advertising
Link to jump to start of content The Seattle Times Company Jobs Autos Homes Rentals NWsource Classifieds seattletimes.com
The Seattle Times Business & Technology
Traffic | Weather | Your account Movies | Restaurants | Today's events

News, analysis and perspectives from the
technology team at The Seattle Times.
Have a news tip? Follow the links below to e-mail us.

All blogs and discussions:

Go

December 17, 2007

Microsoft gets new eggs...

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:05 PM

... in its cafeterias.

The Humane Society of the United States today pointed out a decision by Compass Group, which describes itself as the "world's leading food-service company with annual revenues of $19.5 billion," to use only eggs from cage-free chickens.

Compass Group named Microsoft as one of its example clients in a press release issued today.

The cage-free egg policy will be phased in during the next three months. Some 48 million eggs will be affected each year.

Compass' decision won praise from the Humane Society.

"It gives farm animals reason for hope this holiday season that one of the worst factory farming abuses is on its way out," Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society, said in the release.

Compass is careful to note that cage-free and cruelty free are not the same thing:

"[C]age-free hens generally have 250-300 percent more space per bird and are able to engage in more of their natural behaviors than are caged hens. Cage-free hens may not be able to go outside, but they are able to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests -- all behaviors permanently denied to hens confined in battery cages."

The gift that keeps giving

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:19 AM

Microsoft raised a record $72 million in its employee giving campaign this year, and natural disasters both near and far have prompted an outpouring of generosity recently.

New non-profits have taken their appeals online in innovative ways through sites such as Kiva.org and GlobalGiving. I wrote a story about them here. And Carol Pucci actually went to visit the people she loaned money to here.

But since we're counting down to the week before Christmas, avoiding the retail hordes might be a more compelling reason to explore philanthropy through the Internet.

The Case Foundation started a program called America's Giving Challenge that lets people campaign online for the charity of their choice. The top 100 non-profits get $1,000 and the top eight get $50,000.

Washington Cash uses the microfinance model to help small business in the state.

DonorsChoose lets people support a classroom project.

ModestNeeds helps people with basic things like rent or bills.

Prosper gives people in the U.S. a way get small loans or lend money to others.

If you've heard of any other new and interesting ways to give online, let us know.


Will Microsoft bid for its name in Portugal?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:52 AM

Apparently only one company has the right to call itself Microsoft in Portugal, and it's not the software giant based over in Redmond. According to this Reuters story, Microsoft Lda. began operating in Portugal in 1981, while the bigger Microsoft didn't open up shop there until 1990. It was forced to call itself MSFT, which is Microsoft's ticker symbol.

Microsoft Lda. intends to put its name and business up for auction on eBay starting Wednesday. The starting price is $1 million.

So will MSFT bid? The company did not comment for the Reuters story, which quoted the Portugese Microsoft Lda. CEO saying:

"MSFT has said it was interested in our brand name but needed more time to discuss the matter. We have held talks with them in the past and didn't want to wait for them anymore."
December 14, 2007

Big BizWeek cover story zooms in on Google, UW grad

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 5:12 PM

BusinessWeek is focusing again on Google and its cloud computing efforts this week. An interesting read, some of which will be familiar to folks around here. The story kicks off with an anecdote about thinking big at Google -- what if you had 1,000 times more data? -- and a University of Washington grad's efforts to help would-be job applicants do just that.

Google engineer Christophe Bisciglia, a Gig Harbor kid who earned a computer science degree at the UW in 2003 and is featured on BusinessWeek's cover, launched a pilot course at his alma matter in large-scale computing. It started as an educational effort but has turned into much more. From the article:

"Call it Google 101. [CEO Eric] Schmidt liked the plan. Over the following months, Bisciglia's Google 101 would evolve and grow. It would eventually lead to an ambitious partnership with IBM, announced in October, to plug universities around the world into Google-like computing clouds.

"As this concept spreads, it promises to expand Google's footprint in industry far beyond search, media, and advertising, leading the giant into scientific research and perhaps into new businesses. In the process Google could become, in a sense, the world's primary computer.

"'I had originally thought [Bisciglia] was going to work on education, which was fine,' Schmidt says late one recent afternoon at Google headquarters. 'Nine months later, he comes out with this new [cloud] strategy, which was completely unexpected.' The idea, as it developed, was to deliver to students, researchers, and entrepreneurs the immense power of Google-style computing, either via Google's machines or others offering the same service."

The coverage goes on to explore cloud computing at Google as well as competitors Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon. It also includes a nice nod to UW man-about-technology Ed Lazowska (formal title: Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering) who is described in the article as Bisciglia's mentor.

Microsoft explains PlaysForSure's demise

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:56 PM

Several bloggers, analysts and journalists have weighed in on Microsoft's decision to pull the plug on PlaysForSure, a program dating to 2004 meant to assure purchasers of digital media players that their new hardware would work with music and videos on Microsoft's Windows Media Player software and digital rights management (DRM).

The general opinion has been that the rebranding to "Certified for Windows Vista," quietly communicated to the public on Wednesday when this Web site was updated, is confusing.

Rob Pegoraro, blogging at The Washington Post, listed some points of confusion:

1) I'm not aware of any PlaysForSure devices that don't also work in Windows XP.

2) The Zune -- which can't play PlaysForSure content -- advertises its Vista support.

3) Some PlaysForSure devices, such as Creative's Zen Micro, can only work in Vista after non-trivial tinkering.

4) The new slogan says nothing about the core selling point of PlaysForSure: That you can buy or rent a song at one store and listen to it on dozens of different devices. (We'll leave out, for now, the occasionally problematic implementation of this goal.)

The move was also viewed as predictable (inevitable?) given that Microsoft, with its Zune media player, has plunged head-first into the closed-system model that Apple employed to competition-crushing success with the iPod and iTunes.

Microsoft product manager Ryan Moore of the Windows Ecosystem team, just chimed in with a reply and explanation of the decision.

"[T]he PlaysForSure technical requirements are now included in the Certified for Windows Vista logo program. Microsoft continues to work closely with its partners to provide a comprehensive platform for testing and certifying hardware and is streamlining the naming of the programs to simplify the logo process."

Moore gave other background on the specification, noting that it "required performance on items like sync time, album art, and playback. One of the requirements was also that it be able to play tracks that are encoded with Windows Media DRM, as many online music stores sell their tracks 'wrapped' in this format."

He continued, "When Windows Vista became available, we launched a program called Certified for Windows Vista, which is designed to give consumers confidence that their hardware devices, such as printers, Webcams, and digital cameras worked exceptionally well with Windows Vista. In order to consolidate logo programs so that consumers just need to look for one logo when shopping for hardware, including media devices, we rolled the specifications of Plays For Sure into the Certified for Windows Vista program and are retiring the Plays for Sure logo. Our hardware partners have been aware of these plans for some time and are supportive of this move."

Wii shortage benefits North Bend; Wii 'rain checks' under the tree

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 8:29 AM

Fresh off of the report of his company's blow-out performance in November, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime held a conference call with reporters and analysts this morning to crow a bit and offer an update on manufacturing and distribution of the best-selling Wii.

"We expected Wii to perform extremely well within the historic launch parameters of the video game industry," he said. "What we didn't expect was to write an entirely new chapter in that history and to do that so fast."

The 6 million units Nintendo has sold in the U.S. since the Wii was launched in November 2006 is "unheard of in our industry," Fils-Aime said.

Nintendo has maxed out its production at 1.8 million a month. That's the limit because of supplier capacity, Fils-Aime said. The North American market received about half of that capacity in November with the remainder going to Europe and Japan.

To make sure the units coming into the United States get to retailers as quickly as possible, Nintendo has tripled its work force at its North Bend distribution facility, Fils-Aime said. (This summer, Nintendo reported about 1,000 employees in Washington state, though the company didn't break out how many were at North Bend.)

Fils-Aime said Nintendo is trying to "alleviate frustration" among shoppers who have not been able to find a Wii. He also discouraged people from paying resellers more than the full price of $250.

For parents who want "something to put under the tree," Nintendo is launching a rain check program with retailer GameStop. On Dec. 20 and 21, shoppers can pay up-front for a Wii and get a certificate guaranteeing them a console some time in January. Fils-Aime said there are "tens of thousands" of these rain checks that will be available across GameStop's roughly 3,000 locations.

He also said Nintendo expects sales to continue at pace after the first of the year.

"We have no date targeted for when our production no might change, either up or down" from 1.8 million units a month, Fils-Aime said.

Hotly anticipated new accessories, including a wireless wheel for driving games and a balance board for a new fitness program, are due out early next year -- maybe in time for those New Year's resolutions.

Zumobi zooms beta to the public

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:01 AM

Zumobi, which is developing a highly interactive user interface for the mobile phone, is releasing its beta to the public today.

The company, formerly known as Zenzui, has created an interface that is a combination of widgets and visuals to help people navigate a lot of information by zooming in and out to see more or fewer details. The application addresses the inherent difficulties of searching and navigating the Web on the mobile phone.

Zumobi can now be downloaded free on the the company's site.

The user chooses a number of "tiles," which widgets of sorts. Web sites and media companies will have to create those tiles specifically for Zumobi.

It sounds like the company is off to a great start with a pretty impressive list of launch partners, including Amazon.com, MTV Networks, The Associated Press, AccuWeather.com, Traffic.com, FlightStats.com, Vail Resorts and Fox Television's "Family Guy."

The beta is available for phones running Windows Mobile 5 and 6. In the second quarter, a version will become available for BlackBerry and selected Java-compatible phones. The application requires a data plan, and an unlimited all-you-can-eat plan is strongly recommended.

The company has a video explaining the service here.

December 13, 2007

Another McCaw funded company surfaces

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:50 PM

S5 Wireless, a Utah company, is looking to bring a GPS-like device to market that would allow kids, pets, packages and other items to be tracked by small, cheap chips that can be powered by a single battery for up two years and tracked indoors and outside over long distances.

An AP story discusses how the device could be a lot more practical than GPS, which can be bulky and a battery drain. It also typically only receives a signal outdoors.

Billionaire Craig McCaw, Clearwire's chairman, is S5's majority investor.

I tried to figure out if there could be any overlaps with what Clearwire is doing. At the minimum, it sounds like they can use the same cell towers.

The AP reported that S5 plans to use existing cellphone towers and antennas. S5 will need at least three towers within the range of the device's signal in order to pinpoint its location.

The company plans to cover "several" major cities next year and 35 cities within three years. Clearwire is in about 40 cities right now.

