP embedded, and up through full Windows Vista. Having founded (Tiny CLR) and co-founded (CE) these efforts, it has been, if fact, one of my specific missions to create such a continuum of capability, size and price for Microsoft.

Intel's announcements at IDF spells out their desire to use their LPIA parts to span the spectrum down from PCs, just as we already do with our OS offerings. They draw a line in what they refer to as the Ultra Mobile Platforms space between "full PCs" which run our full Windows Vista Origami solution (which we both refer to as "UMPCs") and Mobile Internet Devices, which are sub-PCs, and don't have 100% PC compatibility."

Apple isn't running a full version of OSX on the iPhone, so I was wondering whether Microsoft will do the same thing with future UMPCs. Mitchell's answer sounds like a no -- instead the company has Windows CE:

"Our customer research over the past 12 years has demonstrated to us that there 'is' clear customer understanding of 'full Windows.' If you target 'partial compatibility' (UI-level, API-level, tools-level) then you need to spend time generating customer understanding of this new thing. This is precisely what we've done over a period of years with Windows CE and Windows Mobile ... built up a brand, an understanding of features and a 3rd party community around this partially Windows compatible OS offering."

My ranting about UMPCs may be premature.

Mitchell said the new Intel McCaslin mobile chips are one reason we'll be seeing "an accelerating wave" of new UMPCs this year.

Look for the addition of 3G radios and new keyboards, and perhaps some unveilings at Microsoft's WinHEC conference in Los Angeles next month.

Another AMD Origami, perhaps?

UPDATE: Bill told me his group has reorganized and he has some different responsibilities (I was relying on his bio at Microsoft's press site, but it's outdated).

Mitchell's no longer responsible for Tablet PC and portions of mobile PC that were transferred to the Windows Client group, but he's still incubating projects in the mobile PC space and working on tailored PCs such as models aimed at the kitchen. He's also responsible for the "Windows Hardware Ecosystem" roadmap, the WinHEC show and the logo program.

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April 19, 2007 2:10 PM

Otellini: Vista SP1 in October or November

Posted by Brier Dudley

Intel CEO Paul Otellini let slip that Vista's first service pack is coming early in the fourth quarter, according to ComputerWorld.

Microsoft denied the schedule, but you'd think the company would have given Otellini a clue.

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April 19, 2007 2:06 PM

Ten tips for angel investors

Posted by Brier Dudley

Two veteran investors, including one who invests Paul Allen's money in startups, and a business lawyer shared some great tips at today's Early Stage Investment Forum in Seattle.

It's probably useful for anyone thinking about putting money into a new company, high tech or not.

Here are things for angel investors to think about, according to Michael Crill, managing partner at Atlas Accelerator; Ben Straughan, partner at Perkins Coie; and Steve Hall, managing director of Allen's Vulcan Capital. (I'm mostly paraphrasing their advice here)

1. IP ownership. Make sure companies own the intellectual property they say they own, and that founders have agreed to provide the IP to the company.

2. Founder transition. Consider leadership for different stages of the company's development -- from invention to creation, proof of concept, early sales, scaling out, etc.

3. Use of proceeds. Make sure the company is getting enough money from angel investors to reach operational and valuation milestones.

4. Clear founders' roles. Be sure they're not hindered by agreements with previous employers or with other founders who have moved on.

5. Funding source. Angel investing is appropriate companies trying to raise up to $1 million or $2 million.

Venture funding is for deals of more than $3 million, ideally for companies that have the potential for $50 million to $100 million a year in revenue in five years. Ideally venture funded companies are highly scalable with the potential for an IPO. Angel deals, in contrast, are for just about any situation.

6. Entrepreneur experience. Make sure the entrepreneur has well rounded experience and will be able to grow the company to the next level and attract additional capital. Angel-backed companies can't yet afford a deep executive bench.

7. Excess offerings. Watch for how many shareholders there are, and be sure their offerings are done in compliance with securities regulations. Are only accredited investors purchasing shares in the company?

"Oftentimes startups will give shares to their landlords, shares to their employees. ... it's difficult to manage that group,'' Straughan said.

8. Valuations. Rely on comparables, talk to others in the community and be liberal with technology comparisons.

In general valuations "took a nosedive in 2000 and 2001,'' Crill said. Before that people at the idea stage were seeing valuations of $4 million to $5 million. Today you're seeing "$1 million to $3 million range for ideas, depending on the IP, the team and how far along they are,'' he said.

