Friday, December 18, 2009

Badlisham Ghazali, CEO of Malaysia's MSC

I've posted the first of a two-part interview I did with Datuk Badlisham Ghazali, CEO of MdEC, the Malaysian government-driven entity that runs the MSC, which was originally called the Multimedia Super Corridor.

The MSC is not a thing, but a place, one of those earnest attempts to recreate Silicon Valley. It is quite extensive, running in a corridor about 15 miles east-west and 30 miles north-south, from the signature Petronas Towers in downtown KL through the planned cities of Cyberjaya and Putrajaya, and on out to the international airport.

There are 90,000+ people employed there now, 2,000 companies represented, and general revenue approaching $7 billion per year.

Malaysia is a formal place, reflecting the fact that the British were there for more than 250 years. Its multi-ethnic, multi-religious nature gives it a unique feeling, although I'll withhold further comment on that topic unless and until I live there for awhile and feel more knowledgeable on the topic!

The country has a smallish population by Southeast Asian standards, the usual heat and humidity of the region, and a drive to continue to improve the wealth of its people in the coming years and decades.

I hope to be able to learn more about the MSC and Malaysia in the future and to examine its role on the world technology stage in depth.

For now, thanks to Mr. Ghazali and his associates, here's Part One of the interview!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gitmo Comes to Mom's Neighborhood

The proposed transfer by the federal government of some prisoners from Guantanomo Bay to a underused state prison facility in Thomson, Illinois hits home for me, literally.

My father was from Thomson, and my mom lives there now. She could walk from her house to the prison in about 15 minutes if she wanted to.

Thomson is a Mississippi River town, but unlike most, safe from the river. A state campground borders the river, with the town itself lying a few hundred feet above the river. The Army Corps of Engineers has had a long presence here, digging a channel to widen the river decades ago, and still maintaining a small office on Main St.

Thomson is located in Carroll County, the county seat of which is my hometown, Mount Carroll. The county defines the term "rural," with around 17,000 inhabitants, and a single stoplight that was put in a few years ago in the county's largest town, Savanna (pop. around 4,000), to acquiesce to tourist-related traffic.

Carroll County went through a spasm of self-reflection during the US bicentennial year in 1976, as did most places in the US.

Fire hydrants were painted to look like Founding Fathers--something that quickly ended in 1977 after complaints by firemen that they could no longer tell the capacity of individual hydrants, which had previously been color-coded.

And the county produced an historical book about itself, "A Goodly Heritage," and even came up with a county flag (which I've included here) and a slogan, "Beautiful, Bountiful, Beckoning."

I won't ridicule all this, even though it was a little grandiose for a place that is generally populated by people who are modest and humble, hard-working (when they can find a job), and live lives oriented around multi-generational families.

As with most of the heartland, the weather is about as pleasant as Bangkok in the summertime and the South Pole in the winter. But a solid two weeks in May and the entire month of September are usually very nice, and tornadoes haven't killed anyone in years around there.

Now Carroll County in general, and Thomson in particular, are in the news. I wrote my opinion piece about this a couple of days ago. Read and enjoy if you want.

This story actually begins with the building of this prison a few years ago by the State of Illinois. Huge news at the time, the assorted thugs and thieves in the state capital of Springfield promised vast new prosperity for the town. Didn't happen. The state forgot to fund the actual opening of the prison, and it has sat mostly empty, sucking up dollars rather than contributing them.

Now, the federal government has said it will acquire the prison and make use of it. My mom thinks this is a good idea. She's not afraid of the potential new residents. So, for once, I'll listen to her opinion and go along with it!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Has Global Sourcing Returned to the Heartland?

Before call centers started to sprout in India and the Philippines, many companies set up moderately massive centers in the US, usually in lightly populated places such as South Dakota and Maine.

This trend actually followed a long-term charactertistic of the publishing and direct-marketing industries, which often set up in The Heartland, due to moderate wage levels and zoned postage rates that encouraged a location from the middle of the country.

Remember all those magazine subscription cards in the old days that went to Mt. Morris, Illinois and Clinton, Iowa?

The American Heartland has been under duress for three decades now. The cold weather and a certain lack of flexibility in business thinking catalyzed a brain drain to the warmer climes of the South and the innovation of Silicon Valley and other places "Out West."

But now, with near-ubiquitous broadband Web access and mass proliferation of cellphones and other wireless devices, prosperity seems to be returning to some regions.

I don't believe for a moment that President Obama can do a thing to bring all those great industrial jobs back to Ohio and Michigan, as he alleged during his campaign. Hey, maybe he's just a politician trying to win votes, I don't know.

But something more special than that seems to be going on. A recent study about emerging rural prosperity, being touted by the rurally-located University of Illinois.

I'm looking into seeing how much of that is attributable to the global sourcing phenomenon. The news I read about this report emphasizes civic awareness, the role of small colleges, and something that had a disturbing whiff to me of race-based politics.

But I'll wait until I read the entire report, and the reports behind that report.

I do think global sourcing is about to make an impact in The Heartland. To me, the key sentence I took from an overview of the report is, "geographical factors like climate, topography, distances to cities and airports, and interstate highways are unimportant in distinguishing prosperous counties from others."

There was a time when it didn't matter that it's cold in the Midwest six months of the year. Then there was a time when it did matter. Now, it appears that it doesn't matter again.

In my opinion, global sourcing is not just about India and China anymore. It's about Southeast Asia, too...and it may be about the USA as well!

Jonathan Rosenberg, Global Sourcing Pioneer

During my recent stay in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to meet many fascinating people at a government-sponsored event known as Convergence 2009.

One of these was Jonathan Rosenberg, who co-founded the first Philippine call-center in 1999. Now, 10 years after, he's one of the venerable players in an industry that is delivering more than $2 billion in annual revenue and provides 160,000 jobs in a country that

You can find the interview at the NOW Magazine syndication site.

I'm staying away from the dread term "outsourcing," because I don't believe it accurately defines what is going on in the global economy today. To me, the idea of "global sourcing" is much more accurate.

Most products today are sourced from dozens, if not hundreds, of vendors from all corners of the world. Services are also provided from innumerable pinpoints on the globe.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

This Economics is Tricky Stuff

The Obama Administration has decided that Asia matters. Driven primarily by the specter of emerging Chinese economic might, the President is nonetheless embracing the region as a whole.

Set aside his glib use of his childhood years in Indonesia as making him the "first pacific President." Obama appears to be sincere in paying as much attention to Asia as to Europe.

His "differences" with several Asian nations over human rights--ranging from mild rebukes to China, strong advice to Myanmar, and crisis management with North Korea--tend to obscure the reality that the real debate is about economics.

And it is with economics that former law professor Obama may receive a schooling. Unlike political diplomacy, which is often a zero-sum game, economic diplomacy is far more nuanced and unpredictable. Push a button here, pull a lever there, and a whole new unforseen picture may be created.

The top item on this agenda is the continued undervaluing of China's currency, which has allowed the country to generate enormous sales of everyting from party favors to laptop computers at great prices to consumers in the US and throughout the world.

Stop pegging the currency to the dollar, let it float, the argument goes, then US producers will have a more level playing field, and all those great jobs will return to Ohio and Michigan, as Obama promised they would during his campaign.