S5 plans to use free, unlicensed spectrum in the 900 megahertz band, which is shared by cordless phones.

Nintendo outsells all comers in November

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:31 PM

NPD Group just released its November video game sales figures and it was a whopper of a month. U.S. video game industry sales came in at $2.63 billion in November, up 52 percent from a year earlier.

In the hardware race, Nintendo's products were the clear leaders. The Wii console sold 981,000 units in the U.S. and demand is still unfulfilled.

"The Wii had its best-selling month yet, besting last December by 60 percent," NPD video games analyst Anita Frazier said in comments released with the November stats. "Since there is still an evident inventory shortage at retail, it's difficult to say just how high sales could be if you took that issue out of the equation."

Microsoft's Xbox 360 also had a hot-selling month, its second-best since December 2006, according to Frazier, with 776,000 units sold.

The previous-generation Sony PlayStation 2 outsold the current-gen PlayStation 3 by 30,000 units: 496,000 PS2s were sold, compared with 466,000 PS3s.

In the portable category, which Nintendo's PR people have been urging reporters to take a closer look at, the Nintendo DS sold 1.53 million units. Sony's portable, the PSP, sold about a third as many units.

On the games front, the leader was "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare." A total of 2.01 million copies were sold. More than three-quarters of the titles were purchased for the Xbox 360 with the remainder going to PS3 owners. The No. 2 game was "Super Mario Galaxy" for the Wii, with 1.12 million units. "Assassin's Creed" made a strong debut, selling 1.36 million copies -- again, split about three-quarters to one-quarter in favor of the Xbox 360. (NPD ranks software sales by platform, so even though "Creed" moved more total copies, it didn't take the No. 2 spot from "Mario" because it was split across two platforms.)

Frazier noted that "Assassin's Creed" was the "best-selling new IP" -- meaning not a sequel -- in the month it was launched. "Gears of War" last owned that distinction.

There was plenty of coverage during the month of two more peaceful titles thought to appeal to a broader audience: MTV's new "Rock Band" and the established "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" from Activision. The latter title sold 967,000 copies -- on the PS2 -- plus 426,000 on the Wii and about 500,000 more on the other platforms (PS3 and Xbox 360) for a total of 1.9 million.

As for "Rock Band," Frazier said in her e-mailed comments that its 382,000 total sales may be viewed as disappointing, but initial shipments were limited. "This is the kind of title that can easily build momentum in December and beyond as word of mouth spreads," she added.

NPD offered an interesting subtext in this month's report. Microsoft has touted its strong game and accessories attach rate -- the average number of games and add-on hardware products sold per console. But the Wii had a stellar month for accessory sales. "Four of the five best-selling accessories for the month were Wii controllers," Frazier said. "The Wii Zapper, which debuted in November, sold 232,000 units. The second-best selling accessory for the month was the PS3 wireless controller at 282,000 units."

Sharebuilder's Jeff Seely moves to Jobster

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:34 PM

A spokesperson at Jobster said today Jeff Seely will replace Jason Goldberg, the company's founder, as chief executive.

Seely was the CEO at Sharebuilder until last month when the Bellevue online brokerage was purchased by ING Direct. At the time, Seely said that he planned to look for new opportunities.

The transition will take place Jan. 7.

Jobster's board has been hunting for a new top executive at the recruiting company. Goldberg will become vice chairman of the board.

Year in preview: Mobile, video ads to grow big in 2008

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:54 PM

The Interactive Advertising Bureau and American Association of Advertising Agencies shared some choice predictions for 2008 in their SmartBrief e-mail today.

What sector of online advertising will show the greatest growth in 2008?

Display -- 23%
Search -- 16%
Video -- 45%
Mobile -- 18%

Where is your interactive marketing budget headed in 2008?

Our spending will go up in 2008 -- 75%
Our spending will do down in 2008 -- 11%
Our spending will stay about the same -- 7%
Don't know/Not applicable -- 7%

Which advertising platform do you expect to take off in 2008?

Smartphone/mobile device -- 36%
Social networks -- 24%
Targeted digital cable -- 22%
Product placement/brand integration -- 12%
None of the above -- 6%

Where will ad spending grow the most in 2008?

United States -- 30%
China -- 30%
India -- 22%
Russia -- 4%
None of the above -- 14%

iLike partners with Thumbplay to sell ringtones

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:56 PM

Seattle-based iLike said today that it has an exclusive relationship with Thumbplay, a mobile content company.

Through this relationship, Thumbplay's ringtones will now be featured on iLike.com and the iLike's Facebook application.

Users will see "Get ringtone" links to Thumbplay, which will sit alongside links to iTunes in song, artist, album and song pages. Similar links will be integrated into the iLike Challenge, so users can discover and purchase ringtones of songs played in the game.

Microsoft midday sewing circle

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:38 PM

Here's a look at some of the things that are making Microsoft headlines thus far today:

The Opera antitrust complaint has garnered lots of coverage. It's raising the specter of Microsoft's battles in U.S. courts and the recently resolved, mostly, clash with European Union regulators.

The news didn't trouble the market much. Microsoft's stock closed up 75 cents at $35.22. An analyst upgrade gets credit for today's boost to Microsoft shares. From The Associated Press
:


"In a Thursday client note, JP Morgan analyst Adam Holt said meetings with company executives and data from customer surveys imply the IT environment could be better than some predict in the fourth quarter and possibly in 2008 as well. Holt also expressed increasingly bullish sentiment about the company's organic growth prospects.

"Holt now expects Microsoft will report earnings of $1.82 per share in 2008, compared with an earlier estimate of $1.80 per share. He forecast profit of $2.07 per share, up from an earlier estimate of $2.05 per share."

Also of note today, Microsoft's offering in the virtualization space, Hyper-V, was released to beta testers. It will compete with VMware, one of the year's hottest tech IPOs. That company's stock lost 3.3 percent on the news. See coverage from Reuters.

What cellphone is drawing the most curiosity this holiday season?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:21 PM

And the answer is:

The LG Voyager.

That's the conclusion of a study that combed out data from the Web sites of U.S. carriers to determine which phones consumers were clicking on and reading about the most. It was compiled by Compete, a company specializing in Web analytics.

The LG Voyager is Verizon Wireless's answer to the iPhone. It was the No. 1 phone viewed in detail at the major carrier's Web sites in November, Compete said.

In second place was the T-Mobile Sidekick Slide, an evolution of the popular Sidekick phone that has a screen that slides up instead of swiveling up and around. In third place was the Samsung t629, and, shockingly, in fourth was the Apple iPhone.

The rest of the list is as follows:

5. T-Mobile Sidekick LX-Blue
6. T-Mobile Sidekick iD
7. LG Venus, Black
8. Sony Ericsson, Z310a, lush pink
9. Sony Ericsson, W580i Walkman, white
10. Pantech C150.

In a second study, Compete found the same data for the Smartphone category.
Here's the list:

1. Apple iPhone
2. Pantech Duo
3. RIM Blackberry Pearl
4. Samsung SCHi760
5. Motorola Q Global
6. Blackberry Pearl (refurbished).
7. HTC Dash
8. RIM Blackberry Curve 8310 Titanium
9. RIM Blackberry Curve, pale gold
10. AT&T 8525 (HTC), refurbished.

December 12, 2007

Nielsen top 10 in 2007 lists: Seattle is 4th among blog readers

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:12 AM

Yesterday, the Nielsen Company -- famous for its TV audience measurements -- put out a series of top 10 in 2007 lists. There are close to 30 different lists covering most-watched TV shows, DVDs, movies, etc. View them yourself (13 page PDF.) Here are some that interested me:

Among major markets, Seattle/Tacoma had the fourth highest percentage of "adults who have used the Internet to read or contribute to blogs within the past 30 days." The top market was Austin, Texas, with 15 percent of adults reading/contributing; followed by:


Portland, with 14 percent
San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, 13 percent
Seattle/Tacoma, 13 percent
Honolulu, 12 percent
San Diego, 12 percent
Dallas/Fort Worth, 12 percent
Columbus, Ohio, 11 percent
Nashville, Tenn., 11 percent
Colorado Springs/Pueblo, 11 percent.

The national average was 8 percent.

Among the most-purchased packaged consumer goods, measured by the "percent of homes who purchased each category within past year," fresh bread was the leader (97 percent), followed by refrigerated milk, toilet tissue, fresh eggs, cookies, ready-to-eat cereal, canned soup, chocolate candy, potato chips and batteries (86 percent).

The same list, if measured by sales instead of percentage of homes that purchased the category, is lead by carbonated soft drinks ($17.6 billion) and also includes cigarettes ($7.8 billion) and light beer ($5.1 billion).

With the exception of the bread, milk and eggs, it sounds a lot like the presumed shopping list of the stereotypical American gamer, including the batteries to keep the remote and wireless controllers charged up.

And what games were we playing? This list is based on "the percent of PC gamers playing title in the average minute." Nielsen also reports average minutes played per week, from April to November 2007.

No. 1, by a long shot, "World of Warcraft" with 0.792 percent of PC gamers playing in the average minute and 1,023 minutes played per week (I'm guessing that's per individual.)

Here's the rest of the list:


"The Sims," 0.177 percent, 298 minutes/week
"RuneScape," 0.147 percent, 688 minutes/week
"Halo: Combat Evolved," 0.145 percent, 451 minutes/week
"Halo 2," 0.131 percent, 466 minutes/week
"Counter-Strike," 0.114 percent, 504 minutes/week
"The Sims 2," 0.110 percent, 387 minutes/week
"Madden NFL 07," 0.103 percent, 407 minutes/week
"Grand Theft Auto," 0.084 percent, 399 minutes/week
"Counter-Strike: Source," 0.077 percent, 550 minutes/week.


Nielsen doesn't break out console titles, but it does give a list of the most-played platforms based on usage minutes, "a percent of all measured console minutes." Interesting to note that taken together, all the other consoles on the list (excluding the "other" category, which "consists of any other console systems found in the home") are used about as much as the PlayStation 2.

PlayStation 2, 42.2 percen;
Xbox, 13.9 percent
Xbox 360, 11.8 percent
GameCube, 7.1 percent
Wii, 5.5 percent
PlayStation 3, 2.5 percent
Other, 17.1 percent.

Can you save money on calls when traveling to Canada?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:09 AM

I'm going to Whistler this weekend, and a friend asked me a very good question.

Could he purchase a new SIM card in Canada and pre-pay for minutes so he isn't charged exorbitant roaming rates by his U.S. carrier?