9. Know what you are investing in. It's a crowded startup market with substantial competition. Ask yourself, would I work for this company? The best places to invest are areas where you have experience and familiarity.

"If you're not familiar with the 30 other companies doing the exact same thing, I wouldn't make the investment,'' Hall said.

10, Stay the course. Don't expect to make a killing with your first investment - 93 percent of angel investments have negative returns on investment. Don't make one investment if you can't make ten. More than half of your investments will require more money from you.

"Your first one is probably going to lose money,'' Crill said. "If you decide to embark in this wonderful world of angel investment, you've got to have the guts to stick it out ... and do more deals."

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April 19, 2007 1:09 PM

Michael Dell's Vista capable PCs

Posted by Brier Dudley

Slashdot today pointed to a Dell Web site showing that one of Microsoft's biggest customers is running open-source software on a laptop at home.

That's firing up enthusiasts who want Dell to sell systems preloaded with software such as Ubuntu, the version of Linux he's using at home.

Given the flap over what's a Vista capable PC, it's also interesting to see how Dell has configured his four other personal systems -- which are all running Vista Ultimate.

They all have Intel dual-core chips and tons of RAM. One is a "mobile gaming" laptop with Vista Ultimate and 4 gigabytes of RAM and a GeForce 7900 graphics card. Another is a high-end 710 desktop with 4 gigs of RAM and dual GeForce 8800 graphics cards. (The Ubuntu laptop is also dual-core with 4 gigs, by the way).

At work Dell uses a Xeon-based workstation.

The most surprising system is the work laptop he travels with -- it's also a Core Duo system running Vista Ultimate, but it only has 1.5 gigs of RAM and integrated Intel graphics.

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April 18, 2007 3:52 PM

Intel misses a big opportunity

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm a little disappointed in the announcements Intel made in China this week about Ultra-Mobile PCs, the handheld computing platform it developed with Microsoft under the code-name Origami.

Not because Intel decided to optimize the platform for Linux. That's Microsoft's battle to fight.

Besides, the Linux challenge could push the folks in Redmond to put more effort into the category.

Intel said UMPC builders want the flexiblity of Linux. Why doesn't Microsoft offer them a modular version of Vista, or even a portable edition just for handhelds, instead of insisting the devices use the "full" operating system?

Apple's not putting a full version of its operating system on the iPhone. That device is the direction Microsoft and Intel were heading with Origami, and it's probably going to use the same "McCaslin" mobile Intel processors the chipmaker was showing off at its developer conference in Beijing.

Nor was I disappointed in the actual news from Intel.

It previewed amazing mobile processors coming in early 2008. They're smaller than a penny, yet their heat output is 10 times less than a circa 2006 processor. They're also four times more energy efficient, and their standby battery life is five times longer.

That means you'll probably be carrying a full power computer in your pocket, instead of an iPod or a smartphone, within a few years.

But I'm getting off track. Where Intel missed an opportunity was in the code names used for this hardware.

Intel calls the little chipsets Poulsbo (although Senior Vice President Anand Chandrasekher mispronounced it "Pools-bo" in his Beijing keynote).

Yet it decided to call Poulsbo's processor Silverthorne, the name of a little town in Colorado. Around here at least, everyone knows Poulsbo is right next to Silverdale.

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April 18, 2007 2:21 PM

Feeling foxy in Redmond

Posted by Brier Dudley

Is this Firefox month at Microsoft? Every time you turn around the company's launching more stuff that works with the open source browser.

Recent Firefox-friendly releases include:

-- A new Windows Media Player plugin for Firefox that appeared online Friday and was announced Monday.

-- Silverlight, the Flash killer Microsoft also showed off Monday.

-- Interactive Media Manager, a content management system for the entertainment industry.

It's not a surprise if you read the Port 25 blog written by Microsoft's open-source crew.

Still, the company has a ways to go, analyst Matt Rosoff told Linux Insider. He noted that Windows Live and Office Live didn't have non-Microsoft browser support when they launched. Rosoff's ending quote:

"If Microsoft really wants to be taken seriously as an Internet player, it should ensure that new online services are cross-browser at launch."

Maybe the Firefox stuff is part of the "no more browser war" messages delivered this week at the Web 2.0 conference.

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April 18, 2007 1:40 PM

Micron makes green pitch for new Aspen memory

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Boise chipmaker jumped on the energy efficiency bandwagon today with new memory products it says could reduce data center power needs by 24 percent.