One of the big problems is that a stronger Chinese currency will reduce the value of the hundreds of billions of dollars of US debt that China has steadily acquired in recent years.

A strong Chinese currency won't necessarily cause a proportionate fall in the dollar, but it should weaken it. This would be a disaster from where I often sit in the Philippines, a country that generates about 13% of its economy from millions of overseas workers, about half of them in the US.

A recent dollar drop-off dropped the exchange rate here from around 48 to around 46 to the dollar, something that immediately cut the inflow of remittances from the US by about $1 million per day.

It's generally agreed that in the long term the country needs to develop more of its own good jobs and get off of the addiction to foreign remittances. Of course, it's also often argued that the US should get off its addiction to foreign oil. Which will happen first?

Who cares about the Philippines, anyway? The Obama administration says it does, and a recent friendly visit by Hillary Clinton underscored that point.

There has been enough economic success in recent years to take Thailand and Malaysia to classify them as newly-industrialized rather than developing; to launch Indonesia into the G20 and give it a major regional spokesperson role; to pronounce Vietnam as the new It Girl; and to bring ubiquitous megamalls and world-beating communications to the Philippines.

But when elephants battle, the grass suffers. And there are 600 million people in the grass in Southeast Asia. All of the progress cited above could be crushed quickly.

Obama demagogued the globalization issue during his campaign, using Bill Clinton's NAFTA legacy as a weapon against Hillary during the primaries, and excoriating those American businesses who dared to outsource. He seems to believe in tactical trade barriers, reminiscent of 70s-era anti-dumping allegations against Japan.

And now he his saying that Americans need to "save more and spend less" so that the economy doesn't go into freefall again as it did in September 2008 (ensuring his election in the process).

He will find that what gets people to cheer on the stump in Youngstown won't pass muster in Singapore this week, as he engages 54% of the world economy at a US President's first visit to an APEC meeting.

More important, he will find that the unthinking, blind cruelty of the world economy will make a mockery of his best-played talking points.

If Americans truly started to spend less just because they think they should, why yes, that would reduce the trade deficit with China. It would also be the absolute best way to plung the world back into deep recession.

If China sudddenly lets its currency float, watch what will happen to the value of its US investments. This move may actually crush the dollar.

If the dollar gets crushed, no one in the Philippines will be happy. What the country always seeks is a stable dollar, not a particularly weak or strong one.

If all of those outsourced jobs were suddenly transported to the US, and employers forced to retain them, then either the cost of innumerable products would go through the roof, or corporate profits would drop through the floor. Not going to happen, the notion is ridiculous even as a thought exercise.

President Obama has not yet called me to ask my opinion, but when he does, I would tell him to listen more and talk less while in Asia. Not only will the locals appreciate this, he will learn about how the world really works today.

The President seems to be a highly intelligent, thoughtful person. Should he learn from Asia, rather than try to dictate to it, he'll figure out how to make America stronger. Hint: encourage education and entrepreneurship...and no more memories of lost times.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cloud Computing Expo Billows in Santa Clara

I'll be reporting on next week, even though I'm 7,500 miles away from its Santa Clara location. It starts Monday morning, and features keynotes from Yahoo, Oracle, and Unisys.

I'll be watching it live on, between the hours of 1am and 9am local time here in Asia. No problem, I got up in the middle of the night to watch the US get beat in World Cup soccer back in 2002, I can certainly be up for this.

A recent Cloud Computing conference run by the same folks featured a discussion of the Cloud Computing Manifesto and the defense of it by IBM's Kristof Kloeckner. We'll see what sort of sparks will fly this time.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Uncle Sam Still Matters

I've been promising myself to write about the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, for which I had a press credential, but which has now been in the rear-view mirror for a month. My idea had been to talk about Indonesia and its plans to press the case for Southeast Asia, now that this country of more than 200 million people had a seat at the adult's table.

But then the real adults took over, as the US and China became the centerpiece of the event. President Obama attended, and met with Hu Jintao. Mega-concerns over North Korea, the strength of the dollar, and the overall relationship between the two countries.

But, in the end, the G20 emerged as a replacement for the G8 as the primary forum for economic talks among nations. So the Indonesians were able to get what they wanted.

Now, as we near the end of October, Southeast Asia is again pushing its agenda, at an ASEAN meeting in Thailand. This meeting had been postponed a couple of times because of political unrest there--in essence, there are two points of view among the populace that appear irreconcilable at the moment--but is now going on at a beach resort.

ASEAN is a venerable institution, but one that does not have the truly big players as members. So, these players were invited--China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Australia.

Clearly, the leaders of the 600 million people of Southeast Asia are anxious to flex their economic muscles on the world stage. There is talk of an "EU-like" partnership here. To that end, Japan and Australia made competing presentations about how to accomplish this.

To me, the fascinating aspect is that both of these plans include the US as either a "key" or a "cornerstone." On a sidenote, ASEAN is working to create a workable human rights commission, but its members are being criticized for its weak stand against fellow member Myanmar (Burma). The excuse being thrown about is that because the US has recently re-engaged the Burmese government, after many years of hostility, "the pressure is off" of ASEAN to take a strong stand.

So, let's review:
* the most important member of an expanded global economic initiative remains the United States. No real surprise there, given that the US still has, by far, the world's largest national economy.

* Southeast Asia, with input from the major Asian powers, sees a key role for the US in any future plans.

* Southeast Asia is taken a hands-off approach to a sticky human-rights issue, leaving the real work to the US.

So, after decades of economic decline, withering criticism from all corners of the world, initial weakness in assuming the role of "the world's only superpower," and a recently completed eight years of unilateral policy that alienated much of the world, the United States remains the country in which much of the world continues to place its hope. Not the UK, not France, not Japan, not China, and certainly not Russia.

Also, recent weakness in the dollar is causing enormous problems in many Asian countries, because the influx of those dollars into so many economies here is what keeps them alive and well.

Isn't it nice to feel wanted?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary Aids Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) Victims

There's been an outpouring of concern and aid from many people in the US and elsewhere to help victims of the flooding caused by Typhoon Ondoy in the Philippines.

One place to send aid--an organization that's not as well-known as it should be--is the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary.

The Auxiliary is not part of the Philippine government. Rather, it is a group of seaworthy, dedicated volunteers who assist the Philippine Coast Guard in many areas: search and rescue, public education, environmental protection, and several other civic-minded functions.

I spent several years with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and got to know many people around the world who volunteer for similar organizations in their countries.

One of the great people I met along the way is Commodore Harold Wolf of the Philippine auxiliary. I've just been in touch with him, and he said that the group is accepting donations, which are being used solely for food, blankets, and fuel for rescue missions.

Donations can be sent to:
Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. Mandaluyong Branch, Greenfield Bldg. 750 Shaw Blvd. Nandaluyong City
RCBC Acct. #0-275-80165-8
Name of account: PCGA National- International Affairs.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Julius Akinyemi: MIT Resident Entrepreneur

If you've been reading my blog, you can see I have trouble coming up with good headlines.

I don't like the aspect of the Google Age that has eliminated creative headline writing by demanding a focus on keywords. So my cutesy skills have atrophied, and I usually just try to pinpoint people with something straightforward.