In theory, this sounds like a great idea. As long as you have a GSM phone -- from either AT&T or T-Mobile USA -- you could do this. I hear all the time about people traveling to Europe who get a pre-paid SIM so they can have a local phone number to make calls much cheaper.

So I started looking into it.

The most viable option looked like a pre-paid phone provider called Fido.

According to its Web site, the service costs $30 for a kit that includes a SIM and then it was $10 for the cheapest phone plan. The plan seemed reasonable, as it included such features as free incoming calls for $1 a day.

Together, that means a minimum start-up cost of $40.

At that point, you have to ask yourself how many phone calls are you going to make, and whether it would be below $40 in roaming fees?

For comparison, I looked on AT&T's Web site. It said it was 79 cents a minute for calls in Canada. Text messages were 50 cents each. So that's 50 minutes of talk time or 80 text messages for $40. (Standard home rates applied for receiving text messages).

Sounds too close to call for a three-day trip to Canada. That's too bad. Getting a Canadian SIM could be an easy solution, but the barriers seem to high.

These are the kinds of things carriers could make a lot easier for the consumer. With all this talk about open access networks and letting the consumer choose their own device and network, you wonder how serious they are? They can keep the cost prohibitive for many or make things a hassle to do.

Live Search, mapping to benefit from latest Microsoft acquisition

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:34 AM

Microsoft this morning announced the purchase of Multimap, a U.K. company that describes itself as "one of the world's leading providers of online mapping and location-based services. Our company delivers more online maps, point-to-point driving directions and geo-spatial ("where's my nearest?") searches to more businesses and consumers than any other supplier in Europe."

As usual, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Multimap will operate as a subsidiary of Microsoft's Online Services Group.

In addition to linking up with a host of predictable Microsoft products (Live Search, Virtual Earth) the company sees "future integration potential for a range of other Microsoft products and platforms."

Classmates.com dropping IPO filing

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:24 AM

Classmates.com, which was hoping to cash in on the social networking phenomenon by filing for an initial public offering, said today it is stopping the effort because of unfavorable market conditions.

Classmates Media, which has offices in Renton, runs the long-standing Web sites that connect alumni in schools across the country, as well as military personnel and employees in different workplaces. Classmates is owned by Woodland Hills, Calif.-based United Online.

Although it can be argued that Classmates was very early to the social networking game, it seems it didn't fully leverage its large community of members, but acted more like a directory of students that's useful especially when it came to planning reunions.

In a release, Classmates said: "United Online has determined that proceeding with the initial public offering under current market conditions would not be in the best interests of its stockholders."

The company filed for the IPO in August, saying it wanted to raise as much as $125 million. United Online estimates that it will have to record costs related to canceling the filing of up to $5.5 million during the fourth quarter.

The question is whether Classmate's withdrawal is a sign of an unfavorable market for social networking, or if Classmates just doesn't stack up against other companies?

According to the Associated Press, users spend significantly more time on MySpace and Facebook than on Classmates.com. In fact, the average visitor spent about 8.3 minutes on Classmates.com in October, compared with 195.6 minutes on Facebook.com and 192.9 minutes on MySpace.com, according to comScore Media Metrix.

And Facebook had no problem selling 1.6 percent of its company to Microsoft for $240 million -- a figure that gives the company a market worth of $15 billion.

December 11, 2007

Pokemon USA president resigning, and did you know there's a Bellevue office?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:55 PM

When we got an e-mail informing us of the pending departure of Akira Chiba, president of "Seattle-based" Pokemon USA, we were a bit perplexed. Seattle-based? We didn't even know Pokemon USA existed, let alone had an office here.

Well, the company in charge of the ultra-popular kids entertainment brand in the United States does in fact have a 45-person Bellevue office that handles the trading-figure game, trading-card game and more product-focused stuff, said J.C. Smith, marketing director of Pokemon USA. It's not quite a headquarters, though. The "Seattle-based" descriptor was in error.

So what's Pokemon USA doing here? Being close to Nintendo is part of it -- Pokemon has been a popular title on several Nintendo platforms -- although most of that relationship is managed out of the New York headquarters, Smith said.

Anyway, the outgoing president, Chiba, "joined Pokemon USA in 2002 when the company's New York office was established, the brand's first corporate headquarters outside of Japan," according to the company's release. He's off to "to pursue other opportunities" and will be replaced by Kenji Okubo, previously executive vice president and head of Pokemon USA's Seattle office, effective Jan. 1.

Royal Dutch Shell will test algae

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 12:21 PM

For oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, the answer to the world's energy troubles may lurk in the depths of a Hawaiian pond.

The Anglo-Dutch energy company said Tuesday it is building a pilot plant in Hawaii to grow marine algae for their vegetable oil -- a prime potential source of biodiesel. Construction of the plant will begin immediately, and the company is mulling launching a simultaneous project to test algae production at a commercial scale, company officials said in a conference call with reporters. The deal is part of a venture with Hawaii-based HR Biopetroleum, with Shell taking the lead.

Some say algae is the answer to biofuels' main obstacle: they need a lot of land to make a meaningful dent in demand for fossil fuels. Algae can double their mass several times a day, says Shell, and could produce up to 15 times more oil per hectare than land-based crops such as rapeseed and soybean. They can also be grown in seawater, f rather than on valuable land that could be used to produce food. Shell's batch will be grown in open-air ponds, from strains indigenous to Hawaii or approved by the state's Department of Agriculture.

Skeptics say the technology is costly, and nobody has yet figured out how to economically grow algae. But Shell and its partners think they can pull that feat off.
"We are quite confident of achieving commercially viable production rates," said Mark Huntley, Chief Science Officer for HR Biopetroleum.

The oil industry has been somewhat ambivalent about biofuels. Oil executives oppose pending legislation that would increase the mandate for ethanol in the U.S., and don't seem eager to jump into the production of currently available biofuels or their feedstock. Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson said earlier this year that a technological leap would be necessary before the biofuels business became attractive to the world's largest publicly traded oil company.

But the algae venture furthers Shell's foray into what the industry calls "second-generation" biofuels. The company is already funding Iogen, a Canadian firm that seeks to build a commercial cellulosic ethanol plant. Other companies -- ConocoPhillips, Chevron and BP -- are funding research.

Sprint to go live with Xohm very soon

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:14 AM

Sprint is planning to launch its WiMax networks in Chicago and Baltimore-Washington, D.C., within the week, according to Telephony magazine.

Sprint officials told Telephony that the soft launch will extend only to Sprint employees and is intended to prepare the networks for a broader trial early next year. At first, they will cover the downtown cores of Chicago, Baltimore and Washington but expand rapidly into the suburbs.

The industry has been waiting for Sprint Nextel to launch its network. Last year it committed to spending billions of dollars and rolling out a nationwide WiMax network. Earlier this year, it signed a letter of intent with Kirkland-based Clearwire to share the work and the costs, but that agreement fizzled. Since then, industry analysts have questioned Sprint's commitment, and the initiative seemed to be up in the air.

Sprint's launch of its WiMax service, called Xohm, will be the first high-profile release of true mobile WiMax technology.

Clearwire, founded by Craig McCaw, is often portrayed as the leader or the largest WiMax company because it already serves about 40 markets and has thousands of customers. However, it is not using the true mobile WiMax standard.

Clearwire is using proprietary equipment, and its equipment is not truly mobile. An Internet connection can't be handed off from one tower to the next while the user is in a car or on a train.

Clearwire and a partner, Intel, has been testing mobile WiMax in Portland, and is expected to upgrade its technology in existing markets over time.

CTIA: The top stories of 2007

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:00 AM

Today CTIA -- The Wireless Association posted its top 10 news stories of 2007 on its daily Smartbrief newsletter.

Susan Rush, the lead editor of CTIA SmartBrief, wrote:

"Innovation was the name of the game when it came to wireless in 2007, whether it was new technologies and applications appearing on handsets, or new services being introduced by the carriers. Of course a 2007 roundup would not be complete without mentioning the market entry of Apple's iPhone, which is already facing competition as carriers move to satisfy consumer demand, or Verizon Wireless' decision to open up its network. Our industry also saw data services gain in popularity, with revenue skyrocketing, thanks to increases in music, Internet and video offerings."

Here are the top 10:

1. Without further ado: The iPhone (6/29)
2. Verizon Wireless embraces open access (11/28)
3. It's official: Google goes mobile (11/6)
4. Sprint considers WiMAX sale, may seek partners (12/4)
5. Verizon Wireless announces iPhone rival: Voyager (10/3)
6. FCC unveils auction rules, delays start to Jan. 24 (10/10)
7. ITC imposes ban on phones with Qualcomm chips (6/8)
8. House approves Internet tax ban extension (10/30)
9. Amp'd Mobile calls it quits (7/23)
10. New AT&T CEO looks at the future (6/5)

Do you agree? I think some other big stuff happened this year -- Nokia getting into the services and applications side of the business; T-Mobile USA launching a fixed mobile convergence product called T-Mobile HotSpot@Home.

What else?

InfoSpace extends Yahoo search agreement

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:43 AM

Bellevue-based InfoSpace said today that it has extended its multi-year agreement with Yahoo, allowing the Bellevue-based company to include Yahoo's search results as part of its metasearch technology.

InfoSpace will not only be able to continue delivering Web search results, but also text-based advertising listings from Yahoo. The technology involves the whole portfolio of InfoSpace sites, including Dogpile, WebCrawler, MetaCrawler, WebFetch.com and private-label services.

Metasearch technology means it can prioritize from various search engine's algorithm types.

This is a important win for a company that over the past year has decided to sell off its mobile properties and focus solely on its Internet search business.

In October, the company sold its mobile infrastructure business to Motricity for $135 million. In September, it sold Switchboard.com to Idearc of Dallas for $225 million in cash; and it's on track to pay out $300 million in dividends to shareholders early next year.

"Extending our partnership with Yahoo demonstrates our continued commitment to deliver the most powerful metasearch experience," said Jim Voelker, chairman and CEO of InfoSpace. "Today's consumers want to be assured they are getting the most comprehensive and relevant results, and we go a step further by bringing them together in one place."

Office 2007 SP1 released

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:36 AM

While there hasn't been much clamor for a first service pack for Office 2007, Microsoft certainly turned one out promptly. Released today, the update brings with it the following improvements, according to a Microsoft press release:

-- Full compatibility for SharePoint and other server products with Windows Server 2008.

-- Support for AJAX, "enabling developers to create custom Web Parts for their customers."