Server builders are the target customer for the low-voltage DDR2 DRAM in reduced chip count memory modules launched today. It's the first prouct in Micron's new "Aspen" line of more energy efficient products; eventually they'll also be aimed at laptops as well.

The products released today operate at 1.5 volts, instead of the 1.8 volts that's standard in servers today. EE Times has some perspective.

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April 18, 2007 10:08 AM

Book alert: Berkun's "Myths of Innovation" due in May

Posted by Brier Dudley

This sounds like a good one: Seattle author, consultant and University of Washington teacher Scott Berkun's upcoming book explores "innovation history" and how to "convert the knowledge you have into ideas that can change the world."

Amazon.com CTO Werner Vogels ended a quiet period on his blog to congratulate Berkun for going to press. He's also one of the notables who gave the book early praise.

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April 18, 2007 9:45 AM

Mr. Fuzzy Logic speaking in Tacoma

Posted by Brier Dudley

Lofti Zadeh, a noted computer scientist and creator of the fuzzy logic theory, is visiting from Berkeley next week. He'll give a public lecture on "A New Frontier in Computation -- Computation with Information Described in Natural Language" next week at the University of Washington's Tacoma campus.

Zadeh will speak at 1 p.m. April 25 in room 106 of the Birmingham Hay & Seed Building.

The UW press release suggests the direction Zadeh's lecture could take:

He believes that computation with information described in natural language, or NL-Computation, "opens the door to a wide-ranging enlargement of the role of natural languages in scientific theories, especially in the realms of economics, systems analysis, decision analysis, search and question-answering," he said.

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April 17, 2007 2:41 PM

Former Seattle VC sentenced to federal prison

Posted by Brier Dudley

A followup to an unpleasant tech story: Craig McCollum, the former Seattle venture capitalist found guilty of failing to pay child support and alimony, was sentenced Monday by a federal judge in St. Louis.

From a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today:

U.S. District Judge Carol E. Jackson gave him three months in prison and ordered him to pay more than $10,000 in restitution to his children and others.

Jackson said victim impact statements from McCallum's children had been "heartbreaking."

"This isn't a case where you had trouble finding a job," she told McCallum. "This was a crime that you committed."


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April 16, 2007 2:50 PM

Get ready for CSI: Portland

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's what we'll have to call the new venture of Stuart Cohen, the former head of Portland Linux advocacy group Open Source Development Labs.

Cohen's starting a company called Collaborative Software Initiative, or CSI, that will help big companies work together on software projects. The approach will purportedly help companies develop software for half the cost of outsourcing.

Details of the venture were released today by CSI and Kirkland-based OVP Venture Partners, which is funding the startup. OVP also has a Portland office.

Cohen left OSDL when it restructured in December, before it merged with San Francisco-based Free Standards Group to form The Linux Foundation. (I interviewed him a few years ago for a story about Portland becoming Linuxtown.)

Cohen left with an A-list of supporters, judging from today's press release. Among those lauding CSI are open-source uber lawyer Eben Moglen, Apache co-founder Brian Behlendorf, Novell boss Ron Hovsepian and IBM open source czar Dan Frye.

A sample quote, from Frye:

CSI represents the next round of innovation for open development and will be the catalyst for bringing customers together to tackle shared IT challenges.


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April 16, 2007 11:37 AM

DoubleClick deal boosts aQuantive, acQuisition likely?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google's staggering $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick turned investors attention to the Seattle digital advertising agency, boosting AQNT shares 13 percent to $32.25 earlier today.

A handful of analysts upgraded aQuantive today and several speculated the company will be acquired, now that DoubleClick is off the market.

I wonder if Microsoft is already exploring a crosstown deal. I heard that Steve Ballmer was the featured speaker at aQuantive's annual client shindig, held in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, so they've had plenty of chances to get the conversation going.

On the other hand, buying a DoubleClick competitor would undercut Microsoft's antitrust complaints about the Google deal. If Microsoft is interested in aQuantive, wouldn't it wait a month or so until the feds decide whether to do anything about DoubleClick?

CIBC analyst Paul Keung said aQuantive will benefit whether or not it's acquired, as its Atlas division picks up clients leaving DoubleClick, the AP reported.

