JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 116 : 8 April 2003

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

  • Invensys heading for break-up
  • Rockwell & Weidmüller alliance
  • War technology insights
  • Waging (and defending against) cyber-warfare
  • Anti-Spam software
  • eFeedback:
    • Protest about the Iraqi war
    • Protest about the war-protests
    • An enthusiastic Segway user

Pinto Point

OK, OK - this issue starts with 2 industrial automation news items. I'm sorry that I cannot bring up more "good news" about automation companies, simply because most of the news seems to be less than good.

My commentary on the war brought a lot of feedback, both positive and negative. The "thought currents" generated were valuable for all involved, and certainly for me; good discussions always broaden ones perspectives. In eFeedback (below) I have included two powerful and polarized viewpoints. You decide which one gets you in your gut.

Tom Friedman (NY Times columnist) has 6 tests to see whether we're winning the Iraqi war. I've modified No. 3 and added No. 4:

  1. Have we occupied Baghdad - without leveling the whole city?
  2. Have we killed, captured or expelled Saddam?
  3. Have we explained why we haven't been greeted with garlands?
  4. Have we found any weapons of mass destruction?
  5. Have we preserved the territorial integrity of Iraq?
  6. Has an authentic Iraqi liberal nationalist emerged to lead Iraq?
  7. Is the Iraqi state that emerges from this war accepted as legitimate by Iraq's Arab and Muslim neighbors?
Says Friedman: If we see these things happening, you'll know that the political ends for which this war was launched are being achieved. If we don't, we'll know we're lost in a sandstorm.

'Nuf said.

Click Tom Friedman's scorecard

Invensys heading for break-up

Now listed in the ranks of "Britain's Most Unloved companies", INVENSYS has the dubious honor of registering the biggest decline in the first quarter of 2003 for any of the FTSE 300. The shares closed this past week at 10.25p, some 80-90% lower than just a few months ago. On Monday 7 April, the price shares jumped to 12.27, after the announcement of a London Underground contract worth £850m. Market-cap was some £400M, about half of the amount that the infamous Allen Yurko paid for BAAN just a couple of years ago.

Now that investor confidence is lost, analysts predict that Invensys cannot survive. End-user markets for Archestra and most other products are weak, and the Iraqi war is affecting buying decisions indefinitely. Operating margin objectives look too optimistic and lots of charges need to be taken for restructuring and the pension fund shortfall.

There are serious debt covenant issues. After being ahead of target on disposals (the only thing that Rick Haythornthwaite seems to have been good at) the £1.5 billion debt still needs to be renegotiated; tougher terms are likely. While three of its banks seem ready to push for disposal, Invensys is reviewing all three of its main divisions for disposal. But that is a losing catch-22 battle: only the profitable companies can be sold, leaving the losers in the "core". So, the critical bank covenant (earnings to be more than 3.5 times interest) will likely fail.

Many analysts believe that the break-up value of Invensys is much higher than the current market-cap reflects. And in the current economic environment, a dramatic recovery seems unlikely. Update on results for the past year are due on Tuesday April 15. Rick Haythornthwaite will have little choice but to admit that Invensys shares are only worth holding for a break-up. But, perhaps he can save the day by bringing news of a juicy (juicy?) buyout offer from Siemens, GE or Schneider.

Click Hoovers (6 Apr. 03) - Invensys takes drastic step towards break-up

Click UK Times (7 Apr. 03) Invensys denies sell-off will lead to break-up

Click Check the news, include your views - Invensys weblog

Rockwell & Weidmuller alliance

After forecasting second-quarter earnings between 22 to 26 cents per share, Rockwell now expects a ho-hum 24-25 cents. The stock still fiddles around at about $21, far short of Don Davis' dream to sell the company for "a number in the thirties".

In the meantime, rumors persist that buyout discussions between Eaton and Rockwell are continuing. In my opinion, acquisition of Rockwell is simply a matter of time and price; Eaton is still the most likely acquirer. Stay tuned.

This past week, Rockwell announced that it would acquire the N. American assets of Weidmüller Holdings - which includes about 175 employees, with US HQ in Richmond VA, and Toronto, Canada, and estimated total revenues of about $40m. The alliance also included a brand label agreement, a technology/design exchange and joint product development.

Weidmüller, based in Detmold, Northern Germany, is the largest manufacturer of IEC terminal blocks in the world. Annual revenues are more than $ 0.6B, ahead of Phoenix Contact, located just a few kilometers away in Blomberg, Germany. Rockwell uses a lot of European-style connectors in its PLC and I/O products. The Weidmüller alliance with Rockwell will squeeze Phoenix out of one of its largest customers.