-- Manageability enhancements "to consolidate or repartition site collections across SharePoint content databases."

-- Performance enhancements, particularly with large files.

-- Improvements in performance and stability for Project 2007 and Project Server 2007.

-- Incremental security enhancements.

The full run-down of what's in SP1 is here (Word doc).

New guildlines for mobile marketing

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:32 AM

The Mobile Marketing Association has released the latest edition of its "consumer best practices guidelines for cross-carrier mobile content services in the U.S."

Although that sounds like a mouthful, at least 500 member companies follow these practices today. For example, Microsoft did so when it launched advertising on its mobile MSN.com property Monday.

Unlike with other media, mobile allows ads to be portrayed in several ways, including text messages or banner ads on mobile Web sites.

These new guidelines appear to cover the ever increasing number of techniques.
They include free-to-end-user guidelines for messaging, sweepstakes and contests, mobile Web and interactive voice response, affiliate marketing, participation TV and word-of-mouth verification.

Hard to know what some of that stuff even is, but this all comes under the heading of self-regulation. The committee that comes up with these guidelines comprises Alltel Wireless, AT&T Mobility, Bango, Chapell & Associates, denuo Group (a Publicis company), Jamster, Lavalife Mobile, mBlox, MMA, MTV Networks, MX Telecom, NeuStar, Qmobile, SinglePoint, Sprint Nextel, Sybase 365, Telescope, Teligence, The Walt Disney Company, T-Mobile USA, VeriSign, and Verizon Wireless.

The guidelines can be downloaded here.

Smilebox raises $7 million in VC

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:14 AM

Redmond-based Smilebox said today that it has raised $7 million in venture capital from Bessemer Venture Partners, and Frazier Technology Partners.

Smilebox is the modern-day Hallmark of sorts. It allows you to upload your digital photos, and then make slideshows, electronic cards, scrapbooks and other stuff.

The company's Web site has a blog link where you can see the "Smilebox of the week." The most recent entry is a slideshow of a family's trip to a pumpkin patch set to music.

The second round of funding will go toward expanding internationally, adding partners and moving Smilebox's features over to new platforms, the company said.

"Smilebox has pioneered the multimedia expressions category and established a proven business model. The service combines technology innovation with a strong focus on ease of use," said Rob Stavis at Bessemer Venture Partners.

Smilebox said in its release that more than 1.8 million users have installed the service since its launch in June 2006, and more than 1.3 million unique users worldwide access it monthly.

December 10, 2007

Another shot in food vs. fuel fight

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 5:44 PM

An unlikely alliance of Big Oil firms and environmental activists has pooh-poohed corn-based ethanol, arguing that increased demand for the fuel is to blame for water shortages and rising food prices. The debate has picked up in recent days, as Congress mulls new legislation that would increase the mandate for the alternative fuel.

But Big Ethanol is fighting back. The Renewable Fuels Foundation commissioned a report that argues that ethanol is not to blame for the rising cost of Corn Flakes and other food staples. Most of the increase in food prices is due to higher transportation and marketing costs at a time when oil has become more expensive, the report says.

Moreover, there's no statistical link between more expensive corn and more expensive milk or eggs, says the report -- which is called "definitive" by one interested party, Pacific Ethanol. The report also argues that booming global demand for foodstuffs, coupled with a weakening dollar, adds to the pressure on food prices.

'Halo 3' named Dew most-addictive game, but did others have a chance?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 4:06 PM

Microsoft sent out a news release about the Xbox 360 titles that cleaned up in Spike TV Video Game Awards last night. Clearly, a strong showing. But I'm somewhat skeptical -- maybe cynical -- about one particular category that "Halo 3" won.

First, let's recall the marketing hype and consumer-product tie-ins that proliferated around the launch of "Halo 3" in September. Mountain Dew and Microsoft served up a "Halo 3"-branded drink called Mountain Dew Game Fuel, which boasts an "invigorating blast of citrus cherry flavor and added caffeine for maximum intensity." It was billed as the first beverage co-branded with a video game.

Now comes the Video Game Category of "Most Addictive Game fueled by Mountain Dew," which Microsoft pointed out in its press release as "the only category with consumer online voting." The nominees are: "The Orange Box," from Valve; "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock," from Activision; "Wii Sports," from Nintendo; and "Halo 3," from Microsoft Game Studios.

Is it any surprise that the first video game branded paired up with a beverage would win in the category sponsored by that beverage? Or maybe this was legitimately the fan favorite for most-addictive game -- also plausible. Thoughts?

Microsoft adds banners to mobile MSN

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:20 PM

Microsoft said this morning that for the first time it is adding banner and text ads to its MSN Mobile properties in the U.S.

The ads, at mobile.msn.com, will start appearing today. After a brief look on my phone, I saw mostly Microsoft house ads, but then I found one on a sports story that asked me to take part in a survey.

For kicks, I clicked on the banner. The landing page thanked me and said my answers would not be sold or shared with anyone. I bravely continued. It asked me about 10 questions, ranging from what year I was born to my behavior on the phone and what I thought of certain banks.

The ad was clearly for one of Microsoft's three launch partners: Bank of America. The other two advertisers are Paramount Pictures and Jaguar, said Phil Holden, director of Microsoft's online services group.

Putting ads on the mobile Web is not new. In fact, a number of companies and online media brands have already been doing it for quite some time. Companies such as Third Screen Media, Medio Systems, Thumbplay and Admob are all active in the space.

For now, what Microsoft is doing is pretty limited. The ads don't take into account the user's search history, their location, or any other information. On the MSN search page, there are no relevant text links on the results page.

"That is in the pipeline, but it wasn't enabled on Monday," Holden said.

It will be launched when it's time, he added.

"Most consumers don't even know what they can do on the mobile phone today. If I talk to my friends outside of the technology space, they don't know you can get e-mail and IM on your phone. In many cases, the iPhone has helped that in terms of the hype it's gotten and awareness" he said.

The mobile ad-serving technology was created by Microsoft's Advertiser & Publisher Solutions Group and through the acquisition of ScreenTonic SA and aQuantive.

Here's a screen shot of what it will look like. Depending on your phone, the ad may appear as a text link or a banner.

msftad1.PNG

Avenue A benefits decision driven by profit-margin pressure

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:30 AM

Microsoft intends to hold Avenue A | Razorfish, the advertising agency it obtained with the aQuantive acquisition, "accountable to deliver profit margins in line with others in our industry," Avenue A President Clark Kokich told employees in an e-mail Sunday night.

He was responding to several requests for clarification from employees who learned last week that they would not be getting Microsoft benefits, as I reported Friday. One reason given last week: Avenue A is in a different industry than Microsoft and, therefore, should have a different compensation structure. Employees who read Kokich's e-mail last week weren't sure whether that would mean more or less total compensation, but many feared the worst.

Kokich's Sunday e-mail, obtained by The Seattle Times, starts to clear up that question and provides interesting insight into how the agency business is expected to operate under Microsoft's new Advertiser and Publisher Solutions group.

"Profits come from creating high value client work combined with disciplined business management. I certainly don't believe that any of our competitors can beat us on either of those two dimensions. So given that we need to deliver industry-benchmark levels of profitability, we need to think carefully when we are considering new expenses.


"If we take on the expense of Microsoft's benefits package, we'll be offering benefits in excess of those offered by our competitors. This might mean that we would have to offer less in other forms of compensation. We need to learn more before we make those kinds of trade-offs. That's why we're planning to conduct further competitive analysis and to hold a series of employee focus groups this spring. We need to get this right."

More than just a difference in benefits, moving to the Microsoft plan would have stripped some Avenue A employees of their titles -- not an insignificant change. Kokich continues:

"In addition, full integration into Microsoft's compensation program would mean that virtually all of our director, vice president, and president titles would go away. These titles are relevant not only to employees, but to our clients, prospects, and to the industry as a whole, especially when we speak at industry events, serve on panels, and pitch new business. It would also require us to adapt to Microsoft's salary and bonus structure. These changes would negatively impact our ability to compete for the best talent in the industry."

Kokich said the benefits decision was not mandated by Microsoft. "We decided this was the best course of action and Microsoft agreed. They listened well and showed a lot of flexibility -- a good sign as we go forward as an important member of the Microsoft organization."

He concludes by saying the changes will not result in a reduction in total compensation and benefits.

Although for Avenue A employees who are watching their peers in aQuantive's Atlas and DRIVEpm divisions get the full Microsoft benefits package, maybe the concern is not a reduction, but a less-substantial relative increase.

Back to normal, or at least for me

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 8:01 AM

SEATTLE -- If you tuned in this weekend, you found that I had hijacked this blog. I took off on Saturday to see the damage that the more than week-old storm did on the Washington coast.

For them, it mostly wasn't the flooding, it was the wind. Residents talked about how it started Sunday, and didn't relent until late Monday. Sustained winds averaged 60 to 80 miles an hour. Gusts went up to 120.

Everyone tried to put into words the noise that kind of wind makes. It was a roar. It was a freight train, gathering speed far off the distance, until it finally reached your house with a flurry.

Most people lost shingles, many roofs were destroyed down to the plywood. In some cases, you could see insulation. On the radio, a contractor was offering to come by for free and drape a tarp over your roof -- many had already done so.

I spoke to a lot of people who were really eager to tell their story. To them, it seemed no one was talking about them on the radio, on the TV or the Internet. During and following a storm that is scary. Most had received electricity by Wednesday or Thursday, but pockets were still out on Saturday, and likely some people are in the dark today.

For me that is now all in the past. I arrived back home in Seattle to a warm shower, a hot meal and all of my possessions. I saw that people have lost a lot, and the rebuilding has only begun.

The Red Cross was just opening up mobile feeding units yesterday in Raymond, Pe Ell and Elma, recognizing that it was going to be a long haul.

Perhaps, as a segue, I can take a minute to tell you how I filed from the road, as a transition for this blog, which is normally focused on technology.

If it were not for technology, the kind of reporting I did this weekend would not have been possible. I choose the blog format so that I could immediately post interviews and observations moments after I had them. I published directly to the Web, no editor made sure I had perfect grammar or punctuation.

The blog format also let me post photos, include maps of where I was, and links to previous stories. That's not possible for me to do using our normal publishing software.

The photos were all taken with my 2 megapixel camera phone. As soon as I shot one that I thought I'd like to use, I emailed it from my phone to myself. Later, when I logged in, I could pull that photo off email, and upload it to the Web.