Keung advised clients that the deal puts Atlas "into a critical role for MSN, Yahoo! and any player seeking to meaningfully compete against "GoogleClick" as a leading online ad service provider."

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April 9, 2007 9:46 AM

A short break

Posted by Brier Dudley

Time to recharge the batteries and enjoy spring. I'll be back next Monday.

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April 5, 2007 11:20 AM

Zillow gets Googley, Google hits back

Posted by Brier Dudley

Yesterday, Zillow added a Googleish ad system and new tools for real estate agents to upload information. It also moved into local information and business listings, an area the big search companies are pushing hard.

Today, Google's official blog pointed out that it has free tools for real estate agents to upload listing information and make them searchable on its site.

Zillow's still just a pipsqueak compared to Google, but the search giant seems to be watching the Seattle startup. It's blog entry even mentioned Seattle real estate.

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April 5, 2007 10:39 AM

Google vs. Microsoft maps

Posted by Brier Dudley

I don't want to rag on Microsoft all day.

I'm actually feeling kind of sorry for the folks in Redmond, after seeing the reception Google Maps is getting for a new sharing/mashup feature launched last night.

Google Maps new features look great, but they're playing catch-up to Microsoft's Live Maps, which has long let people create and share a collection of map locations.

Microsoft announced a sparkly new upgrade of Live Maps on Tuesday and nobody seemed to notice. You'd think the cool kids in the Valley would have at least talked about the addition of Firefox support of Live Maps' superior 3D mapping or the ability to use RSS to subscribe to a map collection.

Coolest of all is a feature that lets you drag a cursor around any place on the globe and have Live Maps calculate the area. With a few clicks you get an estimate of the size of your lot, your city or Zimbabwe.

More developer tools are still being developed and will be released in about two weeks.

Microsoft also has another great, non-techie tool for embedding maps into blogs. Its LiveWriter blog composition tool sets the standard plugging in a map with ease.

But Google's got the mojo nowadays, so it's new map services are being heralded as the great revolution. Om Malik noted right away that Microsoft's had similar collections, but Live Maps isn't getting much mention in today's coverage - even PC World didn't say anything about Microsoft's similar features.

This doesn't really matter for average folks. They're benefiting from the Microsoft-Google feature race, regardless of which company gets the better P.R. Still, it's got to be frustrating for the Live Maps team.

(I wonder, though, if Microsoft's getting dissed because people don't like the funny pushpin that Live Maps uses to pinpoint locations. Google also has a weird looking pointer - did they get it from Ikea? - but Live's pin seems to obscure more of the map. How about a semi-transparent 3D pushpin instead?)

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April 5, 2007 10:33 AM

Mini-Microsoft: 2007 is a turning point

Posted by Brier Dudley

In a particularly thoughtful post last night, Mini explained why he hasn't left.

But he also said that he's among the senior software talent that can't take the flat stock too much longer:

"I can tell you this: I, like a lot of senior Microsofties, can't imagine staying for another year of flat stock growth. I'll have to be developing the bestest, funnest software in the world to live through another year of watching a stock price that meanders around like a fat, gassy contented cow from Carnation. I see this next year as the loyalty tipping point for Microsofties who have held on this long, hoping beyond hope for the shares to finally perform. If that doesn't happen, the office spacing problem around large of chunks of Microsoft will start to ease up without new buildings opening. And be wary of those who do stay, because you'll have to ask why."

That last bit about the office space is particularly timely, given the Bellevue announcement today. It amplifies my previous post about Microsoft opting to lease versus buy -- maybe the company's waiting to see how things go in 2007 before building.

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April 5, 2007 9:39 AM

Microsoft's Bellevue expansion: The key question

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft is announcing today that it will expand its presence in Bellevue, apparently by leasing additional space from developer Schnitzer Northwest.

That's nice for Bellevue, but I wonder if that means Microsoft will cut back on its expansion plans in Redmond. (See the updates below).

Leasing space in Bellevue is less of a long-term commitment to the region than adding new buildings to the headquarters campus.

It's also less newsworthy if the company is merely leasing another block of space. The company already leases chunks of buildings all over the place and shifts them around as space needs change. That's why it's a bigger deal for the region and its future growth when the company buys or builds more space of its own.

The lease plan could also signal that Microsoft is taking steps to appease Wall Street, which is furious that the stock hasn't had the expected Vista pop. Investors have been focusing on the spending plans of Google. Could Microsoft be tapering back expenses?

