Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

After some trials and tribulations, I have decided to move this blog to a new location, in the hope that these problems will go away. So, for new postings, please check this link. Once I find everything is working fine at the new location, I may move all my postings there. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Mind over Matter

Ancient Hindu scriptures and mythology talk about sages, with powers gained from meditation, who can create and move objects with their thoughts. These fables seem to be moving towards reality, at least virtual reality :-) Dean Takahashi in his coverage of CGDC 2007 in San Jose talks about Emotiv's brain-computer interface that convert a user's thoughts into actions in a computer game. Emotiv is a San Francisco based startup with Australian connections and a star studded executive and founding team. This is cool technology, bordering on Star Trek, where kids can cause action in a computer game without literally lifting a finger. As Dean points out, Emotiv is not the only company with similar technology. Neurosky, a Silicon Valley company, has similar technology and is targeting a wider range of industries and applications. Wired Magazine talks about mind controlled wheel chairs for the handicapped.

However, the computer game applications lead me to wonder where my kids are going to get any exercise at all, if this kind of thing catches on. :-) The Wii was taking a step in the opposite direction, with the game players actually having to move the control to simulate a tennis stroke or a golf swing. Just when I thought technology was moving in the right direction, we now have real mind games on the horizon. Technology is indeed moving at the speed of thought. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the first games with this technology to be commercially available.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

MP3 patent spat

Talking of Steve Jobs and his creations, there seems to be trouble brewing in the general direction of MP3 players. Patent suits are an unfortunate side effect of the technology industry. Companies need patents to protect their IP, but they rarely go suing other companies on the basis of their patents unless they are in serious danger of losing business or there is huge potential for a good return. The latter seems to be the case in Alcatel-Lucent's suit against Microsoft. It looks like Microsoft may have to shell out $1.52B if the ruling holds. Apple Insider discusses the impact of this for Apple, and its not pretty. Here is one case where Apple must be hoping Microsoft wins the fight ;-) Technology does indeed make for strange bedfellows. It will be interesting to see how this one turns out. Success does breed a lot of enemies. Apple has succeeded in winning many difficult cases and it will be fun to see how this one turns out, if indeed there is a lawsuit.

Disneyland of Technology ?

Yes, that's how Jean Louis Gassee describes Silicon Valley. CNET covers SFMOMA's candid videos from Valley survivors. The stories ring true and are touching and funny. Of course, they represent only a small cross section. When powerful ambition, money and technology collide some amazing things come out of it. The stories in the videos expose some of the ambition and the heartache. What they don't capture is the pace at which change occurs here. Who says you can't time the market ? There are many extremely successful people in the valley who got there by doing exactly that. Of course, as I discussed last week, you could attribute that to karma :-) But, then there are the true legends like Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison who truly deserve the success they have earned, simply because they have sustained it over very long periods of time. They have transformed their passion into world changing technology and reaped the rewards, again and again. I am sure they will not be the last and that's what makes the Valley the Disneyland of technology.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Valley Casino

The Mercury News has been discussing the windfall from YouTube's acquisition by Google. The disclosures show how far and wide the impact of the Valley's wealth creation goes. The beneficiaries include YouTube employees from the founders to admins, VCs (of course), but also some interesting others like Maury Povich and Forrest Sawyer. These articles are interesting in that they provide a glimpse of some of the people who get to invest in VC funds and startups like YouTube. I also liked the comparison of the valley to a giant casino with the acquisitions and IPOs playing the role of payouts at the slot machines. To be certain, wealth is created and shared in an extraordinarily egalitarian way in the Valley. But, most people outside the Valley do not see the excitement of the innovation happening here and the risk taking. They do not see the many startups that fail and the entrepreneurs who pick themselves up and go at it again. They do see the results of the innovation in the many end products which many use all over the world. There is some element of luck in who makes it and who does not, but I would call it karma more than luck :-)

Friday, February 9, 2007

Turning deserts into forests ?

The title of the talk was "Building a company that can turn deserts into forests". Coupled with the offer of a wine tasting and hors d'oeuvres at the upscale Fremont Hills Country club, free to MIT alum, this was an offer I could not refuse. Yesterday's (February 8th) event was hosted by ACG (Association for Corporate Growth) Silicon Valley. ACG is a venerable organization founded in 1954 and the Silicon Valley chapter is focused on helping small and midsize valley companies grow with contacts, ideas, training and networking. The speaker for the event was Hans Peter Michelet, Chairman of the Board of Energy Recovery, Inc. (ERI), and the talk was moderated by Sramana Mitra, an entrepreneur and MIT alum herself. ERI's product, the PX Pressure exchanger is a ceramics based reverse osmosis system (as opposed to thermal/evaporation), which claims energy efficient desalination to provide drinking water from desalination of salt water at rates cheaper than we buy water in California. HP claimed that 20% of the energy consumption in California is from pumping water.

ERI's primary customers (97%) are outside the US, though many are US companies doing business abroad. The largest deployments are in Spain with 23 large desalination plants and ERI claims to have 90% of the Chinese market. The sales are however very long cycle - 4 years or more.

There are major areas worldwide which have very serious water supply problems. In Chennai, India, the city gets water trucked to homes and businesses, to cover for shortage. Of course, countries like Saudi Arabia have very large water needs which are satisfied today by evaporation based systems. In California, where we depend on water from the Sierra, if the global warming predictions come true, we may be in need of water too. In years where we have low rainfall, we have water supply and usage regulated.

So, clearly, clean water is a worldwide problem and a more urgent problem in some areas than in others. ERI claims to have a lock on their technology with patents and sees large growth opportunities worldwide. Overall, a very interesting evening and talk. Sramana Mitra has a much more detailed a multipart write up of the talk on her blog.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Happy (IPO) Days are here again ?

One is led to believe that happy IPO days are back again, if one were to take a look at what Accuray Inc. of Sunnyvale, CA did yesterday and today. They make the CyberKnife a non-invasive robotic radiosurgery system to treat tumors in the body. They claim sub-millimeter accuracy ! Accuray (ARAY) priced their IPO at $18 at the high end of the range. The stock opened at $21 today (2/8/07) and closed at $28.47, up over $10 (58% for the day), giving the company a market cap of over $1.5B. Heady stuff ! Reminiscent of the heydays of the valley in 1999 and 2000. Of course, one swallow does not make a summer. But, coupled with the rise of ISRG , indications are that the biomedical space may show hot growth for Silicon Valley, as I discussed in my Feb 4th posting. The opinions of the CSPA VC panel that 2007 could be a good year for the IPO market (see my Jan 24th posting) seem to be heading in the right direction too, if ARAY is an indicator.


© 2007, 2008 Madan Venugopal    All rights reserved.