A decade ago, Weidmüller partnered with Action Instruments (my previous affiliation) for European marketing of UltraSlimpak, the hot signal-conditioner series that was designed and manufactured by Action, using a Weidmüller package. I have visited Weidmüller in Detmold many, many times in the past several years and know them well. The company invested significantly to gain a foothold in N. America, especially through electronics and industrial networks. Phoenix Contact also has a similar strategy. Somehow, Weidmuller never quite succeeded, and Phoenix has a significantly larger presence in US markets.

In Europe, Weidmüller has the leading market-share, with world-class production based primarily in Detmold. A large production base in the UK - located in the Isle of Sheppey, at the mouth of the Thames - has just been sold to local employees, leaving the Weidmüller sales company as the only direct presence there. A small special-electronics UK group never quite got beyond a few million in sales, and this too has been spun off to local employees, a good move.

Weidmüller is a classic example of the German "mittelstand" - large privately held companies. The company is still owned almost totally by Peter Glasel, whose father founded the company over half a century ago. Glasel, now in his late-sixties, has been hoping to expand Weidmüller through a public stock offering. But, taking a company public demands strong growth, which has proved elusive for Weidmüller. With the sale of Weidmüller's N. American assets to Rockwell, it appears that Weidmüller has given up on a direct US presence. And Peter Glasel's plans to go public are also likely on hold.

Click Rockwell Announces Strategic Alliance with Weidmüller Holding

Click Rockwell Automation Updates 2Q Earnings Outlook

Click JimPinto.com Rockwell weblog

War technology insights

MIT Tech Review's Richard Muller shares 6 observations about the war in Iraq, mostly overlooked in the TV coverage and newspapers.
  1. The First GPS War: In the Gulf War a decade ago, Global Positioning System receivers were too expensive. But GPS was so valuable, that some soldiers used cheap commercial versions. In the Iraqi war, GPS has become a key technology. US soldiers are GPS-equipped, and so are the bombs. Because of precision targeting, civilian casualties are far fewer than could be expected from the thousands of bombs and cruise missiles. The difference is GPS.
  2. Facial recognition: Saddam has appeared on Iraqi TV several times. Was it really Saddam? The world waited while facial recognition programs analyzed the images. This is a waste of time, given the limitations of computers. With available technology today, no computer can match human ability to recognize faces.
  3. Oil well fires: At the end of the Kuwait war, Saddam malevolently blew up oil wells and set gushing oil on fire. It was thought that it would take a decade to extinguish the blazes and the clean up the pollution. This brought a surge of technological innovation, and the last of the 732 wells was extinguished and capped by Nov. 1991.
    It was thought that this time, the Iraqis had also learned, and would perhaps blow the wells below the ground, making them more difficult to cap. But that didn't happen. Only 9 wells were set on fire in the south, and 7 of those were extinguished quickly. Many were found with explosives attached but not fired. Why so few? 1/ Speed - getting to wells before the Iraqis knew what was happening, before they could act. 2/ Effective building of trust - leaflets distributed, asking the Iraqis not to destroy their own wealth.
  4. The Sand Blizzard: After the great Iraq sandstorm, the helicopters could still fly and equipment still functioned. The US had prepared for sandstorms, but no one could be certain the gaskets and bearing seals would do the job. That they endured one of the greatest sandstorms in years is a truly remarkable technical achievement.
  5. No Chemical Warfare: Most people seem to believe that the Iraqis really do have chemical weapons. If they do, why haven't they used them (yet)? Chemical weapons are tricky and unreliable. They work best against a concentration of unprotected people, as in the Kurdish villages devastated by chemical attack in 1988. During a ground war, chemical suits hamper movements; so they are not used unless a chemical attack is believed imminent. In close-in combat, both sides must suit up, and with more training the US has a clear advantage.
    Saddam reportedly believes that it was fear of chemicals that kept the US out of Baghdad in 1991. The Iraqi military may have similar hopes now. The United States has (as of today) held back from the perimeter, wary of launching an attack that could trigger chemical use and harm both soldiers and nearby civilians. For this reason, the US military will be cautious about entering Baghdad before complete surrender.
  6. North Korea: Kim Jong Il is watching closely, thinking hard about the depth of his tunnels, his personal safety, and the vulnerability of his command, control, and communications networks. What probably frightens him more than the technology is the demonstrated willingness of the US to attack, even with UN opposition. The North Korean dictator will tone down his belligerence, and hopefully will back down.

Click MIT Tech Review - six observations on Gulf War II

Click Technology providing war insights

Waging (and defending against) cyber-warfare

Instead of fighting Iraqi sandstorms, battling troops and worrying about biological and chemical attacks, some people suggest that computer viruses, worms, and electronic pulses could do more damage.