Maybe Microsoft's opting to lease, instead of build, so it can devote its resources to data centers and other artillery needed in the war on Google.

Or maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree and they'll announce something completely different this morning.

As for the Bellevue plan, I wonder if they'll be talking about the offices of the SMB group, the former Great Plains/Navision unit that's now called Small and Midmarket Solutions.

I met with VPs in the group a few weeks ago and they were already talking about their offices in Bellevue.

Bottom line: Let's see if they're talking about new Microsoft growth, or merely shifting things around and changing previously announced expansion plans. Issaquah can tell you how that feels.

UPDATE: The company said the Bellevue space is in addition to the construction in Redmond. We'll have more details on what's happening with headcount later, but here's Ben's first take.

UPDATE 2: Okay, I have clarification. The Bellevue leases will create enough room to accomodate an additional 4,000 employees. That's in addition to the Redmond project, which is creating space for up to 12,000 more employees.

Altogether the projects are creating additional space that could accommodate 16,000 employees by 2009. However, that does not mean the company is planning to add that many more employees, spokesman Lou Gellos said.

"That is not new hires,'' he said. "It's a combination of planning for what new hires come and more importantly relieving some of the space crunch.''

That means occupants of those new offices will include employees who are now doubled up - even tripled up - at Microsoft's current facilities.

Microsoft will simultaneously cut back on other leases it has in the area and consolidate at the Schnitzer buildings.

So it's nice for Bellevue, nice for employees getting new digs and especially nice for Schnitzer.

But I'm still a little concerned that Microsoft's preparing for the next wave of growth with leases instead of buildings. Maybe it's for accounting purposes, but leases aren't as permanent.

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April 4, 2007 3:01 PM

Microsoft changes its tune on Vista Capable PCs

Posted by Brier Dudley

Did the class action lawsuit -- or anticipation of a lawsuit -- prompt Microsoft to clarify what it means when it says a PC is "Vista Capable"?

Check out how Microsoft's language has changed.

It was pretty weasely when the Vista Capable program was announced in May. I've highlighted weasel words in this excerpt from the press release:

To help customers make informed decisions when buying new PCs, Microsoft today announced the availability of Windows Vista Capable PCs and the forthcoming availability of Windows Vista Premium Ready PCs. Through the Windows Vista Capable program, Windows XP-based PCs that are powerful enough to run Windows Vista are now available from leading PC manufacturers worldwide, including Acer Inc., Dell Inc., Fujitsu Limited, Gateway Inc., HP, Lenovo, NEC Corp., Sony Corp., Toshiba and more. The Windows Vista Capable logo is designed to assure customers that the PCs they buy today will be ready for an upgrade to Windows Vista and can run the core experiences of Windows Vista.

Microsoft also is working with PC manufactures to introduce Windows Vista Premium Ready PCs. Windows Vista Capable PCs can earn the Premium Ready designation by meeting or exceeding the requirements outlined below. A Premium Ready designation ensures that the PC will deliver even better Windows Vista experiences, including Windows Aero™, a new user experience designed to deliver a productive, high-performing desktop interface. Microsoft recommends that customers seeking the best experiences with Windows Vista ask for PCs that are Premium Ready or choose PCs that meet or exceed the Premium Ready requirements.

Here's how the company's explaining Vista Capable today. Apparently the lawyers are editing the marketing stuff -- I've highlighted the apparent defense Microsoft will use in the lawsuit:

A new PC running Windows XP that carries the Windows Vista Capable PC logo can run Windows Vista. All editions of Windows Vista will deliver core experiences such as innovations in organizing and finding information, security, and reliability. All Windows Vista Capable PCs will run these core experiences at a minimum. Some features available in the premium editions of Windows Vista -- like the new Windows Aero user experience -- may require advanced or additional hardware.

It's too bad it took a lawsuit or the expectation of one for Microsoft to be straightforward about Vista Capable. What will consumers now think of the other Windows logo programs? A lot will think those stickers mean "Vista Capable -- Maybe."

The lawsuit should also push PC makers and retailers to do a better job explaining what they're selling to customers. Sure Microsoft set the specs for Vista Capable, but vendors should be able to explain their products and not use Microsoft stickers to move cheap, underpowered PCs.

But this particular suit is a little wacky. It never describes what exactly happened with the lead plaintiff, Dianne Kelley. Was she able to run Vista Premium on her PC? Was she disappointed in the experience?