And, finally, it definitely wouldn't have been possible, without my laptop, a fully powered battery that I conserved to my best abilities, and a cellular PC card. The card allowed me to connect -- at high-speeds -- over cellular lines to the Internet.

Last night, when I was writing my final two posts, I was in Aberdeen, and as luck would have it, I had the option of two Starbucks (one on each side of the street). There, I had a warm place to sit, Wi-Fi and an outlet.

But when a town doesn't have electricity, it doesn't normally have Wi-Fi or cellphone service. That was the case in Tokeland, and coverage was spotty elsewhere, as well. In the those circumstances, I had to wait to post something until I drove to another community.

I thought it was good to hear that the cafe I visited in Ocean Shores, prioritized offering Wi-Fi, using a generator so that people could feel connected.

December 9, 2007

They don't call it Washaway Beach for nothing

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:59 PM

NORTH COVE -- In September, reporter Jonathan Martin wrote a story about Washaway Beach, a stretch of coast 12 miles south of Westport that is believed to be the fastest-eroding beach on the Pacific Coast.

In last week's storm, the ocean took at least one more home. Ladonna Hartke, owner of a blue, four-bedroom house with a two-car garage and an amazing view of the water, was the latest victim.

Here is the "before" photo, taken by Times staff photographer Steve Ringman for the September story:

ladonna2.jpg

Here is a picture I took today:

washaway 010.jpg

I found Hartke next to the house, almost standing guard. She had made a makeshift camp, helped by her son and his girlfriend who also live on the property. A blue tarp hung overhead, and a claw-foot bathtub had been placed on its side. A fire burned in the tub where a frozen pizza was warming.

Belongings were strewn everywhere. Living-room furniture was underneath the tarp. A lemon lay on the ground next to a battered head of lettuce.

There was no evidence of where the two-car garage had been; Hartke's red minivan was swept off in the waves and landed down the beach. Several cars and camper vans had been destroyed by falling trees.

To give you a sense of how unusual this portion of the coastline is, let me quote Martin's story that ran three months ago:

"This two miles of shoreline at the northern confluence of the Pacific Ocean and Willapa Bay, 12 miles south of Westport, is believed to be the fastest-eroding beach on the Pacific Coast. It has lost about 65 feet a year to the sea since the late 1800s. More than 100 homes, including the entire town of North Cove, have already disappeared, many of them in the past 20 years."

On Sunday night, the Hartke family, including her two sons, 18 and 33, and her oldest son's girlfriend, went to sleep as usual. Yes, the winds were howling, and the waves were enormous, but life 30 feet from the ocean is often like that, Hartke said.

Just before sunrise, the household woke up to water at the doorstep. The ground had been eaten away from underneath the house. For two years, the water has been at least eight feet away from the bank, and Monday the family couldn't step out their front door.

They started removing their possessions, storing them in nearby trailers and in neighbors' houses.

"I've lived here for 12 years, and it happened in three hours," Hartke said. "I had faith that it would stay because I wasn't ready to leave."

She had 100 boxes packed from previous storms, and she had started to pack more boxes the day before, but she didn't take the additional step of hauling them away.

She even lost six of her 12 chickens.

For now, she is staying in a motel. Her next move is uncertain.

At times like these, you think the worst.

"I lost a home. Hopefully I'm covered by insurance. If not, I'll probably be on welfare the rest of my life," she said. "My friends told me 'don't worry, you are going to be there for years.' I wanted to believe it, and I did."

Raymond -- Trees down and businesses flooded

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:15 PM

This morning, I started off in Ocean Shores, and then decided to head south to Raymond, a little town on the Willapa Harbor.

It's a pretty central location at the intersection of Highway 101 and Highway 105, which heads west to the coast.

On the drive south on 101, the number of trees down is stunning. If you can imagine a forest being somewhat like a spiky haircut, it looked as if someone took a hairbrush and combed over sections of trees along miles of highway. The wind treated the trees, which were one- to two-feet thick, like matchsticks.

And weaving through these matchsticks were power lines, which utility crews were still repairing this afternoon.

Melody Gerber, who I spoke to last night, said she and her husband drove from their home in Tokeland to Raymond after the storm. They counted between 75 and 100 trees that had fallen in the road.

Judy Hinkman, a Raymond resident, said that because the community is made up of many loggers, they were quite self-sufficient. They took to the highway with their chainsaws and started cutting down trees or hacking off limbs so cars could drive underneath.

Raymond, like Centralia and Chehalis, also flooded. The water on the main street rose above people's knees.

One building, in particular, was destroyed by both the wind and rain. On the corner of Duryea and Third streets, the three-story American Legion building that housed at least eight businesses, was ripped open like a can of sardines. The flat roof blew off in the wind.

The corner yarn and weaving shop -- A Willapa Connection -- was one of the worst hit.

washaway 007.jpg

Ruth McCully, who owns the shop with her mother Edna Latta, was still in the midst of dealing with soaked carpets, destroyed inventory and ruined display cases when I arrived around 2 p.m. And, she had been dealing with it for a week.

McCully is tired and the days are starting to blur together, but she recounts as best she can how she had to deal with fallen trees, floods and torrential winds that destroyed her business, and partially flooded her home.

It started Sunday night when the roof blew off of the business. The water started to seep in, soaking one story at a time. It destroyed the second floor, where she stores seasonal items, and additional inventory. Then, it started falling to the first floor, where she had her office and computers and main retail area.

Buckets, rubber bins and garbage cans were placed all over the two stories collecting gallons of rain water.

After bagging up some inventory -- and not truly knowing how bad it was going to get -- the family returned to the house for some rest and food. Hours later, the family came back to find the buckets full. Because they were so large, they were impossible to take outside to empty.

Again, they went home, thinking that her husband would have to work the next day and he needed to get sleep. Still, they did not anticipate the amount of rain and wind to come.

At home, they faced the second disaster. Encircled by large forest giants, trees started to fall down, trapping them in their driveway. Knowing that they had to get to the store, neighbors helped them clear a path with chainsaws. Once cleared, they faced flooding, keeping them from being able to travel the roads.

"We couldn't get to town," McCully said. "All the trees were down, it was a jungle. Six times we tried to get out."

On Monday, some of the neighboring business owners, along with her mom, collected things and salvaged as much as they could. Her mother asked a building owner a block away if they could store the merchandise in an empty storefront. The owner agreed.

"We spent five years building this up, and it was taken away just like that," McCully said.

McCully does have insurance, and since it was not caused by flooding but by the wind, she suspects she'll be covered. An insurance agent has already been by. She now has to itemize everything.

She recalls a week ago Saturday, when the town was having a parade down the main street. She was standing on the porch of her business, and remembers thinking: "My gosh, we have done such a good job. It was so pretty with everything in the window. It was so nice," she said.

And, now she's tallying up her losses, probably $150,000 to $200,000, including the missed sales she won't be getting from the upcoming holidays.

Already there to help is Disaster Solutions Group, a firm out of Texas, that arrived on Thursday. Hired by the building owner, they are there to help dry the building out and get it back up and running.

Scott Hinton, who is with Disaster Solutions Group, drove out from Colorado to help with the clean-up.

He said in a situation like this, they will get rid of everything in the building, pull up the carpet, or anything else that can't be salvaged, use disinfectants, and then run 300 to 400 dryers and dehumidifiers, powered by generators, to get the building dry.

The process will take about 10 days.

Because it wasn't flooded, and was drenched by rainwater, it doesn't have to be gutted.

"This is different since it was clean water," he said.

Power winds changed the geography in Ocean Shores

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:59 AM

OCEAN SHORES -- At the southern tip of Ocean Shores is Damon Point State Park, a spit that juts into the ocean. As you can see from this Google image, it's narrow and long. And, as it turns out, very susceptible during storms.


View Larger Map

In fact, the locals have already renamed it Damon Island.

In this first picture, you'll see that the road is closed. The waves came crashing over the sand bar, breaking up the asphalt as if it was peanut brittle.

beach 010.jpg

It also did extensive damage to the cement path that ran down the center of the spit. You can hardly tell it was ever there.

beach 004.jpg

And, although the water receded some, it seemed like a temporary situation. While I was there, the waves kicked up, and the water started crossing the entire width of the sand bar and connected. Here's a series of photos of it happening.

Going....

beach 007.jpg

Going....

beach 008.jpg

And, gone...

beach 009.jpg

Ocean Shores: Much is back to normal

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:54 AM

OCEAN SHORES -- The cute coastal town is largely intact. A lot of restaurants are closed, or only serving partial menus because most had to throw their food out because they lacked refrigeration.

But the lights came on two days ago, so people are starting to get up to full speed.

I talked briefly with Paige Holt, one of the managers at Caffe Amici, which is designed to look like a comfy, stylish Seattle coffeehouse.

The cafe normally serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, but was only serving breakfast today.

Holt said they had to throw out at least $3,000 worth of food, probably 15 gallons of milk alone. The cafe was closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. By Thursday, they felt it was important to get a generator going so they could provide coffee and Internet access to the community.

"So many people were having [coffee] withdrawals," she said.

But Internet access was the most important thing they wanted to provide. On the radio, or the limited TV people were able to get with generators, "no one ever talked about us, and we didn't have power for six days," she said. "We wanted people to come in and be able to hook up their laptops."

The community was pretty disconnected, they weren't able to get out the first day, they started to run out of gas because they gas station didn't open until Wednesday. And cellphones weren't working.

She said the storm has affected tourism. The town is a destination for people she called "storm watchers." They rent hotel rooms, eat at the local restaurants, and when the the rain and wind hits, they run down to the jetty and watch the waves crash. By not having power, she said, the town has been quiet and slow.

"Normally we are pretty busy on the weekends, and on Saturday and Sunday we we have been dead," she said.

This was also the community that treated 17 people who got carbon monoxide poisoning at the IGA grocery store.

Grocery store employees say the business is almost back to normal, except for the frozen and refrigerated sections. They had to throw all the food out.

It's a little eerie to see the shelves empty. Take a look:

IMG00077.jpg

The sign at the IGA now reads: "Our community's compassion shines brightest during adversity. Thank you Ocean Shores."

So many trees down on power lines

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:50 AM

From Aberdeen, I decided to drive the 20-or-so miles north to Ocean Shores, the tourist beach destination.

On the way, I saw numerous trees down on power lines -- at least a dozen but probably more.

Downtown Ocean Shores got its power back on two days ago, so I'm not sure what these lines are supplying power to, if they are indeed power lines at all.

