newsmaker interviews

FIR B2B#70 podcast: The peculiar PR paradox of the resurrection of A.I. with Jason Bloomberg

“On the one hand, AI is perhaps the most revolutionary set of innovations since the transistor. But on the other, the bad press surrounding it continues to mount, perhaps even faster than the innovations themselves. And AI promises to change the role technology plays for every industry on this planet.” So writes Jason Bloomberg in a post on LinkedIn Pulse earlier this month. Paul Gillin and I sat down with him in our latest podcast to discuss some of the issues surrounding how to best publicize AI and some lessons that overall PR and marketing folks can learn from the rise and fall and current rise of AI. Bloomberg has been a tech reporter for decades, writing for Forbes and various other B2B tech pubs over the course of his career.

Jason’s post makes four important points about PR and AI:

  • AI vendors jump in with more hype than reality, what he calls AI-washing (after white-washing).
  • AI has been on the verge of being the next big thing for decades now.
  • AI will cost jobs. As if we didn’t have enough threats these days.
  • Skynet. Need we say more?

Listen to our 20 min. podcast here:

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FIR B2B podcast #49: Rich Mironov on how product managers need to work together with marketers

Paul Gillin and I this week interview Rich Mironov, who has held marketing and product management positions at many silicon valley companies including Tandem (when we called cloud computing “timesharing”), Sybase, Air Magnet and iPass. Rich and I have worked together over the years and he is a very astute guy who understands how enterprise software is made and marketed.

You don’t want to build something that no one wants and as he says, there are no health benefits from joining a gym. And since most users only use a few functions of every product, it is important to focus on the three or four things that really matter about the product.

Listen to our podcast here:

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Lessons Learned From a Master Inventor: An Interview with IBM’s Lisa Seacat DeLuca

Lisa Seacat DeLuca is the most prolific female inventor in IBM’s history. With more than 400 patent filings, she comes up with a new idea almost every week. She’s had numerous jobs within IBM and currently works as an omnichannel strategist for IBM Commerce. She works from her home-based Baltimore lab, which is filled with lots of different gadgets, including a 3-D printer.

I recently interviewed her for a post in IBM’s SecurityIntelligence blog here.

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Remembering Ed Iacobucci

Another great tech manager has left our ranks this week, Ed Iacobucci. Ed lost a 16-month battle with pancreatic cancer. I last saw him two years ago when I was transiting Miami, and he was good enough to meet me at the airport on the weekend to brief me on his latest venture on desktop virtualization, Virtual Works. That is the kind of guy he was: coming out to the airport for a quick press meet on the weekend. There aren’t too many folks that would do that, and it shows the mutual respect we had for each other.

Ed was one of the originals in the PC industry. By that I mean that many of his ideas turned into products that we are still using today, or with companies that have gone on to become giants. He worked for many years as the IBM PC brain trust, first in their mainframe communications area and later on was one of the leads for the misguided OS/2 operating system. Both were big interests of mine and I followed his career since then.

You have to realize what a study in contrasts working for the PC division of IBM was back in the day. You had all these upstarts (such as Apple, Kaypro, Columbia, Osborne, and the like) that were building clones to run DOS. These companies were for the most part populated by people in the their 30s. Not at IBM: you had older folks who had come up the ranks in the mainframe world that were taking things into a new direction for IBM: using commodity parts that could be assembled quickly for very low cost. Ed was part of that revolutionary guard at IBM. Now IBM doesn’t even make PCs anymore.

You also have to realize what things were like in the early PC days for the trade press too. Aside from the fact that our publications used dead trees instead of electrons, we had tremendous access to these guiding lights of the industry. We could call up anyone and get anything. We would fly somewhere on a moment’s notice to meet someone or attend a briefing to see a new product.

Back in the early PC era, I just loved people like Ed: smart, articulate, open, funny, and did I mention smart? Tech reporters soaked up the information about their products, their worldview, their “vision” (although that term is overused now). We could always count on the ilks of Ed to ‘splain somethin’ and give us a pithy quote that actually shed some light on a tricky tech topic. I have forgotten more about operating system design that I learned from Ed than most reporters even know today.