Did she try returning the machine to the store? Did she end up switching to a Mac?

Even odder are the citations. The suit mentions a Bill Gates appearance on the Today Show and a Vista team blog entry posted in October.

The lawsuit also refers to several articles about Vista that were published in the smaller of Seattle's two daily newspapers. If Kelley was relying on that news outlet, that might have exacerbated her difficulties. The larger paper warned its readers several times since May that the Vista Capable labels can be misleading.

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April 4, 2007 9:31 AM

Zillow gets interactive

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's the essence of the Home Q&A feature the company is unveiling today. I alluded to the upcoming changes in Monday's column on Zillow's attitude toward the softening real estate market.

Chief Executive Rich Barton described the feature as the tip of the iceberg and he's so right - there's a lot more happening here than a neighborhood discussion forum.

The top line is that people can pose and answer questions about homes and neighborhoods, providing a resource to home buyers, but it seems like this is really about building a sticky community site.

To participate in the discussions, users have to register and create profiles. Most of the profiles and discussions are likely to involve people actively selling homes or in the business.

Just as significant to the company, Zillow's busting a move into Google-style, self-serve, locally targeted box ads. These will run down the side of the page and probably be used mostly by realty firms, mortgage brokers and building service providers. The company will also continue to run larger, higher- cost ads.

I'm guessing the ads, profiles and discussion forums could thaw the chilly relationship the real estate industry has with Zillow. Most of the new features unveiled today can be seen as tools that agents could use to promote their listings and engage with potential buyers.

But Zillow and others Web companies are still changing the game by giving buyers better tools to find and research properties and neighborhoods. Zillow's also giving homeowners the ability to directly "list" their homes by tagging them as for sale, whether or not they're working with agents and the trade's Multiple Listing Service.

The ones who ought to get their hackles up now are newspaper publishers. Not only is Zillow trying to become a source of really local news and information, the EZ Ads are going after one of newspapers' last strongholds in classified advertising.

Papers are expanding online ad opportunities as well, and a coalition of large publishers is now running one of the top online real estate sites, HomeGain.com. Yet Zillow's engineering and design talent really shows on the "EZ Ads" ad placement console the company is unveiling today.

Barton and Zillow President Lloyd Frink briefed me on the new features.

One of my questions was whether Zillow would end up getting subpoenas, if someone takes issue with a home seller's disclosure report and sees that additional information has been disclosed in Zillow's Q&As. Barton said that's not a concern:

"This doesn't affect that process because those disclosures are being made in the normal real estate process ... there are professionals involved in those things. This is kind of additive information."

Opening up the site to community input may also help Zillow address one of its weak spots, the accuracy and credibility of its cornerstone Zestimate property valuations. The responsibility for providing accurate details of a home is now spread between Zillow, homeowners, listing agents and "the community."

On one hand that will give a richer picture than the Zestimates' blend of algorithms and public records. But I wonder if there's a risk that Zestimates - the site's secret sauce - will be overpowered by the discussions and user inputs. They may do a great job with forums, ads and a niche social network focused on real estate, but those thing aren't unique.

Barton said there are still more opportunities for Zillow to bring online the offline real estate experience:

"There's a pinata and it's full of great candy. We're taking swings at that pinata. We've kind of hit the leg a little bit and a couple pieces of candy have dropped out, but we think there are a lot of interesting swings that we can take to break open, expose, all of this information, all of these conversations."

The company raised $57 million and doesn't need more at this point, Barton said. It employs 135, mostly engineers, and is adding about 15 to 20 positions.

What will Zillow look like in five years? Barton's answer:

"Our bet is this really vibrant bazaar - it's a place where everybody who is interested in homes and real estate can come to get really smart and get their questions answered - it's just a community, a forum."

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April 3, 2007 5:49 PM

Simonyi in Space: NASA's live feed in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

The public is invited to watch NASA's live feed of Charles Simonyi's spaceflight launch, at an event Saturday at the Museum of Flight.

Bonnie Dunbar, the museum president and a former astronaut, will provide commentary before and after the launch.

Dunbar's welcoming speech begins at 10 a.m., the NASA feed begins at 10:25 and the launch takes place at 10:31.

It will probably be a media circus, but it's a lot closer than Kazakhstan, where the launch is taking place.

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April 3, 2007 5:40 PM

UW women receive Google grants

Posted by Brier Dudley

UW student Martha Allen Mercaldi was one of 20 undergraduates who won a $10,000 Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship.