But I had real trouble with writing the headline for Julius Akinyemi. He has such a breadth of experience that I couldn't decide how to pinpoint him. He's been an exec at PepsiCo and Wells Fargo. He's done work with the UN. He's done work throughout the world. Then I realized that you can't pinpoint him. So I went with his current position at MIT and left it at that.

The real story is what Julius is doing right now at the MIT Media Lab. He aims to bring true empowerment--not the feel-good kind we have in the US, but the real kind that lifts people out of poverty--to millions of people throughout the world, particularly in Africa.

His idea is to create an eRegistry of everything from names of people to lists of the land and the cows they own, and create markets for them that are easily accessible, fair, and efficient. It's hard to explain in 100 words or fewer, so here's the full article/interview, just posted on the NOW Mag syndication site:

Here's Ross Turk, Director of Community, SourceForge

I managed to meet up with SourceForge's Ross Turk at OSCON in San Jose several weeks ago. I finally managed to transcribe and edit our discussion, and just posted it at the NOW Magazine syndication site:

As I wrote in the article, "Ross could have certainly talked to me about a million different things, but I tried to focus on a small amount of the big stuff that drives him. I started with a really dull question, then tried to improve as things went on...

NOW Magazine: As Director of Community, what are your main responsibilities?

Ross Turk: In a sentence: my job is to understand how people use our services, represent SourceForge, and keep my company from doing dumb things."

You can find the rest of the interview at the NOW Magazine URL that I listed above.

Thanks, Ross!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lars Kurth, Community Manager at Symbian

I've now posted my interview with Symbian Contributing Community Manager Lars Kurth. I met him at OSCON, and then followed up with some specific questions for him.

One nice quote: "Becoming a 'rock star' in our community is about what individuals do for the community and whether they build their own communities around them."

Here's the full interview:

Lars is yet another smart, interesting character in this industry. Whenever I get depressed about the state of the world (which is often), I remember all the great and dedicated people in the IT industry worldwide, and I cheer up a bit.

Hope this interview provides a little cheer for you!

Monday, September 21, 2009

My Interview with Bluenog's Sastry Taruvai

Even though I had mean things to say about OSCON's location in San Jose this year (see earlier post), it was convenient enough for me to head over to the convention center and interview some key people in the industry.

One of those people was Bluenog co-founder and CIO Sastry Taruvai. He's an engaging guy who worked for BEA for awhile, then recently plunged into the open-source enterprise software waters with two other like-minded execs.

"Enterprise software cannot be built in a vacuum," he told me in our interview. In short, he gets it. You can find the interview at NOW Magazine online:

My interview with Sastry is just the first of several from OSCON that I'll be posting over the next week or so. Happy reading!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Asian G20 Countries Want More Say

The Associated Press ran a story this morning, picked up and run prominently in Manila and elsewhere, about how the big Asian countries who belong to the G20 want "more input" into how the world is run.

Based on GDP, China is at the forefront of this group, with Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, and Indonesia also in the group. Everyone will have a chance to make their voices heard in the upcoming G20 summit in Pittsburgh.

Australia is a Western country located near Asia, and twins with Canada a low-population, resource-rich member of the British Commonwealth. As the world once again re-focuses on scarce resources and the impact of their use, Australia does have the opportunity to be influential despite having an economy that can seem anachronistic in the hip, 21st century Internet Age.

And not for nothing, Australia and Canada are two nations that don't generally mind welcoming immigrants and integrating them into their societies.

I throw this out there because Japan is among the more exclusive societies in the world, traditionally even loathing as gaijin the nisei/sansei/yonsei (children of Japanese parents and grandparents) who visit Japan.

Anyone who's visited Japan knows that the word "gaijin" is often pronounced in a guttural way that makes it sound like an English equivalent of "turdface" or something of that nature.

A recent seismic shift in Japanese politics is the first serious threat in years to end the two-decade economic stagnation here, caused by the rigid, iron-gripped stranglehold of government bureaucrats and big business on society.

But the political shift was accomplished by an appeal to the day in/day out cares of ordinary Japanese, rather than some vision of global integration.

South Korea, still getting a grip on its recent economic success and how to use it most effectively on the world stage, has fought hard over many centuries to prevent being dominated by its neighbors. Koreans are justifiably proud of their "scientific" writing system, which has brought an ease of literacy in a difficult language.

Pronunciation remains a problem. Koreans are on a par with the French in their trouble in making themselves understood in English. On the flipside, even a simple word such as "Seoul" is confounding to non-Koreans; it sounds more like "czar" when pronounced properly than the "soul" of its English transliteration.

Koreans work tremendously hard to overcome the language barrier. The people are bracingly direct, more like Westerners than most in Asia. The country has a stable democracy, and has shown much patience with the continuing misery of being a divided nation and insanity of the North Korean government.

It encourages foreign invesment, and works hard to be a reliable trading partner, whether selling integrated circuits, cars, or animation. It vies with the U.S. to have the world's greatest computer-game players. It's hard to imagine South Korea some day being a pluralistic society, but you never know. The country wants to host a G20 summit. It wants to do something about the gap between rich and poor nations. It does seem ready to assume a louder voice in global affairs.

The desires of China and India to have a larger role are driven primarily by population, of course.

China already exerts a large geopolitical role; its efforts in the next several years will likely be related to trade and preserving the wealth it has earned through exports and floating the never-ending debt of the U.S. The elephant in the room remains the country's terrifically undervalued currency, and the economic disruption that might ensue should anyone get serious about addressing the issue.

India remains frustrated in not being taken seriously enough. But the country is best-known in recent years as a place where outsourcing has not been successful. The financial crash in the U.S. hurt Indian outsourcing tremendously. The disappointments routinely experienced by Silicon Valley companies in locating offices throughout India have created a climate of mutual distrust, whether high-level executives acknowledge this or not.

India did have its own U.S.-style thievery scandal when the CEO of upcoming outsourcer Satyam allegedly ran off with a billion or so dollars. Should the Indian outsourcing industry hold steady through the economic crisis and this particular scandal, the country may be ready to move upstream and become a leader in future years.

That leaves Indonesia, the largest country in my favorite region of Southeast Asia. A recent terrorist attack on a hotel there was a terrible thing, but is unlikely to scare off big investors.

The country remains a laggard in its use and development of IT, but has created a stable democracy for 240 million people out of the ashes of decades of totalitarian rule. As the world's largest Muslim country, it is sensitive about portraying itself as a reliable, conservative place rather than a hateful, radical one.

As always, political and religious leaders foment dissent and violence among people who really just want to build decent lives for themselves and their children, as is the case throughout the world, including in the "secular" U.S.

The globalization cat is out of the bag. The cat will remain free, despite a rash of recent protectionist barriers quickly slapped together in the recent recession, as pointed out by Global Trade Alert. The cat may have lost a life or two in the decade since the first big anti-globalization protests in Seattle in 1999.

But it has many lives left, and is being fed by the newly-wealthy countries in the G20 and a second group of about 30 countries that aspire for more wealth and influence.

Government leaders in these places have seen that their governments become stronger as their people become less miserable. The old tirades of how colonialization by the West ruined everything are being replaced by efforts to sell things to the West, and increasingly, to one another.