When OS/2 was still a project that combined the best and brightest of IBM and Microsoft, I was writing my first book with Mike Edelhart, who was my mentor and editor at PC Week (now eWeek). The book, like the operating system, went through several revisions as we waited for it to take off and become the corporate standard. Sadly for us (and them), that never happened and the book was never published.  Mike and I did have some cool and memorable experiences: holing up at a hotel on Coronado Island to finish the first draft, scheduling a press briefing in Austin where 60 IBM’ers came to brief a few PC Week reporters the secrets and inner workings of OS/2, and getting to meet the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation at another press briefing (as one version of OS/2 was called Warp).

Ed left IBM in 1989 to found Citrix, which was a very small company for several years until it became the software behemoth that it is today. That began his next career in virtualization, something that he was still working on at his death.

After Citrix he left the tech field temporarily to found NetJets, a time-sharing company for business aircraft. Just like his other startups, he was way ahead of his time: now there are many jet sharing companies around. I always regret that I didn’t get in touch with him during that era and get a chance to ride on one of his jets (a guy can dream, right?).

In the release announcing his death, he is quoted as saying “Every human being has his own vision of what’s happening in the future. I was lucky in that what I thought would happen did happen. When we know we can do it and the rest of the world doesn’t – that’s when things get interesting.” It sure does. It was a honor to know him.

So long Ed, and thanks for the wonderful memories and terrific times and great products over the years.

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Houston, give us a reading on the 1202 program alarm

Like many of you that grew up in the 1960s, I have been spending a lot of time online looking at the various commemorative links to the Apollo 11 moon landing that happened 40 years ago this week. I found it fascinating, not just because the event was such a key moment in my teenaged nerd life, but also because it shows how we managed to triumph over technology that wouldn’t even be found inside your average watch today, let alone a cell phone or computer.

The Apollo spacecraft had three different display units onboard, running two computers: one in the main command module and one in the lunar module. Both weighed 70 pounds, ran at 1 MHz and had about 152 kb of memory.

To get an idea of how primitive the guidance computer was, you didn’t have a typewriter interface or a display screen, but a box with mostly numeric input that you had to key in “nouns” and “verbs”. You can go here and try the simulator.

The first moon landing was beset with problems. Armstrong had 17 seconds of fuel remaining, after having to take manual control over the lunar module and fly past some obstacles. The site was four miles off course because the module wasn’t completely depressurized when it separated from the command module – a small amount of gas pushed it off course.  And during the descent, several people (including the New York Times at the time here) documented how many times the guidance computer would get overwhelmed with data inputs and had to be rebooted, because Aldrin had not set one of the radar switches properly and it was filling up the computer with too much data. A young engineer, Stephen Bales, made the critical decision to ignore these warnings.

There is a great video segment about it from CBS News.

There are probably hundreds of Web sites with various tributes to the space program, I will just mention two places that I enjoyed reading. First is a special report compiled by EE Times, which has eyewitness accounts from a few of the engineers who worked at NASA, along with a teardown of the space suits used and other technical info about the program.

The other is a list of numerous technological achievements from the space program that have found their way into our lives. And while Tang isn’t on the list (and it is dubious whether it should be), there are lots of other things showing just how much innovation NASA had to do to put two men on the moon and bring them back home safely.

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How to create a viral video

Ever wonder what it takes to create a viral video? As someone who started out in college as a physics major, it is gratifying to see people like Stephen Voltz, Fritz Grob and Walter Lewin become famous, at least on the Internet. These people might not be household names like the Spears clan, but at least they are doing things that I can be proud of.

Voltz and Grob are the guys behind Eepybird.com, the people that combine Mentos with Diet Coke to create geysers of exploding soda and some very entertaining videos. Their videos have been downloaded millions of times and enjoyed by people all over the globe.

Paul Gillin and I got the chance to chat with them this week on our TechPRWarStories.com podcast series. (For those of you that haven’t yet subscribed, each week we talk about new media topics that would be of interest to public relations and marketing professionals, as well as interview leading luminaries and interesting people.)

