JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 150 : 20 April 2004

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

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    Jim Pinto note:
    JimPinto.com eNews has become famous (or infamous in some circles) for our unbiased, unabashed reporting of the failures and foibles of automation companies. That has waned recently, to the extent that some have asked whether I have been threatened, or "bought". The answer is neither. I will report on automation companies only when there is something to report. And recently, the automation business has been monotonously boring.

    We start this eNews issue with good news about Invensys. Hopefully this is a transition to better times for the beleaguered company.

Invensys' fiscal year ends with optimism

After a stressful year, struggling dangerously close to the edge of bankruptcy, Invensys completed its fiscal year (March 2004) with results "in line with expectations" and healthy bookings - not a bonanza, but enough to show optimism. The explanation: new customer confidence because of the recent re-financing.

But the financing was expensive, benefiting only the banks. Deutsche Bank is still holding some of the bonds; but they'll quickly discount their inventory and still be happily ahead with the handsome fees they have already pocketed.

The until the turnaround is complete, Invensys will be burdened by the high cost of its new financing. And the specter of Siemens looms. It keeps coming up as the likely buyer.

But it won't be a slam dunk for Siemens - they would still have to handle the huge commitments Invensys made to swing the new financing, plus pension fund obligations. The way out may be for Haythornthwaite to first complete the disposal of Powerware and Hansen Transmissions, which could yield £500 million to redeem the bonds.

But an Invensys revival seems to be brewing, and perhaps that's just what Siemens has been waiting for - buying on the up tick. And maybe that's the only thing left that can help Rick Haythornthwaite to save his tarnished image as he prepares for his own quick exit.

The positive outlook has yet to filter down the ranks, where pay freezes are still in force. But, that could be just an old habit which is hard to break. And many underlings still have the perception that the perennial plethora of VPs still grab bonuses and big bucks.

Stay tuned for the coming close to the decade long collapse that was caused by Lord Yurko of Yurkshire and Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge. And watch closely as Slick Rick slides out with a final flourish.

Click UK Observer - Good signals at Invensys

Click Read news & views, and post comments on the Invensys weblog

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India's e-voting revolution

Many European companies boast that electronic voting has been used in their countries for several years. But they are usually relatively small countries, with total populations less than New York or Los Angeles. By contrast, let's review how India, the world's largest democracy, is progressing with electronic voting machines.

In the past, India's elections have typically been noisy, boisterous circuses with fierce fights between rival political parties, midst angry accusations of cheating, hijacked polling stations and ballot box stuffing.

But now, Indians are proud of the results being achieved with their latest electronic voting machines. A simple and effective $200 suit-case size, battery-operated box is getting superb results. A million of these will be used in the next couple of weeks, as 680 million eligible Indians vote in their national elections.

Each machine has a keyboard on which voters simply push the button adjacent to the name and symbol of the candidate of their choice. With a beep, votes are recorded on a chip inside the box. People are pleased with simplicity and ease of use, which saves time, cuts costs and stimulating voter turnout - expected to increase from 60% to 70% this year.

A single machine can record 3,840 votes, vs. only 600 per ballot box. And results are expected to be declared in 24 hours, compared with 3 days previously.

There are questions regarding whether this electronic-voting system is tamper-proof. But the manufacturers - two large, state-owned companies - claim their product is secure. Instead of being linked to other computers through a network, the machine is a stand-alone box with embedded software that cannot be modified; there is no ability to "hack". The data can be decoded and printed out only by court order.

Compared with US electronic voting machines that cost several thousand dollars each, with a total cost of several billions, the cost of a million boxes in India was about $200 million. But, this will save the 10,000 tons of ballot paper typically used in Indian national elections.

But the transparency of these Indian electronic voting systems may be a disadvantage - each machine shows exactly how a village or district voted. In a local election in December, 2002, residents in one small town were attacked for voting against a specific candidate.

Click Business Week online - A Voting Revolution In India?

Click BBC - Gearing up for India's electronic election:

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Google's gigabyte g-mail grab

Technology monopolies are usually displaced, not by better and cheaper, but by something totally different. Leaders are usually preoccupied with defending frontal attacks. They fall by sneak attacks from unexpected directions. The IBM dominance in mainframes did not crumble with the rise of super-computers - but from the lowly PC. By the time IBM reacted, it was too late.

Microsoft's dominance of the desktop won't crumble through "open source" Linux, though India and China are starting to make significant moves in that direction. And Microsoft is focused on responding.

The challenge to Microsoft is coming from a totally different direction: Google. Not search, which is starting to be secondary for Google, but e-mail - the new Google G-mail.

Google has been building a huge computer network with a custom operating system that everyone around the globe can use. It provides access to the biggest, best, most effective road-map of the web.