It seems to be generally agreed that the days of the post-WWII old-boys' club running the world are over. Even most of the old boys agree with this. But there's more to leadership than making money. The upcoming G20 meeting will show how well the aspiring leaders understand this, and to what degree the old guard believes them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Asian Innovation -- Economic Echelons

As we all know, there are five countries that stand above the rest in Asia: China, India, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.

China and India are the twin colossi of growth right now.

Japan and Korea are the finished products, having produced their own economic miracles (Japan after WWII until the 70s and Korea from the 70s until today. Korea's Incheon Bridge, pictured left, is but one little example).

Taiwan has quietly produced its own miracle in the past 30 years, accomplishing a look-and-feel that is starting to approach that of Japan and Korea. Its amazing subway system, pictured left, is but one little example.

Each of these five countries deserves to have many more books written about them. Each has a complex of issues and more than enough angst to go around. More later.

But I want to focus on Southeast Asia, which forms the second Asian economic echelon and is an incredibly vibrant region of the globe.

If you're selling IT, you probably want to be there. The governments there all make noise about improving the lot of their people through IT innovation. Open-source is a hot topic, of course. But so are netbooks, and the increasing array of handheld devices.

And if you're looking for innovation, you might want to do some pioneer work there, particularly in social networking and social media, as this is a very community-based part of the world. The cultures there are born to do social networking!

Five Southeast Asian countries--Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia--have a combined population of about 560 million and a combined GDP in PPP terms of around $2.5 billion.

The region's population will soon exceed 600 million and be more than twice that of the US by 2013. Its GDP is greater than that of France or the UK now. Unless you're selling snow shovels or 3XL t-shirts, this region is somewhere your business probably wants to be.

One report I read ranked IT use and innovation in SE Asia in the order I mentioned above: Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia.

(I'm leaving the city-state of Singapore out of the discussion. And Cambodia, Laos, and the former Burma remain mired to a large degree; the first two never having recovered from celebrity-seeking war criminal Henry Kissinger's ideas about war, and the latter in the grip of an infamous totalitarian regime.)

Indonesia (its capital Jakarta, is pictured left) has the largest GDP in the region--a function of its immense population of 240 million people--and has now achieved G20 status.

Many westerners are unaware of how stable it has become since the bad old days of Sukarno and Suharto--The Year of Living Dangerously remains a great movie, but it does not describe the country today.

Yet the other four countries seem more heavily bent on improving their use of IT (or ICT as it's called in some places) and developing reputations for innovation.

Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) is a prime example. I've been chasing someone from there for a long time now, and will nail them down for an interview some day, I'm sure.

The Philippines is building a very-high-speed IT corridor of its own, running down the spine of this complex archipelago. I interviewed government ICT head Ray Roxas-Chua a year ago about some of the government's activity.

Thailand has seen a couple of solid decades of growth. The kingdom sees itself as better in some respects to all of its neighbors, as it's never been conquered by a foreign power. It has been successful in promoting its second city, Chiang Mai, located in its slightly more pleasant northern climes.

Vietnam, while still run by a Communist government, is following a version of China's economic liberalization policies to great effect. Its entrepreneurial hordes (pictured left) have upgraded their bikes and slow down for no one.

Ironically, bloggers there have been arrested recently for criticizing China, a country that has often tried to dominate the Viets over the millenia and which started a nasty little border war in 1979.

Politics makes strange bedfellows, to be sure. Business makes one indifferent as to who or what's in the bed.

I don't want to be in total cheerleader mode about this region. It's hot and steamy, and there are a wide variety of governments and religious beliefs.

Vietnam has Buddhists and Catholics, as well as a syncretic local faith so precisely described by Graham Greene in his 1950s novel, The Quiet American.

Indonesians and Malaysians are primarily Sunni muslims, except for the Christians in the former breakaway province of East Timor that is now the country of Timor-Leste.

Thais are mostly Theravada Buddhists (with Muslims in the south). I am sure there is more complexity here than I currently know.

Meanwhile, above you can see pix I took of the Quiapo Catholic church in Manila, and of a mosque that is just a 10-minute walk from the church.

The Philippines also has its own homegrown, tagalog-speaking "Church of Christ," founded by a nationalist leader almost a century ago. The recent death of his son, who assumed leadership 50 years ago, was a traumatic event, not least of all to the politicians who curry favor with an 8-million-strong membership that is very strongly encouraged to vote as a single bloc.

And on it goes.

Charges of corruption also resound throughout the region. In this area, I don't want to sound cavalier...but hey, I grew up in Illinois, one of the most corrupt places on earth, and the lifestyle there has always been at least the equal of the supposedly cleaner states that surround it! (I provide a picture, left, of Richard J. and Richard M. Daley circa 1968 for your amusement.)

What strikes one in visiting Southeast Asia is how all politics is local all over the world. In the Philippines, for example, when local presidential candidates are not accusing each other of murder, they're obsessing about the economic challenge that Vietnam presents.

Vietnam, for its part, keeps thrumming along blithely, hoping to sell more and more to China as Western markets remain weak.

Indonesia distrusts Malaysia, its closest neighbor, and Manila wonders if Malaysia can be neutral in talks with Muslim groups in the southern reaches of the Philippines.

Thailand sometimes seems at the brink of civil war, and wearing the wrong color on the streets of Bangkok might be as dangerous as doing so in south LA.

You probably can ignore Southeast Asia without peril. But I choose not to. The future of our world lies here, I believe, and someday I'll get around to that book that explains why.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to report on the region, with looks at some of the companies, initiatitves, and people who are making things happen.

Asian Innovation -- China and India

During a recent trip to Asia I read many reports about relative competitiveness. Even though I want to focus most of my efforts on Southeast Asia, I'm compelled to rant a bit about China and India as well.

I have no answers here, just some initial impressions based on recent travel and having working relationships and friends in both countries.

China and India stand as the twin colossi of innovation-fueled growth, of course. Both have made astonishing progress in the past 30 years, to be sure.

But both are beset by internal challenges that would make American policymakers tremble, cry, and start shouting at everybody they see, not just their head-of-state.

China can fool the first-time visitor with its fantastic new airports, nice roads, and mile after mile of modern office complexes and high-rises.

Shanghai feels to me like the new New York, with the added advantage of my being able to stare directly into the mid-day sun without fear of damaging my eyes.

Beijing feels like a cross between Washington DC and Dallas. Clearly a government capital, and on a scale that might humble JR Ewing.

India is capable of no such sleight of hand. It's a miserable slog from the time you land until the time you depart. The heat in most places is pernicious and merciless. As a splendidly raucous, messy democracy, the country is unable to sweep its problems under the rug (or out into the nether provinces) as the totalitarians in China can.

Yet both countries still have hundreds of millions of poor people, are gobbling increasingly large shares of oil and other natural resources, and if anyone is really sincere about making the connection between carbon-based emissions and global warming they would start to address the situation in these two countries before going after the US or Western Europe.

The population bulk is so obvious as to be unremarkable, but I'll remark anyway: the two countries hold more than a third of the world's people. (Add another 600 million or so in Southeast Asia, 130 million from Japan, and 50 million from South Korea, and you are nearing half of the world's population.)