What is fascinating is how quickly the duo became famous: within a week of uploading their first video, they were booked on all the major talk shows (and this is back when these shows had writers so the competition for guests was tough). Voltz and Grob talked about having excellent video production values isn’t quite right for their audience: like so many things on the Internet, Just Good Enough Production is really what counts, and getting across a Just Plain Folks sensibility is really the best path towards more click-throughs. Plus, seeing all that spraying soda helps, too.

You can download the podcast here and hear directly from them about why they do what they do.

Contrary to popular belief, the duo has had plenty of support from the marketing arms of both Mentos and Coca-Cola companies. As you might imagine, they consume a lot of product for their backyard experiments, and they told us that a lot of planning and testing goes into setting up the final shots that you see online – sometimes these three minute videos take months of preparation. They now devote themselves full-time to their experiments, and have gone on the speaking circuit and done them live at various cities, soaking volunteers with soda geysers.

Lewin is an MIT physics professor who is also a download king, but his videos are educational rather than pure entertainment. His videos are the actual lectures that he gives his undergraduates, and are part of the MIT Open Courseware project. MIT has put 1800 of its courses online over the past several years, and now has some of them available in ten different languages including Thai, Chinese and Spanish. If you need to brush up on your intro to physics, you can start with this link here.

It is nice to see all three guys become notorious, and I mean that in only good terms.

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PC Magazine: Mark Cuban interview (2007)

Mark Cuban has been technology’s – and sport’s — bad boy for two decades. He has a habit of creating new companies and selling them for outrageous profits, and being ahead of the earliest adopters. Now he is running HDnet, a TV network shooting exclusively high-definition content.

– Q: What do you mean, shot for HD?
– There are a lot of people that shoot their programming in HD but don’t optimize for HD. Compare this to HDnet and at most five other networks that optimize for HD. This is an important distinction. We don’t have anyone with a 4×3 standard TV watching our programming, because everyone has a widescreen TV. We don’t have to worry about protecting a 4×3 aspect ratio, or to satisfy an audience that just has monaural sound as every other network does. We provide programming that is shot in 16×9 ratios and designed to completely fill that frame and also be heard in at least 5.1 digital sound.

– Q: Do you really need the 5.1 sound systems for HD TV?
– If you don’t have a full sound system, you are definitely missing out on a big part of the HDTV experience. Besides, most PCs these days come with 7.1 surround sound cards anyway. Any geek worth his salt that has integrated full fidelity sound knows exactly what I’m talking about.

– Q: What about picture quality? Should I wait for 1080p TV sets to come down in price?
– Technology will always get better and cheaper, but the picture quality of any TV capable of 1920×1080 far exceeds the signal it gets from any TV source. We are already looking at what we call Ultra HD, which comes very close to HDcam quality that is almost lossless and is designed to be stored digitally on hard drives.

– Q: What is the biggest obstacle for wider HDTV penetration today?
– It is all about time. No different than the old PC days of the 1980s. Once the PC broke the $1,000 price barrier, people found ways to get them into their homes. HDTV will become ubiquitous if only because analog TVs are going away. We are quickly getting to the point where you can’t buy an analog-only TV set anymore, even the 25 inch sets now come with HD tuners.

– Q: You are fond of saying, “get big, subsidize, and monetize” when it comes to running your businesses in the past. How does this apply to HDTV?
– With HDnet, it is different than the commodity PC business; we can’t just license cheap content. We need to build the infrastructure, charge subscriber fees, and put the revenue back into programming.

– Q: What are your thoughts about Microsoft’s Vista?
– Conceptually, Vista will help HDTV but the whole Vista DRM thing is ridiculous and will be outdated in three years anyway, and this will only hurt Vista as a media platform.

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Remembering Garry Betty

Another industry luminary has been taken from us. Garry Betty, the former CEO of Earthlink (stepping down last fall because of his health) and long-time industry veteran, died yesterday of liver cancer.

His tribute blog can be found here.

I first met Garry in the mid 1980s, when he was moving up the corporate ladder at Hayes. Back then the company was the leading modem communications vendor. Garry  went on to became the CEO at DCA and was able to do good things there.