Here's a picture of what it looks like:

IMG00075.jpg

December 8, 2007

Stories from Tokeland, a week without power

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 8:29 PM

I drove about 40 miles south of Aberdeen to the town of Tokeland, a sleepy community in the winter, but a tourist destination in the summer.


View Larger Map

Since Tokeland sits on a narrow peninsula, it would be an obvious location to get hit hard. Tons of trees have fallen, and in the town just north of Tokeland, two houses reportedly slid down a cliff into the ocean. The more residual effects are that it is still without power after a week, making residents among the 4,000 people in Grays Harbor county that are don't have electricity tonight.

Crews are expected to work through the night, and Tokeland hopes to get power tomorrow.

Ask Melody Gerber what will be the first thing she will do?

Take a shower.

That's right, no one has water either because it must be pumped from wells into the house.

I found Gerber at the Shoalwater Bay Casino, the one bright spot in the town, running solely on generators. The casino has become the community center, one ne of the places you can go for heat, lights and a warm meal. Of course, plenty of gambling, too.

Gerber, who has been living full-time in Tokeland for 13 years, said it was the largest storm she'd ever experienced.

Patches of her roof, down to the plywood, blew off, and her wind meter topped out at 75 miles per hour, although she suspects winds were much stronger. The only thing that saved the community, she suspects, is that there was a low tide. The low tide gave them about another 10 feet to store all the rainwater that was falling.

As a fan of impressive natural wonders, she said: "It was awesome."

The not so cool part, though, is losing power for the next week. And, since Tokeland is at the very south end of Grays Harbor county, it seems they are always the last pocket for crews to get to.

Gerber said without water or electricity, her routine changed.

A generator helps her out by running the fridge, freezer, a light and occasional microwave usage, but that means no TV.

"I'm a reader, but for people who are TV-aholics, they are banging their heads against the wall right now," she said.

And since there's no electricity to run the well pump, there's no running water, meaning no flushing toilets, and taking showers is out of the question.

To partially solve that problem, she can go outside to the well, skim water off the top, and bring it inside to manually flush the toilet. Showers are a more delicate matter, using a wash cloth and cold water to clean off.

In general, she feels like without the luxuries of water and power, you get lazy.

"Water rules your life," she said. You don't notice it until it's gone, but she says you stop washing down the counters and crumbs accumulate. It's the little things.

And, she acknowledges, they are little -- many more people have it worse.

"We all made it," she said.

Yes, the lights are on in parts of Westport

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 8:27 PM

One way people are celebrating that they have their lights back on:

IMG00073.jpg

Lessons haven't been learned since Katrina

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:38 PM

WESTPORT -- The volunteers at the school that I just wrote about impressed several messages on me, one of which is: not a lot has improved since Hurricane Katrina.

They said communication fails so easily and they feel like they've been forgotten.

For instance, at a neighboring senior center, there has been a 35-bed shelter. Only a handful of people showed up the last couple of nights because the radio reported wrongly that it was full.

They also had their two cents that say about FEMA, the federal emergency service that was blamed for a lot of the delays in responding to the victims in New Orleans.

They said that FEMA arrived bringing blankets -- with the caveat that they had to be returned, or else the school would have to pay for them.

That required each person who took a blanket to sign for one. They said that a lot of people, especially those who are undocumented, felt uneasy doing that, so they went home without one.

"We didn't get rescued by FEMA, or the Red Cross, we got rescued by the Boy Scouts," said Ocosta Elementary School Principal Dana Stedman.

However, the crew of volunteers hadn't heard the latest news -- President Bush declared the storm a major disaster in several counties, including Grays County.

Upon hearing the news, the group clapped and breathed a collected sigh of relief.

"The blankets are now freebies," one said.

The designation means they will not have to be returned.

A shelter and hot meals in Westport

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 3:57 PM

WESTPORT -- Since the lights were on in Aberdeen, I decided to head south to Westport, where I knew some people were without power.

On the main road in Ocosta, right before getting to Westport, a sign said "hot meals," so I pulled over to take a look.

There was a major operation at the school, supported mostly by school employees, the National Guard and the Boy Scouts.

Inside about 200 people had been gathering for breakfast, lunch and dinner since Thursday. Outside, the National Guard was unloading an entire truck of food delivered by Top Foods, and off to the side there was a bus that served as a central kitchen.

Here's the pretty amazing part about this story -- the bus was brought to the school by Boy Scout Troop 835 of Pacific, led by Jim Brass. It was the one-year-old Boy Scout Troop's first project, and it stores 300 to 400 meals onboard so it can be deployed at a moment's notice.

It arrived Thursday, and when another local troop found out about it on the radio, they were at the school waiting for them.

Together, they have been cooking up stews, chili, scrambled eggs, and serving salads and fresh fruit for the residents of Westport who had been without electricity going on five or more days.

The old school bus looks a little bit more like something that would tour with the Grateful Dead than respond to emergencies, but is a tight-running ship.

boyscoutbusreal.jpg

One of the four Boy Scouts was keeping watch when I boarded. The first area had a sleeping area and a table with a small TV. The next area had a three burner, industrial-looking gas stove, microwave and mini-fridge and a full sized sink. There was also a bathroom. The whole thing was running on a monster-size generator (compliments of Lowe's).

In the far back, there was room for shelves, where food and cooking supplies were stacked in big rubber bins. There was also a full-sized freezer.

In front, there was a staging area where additional supplies could be dropped off. Large items were kept for cooking food, and smaller items were separated so that families could take food home.

The operation will wind down tomorrow. A lot of residents got their electricity back on this morning at 3:30, however, most of their food in their fridges and freezers have gone bad. So volunteers still expect to get a fair number of people.

"It's for anyone who needs it," said Westport Fire Captain Dave Bell. "You have people with really nice cars pulling up, but you also have people arriving on bikes and by transit."

Bell said the area was really hammered. Everyone has been talking about how loud the roar is when there's sustained winds of 80 miles per hour. The metering equipment in Hoquiam broke at 84 mph, but gusts supposedly rose to 120 mph.

The evidence is here. Trees have literally snapped in half, and have been pulled straight out of the ground, falling on their sides to expose their roots.

National Guard Staff Sgt. Joseph Bons of Everett said because the wind knocked down so many lines, there's been a lot of demand for food and water.

If the grocery store has electricity, it's picked over. If it gets re-stocked, it's gone again.

Bons came from Everett, delivering 100 cases of MREs, which have about 12 meals per case, and half of a pallet of water. The water here is deemed potable, except for in Central Park, where there's a boiling advisory.

The donations have also been pouring in from a number of stores, including Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Dominos and Grocery Outlet. While, I was there Top Food delivered a truck of 12 pallets of food, including peanut butter and jelly and bread.

Brass, the Boy Scout troop leader, said that these are the types of things that make people feel like they haven't been forgotten (even if they have been).

They even brought a small TV and VCR to play children's movies and a case of yarn and knitting needles for seniors.

"You want to give them your best so they don't feel forgotten" he said. "This is a poor community that is suffering from an economic downturn in the fishing and logging industries. It means a lot for someone to remember them."

As Brass and his four Boy Scouts prepare to cook their ninth meal, he says: "I think it was a success."

But he's not totally content. They need a bigger water supply on the bus -- it only lasted a day, and probably should have enough food on hand for 1,000 meals.

Even now, I can overhear him telling other volunteers that he just secured milk for additional meals. He said, "We have to get this community up and running."

The wind howled loudly in Aberdeen

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:11 PM

I just drove Highway 8 West from Interstate 5 to the coast on the southern border of the peninsula. If you are not familiar with the area, the road takes you through tiny towns such as Elma, Montesano, before getting to Aberdeen, which sits on Grays Harbor.

It's a beautiful drive, especially on a cold, clear day.

On the way in, I wondered if there wouldn't be any evidence of a huge wind storm. It doesn't leave muddy tracks like floods do. But amazingly enough, there were signs, and they came in the form of, uh, signs. Every metal freeway post was bent to the side or completely folded down. The ones that seemed particularly susceptible were the larger ones with two posts. Those folded down, as if they were bowing.

The other sign came in the form of utility crews. I saw six of the large, white bucket trucks lined up in a row on Highway 12, diligently working on what looked like major transmission lines.

The lights in downtown Aberdeen are on from what I can tell. A reader board at a gift store said: "Thanks Power Crews; preorder your baskets."

I haven't spent a lot of time in Aberdeen, but I've heard plenty of stories. My mother lived both here and in Westport. My grandfather still visits regularly. As an ex-fisherman captain, he checks on his boat when my uncle returns from Alaska in the summer. And as of three months ago, he comes to visit my grandmother's grave.

So, when my mom heard I was off to Aberdeen, she suggested I talk to her best childhood friend, Elizabeth.

From her stories, the wind was the worst part -- not the rain.

She said it howled so loudly, she didn't hear anything when two large trees blew over in the backyard. Her electricity remains out, but stays warm by a fire, and she says: "Thank god for peanut butter and jelly." She said her lights are supposed to go on today.

Without electricity, there's not much to do. She said she went to the grocery store today, which was absolutely packed. Everyone just wanted to talk to someone.

And everyone is trying to keep up their sense of humor. She said a man was talking about how he had to hurry home before it got dark, when he realized that was a silly statement because it was dark at home.

The forgotten storm victims

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:13 PM

My day-to-day job at the paper is to cover technology news -- blogging on Tech Tracks is part of my daily routine.

But today is not routine, and this blog will not be about technology.

In fact, I've hijacked Tech Tracks to tell you another story -- one that has been forgotten to be told.

This entire week I drank in most every story written, unable to fathom how much devastation a rain storm can bring. A lot of the attention was centered on the hardest hit area -- Thurston County. The coverage was justified. The closure of I-5, an artery that supports tens of thousands of travelers today, is huge by itself.

But I kept waiting to hear stories about the Washington coast, one of the state's most well-known tourism gems. It was whipped by winds that reached upwards of 100 miles per hour, and as of last night, when I last checked, 16,000 people still didn't have power in communities such as Westport. When I called yesterday looking for a hotel room, none had electricity in Westport. In Aberdeen, they were full of people, likely seeking heat and electricity.

I'm going to call the people there the forgotten storm victims.

So, I'm embarking on a mission to tell you the story that I haven't read yet. I have no idea what I will find, but I want to find out.

Can you imagine not having power for almost a week? When the sun goes down at 5 p.m., the flashlights come out. It's bone cold. And despite not having anything better to do, you can't even watch TV!

If there's stories you know need telling, please post a comment to let me know about it, and I'll do my best.