Winners were announced today, along with finalists who will receive $1,000 apiece. Among the finalists was UW's Bao Nguyen Nguyen.

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April 3, 2007 4:00 PM

Product name of the week: Apps on a Plane

Posted by Brier Dudley

Eeek! I'm not making that one up. It's the name of a new application that Renton-based Etelos plans to launch in a few weeks.

Apps on a Plane lets users run Web applications offline in situations like during a plane ride. The application runs locally, working off a database on their PC, then synchronizes with the main database when an Internet connection is restored.

It lets any Web application run offline, not just Etelos Web applications, spokesman Eric Berto told me via email. (He also mentioned that it's new Etelos CRM for Google application will be out of beta soon.)

Apps on a Plane will make its public appearance at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco later this month.

Can they afford to have Samuel L. Jackson at the launch?

The other parallel with Jackson's movie: Apps on a Plane could be a flash in the pan - or at least need a new name - if airlines really are close to rolling out WiFi in the sky.

UPDATE: Berto called to clarify two things: Apps on a Plane uses a "personal edition of Etelos Application Server" and Apps on a Plane is just a "test name."

For the final name, how about Apps of Glory?


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April 3, 2007 3:28 PM

Adobe taps multicores, ready for OctoMacs

Posted by Brier Dudley

Finally, mainstream applications are starting to really take advantage of multicore processors to speed things up.

Adobe's Bob Donlon explained in a blog entry how the company's doing this with its new (Seattle-born) After Effects CS3, and drops a little hint about the next high-end Macs:

"If you've got a multiprocessor and/or multi-core system, After Effects farms out each frame of your comp to each processor, so it can RAM Preview and Render multiple frames simultaneously. You will need 512MB RAM for each process, since After Effects will actually launch background processes to run on your multiple processors, but as long as you've got enough RAM you can render 2 frames at a time on a 2-core system, 4 at time on a dual/dual , 8 at a time on some of the new high end Windows machines (and the 8-core Macs that we expect to see any day now)."

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April 3, 2007 11:59 AM

Advice for dealing with VCs

Posted by Brier Dudley

Dave Winer called out some cautionary rules for enterpreneurs to consider when dealing with venture capitalists posted by Rick Segal, a former Microsoftie turned Canadian VC.

He said basically that VCs should be more upfront about their intentions and entrepreneurs should hold their cards closer.

Winer add his own advice from the entrepreneur side:

"Even after you get an offer from a VC, very carefully find out if their vision of the company agrees with yours. If it doesn't, there's a pretty good chance you're either going to end up working for the wrong company (the one that agrees with the VC's vision) or out on the street looking for a job, with your idea tied up in a company whose vision you don't agree with."

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April 3, 2007 11:44 AM

Phew! Blogs' meteoric growth rate finally slowing

Posted by Brier Dudley

No wonder productivity is tapering off -- people are spending all their time trying to keep up with blogs.

Blogs are continuing to grow exponentially, but at a slower rate, according to a report that blog ranking and search service Technorati will release tomorrow. They offered one intriguing nugget in a news release today:

From Q2 2004 through Q2 2006 the Blogosphere (total Blogs tracked) doubled every 5-7 months (150-220 days). While the growth rate of the Blogosphere remains strong, the overall doubling rate has now extended to over 320 days by March 2007.

What I want to know is how long the doubling will continue. It can't go on forever, unless we start calling everything a blog.

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April 3, 2007 11:28 AM

Privacy, identity theft and public records

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's the subject of a great-sounding public forum featuring elected officials and others that the Washington Coalition for Open Government is holding Monday evening in Tacoma.

Jerry Handfield, the state archivist and WCOG president, will make a presentation he's calling "Mythbusters, Identity Theft and Online Public Records."

A panel discussion will involve State Auditor Brian Sonntag, state representative turned Microsoft employee Toby Nixon, Pierce County Deputy Prosecutor Bertha Fitzer, Davis Wright Tremaine partner Michele Earl-Hubbard and Tacoma News Tribune investigative reporter Sean Robinson.

The event is co-sponsored by the regional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and hosted by the TNT. It's from 7-9 p.m. in the auditorium at the paper's building at 1950 S. State St.

If the speeches get boring, check out the enormous Chihuly installation in the lobby.