DCA was one of those companies like Novell that incubated a lot of talented people who went on to run their own companies and have a significant influence in our industry. One of my IT colleagues went to work for him at DCA, and I had lots of ties with the company when I began my journalism career at PC Week, since I covered those products and was very familiar with them.

My favorite Garry story was when a bunch of us were flown up to Remote, Oregon for a DCA/Hayes product launch. At the time, DCA had a rather flamboyant PR manager, Bill Marks, who went on to run Atlanta Olympics PR. Bill was always coming up with gimmicks to get the trades to write about his products, and since he was launching a “remote” product line, it made sense to fly us to this rather, um, remote town. They rented jets to fly us from San Jose, and then we were bussed to this one-half-horse town in the mountains, not too far from where the Kim family got lost.

Well, the product launch went well. Garry was his usual charming self. It was actually a fun trip, because we all did some bonding on the long bus ride through the mountains. There was just one fly in this plan: it was Black Monday, the day the stock market lost more than 20% of its value in one day.

Here we all were in Remote, and this was pretty much in the era prior to cell phones, not that you could get coverage there anyway. There was a single phone line going into the Remote General Store (which was run by a woman who had a sister named Erma, as I recall, a nice coincidence since Irma was the name of the mainstream DCA product line). The executives were desperately trying to unload their stock positions as the market continued to tumble. Garry used to joke that that launch caused him a bunch of money personally.

One of my DCA colleagues writes this about Garry:

We used to joke at DCA about the “revolving door on the President’s office”. After a series of relatively ineffective presidents, during which much of the growth success of the company was due to strong middle management, Garry Betty hit the scene and actually made a positive difference at the CEO level. He quickly won favor among nearly everyone. He showed a lot of personal interest in employees and went out of his way to joke around with them and do a lot of little personal things that won over the hearts of many. He also spent more time with customers than his predecessors, which is important for any company that wishes to grow their customer franchise and revenue.

He also knew how to have a good time. I remember the day that he invited the product management and marketing team for a day out on his big cruiser power boat for a bonding day, drinking beer, swimming, and sun-bathing on a gorgeous day in which we managed to throw him off the boat into the water; as was so typical Garry, he got a laugh out of it.
Cheers, Stephen Kangas

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Remembering Ray Noorda

Ray Noorda died earlier this week and many of you have sent me notes about his passing. He had a profound influence on many of us in the networking industry and was behind many of the technologies and trends that we now take for granted. As a member of my parents’ generation, he was a father figure and mentor to me and many others.

Noorda ran Novell during its glory years of the early 1980/90s. The Novell of yesteryear bears little resemblance to the present company. It began operations in a small Utah suburb located a few miles from the campus of Brigham Young University, and pulled much of its programming talent from the students at the computer science department there. For those of you that have never been to Provo, it is an odd place to start a high-tech company. Provo is dominated by a wall of mountains to the east and rolling hills to the west. Salt Lake City is about an hour up the freeway, past a prison and a bioweapons campus. Until Novell got going, there wasn’t much in high-tech around. Nowadays, the area is filled with former Novell engineers and staffers who have started hundreds of companies, some of which were funded by a private VC firm that Noorda set up with his Novell-created wealth. Intel had a huge presence there, and many others opened up offices to take advantage of the talent that came to the area.

I met Ray several times, and my career in networking was deeply involved with Novell for many years, as sources for my stories, products that I tested and wrote about, clients for my consulting business, and just friends that I made with the many fine people that worked there.

During Ray’s tenure, Novell owned Unix for a period of time, was the first company to get serious about TCP/IP networking, built the first dedicated PC file servers that were any good, made Ethernet networking cards into a solid commercial business, created the first extensive channel program for networking integrators, sold the first PC database servers that could be easily extended, moved network servers into the datacenter, sold integrated email servers, developed the first usable directory service, and many, many more innovations that now seem so ordinary and business-as-usual. They often had a handle on technologies before any of us really knew what to do with them. I am sure that I am forgetting about a few other things here and there.