Many of us remember the Malthusian-based "population bomb" thinking from the 70s. The premise was that hundreds of millions would starve soon because the planet could not provide enough food for them. This was when the globe's population stood at around 4 billion, compared to today's 6.7 billion.

A revolution in crop hybrids, which dramatically increased yields, arrived just in time. (The best-known leader of that movement, Dr. Norman Borlaug, died just recently.) Starvation became more a function of war than food shortages, and the population continued to grow.

Yet the pressures of population are way apparent to me when I visit either of these two countries. I always have to check my American mindset at the exit gate, and try to see what I'm seeing with unbiased eyes (if that is possible).

Just as many visitors to the US, conditioned by American TV shows and movies, think we have numerous gunfights in all of our streets every day--oh wait, sometimes we do--we Americans almost uniformly become uncomfortable when confronted by the masses, say, outside of Mumbai International Airport or rush-hour in Shanghai.

So I try to be the earnest guy. Hey, I'm a regular Rick Steves when I'm in foreign lands.

That said, I can't get away from the numbers in China and India.

Let's shift gears for a second, and look at the counter-example of Ireland.

Visitors to the Emerald Isle in the 70s found a beautiful place that was noticeably poor. Ireland's per-capita income in 1975 was sandwiched among Spain, Greece, and Puerto Rico, and was less than 40% of that of the US.

Today, Ireland's per-capita GDP ranks as high as fifth in the world (according to the World Bank), just behind the US and just ahead of Switzerland.

Why? A series of smart (in retrospect) government initiatives, including a friendly tax policy for investors, kicked off a "Celtic Tiger" renaissance in the 90s that brought Ireland into the world's elite economies. Adopting the Euro as its currency (a move most likely made more to spite hated England than anything) confirmed to the outside world that Ireland was a serious regional and global player.

But it had to help that there are only 3 million people in the republic. Add a couple hundred thousand good jobs in Ireland, and you've transformed a country's economy. But add a couple hundred thousand good jobs in India, and you haven't made much progress in improving any city, let alone the entire country. Boiling the ocean.

This is relevant because we live in an era of nations. The empires of old have (almost) vanished and the kingdoms of today are either democratic or tiny. This would seem like progress and a devolution of power among the peoples of the earth.

But thanks to our terrible weapons of war and a centralization of capital, a few nations today have a global presence that would be the envy of Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan.

The United States, of course, leads this pack, and Americans are taught (or were taught until recently) that this is the way things should be. Yet the nations of China and India are two places that challenge this assertion today.

When India was a collection of hundreds of states under the British Raj, it had no real power. As an enormous, independent country--even shed of modern-day Pakistan and Bangladesh--and the world's largest democracy, it does.

India, to me, is a place of insatiable demand and really crappy roads. This sounds harsh and will no doubt anger my Indian friends. I am trying to ameliorate this opinion by working with a friend of mine there on a book about the complexity of India and its still-new relationship with the US.

China, to me, has a yin and yang aspect to it: terrifying from a distance, but resolutely benign when you're there. The striving folks I know there have no grandiose illusions about leading the world, but just want stable, comfortable lives.

One friend of mine in China is utterly perplexed at US criticism of Chinese imports. "We do all this work for you, we make all of your products at a really cheap price, and then you complain. We do not want to own your country, we want to own ours."

Asian Innovation -- First, the Cultural Barriers

I had trouble with my phone on a recent trip to Asia. Made the rookie's mistake of not knowing my bb was CDMA only, when you have to have GPS in that part of the world.

I was able to squeeze off a few emails, texts, and tweets in Korea. This was ironic in that many US/Canada/Australia travelers have trouble there, but there must have been an old CDMA tower somewhere in the neighborhood.

One of my tweets referred to the '"second echelon" of innovation among Southeast Asian countries.

Using a pompous, manly word like "echelon" implies one has something important to say. The military loves the word. I like it because it helps me get a grip on the frenzied acitivity in Asia right now.

Beehives are calmer places than many Asian countries today. And once I'm able to wrap my dim, linear Western mind around Asian culture, the hyper-organization found in beehives makes itself apparent in Asia as well. (More on that in a later post.)

Asian culture, as in singular culture, do you say? Yes, to invoke Danny Quayle, I do realize that it's like there are really a bunch of different countries in Asia. Yet there is a certain indirectness, or obliqueness, that one encounters everywhere. In more racist times, what Westerners referred to as "inscrutability."

Put Korea at the top of the list in directness and either India or the Philippines at the bottom, and you've made a start. Raising one's voice, making intractable demands, and generally huffing and puffing will get you nowhere. As so many have noted, "yes" doesn't necessarily mean "yes."

But I can tell you that "no" means "no," so you can get that Asian businesspeople are as flummoxed by the Westerner's sales-y "selling starts at no" mentality as Westerners are confounded by constantly hearing "it's up to you" or hearing nothing when seeking affirmation.

The trick is not getting to "no." If I do business in Asia for another 300 years I won't understand all the aspects of "face," having it, saving it, losing it, etc. So many times the notion of "saving face" seems no different than the Western idea of achieving "win-win."

But maybe it's the word "achieve" that causes the trouble. When you've been taught your entire life to strive, to be outstanding (ie, to stand out), to speak up, to say what you mean and mean what you say, and to rack up as many achievements as you can, then plunging yourself into ancient, community-centric mileau is the most confusing situation imaginable.

The language barrier can be overcome to some degree; the cultural barriers not so much.


I've been trying to get a grip on organizing things. No, not personal things; my place will remain a catastrophic mess until I'm no longer around to ignore it.

But I'm getting all the NOW Magazine stuff better-organized. The plan is to treat this blog as, well, a blog. You know none of us can really define a "true blog," but we know one when we see it. My hope is that you'll see this one frequently.

I have several very nice interviews backed into my editing queue. I am working on getting them published real soon now. They will be published at the NOW Magazine site:

The domain at this site is a CMS environment that lets me post my stories easily and which gets fairly good google-search traction. Ads will show up there per the CMS owners' sales efforts. I have nothing to do with it.

I'll publish future NOW Magazine Thought Leadership features there as well. Plans now call for a new print edition of NOW to come out in Q2 2010.

So here's the hierarchy:

Unfocused, short, asinine thoughts:

Slightly focused, middle-length, self-important rants:

Focused, sharp, tremendous interviews/features:

Happy reading!

Real Conferences Are Much Better Than Virtual

Saw the latest puffpiece on why virtual conferences are so cool in today's SF Chronicle. The story had a cute lead and everything.

The topic doesn't merit a true rant, but I'll only say that whenever things hit the fan, you'll read numerous articles about telecommuting, teleconferences, and virtual conferences.

We're social animals. Yet we like to get away from the office now and then.

Telecommuting coops people up in their homes. They forget to dress nice, they get lazy, and they soon despair of missing all the gossip, nice printers, and fast networks they get in their offices.

Teleconferencing is slow torture. Sure, it beats the dreaded conference call if the signal is good, but most teleconferences are either log-rolling exercises or a way around a company being too cheap to either hire US employees or put them on a plane so they can meet their colleagues face to face.