If you thought Google was going public (IPO expected soon) by touting its search leadership, you were wrong. This month, Google surprised everyone by announcing a new Webmail service that will provide each subscriber with a free 1 gigabyte mailbox. The new service, called Gmail, raises the bar for free e-mail space by a stunning multiple - 100 times the space that other leading email services like Hotmail and Yahoo provide. Classic marketing trump card!

Gmail uses Google search technology to find messages, so users don't have to create folders and files for their individual e-mails. Gmail service offers a gigabyte of storage which could let you keep years of important e-mails in one place. Combine that with the power of Google search (the Gmail tagline is, "Search, don’t sort") and you’ve finally got an efficient way to find all your emails. Since the start costs nothing, millions will switch overnight. I know I will - hey, why not try it out if its free?

Gmail will include advertisements targeted to the content of subscribers’ mail. Of course, this immediately tweaks privacy advocates, who claim that Google will be reading all your emails.

Tech visionary George Gilder explains this Google move in his language: Google is exploiting the key abundances of the era: bandwidth and storage (Gilder calls it 'Storewidth') to supply what is scarce: Fast information access.

Gilder calculates the cost of storage at about $2.33 per gigabyte per year. Since Google must sustain these costs anyway to support its search capacity, advertising model, and news services, their marginal cost for supplying e-mail is close to zero, when the increasing volume of usage of all services is considered. Market share and volume are everything in these front loaded Internet services. With more numbers and better targeted advertising, Google will win!

Click Google Challenges Microsoft Monopoly

Click Google’s New 1 Gigabyte Webmail Service

Click Groups slam Google's new e-mail service

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Editorial - Partisan politics hurts democracy

These days, I'm getting more than a little annoyed about the tainting of democracy through partisan politics!

Everywhere, every time a politician says something, their name is featured with a big (D) or (R) next to it, stating their political affiliation. Many people polarize IMMEDIATELY, expecting the Democrats to be "liberal" and the Republicans to be "conservative". So, right away, the blockage and/or bias is turned ON/OFF. I'm starting to find those labels distasteful.

Voting against one's registered party is now at the lowest levels in decades and continues to fall. Rather than taking the time to really listen to what candidates might have to say, voters are feeling pressured to vote along party lines to ensure a favorable majority in Washington.

In previous years, the traditional strategy was to court swing-voters. This year, the push is on to register as many new voters as possible, which promotes participation and fights apathy. But, the push to vote the party line degrades democracy. It doesn't help when all the extra votes are not from donkeys or elephants, but sheep.

When I read something, or listen to someone, or watch a TV discussion, I prefer NOT to know whether they are Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. I prefer to think as an individual, using my own mind and conscience to decide my own position on individual issues. I prefer NOT to allow a party platform to think on my behalf.

Partisan politics is the plague of democracy! STOP IT!

Click Pushing partisan politics to new heights

Click Washington Post - The Politics of Polarization

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Wee Gallery - proud nepotism advertisement

I thought you'd be interested in Wee Gallery - a new company founded by my son David Pinto and his wife, the accomplished artist Surya Sajnani. Their son, my grandson Siddhartha, (now 2 years old) - does the product testing and quality assurance for their latest successful product.

Studies show that babies, from the moment of birth, can make out high-contrast patterns from 9 to 12 inches away. Wee Gallery's whimsical animals are made up of repeating geometric shapes in black-and-white, stimulating a newborn baby's visual development while transforming the crib into a "wee art gallery".

Wee Gallery cards are designed to grow with a baby. Initially the newborn sees just the patterns. As their vision develops, they are able to make out the finer details in the illustrations, and finally they recognize the forms as animals. When the child is older, Wee Gallery prints can be used as flash cards to teach simple animal names.

The hand-drawn illustrations are inspired by Indian folk art. Beautifully finished with matt lamination and rounded corners, Wee Gallery cards are printed on board book material using non-toxic inks, making them sturdy, and safe for babies. They are attractive and can be framed.

If you have a relative or friend who has an infant, or is expecting a baby, you'll enjoy getting Wee Gallery cards as a gift. Or hey, c'mon - buy some to hang on your office walls - your boss might just enjoy the pleasing patterns!

Click Take a look at Wee Gallery

Click Amazon.com - Wee Gallery Baby Flashcards

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Dr. Ted Mohns [tedmohns@yahoo.com] gives us the benefit of his objective thinking on the subject of electronic voting machines:
    First, brief personal background: I first encountered the topic of electronic voting technology about six months ago. Just from a citizen's standpoint, it was too troubling and too important to just put aside. I had everything to learn, so I dug in. By December I had learned enough to be able to identify VerifiedVoting.org, founded by David Dill, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford, as a class act on this topic that needed supporting. I've been working hard with Verified Voting since then, in a variety of capacities, and will continue to whether I have the time or not.

    "A trustworthy electoral process is fundamental, and America can ill-afford another non-credible election.