If you look at this collection of technologies, it is an impressive list. Many of us learned about networking as Novell brought out new software and services, and went through the certifications on Novell products – certifications that were once worth something: and difficult to obtain, requiring more than just paper knowledge and protocols. I covered numerous product launches as a journalist and they were always fun because you could usually get some Novell executive to open up and give you some colorful background. One of these briefings was held at an exclusive ski lodge in the nearby mountains, which was lost on me because I don’t ski but still was a fun place to go. My first taste of Sundance was through many events that Novell held there, too.

I remember my visit to Japan to introduce that country to its version of PC Week. The visit coincided with Novell’s own Japanese launch and I surprised several American executives when my byline for that event appeared in PC Week. Our first networking shootout for PC Week between Ethernet, Arcnet, and Token Ring cemented many relationships with the parties involved in that test. We got Novell to fix the poorly performing Token Ring drivers, not that anyone cares today about Token Ring or Arcnet for that matter.

Novell stories figured prominently in those first issues of Network Computing, a magazine that I created with plenty of support from Novell in 1990 and is still publishing today. When I first opened up shop as a consultant, one of the first things I did was put a Netware server in the Guggenheim Museum to test products for Intel. I think it was a 386. And while I still have my Netware software discs, I don’t think I could set up a server without a lot of work.

Novell was the first to take advantage of the protected mode of 286 chips, beating IBM’s OS/2 to the punch by a few years. It was this file server that I installed at Transamerica Occidental Life back in the mid 1980s, which was the first LAN to be installed there, despite IBM trying to get us to use their crummy attempts. Thus began my own networking career in IT and then into journalism, where I have covered networking topics ever since.

One of my favorite conference speaking sessions was one Interop where I sat down with Drew Major, the principal architect of Netware, for an hour in front of an audience and just had a great talk about the past, present and future of networking. Drew was the real deal and for many of us the soul of networking. At one point, Interop was combined with Networld, Novell’s annual partner conference.

Ray was far from a perfect leader. His biggest weakness was miscalculating Microsoft’s rapid adoption of many of his principle network ideas into Windows 95. Windows 95 was the first Microsoft OS to incorporate a Netware client as part of the OS, and the beginning of the end for Netware. His biggest mistake was buying Word Perfect, another Utah company that fed off local talent, but bled Novell dry and took it away from its core networking competence. He had plenty of hubris when it came to protecting his intellectual property, and many of the almost comical events surrounding Caldera’s Unix lawsuits can be traced to his early litigation with Microsoft on PC DOS.

Today’s Novell is a shadow of its former self. No one cares about Netware anymore, although it is still in use here and there. Its vast and powerful reseller base is in shambles. They are still involved in Unix, having bought SUSE a few years ago. They still sell a directory service, and it still has features that are lacking in Microsoft’s Active Directory, not that anyone thinks about this either. They moved their HQ across the country.

Ray, thanks for taking this young pup for such a great ride in our industry. Those of you that would like to post your own comments and tributes to him, please go to my blog at Strominator.com or send me emails with permission to post your thoughts.

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Mark Eppley of SC-integrity

Mark Eppley has been around the PC business almost since day one, when he invented a special cable to enable two computers to transfer data between them. Laplink went on to be one of the longest-selling brands in PC history, eventually selling more than 30 million copies, and Eppley became a fixture at industry conferences and events.

Now the venerable pitchman is running a new business called SC-Integrity that has nothing to do with laptops, cables, or computers – directly. Call it LoJack for finding lost tractor trailer freight loads. The problem is that more than 100 truck loads a day on average are lost or more likely stolen from America’s roads. These aren’t just some random pickup, but full 50-foot trailers that can carry anywhere from $100,000 worth of clothing to multi-million dollar loads of pharmaceuticals. And recovering these stolen goods is all being done with hi-tech that until recently wasn’t even possible.

The idea is fiendishly simple: place a tracking device of about the size of a deck of cards  deep down inside a pallet of goods that is carried by trucks around the country. The device sends out a signal every 30 seconds telling the central monitoring command center where it is located. If it goes someplace unexpected, call the cops.

“A pallet of Viagra is worth $1.2 million on the retail market, and there are 28 pallets in the average-sized trailer,” said Eppley.