Virtual conferences, as the Chronicle article mentioned, can be great add-ons to real conferences. They do provide value for those years that a company doesn't want to fork out millions for a real conference. But they have always been, and will always be, a stopgap measure. When the good economic times return, the good times return as well. Viva Las Vegas!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Flying Asiana to Asia

Long-time travelers to Asia learn to master the travel options to that region, because it's a long haul, it can be an expensive one, and Asian travel oftens means landing in a crowded steambath. The energy levels in Asian cities can be enervating as well, so you need to have your A-game with you when you land.

I've had a good experience with Asiana Airlines on a few recent trips. This is South Korea's other major airline, and it's rated as one of the very few "five-star airlines" in the world (see

I'll give it 4.5 stars, I guess. I don't get to travel Singapore Airlines business class like the Thom Friedmans of the world, so I can't compare my experience with those who've raved about Singapore for years. I have traveled on Cathay Pacific (in economy), and found it to be the most pleasant experience one can have for 12+ hours in a metal tube.

Back to Asiana. Nice legroom, personal entertainment systems (although the "city info" is laughable), a neutral-colored color scheme that (no kidding) helps me sleep, and efficient service make it a nice experience.

Nice, but not overwhelmingly so. Remember, Koreans are hardly the shrinking violets of the Asian world, so don't expect anyone to grovel for you in the way flight attendants are depicted in ads for many Asian airlines.

Korean culture is very direct, like that of the US. So, think United Airlines, but without the overt, deliberate nastiness that's invariably found in the happy employees of the Friendly Skies.

If you're connecting to Southeast Asia, it may seem you've wasted time flying past Tokyo for an hour to reach Seoul, only to track back on your connecting flight. But the schedules out of Narita can have longer connecting times, and this airport can have delays that one rarely sees at the spacious new Incheon airport in Korea.

You get hearty Korean food on these flights as well--much less strange to the US palate than anything you might encounter from a Japanese airline, and much less bad than the crap United et al still like to serve to the unfortunates trapped on their planes.

And here's the fun thing. One of the routes I take has a 12-hour layover on the return to the US. I do this because Asiana's fares are often several hundred dollars less than that of its competitors. But if you call the airline beforehand, you'll get a very nice hotel room for the day, free of charge, so you can sleep and not be a total waste upon arrival back home. Alternatively, you can take a city tour, which I've been told is a lot of fun. For me, I take the room and the sleep every time! Be sure to call ahead, because you won't get this without a reservation.

Asiana is part of the Star Alliance. Most flights receive 70% mileage credit on United, but if you just go ahead and join Asiana, you'll get upgraded into the frequent-flyer hierarchy much more quickly.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In the Philippines, the Heat is Always On

(This is the first of a series of articles about the Philippines, what it's like to be there, its political scene, and its potential as a global outsourcing destination and technology innovator. I start with the most obvious thing a Westerner notices upon arrival there: the heat.)

Arrival at Benigno Aquino International Airport in Manila has always gone smoothly for me. Despite Westerners’ fears of the Asian masses—and there will be 100 million people residing within the Philippines’ 100,000 or so square miles by the end of 2013—the reality is that international travel is a true luxury here. Not many locals can afford it.

The zoos one finds at SFO and most airports in North America and Western Europe are not in evidence in Asia. In the past year, I’ve been struck by the sheer emptiness of the ultra-modern, massive glass edifices in Beijing, Shanghai, even Seoul, as well as at the slightly less grand International Terminal here in Manila.

Immigration and customs moves quickly. The Philippines is inclined to let us rich Americans into their country; the main concern seems to be that I’m aware that I’ll need to come up with a few hundred pesos should I wish to overstay my initial 21-day visa.

Absent here in Manila are the insulting slow pace, the skeptical, even paranoid eyes, and the hectoring tone one finds when returning through US immigration. This country has a real, ongoing terror problem in many of its provinces, a problem that is taken seriously and often addressed severely. But there is no spillover paranoia toward me, the aging white guy from the US, there to visit friends and further destroy his health with spaghetti for breakfast, fried foods for lunch and dinner, and halo halo for dessert.

The heat is apparent the instant I step off the plane and into the jetway. It returns, full-force, as I stroll through the exit doors and into the night air. The heat is such an apparent, omnipresent feature of the Philippines that to complain about it is to belabor it. I’ll throw out some statistics about it, make a few observations about it, then try to move on before I put you to sleep.

Manila’s climate can be compared to Miami’s. Same rough statistical range—highs in the 80s, lows in the 70s most of the year. It rises into the 90s frequently. The temperatures would be higher were it not for the humidity, and It is oppressively humid here almost every day—dewpoints in the 73-77 range for those of you who enjoy knowing this stuff. Frequent rains during a defined wet season with numerous typhoons, then a very slight cooling around Christmas.

They name their typhoons there, just as tropical storms are named in the Americas. The distinction made in the Americas between the terms “tropical storm” and “hurricane”—the latter being used when sustained winds exceed 75 miles per hour—is not made here. Justly so, because any typhoon is capable of wreaking enormous damage on the fragile infrastructure found anywhere outside of Manila and the other cities, flooding can be catastrophic anywhere, and landslides are a feared threat during any storm.

Very few people have air-conditioning (or “aircon” as they call it here) outside of the central city. Very few people want it. It is amusing to watch people who are among the toughest on the planet go into convulsions if the aircon at the local Jollibee or internet cafĂ© is cranked too high. (It’s much less amsuing to see the medieval housing in which so many of these same people live, a topic I’ll cover in more detail later. )

The lack of aircon presents a major problem for me, as it does for most “Kano” (the shortened form of Americano that is applied to all white folks. Kano British, Kano Australian, Kano German, and Kano Dutch are among the specific indicators you’ll hear.)

Very few Kano are silly enough to try to live without aircon, because the heat is not only remorseless, but exacerbated by pollution from squadrons of the famous Jeepneys, fleets of two-stroke “trikes” (dirt bikes hooked up to tinny, covered sidecars designed perfectly for those in the 4-10 to 5-4 height range), innumerable trash fires, and pervasive slash-and-burn agriculture.

I am reasonably sure that DDT or reasonable facsimiles are also in widespread use. The eco-commitment in the Philippines reminds me of my late 50s-early 60s childhood in rural, Midwestern America. Even the young people here in the Philippines are plagued with a frequent hacking cough that comes from way down deep.

The locals walk around in this heat all day without apparent effect. There’s a certain unhurried, loose amble that I’ve learned to copy, which allows you to move efficiently through the angry sun and soupy air at a reasonable speed. Try to propel yourself with the hurried, aggressive, no-nonsense gait of the typical American city, and you’ll find yourself completely gassed and very unhappy within three minutes.

They crowd onto the Jeepneys (actually called “Jeeps” and pronounced “Jips”) with less than no room to spare. A low-ceilinged vehicle with facing bench seats that would hold about 10 people in the US, the Jeep in the Philippines provides transportation for at least 18, and if there is luggage worked into any remaining space in the aisle, so be it. The trike is ideal for one passenger, and three people (with one riding sidesaddle behind the homicidal driver) typically ride it.