    "In the last issue of eNews, Bryan Gerard argued against the idea of a possible conspiracy by one of the machine manufacturers, Diebold. Those seriously engaged with this problem area are not focused on the idea of any corporate conspiracy, nor is this a partisan issue. Rather, the central problems are that the machines presently in use and being sold are neither secure nor reliable, and by definition are incapable of providing a recount if needed. If a system is insecure, there will surely be somebody who will find a way to exploit the vulnerability.

    "The relevant scientific community is nearly-unanimously agreed on these points. Extensive documentation is available on the VerfiedVoting.org website. There has been a continuing series of New York Times editorials, which have provided documentation and details, such as the numerous failures of the proprietary Diebold software in the recent primary elections. There is evidence that some Diebold machines may contain wireless LAN cards, purpose unknown. Over a period of months, a straight answer on this has not been obtainable from Diebold. The Secretary of State of California is presently considering decertifying all Diebold machines for the November elections.

    "Electronic voting machines are not the only issue. Recall that in Florida, Secretary of State Katherine Harris and Gov. Jeb Bush hired a private firm, before the 2000 elections, for the purpose of eliminating convicted felons from the voter rolls. 56,000 voters were eliminated, many of whom were minorities. As was learned after the election, a large percentage of those eliminated were not convicted felons, but had similar names.

    "Local election officials are all too often woefully under-informed about the full set of facts, tend to be very turf-conscious, and in many instances are alarmingly eager to embrace any technology which would forever keep them out of the infrequent but messy business of manual recounts. I believe that it would be foolish and unacceptably risky for all of us to simply shrug and to trust in local election officials to make everything OK.

    "Pending Federal legislation, H.R. 2239 and its companion Senate bill, would require a voter-verifiable paper trail of all machines to be used in the November elections. Gaining passage of these bills is critically important to the future of our democracy. It comes down to individual voters taking responsibility for informing themselves, and for communicating vigorously with other citizens and with their legislators."

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Perry Marshall [news@perrymarshall.com] just returned from his third trip to China in as many years. Here's his report:
    "Every time I go back, more things have changed. More buildings, more highways, more development - it's impossible to go to any city in China without seeing cranes somewhere on the horizon. That's true whether you're in Beijing or Shanghai in the East, or Changchun in the North, or Kunming in the Southwest.

    "What I saw this time was overbuilding of hotels in tourist areas, financial problems from not enough guests, and still more hotels going up across the street from the already under occupied properties.

    "Each time I've been to China, the exchange rate has been EXACTLY RMB 8.27 per US dollar, fixed rigidly by Beijing's controls. Unchanged for 3+ years. One American expatriate (not an insider, not an economist, but astute nevertheless) speculates that if allowed to float freely, the ratio might fall to only 4:1 or so. The implications of that are enormous.

    "Something similar happened in Thailand about 5 years ago and the damage was extensive. In the news yesterday was announcements of China's 9.7% annual growth rate, along with growing concerns that their economy is overheating.

    "Now none of this changes the fact that farmers are still lining up for factory jobs in cities, or that China has an almost endless supply of cheap labor. But common sense tells us that the extreme imbalance between Chinese (and Indian) labor and the rest of the world can't and won't be permanent. In my opinion, the Indian and Chinese economies will follow the path of Japan - 20 years from now there will be a huge middle class, and they won't be "cheap" anymore."

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Richard C. Wargo [rwargo@specllc.com] believes that the free market will solve energy problems:
    "1. As a "nonrenewable" resource, the CHEAP supply of "natural" ground-located petroleum will someday decrease. When that will be is highly uncertain, there is a wide range of projections, all of which are based on what may be unrealistic assumptions. But no matter when, the supply will decrease. When it does, the cost to supply it will naturally rise. In the meantime, there is a great deal of both private- and public-sponsored research and development into alternatives to "natural" ground-based petroleum. There are also strides being made in developing fuel cells, solar power, etc.

    "2. When the cost of "natural" ground-located petroleum rises to the point where it exceeds the cost of alternative energy sources plus the cost of conversion, people will convert.

    "3. Alternatives are also being developed for petroleum-based products other than fuels, such as lubrication. Again, when the cost of the currently cheap "natural" ground-based petroleum exceeds the cost of alternatives, people will switch.

    "4. Until it becomes economically rational to convert, people will remain with what we have now. Once the crossover points are reached, conversion will occur.

    "5. Most of the conversions will take place gradually, with little or no upset. The only chaos that will occur will be caused by people making economically irrational decisions.

    "There is no need for alarm. We as a species will do what we have always done; adopt to changing conditions. It's what allows us to stick around.

    "What we DON'T need is yet another government agency, staffed by uncaring, incompetent, self-serving bureaucrats who will do nothing more than absorb most of the resources while delivering nothing in return. Nobody has yet been able to show where a "planned" economy is more efficient than a "free-market" one. If you want to screw something up, get the government involved."

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