The problem is that all this missing merchandise is the result of some very determined and clever crooks, and Eppley’s company is using tech to track them down and stop the losses. So far this year they have recovered more than $7 million in goods. “The problem is that trucks and their trailers are almost always recovered, but not before they have been emptied out of their freight,” he says. The FBI says that all it takes is $5,000 in cash offered to a driver, and he’ll gladly leave his motor running at a truck stop when taking a break.

“You can have professionals unload a truck in about five minutes,” says Eppley. “We get a fix every 30 seconds on our trucks. If there is a problem, we can immediately detect that within one minute and notify the proper authorities.”

Why so many missing trucks? First off, drivers are infrequently prosecuted, and when they are state laws let them get off lightly. “The problem is that in many states, vehicle theft is not a felony and many people are just prosecuted for the value of the empty trailer and not the freight, which can be at most $25,000.” Your average BMW costs more than that. Several states, including California, are passing harsher laws to make it more risky for stealing freight. But clearly, theft is on the rise, and the bad guys know how to game the system.

When Miami cracked down on freight theft earlier this year, the thieves moved north to Atlanta, who had more lenient laws. “Things do change and the crooks do move around, although a lot of the theft is centered around the port cities,” said Eppley.

And despite the popular image of Italian-surnamed thieves and the mob, Eppley paints a picture where many gangs are involved. “It is highly organized, and it is ethnic based. Everyone — Cubans, Latin groups, whatever — they all specialize and have their network of fences for the stolen goods and particular kinds of goods that they steal,” he said.

Some of the goods get sold by being incorporated back into legitimate distribution systems, he said. “There are many retailers who will buy merchandise from a distributor that they know is hot, especially clothes and shoes. This just goes back into the stores. We all end up paying for it in the costs of goods and in the vendor’s insurance premiums,” he says.

So how does it work? The devices, called SC-Tracker, are self-powered and don’t require any external antennas. Part of the challenge for the tracking device is battery life, as any of you would instantly recognize. “Our device gets a seven day minimum life on a battery charge. Our closest competitor says that they generate 700 reports, but we generate 20,000 reports over the week that the device is active.” The issue is that you have to be paying attention to where you load is going, and make sure that you can quickly get a fix on its location.

“It doesn’t work to get a report once a day or once an hour. The truck could be emptied by then. You need to be almost constantly in touch with where it is,” said Eppley. To do this requires what he calls “geo-fencing” meaning putting in a very specific route profile into their systems, so when a truck veers off that course an alarm will sound and they can figure out what caused the event. Also, typical rest periods for the driver are included, so unscheduled stops also create alarms.

They use multiple radio modes to broadcast their location, and are designed to be durable, small, and work under many adverse conditions. Like a LoJack unit, they are placed without the driver knowing where they are located inside the truck’s trailer load, otherwise thieves could easily find and remove them. “We have a hybrid solution, because no single technology will work in the environments that our customers put them in,” says Eppley.

And the solution is working. In the short time that the company has been in business, they have gathered their share of customers, who are paying them six-figure annual fees. In one noted event, their technology figured prominently in the capture of more than a million dollars in Microsoft software that was repacked on a different truck and taken to the Chicago area. It turned out that more than a dozen arrests were made, including some sheriffs from the Cook County police department.

The company has been operating in stealth mode for at least two years, but is now getting noticed and gathering steam. Eppley, who is the president of the company, co-founded it with Dennis duNann. And unlike typical hi-tech firms, you won’t find any management bios on their Web site, or other identifying information.

“We are one of the only companies that have delivered this solution. Our competitors will say that they have certain capabilities and accuracy levels, but when you get under the covers and do the tests, you don’t see the same stuff that we have.” Eppley mentions how GPS truck tracking has been around for more than a decade, but only with miniaturized technology and longer-lasting batteries and better wireless products has he been able to produce an entire solution. “All of this has only been possible in the last couple of years It is a simple concept, but has very difficult execution. We are as accurate 5 to 200 meters, depending on where you are, density of cell towers. We also are integrated with our clients’ business services and security services and have a proven ROI record too,” he says.

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