Books have been written and academic careers made on the topic of the Western concept of personal space vs. the Asian concept of communitarian space. I have nothing new to add here. My unschooled, non-academic observation is to say only that if you don’t like to be crowded continuously, if you quickly grow weary of “nonconsenual rubbing” (in Paul Theroux’s phrase), then you don’t want to live as most people do in the Philippines. Additionally, if you suffer in the summertime heat of, say, Washington, DC or Orlando, then you will suffer here.

My biggest problem with the heat occurs at night. No break. No breeze. Humidity simply increases as the ambient temperature drops to the swelteringly high dewpoint. Then, at about 4am, a little relief. I am often awake at that hour, and when in the Philippines I feel a slight cooling around that time. I feel as if I’m breathing more air than water for the first time in a day.

An hour later, the comically numerous and obstreperous roosters announce the sun, the dogs start in, and the hot, damp cloth of Philippine humidity is once again wrapped around my forehead, neck, and body.

Friday, July 24, 2009

OSCON: Dead Venue, Good Conversations

"I liked it better in Portland," said one OSCON attendee to another during Thursday's lunch. This comment summed up the feeling of OSCON 2009 at the San Jose Convention Center. Nice people, wrong venue.

Portland's progressive reputation and its status as the North American home of open-source deity Linus Torvalds made it the perfect place for this modest event. The cavernous, sterile confines of the largest convention center in sterile Silicon Valley brought the excitement surrounding OSCON down several notches.

But in the spirit of hating the sin and not the sinner, it can be reported that there is still a lot of personality and dynamism in the world of open-source software. Open Source is experiencing stimulating times during this global recession, the most exciting period since the great tech meltdown of 2000-2004.

As IT budgets once again go under siege, the concept of "free" software--or at least much cheaper software without vendor lock-in--becomes very appealing to organizations of all sizes throughout the world.

This time, Open Source doesn't have to go through that pesky validation process it faced years ago. Linux is well-established, even conquering many segments of enterprise IT. The Firefox browser is the most popular--if not yet the most used--in the world. The great proprietary behemoths Microsoft, Sun, and Intel were all out inf force at OSCON screaming as to how open they really are if you just give them a chance to prove it.

And conversations I had with folks from companies such as Bluenog, WSO2, SourceForge, and Revolution Computing demonstrated that there are many serious businesspeople out there who are using this moment to "innovate and invest" in the words of one of them to secure a solidly defensible position when the economy recovers. WSO2 also presented on the mission-criticality of security and governance, and why it's time companies imbue it at design-time.

The New Symbian has a new story--trying to expand paltry market share in the US while maintaining hegemony in the rest of the world--and had the best booth, with glorious yellow beanbags providing a comfortable respite from walking the floor and enduring hard chairs during long sessions.

The political dimension of Open Source Software will never abate entirely. Certainly about half of the booth space here was occupied by the good folks who truly believe in your freedom, in the greater good of the Open-Source movement, and in not trying to make too much money. But the practical dimension seems to co-exist peacefully these days.

The compelling ideas of flexibility and ownership through forking, of community-driven standards, of staying out of the clutches of the monopolists in the crowd, and of using software that works and doesn't bleed you to death have penetrated into corporate consciousness to the degree that it must have seemed like a good idea to hold this event in the Heart of Silicon Valley. Too bad the Heart of Open Source in North America is still in Portland, Oregon.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Google Takes on Microsoft Windows

Who knows if Google can transform its strengths in handling megatraffic into the ability to develop a mega-OS?

Google today is primarily an IT company. Yes, it is quite annoying that this public company won't publicly discuss where it keeps its servers, let alone give a hint to the secret sauce that powers them.

The fact remains that the company has achieved astonishing technical competence in developing and managing a hive intelligence that will be the subject of historical analysis centuries from now.

The question is whether it can turn its expertise outward and deliver an application (eg, OS) strong enough to knock Redmond off of its perch.

Few tears will be shed (outside of Microsoft, that is) should this occur. Older-generation folks such as myself have simply spent too many years putting up with buggy versions of DOS, then Windows, then being subjected to the innumerable and large problems that the virus-magnet Internet Explorer has caused.

Microsoft has been almost willfully careless over the decades with its arrogantly casual treatment of the problems its OS and browser have caused, in my opinion.

Its strikingly hubristic, monopolistic practices were oh-so-close to being consigned to the dustbin of history, before judge Thomas Penfield Jackson indiscretely bragged about what a badass he was in adjudicating Microsoft, thereby calling into question his judgement and neutering his verdict.

Comparing Microsoft execs to "stubborn mules," Jackson demonstrated that even a very smart person can be a real dumbass.

A younger generation doesn't seem to have this emnity toward Redmond. With their first experience being a well-oiled Windows XP, and with many of them enamored by the XBox, the Vista fiasco seems to be the aberration rather than the norm to them.

Yes, they've encountered the XBox's red ring of death (the child of the blue screen of death), but simply trade their units in when this happens. Microsoft, to them, is a good consumer electronics company, and Bill Gates is just another old rich guy.

So, maybe any rant I have against Microsoft reveals a mentality that's been passed by, sort of like those old guys of my youth who used to piss and moan about FDR.

The historical record does reveal Roosevelt's arrogance--trying to pack the Supreme Court, running for endless terms as President, initiating an age of massive government intervention while overstating its results and taking too much credit himself, serving until he was so enfeebled that he did the world untold damage by his weak Yalta performance.

His still-new memorial in Washington DC betrays the grandiosity of the man, in stark contrast to the classic, powerful elegance of the other presidential memorials. Yet Roosevelt continues to be considered one of the country's great presidents, the guy on whose watch the government established a safety net for its citizens, The Great Depression ended, and World War II turned decisively into what would be total victory for the good guys.

The historical record is already treating Bill Gates et al in similar fashion. Bill is seen today as a great technological visionary, his company as the single most important in the history of computing, and his philanthropy as the modern-day equivalent to Andrew Carnegie.

Yet the company made its wealth in a fashion I consider to be nefarious. It had no concept of homegrown innovation or of treating its customers (whether vendors like Compaq and Dell or users like you and me) with any sort of consideration or respect.

So if a day of reckoning does come for Redmond, I would expect to see very little sentimentality over its fate. Reminds me of when airlines started to fail. After decades of providing uniformly hidebound, crappy service, no one cried when we lost such previous American icons as Eastern Airlines, PanAm, and TWA. No one would have cried if the same had happened to United.

General Motors is experiencing the same situation today. Had the company decided, let's say in the 1970s, to manufacture well-built cars and tried to address what has proven to be a chronic cycle of oil shocks, then maybe there would've been some customer loyalty that would've kept the company from its recent embarrassments and failure.

On a smaller scale, the Comdex trade show perished a few years ago, after many years of abusing its exhibitors and attendees. Many people mourned the passing of their annual November bacchanal in Las Vegas; no one mourned the passing of the Comdex brand itself.

As I said, there is an entire generation of people who do not share my views and history will continue to be kind to Microsoft, I think.

So I should rant no more. But deep down inside, I think it would be cool to see Google just kick Microsoft's butt right out to the curb.

Monday, June 29, 2009

NOW Magazine Wins Award

Nice to see this recognition for a great collaborative effort among many of us at TIBCO.

As Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, I have appreciated the support and guidance of Ram Menon over the past few years, though, as we've produced the mag in several languages with several breakthrough articles and interviews.