December 7, 2007

Former Microsoftie indicted for million-dollar fraud scheme

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:28 PM

Carolyn Gudmundson, a 44-year-old Kirkland woman and former MSN program manager, is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court this afternoon to face charges of wire fraud and mail fraud for a scheme that netted her more than $1 million.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle alleges that Gudmundson "fraudulently billed her employer and related entities for reimbursement for costs she had purportedly incurred in registering and maintaining Internet domain names for Microsoft and Expedia."

She is charged with eleven counts of wire fraud and seven counts of mail fraud, crimes punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Update: Gudmundson intends to plead not guilty at a formal arraignment scheduled for Thursday, according to her attorney.

Here's Microsoft's statement: "We can confirm that Microsoft worked closely with authorities on this investigation. We take employee theft seriously and have internal measures in place to help identify fraudulent activities." End of update.

According to a press release issued this afternoon, here's how the deed was allegedly done:

Between 2000 and 2004, Gudmundson was responsible for registering, transferring, renewing, acquiring and retiring Internet domain names for Expedia and Microsoft. During the course of this part of her job, Gudmundson defrauded Microsoft in three ways.

First, Gudmundson was authorized to use her personal credit card to purchase, renew and acquire Microsoft's domain names and then submit reimbursement requests to Microsoft. Gudmundson altered the credit card receipts she submitted so that they showed a much higher price for the purchase, renewal and acquisition of domain names than she actually had paid, and then used these altered credit card receipts to support the false and fraudulent amounts claimed on her reimbursement requests to Microsoft.

Second, Gudmundson allegedly submitted invoices to Expedia for the registration of domain names that she had not paid for.

Third, Gudmundson used an outside company that assists in the negotiation for the purchase of domain names from private parties. Gudmundson told an employee of that company that a fictitious individual had purchased domain names in his name on Microsoft's behalf and that she needed the employee to send a check to that individual to reimburse him for his costs. Gudmundson then directed the employee to send the checks to her, where she allegedly deposited them into a bank account that she controlled.

I'll report any response Gudmundson or her yet-to-be-identified counsel have to the charges. A Microsoft spokesman is looking into the matter and promised to respond with a comment shortly.

Avenue A employees not getting Microsoft benefits

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 8:01 AM

Here's the full text of the email Avenue A | Razorfish President Clark Kokich sent to employees Wednesday, informing them that they would not be getting Microsoft benefits, as reported in today's story.

From: Clark Kokich Sent: Wednesday, December 05, 2007 9:54 AM

Subject:

Hello to all:

I would like to let you know of some decisions we've made regarding our total rewards programs.

After several months of careful consideration, we have made the decision to decouple the programs for Avenue A I Razorfish and for Atlas/Drive. As you know, the two groups operate in completely different competitive environments. AA-RF competes within the marketing and technology services industry. We are an agency, while our sister divisions are software and media companies.

As aQuantive, we did our best to maintain one overall total rewards program that tried to balance the needs for these two different types of businesses in one corporate parent. This challenge became more and more difficult as each business matured. Now, as part of Microsoft, which is a mature company with very well-defined programs based on the software and media model, we believe it is no longer tenable for us to attempt to treat all parts of our business the same. It would mean causing AA|RF to conform so closely to the software and media model as to make it non-competitive within its own industry. In order to continue to succeed, we must design our total rewards system to match the expectations of our industry. This includes our approach to salary, benefits, bonus, titles, levels, tools, career development, and performance management.

In order to assure that we can continue to hire, retain, and reward the best people in our industry, we will be launching a competitive review of total rewards within the marketing and technology services industry. In addition, we will be conducting a number of focus groups with Avenue A I Razorfish people around the country to hear from you directly about what offerings you value the most. The combination of these activities will help ensure we understand clearly what we need to do to in order to compete for talent in our industry. This research and analysis will begin after the first of the year and will be completed in the spring.

All legacy aQuantive groups will continue on our existing programs through the first half of 2008. At that time (concurrent with the beginning of Microsoft's new fiscal year), we will make the change to a decoupled approach. Atlas, Drive and Franchise Gator employees will be fully integrated into the Microsoft total rewards program starting July 1, 2008. And at the same time AARF employees can expect to see changes to our own program, some right away and some over time, as we focus towards an agency-driven total rewards package.

I feel good about this direction. In the past we've on occasion made sub-optimal decisions in our desire to maintain one total rewards program across widely disparate businesses. We now have the opportunity to offer programs that will allow us to continue to build Avenue A I Razorfish by attracting the best and brightest in our industry.

Clark

I'd love to hear whether people think this is fair or justified. Add your comments below.

December 6, 2007

Strong links between entrepreneurs and dyslexia

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:53 PM

A new study suggests that a "staggering" number of entrepreneurs in the U.S. identify themselves as dyslexic, according to a story in the International Herald Tribune.

The report said that of the entrepreneurs interviewed, 35 percent said they were dyslexic. The study also concluded that dyslexics were more likely to delegate authority and to excel in oral communication and problem solving. They were also twice as likely to own two or more businesses.

One good example in our own back yard is Craig McCaw, who has a long list of companies he started: Clearwire, Nextel Communications, XO Communications, Teledesic and McCaw Cellular Communications,

Members of his executive teams frequently describe him as being creative, not too wrapped up in the details, and capable of delegating authority.

The article pointed out that the connection between entrepreneurs and dyslexia has been made before. Fortune had a cover story five years ago mentioning McCaw, but also Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways; Charles Schwab, founder of the discount brokerage that bears his name; John Chambers, chief executive of Cisco; and Paul Orfalea, founder of the Kinko's copy chain.

Why is this?

Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London, who conducted the study, said:

"We found that dyslexics who succeed had overcome an awful lot in their lives by developing compensatory skills. If you tell your friends and acquaintances that you plan to start a business, you'll hear over and over, 'It won't work. It can't be done.' But dyslexics are extraordinarily creative about maneuvering their way around problems."

The study was based on a survey of 139 business owners in a wide range of fields across the U.S.

Logan called the results staggering, especially when juxtaposed with the information that about 10 percent of Americans are believed to have dyslexia.

AT&T: We were open first!

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:53 AM

Is there a wireless carrier left out there that doesn't want to be part of the open access debate?

USA Today reported today that the largest U.S. carrier said customers don't have to sign a contract and can use any wireless phone, device and software application from any maker they want -- regardless if it is from AT&T.

The message follows moves by Google, which unveiled an open mobile operating system, and after Verizon Wireless announced that it was opening up its network to third-party phones and applications later next year.

AT&T said it's been open for a long time.

"Everything that Google has promised to bring to the wireless market a year from now AT&T is doing today. We are the most open wireless company in the industry," said Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T's wireless business.

The story went on to say that although it has been true for quite some time that consumers could buy other devices and use them on the AT&T network, salespeople in AT&T phone stores will be proactive and make sure that consumers "know all their options."

It is easier for AT&T and T-Mobile USA to provide a more open network than either Verizon Wireless or Sprint Nextel. AT&T and T-Mobile use the GSM standard, which has a SIM card in the phone that allows a phone to connect to the network.

A consumer can easily pop the chip out and put it into another GSM phone to receive coverage. The one limitation is that if a phone was purchased through AT&T or T-Mobile, the phones are "locked," which prohibits them from being used on another network.

The article did not mention how AT&T will deal with locked phones, or whether they would be willing to unlock phones customers purchased from them. The iPhone, for instance, is a locked device that cannot be used on another network.

Unlocked phones are commonly available on the Internet, through eBay, or even directly from the manufacturer. The one thing consumers need to be careful about is whether that phone will work on their network of choice. Each carrier uses different frequencies and bands. Handset manufacturers make phones for those specific networks.

Global venture capital investments are up

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:21 AM

A study released late Tuesday says global venture capital investments this year are on pace to record the highest annual total since 2001, according to Dow Jones VentureOne and Ernst & Young.

This year, investment is expected to top $40 billion at the close of the fourth quarter while the number of deals should reach about 3,884, or similar to levels in 2003.

Driving this growth are investments in a broader range of sectors and geographic areas. The hot areas are cleantech and medical devices, and the two geographic regions of increasing importance are Beijing and Bangalore.

Also driving some of this growth is an increase in exits for VCs, which allow them to get some of their money back.

Here's a chart depicting the number of venture-backed IPOs:

IPOS07.bmp

The U.S. is the worldwide leader in cleantech investments:

cleantech07.bmp

The report also offered a prediction for 2008. Pending an economic downturn in the U.S. or the world, investing will likely continue to be robust. In addition, large multinational corporations are expected to increase their investments, and new geographies in Asia and growth in health care and cleantech innovations in energy and water will drive further growth.

December 5, 2007

MSN/Windows Live staying in RedWest? -- Confirmed

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:35 PM

We're hearing that an e-mail is circulating among members of Microsoft's MSN/Windows Live group -- based at the company's RedWest campus -- that suggests they will be staying put. This news, according to our source, was greeted with hoots and hollers from people who were none-too-pleased about the prospect of moving to new digs, possibly the Advanta buildings in southeast Bellevue (which, by the way, would have also been news). RedWest, a cluster of buildings put up in the mid-1990s, is already somewhat removed from the main corporate headquarters campus to the east of Highway 520.

Microsoft has not yet publicly announced which groups would be occupying the large tracts of office space it's leasing in Bellevue, with one exception. It said Lincoln Square will house the company's North American sales group, although we know other support services are stationed there, too.

I've asked a Microsoft spokesman for confirmation on the future whereabouts of the MSN/Windows Live group and any updates on plans for the Bellevue leases. We'll post a response if we get one.

Update: "It's true that the [MSN/Windows Live] group was considered to be the candidate to move to Advanta, but is not moving to Advanta," writes Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos in an e-mail. "... The reason is that, ultimately, it was decided that a move to Advanta would actually split the group. Not of all them would move. So they'll stick together at RedWest. No word on which group may move to Advanta, though, as is the case in all of this activity, a number of scenarios are being considered."

Another source tells us about the cheering in the halls at this news and added that "the little display about how nice life would be at Advanta abruptly disappeared."

Google owns tons of wires, what does that mean for wireless?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 8:57 AM

I've been waiting to read something about Google's fiber and wired infrastructure strategy, and today Om Malik wrote a very informative piece on his blog.

Since I don't cover Google on a regular basis, and have only been paying close attention to the company since it started making moves in wireless, I was unclear how it was truly operating behind the scenes.

Separately, I had heard that it was buying up unused fiber around the country, but I didn't know what it was for, or how much it was buying.