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April 2, 2007 2:20 PM

As geeky as it gets: Google server wallpaper

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google is letting people download free pictures of some custom painted "Mini" servers to use as wallpaper on mobile phones.

Free While Supplies Last! (That's really what the site says.)

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April 2, 2007 1:05 PM

Is Oracle keeping Yahoo! and Microsoft apart?

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wonder if the real reason Microsoft and Yahoo! have been unable to pull off a merger is because it would complicate things at home for Yahoo! Chief Executive Terry Semel.

Semel has become neighbors with Oracle founder and Microsoft nemesis Larry Ellison, who is buying up land in Semel's exclusive Malibu neighborhood, according to a great gossip piece in the NYT.

Among the tidbits: Ellison may be developing a spot in the neighborhood for a Nobu outpost with an indoor tidepool.

If Semel hooked up with Microsoft, he'd probably always get stuck at a table by the restrooms.

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April 2, 2007 11:55 AM

Extreme news from Yahoo! - the future of media?

Posted by Brier Dudley

First online news sites went after traditional news. Now they're squaring off against the alternative press (and MTV).

Check out Underground, a new channel just launched by Yahoo! News.

It has news content - including a prominent list of offbeat stories - but it's more like a mashup of Yahoo products presented in a social networking format with edgy graphics, tons of links and interactivity features. (It also takes the company's punctuation fetish! to extreme levels.)

It's what you get when a creative media company culls the most compelling features of top online destinations, assembles them in a catchy package targeting an ad-friendly demographic, then serves up a blend of community input and original, professional content.

For content, Underground revisits the roaming journalist thing that Yahoo tried two years ago with war correspondent Kevin Sites.

This time the talent's Brad Miskell, a funkster exploring fringe culture and composing original music to go with his stories.

I think it's great the company's investing in content, instead of trying to get free content from users or scrape items from other sites. But I wonder how long Miskell or any one personality will keep people coming back, especially the fickle 14- to 28-year-olds they seem to be aiming for with Underground.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's MSNBC.com is trying to kick it up with its first branding campaign since the site launched in 1996.

The campaign includes print, online and TV ads highlighting its new tagline, "A Fuller Spectrum of News."

It's definitely going after a different audience than Underground.

As part of the marketing push, MSNBC.com is giving away a screensaver that displays headlines delivered by RSS.

It also hired Canadian marketing and game development firm Fuel Industries to create an online game called "NewsBreaker" that will also be played live with audiences in movie theaters in May and June in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and White Plains, NY.

"The goal of the game, launching on April 13, is to accumulate points and knowledge by capturing headlines broken out of the MSNBC.com spectrum of stories,'' the release said.

The game might turn out to be cheesy and who knows what will happen with Underground, but why doesn't the newspaper industry try things like that?

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April 2, 2007 10:59 AM

Zillow founder's Bill Gates story

Posted by Brier Dudley

I didn't have room in today's column on Zillow's outlook to include an Old Seattle/Bill Gates anecdote shared by Lloyd Frink, Zillow's co-founder and president.

Frink, like Gates, fell for programming as a kid and went to Lakeside.

Their mothers also happened to be friends, so Frink ended up meeting Gates at one of Lakeside's annual auction fundraisers. Gates was impressed enough to hire the 13-year-old as an intern in 1979.

"So I took the bus from Madison Park to downtown Seattle, (then) all the way over to Bellevue a couple of times a week,'' Frink recalled

He also worked there during his summer vacations for 10 years, each time coming back to find Microsoft had grown "twice as big as the year before."

After graduating from Stanford, Frink joined Microsoft in 1988 and then in 1994 joined the initial team that built Expedia, along with Rich Barton, the other founder of Zillow and the company's chairman and chief executive.

P.S. For the sake of transparency, I should add that Zillow briefed me on upcoming features. I alluded to those in the column without being specific.

The company showed the new stuff to me and separately to other reporters on condition we hold it until the formal announcement is made. This is routine practice. Companies say it's intended to give everyone a chance for individual briefings and the ability to publish their stories at the same time. (Yet these schedules are often set to create a news pop or accommodate a particular publication, pundit or event ...).

I was upfront with them and said I was planning to write about the company today regardless of the embargo, so we split the interview between a general discussion and a review of the new stuff. Stay tuned for the rest.

P.S.: Zillow spokesman Amy Bohutinsky noted that the 4 million visitors in February data point came from the company's internal tracking, and the Hitwise data gave relative market share.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.