And a quick tip of the hat to Scott Fingerhut, who adamantly resisted my efforts to name the magazine "Predictive Business," insisting on the much simpler, yet far more powerful, NOW.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Music and SOA: Theory and Practice

A good writer can make any subject tolerable, even interesting. I hope to write well enough here to make the subject of this post as interesting as possible.

It's often remarked that music and mathematics seem to fit well in certain people's brains. The great Doug Hofstatdler's Goedel, Escher, and Bach took this and related insights to a sublime height.

As a music and math person, I've never seen or felt the connection. Yes, both use abstract, universal symbols. Both require superific concentration. Both are easy to appreciate and impossible to master.

Yet I think the music-math brain is a statistical coincidence. I've known a lot of great pianists who can barely add and a few mathletes who couldn't carry a tune with a forklift.

I do, however, see an important intellectual connection between a certain type of music and a certain type of enterprise IT. The music is that of Anton Webern, an early 20th century composer. The enterprise IT construct is today's SOA.

My friends and I were invariably able to clear the dorm room in college when we put on the Mahler around midnight. Most people just couldn't hang, had no willingness to watch us music geeks revel in the subtleties and bombast of the magnificent Gustav. So I know I better keep things moving here as I approach the even more difficult Anton Webern.

So let's leap forward first to the SOA part of the discussion. The keys to building a SOA, as we know, are identifying and liberating/decoupling services from within applications, loosely coupling (and later, perhaps composing) them into desired functionality, orchestrating them, then governing them so they do what you want them to do.

This approach is remarkably similar to the one Webern took with his compositions around 100 years ago.

The early 20th century was a revolutionary time in the worlds of art, music, and literature. The 19th century's beautiful scenes of people and places became abstract representations of inner psyche. The weighty lyricism of Yeats turned into the despairing way the world will end with TS Eliot.

And in music, a centuries-long melodic tradition turned into the deconstructed, compressed forms of what were known as the Second Viennese School composers.

If you don't know Webern, just go to wikipedia, you'll find a few seconds of sound there. If you want more, fear not, his typical pieces run six to nine minutes, a fraction of Mahler's 90-minute Mahler symphonies or Wagner's hours-long operas.

Yet Webern compressed a world--and worldview--of music into those precious few minutes. The music has its own spare beauty, to be sure, but is not something that anyone could bear on a large scale. It is, to think in modern business terms, efficient.

The theory behind Webern's music is fascinating to those who like this sort of thing, but the theory is useless if the guy couldn't write good music. Webern could.

The key thing to remember is that Webern took traditional elements--melody, harmony, meter, and texture--tore them apart (liberated/decoupled them), then put them back together in a spare format that appears almost random (or maybe loosely coupled) on paper but is actually composed with great structural unity and flow.

The governance in this case, is of course, the conductor, without whom the piece would quickly dissolve into a fibrillating heap when performed.

The end result is music that still sounds "weird" to most ears even today, yet grows on one more and more. Yet I annoint Anton Webern the intellectual Father of SOA. His principles are being practiced, knowingly or not, by SOA practitioners worldwide today.

As with Webern, the SOA gang's work can be difficult to explain in theory and effectiveness, difficult to master, and represents an enormous threat to the old ways of seeing and doing things.

I'll stop the analysis right there. The slippery slope of comparing Webern with music created 50 years on either side of him looms before me, as does the chasm of convincing anyone but the earliest adapters that I'm making sense here.

The analogy cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon my blogpost.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Heart's Not Into SOA Marketing

I've been debating this post with myself for a long time. All the voices in my head have contributed to the dialog. It has to do with my health, with my future, and with my relevance.

I'm not famous enough, even to my friends, to think I'm making a public statement here. But I plow on with it.

I wrote the headline for this post with google in mind. Gotta get "SOA" in there for it to be picked up. The head is also a pun, as it relates to my health, which is the real topic of this post.

I've been fighting with this asinine coronary artery disease, or CAD, for about 15 years now. The semi-crippling chest pains first hit when I was mowing the lawn during the years we spent in Wisconsin, when I 38 years old.

For some reason, the disease was never diagnosed there, in the buckle of the Heart Bypass Belt of this country. But upon my return to Silicon Valley in the late 90s, the pains grew increasingly worse and frequent, and in 2000 I had a complex triple bypass that revealed what was termed "severe" and "extensive" disease.

Two more relatively minor angioplasty procedures and several scares later, I have a 1-in-3 chance of making it another nine years; after that, the prognosis gets grim.

This is not exactly the sort of bad news about, say, newly diagnosed cancer that a few thousand people in the US get every day, let alone the tragic news that comes to too many about dread disease or accidents taking another life before its time.

But it has focused my mind wonderfully, in the words of the good Dr. Johnson.

As we say, we can get hit by a bus at any time, an expression that resonates profoundly if you spend any time in San Francisco and its infamous Muni buses.

So living life to its fullest, seizing the day, addressing challenges head-on every day, and all that should already be part of living one's life the right way. Doesn't always happen.

I've spent so many years covering the wondrous machines (and software) that are almost routinely cranked out of Silicon Valley and from like-minded people throughout the world.

We in Northern California like to think we live in the world's most splendiforous region with the most innovative technological culture by far.

This may be true, because all great technology companies did and do come from here--with the minor exceptions of IBM, Microsoft, Novell, DEC, Compaq, Dell, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, and Nintendo. Oh, and the creators of most programming and scripting languages, Linux, the Internet, the World Wide Web, the browser, and the Blackberry.

The weather is great here, though. There have been a few breakthroughs and insanely great companies here as well. So I've enjoyed my time, writing, editing, launching magazines and events, meeting many great and eccentric people, and feeling lucky on a daily basis that a failed piano player and erstwhile sportswriter could hack out a living in this hypercompetitive industry.

But now it is time to get serious.

So many of the 10 million or so words I've written over the decades have been workmanlike, as just another writer/editor guy bangs out another feature on local-area networking or asynchronous data flows, or touches up a press release about the next great thing, or asks another executive not to bullshit too much when he or she is telling me how excited he or she is about his or her job and his or her company's new strategy.

I was amused from the time of my first writing job out of college how so many writers wanted to be the next Hemingway and just hated the idea of "selling out" by making money for craftwork, whether journalistic, propagandistic, or somewhere in between. Maybe because my limitations were so apparent to me, I never felt this urge to write The Great American Novel or any anger because I couldn't.

Besides, the short forms served me better. Less work, you know. The onset of Twitter is a godsend to me.

Back to the thought of getting serious, maybe there is some sort of great writing inside of me, waiting patiently all these years to get out, corrupt people's minds, and bring down society in general and Western Civilization in particular as we know it.

So that's what I'll pursue. Oh, but first, I have unfinished business with SOA marketing. What first lured me to this industry and has kept me here unapologetically all these years is the notion that information technology is the most important business in the world, that it will continue to bring enormous change to the world, lift people out of starvation, remove the scales from their eyes, and lead to a better world. I really believe this.

So before I finish that novel, I'm going to refocus on SOA, which I believe to be the profound computing breakthrough of my lifetime. I love this business. I love almost all of the people I've met in it. And I love the precious time I have left to write about it, live in it, and enjoy it.

Thanks for reading.