Malik addressed both of these questions. The blog post discusses how Google's infrastructure is its strategic advantage -- Google must deliver search results to its customers as fast as possible, and to do that, it needs to own fiber, servers, optical switches, etc.

He wrote:

"The faster the results show up on our browsers, the less inclined we'll be to switch to a rival search engine, no matter how great the rival's search methodology may be. The faster (and more efficient) its infrastructure, the more easily Google can keep serving the ad-based money machine."

He also wrote that Google is rumored to be a big buyer of dark fiber -- to connect its data centers -- which could help explain why the company spent nearly $3.8 billion in the past seven quarters on capital expenditures.

So I want to bring this discussion back around to telecom, and ask the question: if owning infrastructure is what makes Google so good on the PC, then how could it dominate in the wireless industry? Does it take owning a wireless network to enable it to be better and faster? Is that why it is so interested in building mobile operating systems and participating in the spectrum auction?

One thing to note is that wireless networks often are used to send information when it is difficult or too expensive to lay down wire. Perhaps Google's interest in the wireless industry is also to support its wired infrastructure.

Or will the next information war take place on the wireless handsets? And, will Google need to own spectrum and wireless infrastructure in order to ensure the speed of its service?

I'm not sure what the answers are, but I think understanding its wired strategy provides a good start.

Surprise, Clearwire will not bid for spectrum

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 8:12 AM

On Monday, companies had to tell the FCC whether they were interested in participating in the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction and, by Tuesday, everyone was speculating who those companies were.

I linked to TechCrunch, which had a pretty thorough list of who it thought was participating.

Kirkland-based Clearwire, the wireless broadband provider looking to eventually roll out WiMax, was a foregone conclusion -- of course it would participate.

Well, today the company, founded by Craig McCaw, had a one-sentence SEC filing: "Clearwire Corporation announced today that it will not be bidding in the Federal Communications Commission's upcoming auction of wireless spectrum in the 700 MHz band."

It's understandable why Clearwire would not want to bid. First of all, the spectrum it owns in the U.S. is in the 2.5 GHz band. Second, it holds the second-largest chunk of that spectrum in the U.S., following Sprint Nextel. Third, although its pending partnership with Sprint Nextel dissolved recently, there is no reason that the two companies couldn't work together, or at least swap spectrum in the future.

I believe the only companies that officially said they were going to participate were Google, Frontline Wireless, and likely Verizon Wireless.

Finding, declaring love on Facebook

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 7:02 AM

Add this to the ongoing debate over whether Facebook is worth the $15 billion imputed by Microsoft's investment in the company: A couple's decision to link together their Facebook profiles is now akin to "going steady" in the 1950s -- a serious, public declaration of a romantic relationship, just short of moving in together or getting engaged.

That's the assessment of this interesting Reuters feature that includes several interviews with college students and professors about how people communicate their relationships using the wildly popular social network.

From the story:

"For those in a relationship, the theme that kept echoing was that Facebook made it official," said Nicole Ellison, an assistant professor of telecommunication and information studies at Michigan State University who has studied social networking sites. "That was the term they used. And when the relationship fell apart, when you broke up on Facebook, that's when the breakup was official."

This guy's assessment got me thinking about how valuable Facebook could turn out to be:

"People are beginning to use it more than phones, more than text messages, more than instant messaging, even more than talking in person," said Dave Berkman, a mental health counselor at the University of Wisconsin clinic. "It speeds things up. People are prone to define where they are so they can show other people [online]."

December 4, 2007

'The next wave of the Web will be friendship bracelets'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:36 PM

"Won't you blog about this song?" Yes, I will. This is one of the funniest videos I've seen in a while.

Ring true to anyone?

'Mommy, Why Is There a Server in the House?'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:33 AM

That's the title of a new children's book from Microsoft. It's part of a marketing campaign for the company's Windows Home Server product.

The marketing company behind the effort is Creature, an independent Seattle agency that has also done work for Google, Nike and Starbucks.

"When people hear the word 'server,' they equate it with work and a place where information is shared, managed and secure," Steven VanRoekel, senior director, Windows Server Solutions Group, told AdWeek. "There is a sense of pride in telling people that they are running a server in their home."

The 24-page children's book will apparently be sold at Amazon.com, but I couldn't find it this morning. At the Windows Home Server Blog, a post from Nov. 30 says the book "will help parents explain why there is a new member of the family. We are sure the book will become a best seller!"

An excerpt: "But guess what? Some servers aren't boring. They don't go in offices ... they go in houses! Maybe in your house! How does it get there?

"When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much, the daddy wants to give the mommy a special gift. So he buys a 'stay-at-home' server."

Guessing the participants in the next spectrum auction

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:30 AM

Monday was the deadline for companies to tell the FCC whether they were interested in participating in the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction.

The airwaves are going on sale because TV broadcasters are being required to move off their current spectrum to running on HD. This block of airwaves is commonly called "beachfront property" in the wireless world (although there's some debate about whether that's true -- for instance, it's supposed to work better in rural than urban areas).

Although applications were due yesterday, the FCC hasn't yet announced who is showing interest. That hasn't stopped people from speculating. I'd say there's above-average interest in this auction because it could create an all-new wireless carrier in the U.S. (like Google).

Some companies have already let their position be known. For instance, we know Google is throwing its hat into the ring, and that Time Warner is not.

TechCrunch speculates further on where other companies stand. It's a pretty interesting and complete list, so it's worth checking out:

IN:
Google
AT&T
Frontline Wireless
Clearwire
Cox Communications
Verizon Wireless

OUT:
Comcast
Time Warner
Sprint Nextel
Microsoft

POSSIBLES:
T-Mobile USA
Qualcomm
Nokia
Sony Ericsson
Alltel
Leap Wireless

Would Nokia launch its own network? Will Frontline and Google, who share a desire for open networks, team up? Will Google be there to strictly bid up the price of airwaves so the winning bidder will be required to make them open?

I guess we'll have to wait until Jan. 24, when the auction starts, to see what happens.

Another McCaw legacy wireless company gobbled up

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 8:51 AM

There's not a lot of information on this yet, but AT&T is saying this morning that it has agreed to buy Edge Wireless, which is likely the last wireless carrier started and still being operated by a former McCaw Cellular executive.

Edge Wireless, which serves parts of Oregon, California, Idaho and Wyoming from its headquarters in Bend, Ore., was started by Wayne Perry, Cal Cannon and Donnie Castleman in 1999.

Perry started at McCaw Cellular Communications in 1976, serving as primary legal officer, general counsel, and executive vice president before being named president in 1985. In 1989, he served as vice chairman, a position he retained until McCaw's merger with AT&T in September 1994. After the merger, Perry served as vice-chairman of AT&T Wireless.

He also might be the final member of the McCaw mafia that was still running a wireless network. John Chapple sold Nextel Partners to Sprint following its merger with Nextel, and John Stanton sold Western Wireless to Alltel. Of course, Craig McCaw is busy yet again, running a different kind of wireless network at Kirkland-based Clearwire.

The AT&T press release doesn't include many more details, such as the purchase price or what Perry's role at the company will be. But it does say that Edge has 172,000 subscribers, and that AT&T held a minority ownership interest in Edge since its inception. It is acquiring the remaining 64.3 percent of the company.

The transaction is contingent upon regulatory approval and is expected to close by mid-2008.

December 3, 2007

Nokia survey predicts future of media

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:48 PM

Nokia, the largest cellphone manufacturer in the world, prognosticates that media will increasingly be something created by consumers, not traditional entertainment companies.

The results came in a survey that must not be too earth-shattering, or else I'd assume Nokia wouldn't share the results in a press release.

But the findings are interesting and do generally reflect (maybe too well, especially given the survey's methodology) Nokia's recent announcements about social networking and launching media services on the mobile phone.

The study, entitled "A Glimpse of the Next Episode," interviewed 9,000 consumers from 17 countries about their digital behaviors and lifestyles. In a somewhat untraditional methodology, Nokia took those results and then combined them with views from its own research and opinions from the Future Laboratory's LifeSigns Network, a community of cultural tech thinkers.

Nokia said that within five years, up to a quarter of the entertainment people consume will be what it calls "circular," meaning that it has been created, edited and shared within a person's peer circle, rather than from media groups.

"The trends we are seeing show us that people will have a genuine desire not only to create and share their own content, but also to remix it, mash it up and pass it on within their peer groups," said Mark Selby, Nokia vice president of multimedia.

What does that mean?

It means that someone might share video footage shot on a mobile device from a night out with a friend...The next friend takes the footage and adds an MP3 file to create a soundtrack. Then the file goes to another friend, who then edits the footage by adding some photographs. That friend then passes it on to another friend and so on.

Selby said: "The content keeps circulating between friends, who may or may not be geographically close, and becomes part of the group's entertainment."

In addition to the findings, here's what the 9,000 interviewed said they were up to:

-- 23 percent buy movies in digital format.
-- 35 percent buy music on MP3 files.
-- 25 percent buy music on mobile devices.
-- 39 percent watch TV on the Internet.
-- 23 percent watch TV on mobile devices
-- 46 percent regularly use IM, 37% on a mobile device
-- 29 percent regularly blog.
-- 28 percent regularly access social networking sites.
-- 22 percent connect using technologies such as Skype.
-- 17 percent take part in multiplayer online role-playing games.
-- 17 percent upload to the Internet from a mobile device.

Any of those findings catch you off guard?

Business as usual for Clearwire

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:37 PM

Despite some doom and gloom about WiMax, Clearwire is acting as if it is business as usual.

The Kirkland-based company said today that it launched a wireless high-speed Internet access and phone service in Charlotte, N.C. Charlotte is Clearwire's 45th market.

Clearwire is still rolling out a pre-WiMax solution (which is why I thought it was funny that an analyst in a trade journal today called Clearwire the most successful WiMax company), which is available to consumers either through a home modem, or a PC laptop card.

In fact, as far as I can tell, there's no company selling true WiMax services yet.

The news of the new market didn't exactly send Clearwire's stock rocketing. In afternoon trading, it fell $1.42, or about 19 percent, to $14.15 a share.

Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee
E-mail|Bio


Angel Gonzalez
Angel Gonzalez
E-mail|Bio


Kristi Heim
Kristi Heim
E-mail|Bio


Benjamin J. Romano
Benjamin J. Romano
E-mail|Bio


Mark Watanabe
Mark
Watanabe

E-mail|Bio

Marketplace

advertising

advertising