Cyber warriors may already be invading Iraqi computer networks, shutting down utility grids, stopping or intercepting communications, and jamming radar. Other weapons, including e-pulse bombs and microwave lasers, may be silently and bloodlessly knocking out computers all over the war zone. Security experts are speculating that this is ongoing, but nobody confirms that such a virtual war is actually under way. US capabilities and tactics surrounding cyber warfare are top secret. Administration guidelines on when and how the US would engage in cyber attacks are still being developed.

Cleary cyber-attacks can come from both sides. The US stands to lose more than other nations by legitimizing cyber attacks, even during wartime. The country would be severely damaged if communications, power grids, 911 emergency systems, and air traffic control systems are down, even for a short time. Information attacks could be more crippling than any physical invasion. This continues to be a key concern and focus for Homeland Security efforts.

Click Is the U.S. Waging a Virtual War?

Click Cyber-Attacks by Al Qaeda Feared

Click Bush orders guidelines for cyber-warfare

Anti-Spam software

The two serious problems with email are virus infections and spam. Most computers now have anti-virus software (Norton or McAfee) installed that minimizes virus problems, though it does not eliminate them.

What to do about spam? Junk mail arrives regularly, incessantly, inexorably, flooding everyone’s Inbox. Most service providers offer some type of Spam-elimination. Indeed, this has become the focus of major TV advertising campaigns by AOL and MSN recently - the MSN butterfly mercilessly ejects a long line of spam vendors.

Indeed, increasing numbers of JimPinto.com eNews emails are being rejected by company mail servers, with a return message that some specific word is "objectionable". I send a separate email to the intended recipient, being careful not to use suspected words. The usual response is that it is difficult to talk corporate systems people out of filtering. So some change to a private email address.

Until recently, there didn't seem to be a foolproof way to eliminate unwanted e-mail. As quickly as systems managers added filters (catching specific words), spammers come up with new ways to spell v!agra, $ex, and f*ck. But smarter filtering techniques - from rules-based analysis to artificial intelligence - are yielding good results. Wired magazine published a list of the most effectives ways to eliminate spam. Here's a summary.

  1. Blacklist: A real-time blacklist identifies the IP address of the spam sender's computer, then advises its subscribers' ISPs to block mail from that address. This method is effective, but it inevitably leads to a cat-and-mouse game between spammers and blockers. The spammer simply changes to another client or server.
  2. Distributed identification: A community of users flag spam for one another. When enough recipients object to a particular message, it's automatically transferred to everyone else's spam folders.
  3. Profiles: Heuristic analysis software looks for invalid message IDs, bugs, and other telltale spam traits - as defined by an evolving set of rules - and develops a numerical score for each incoming email. If the score hits a designated limit, the email is blocked. Of course, some good messages get flagged too.
  4. Filtering: Bayesian filtering, the most promising new technique, doesn't adhere to any particular set of rules - it learns and re-learns how to spot spam by scanning the mail you've read and the mail you've rejected. The filter calculates probabilities based on each e-mail’s most unusual characteristics. Before long, it 'knows' what kind of email to deliver, and what to toss. This 'artificial intelligence' filtering eliminates more than 99 percent of unwanted messages. It is already popular in the open source community and will soon be adopted commercially.
  5. Labels: More than 25 states already require senders to label spam as spam, and legislation is being proposed to fine spammers. This is similar to proposed stiff penalties for telemarketing calls to numbers on a prohibited list.
Security firm CipherTrust combed through more than 250,000 junk emails for Wired and identified the top 25 subject-line words and symbols:
    Fwd, Free, Get, FREE, $, !, SPAM, You, Your, Norton, Credit, Save, 000, Now, Check, Year, Make, Sale, Money, DVD, just, now, Lose, software, Earn
The top 25 phrases in body text:
    opt-in, now!, offers, most, partners, 999, fulfillment, yamato, naviant, partner, removal, recurring, mailings, free!, assistant, enjoy, grocers, mailing, subscriber, cash, sun, rewarding, buy, today!, marketing

Click Wired: How anti-spam software works

Click SpamCop claims to catch 80-90% of unwanted mail

Click SpamNet, an Outlook add-on claims 90% effectiveness

Click SpamAssassin - rule-based spam-filter


Merle Borg [roofman6@yahoo.com] wrote about the war in Iraq:
    "Combating terrorism with bombs demonstrates the ultimate arrogance and the ultimate ignorance of power.

    "I was too young to be held responsible for our blunder into Vietnam, but I was in favor of kicking Iraq out of Kuwait and for going after Osama Bin Laden. In the past week however, I have ended a forty year membership in the Republican Party, I have taken part in my first anti-war rally, and for the first time this gray haired, patriotic American finds himself filled with dull anger, shame, and disillusionment. This one happened on my watch. This is my country, my party, my generation. I don't know if I'm angrier with them or with myself for letting it happen in silence. I am ashamed of us all!

    "Your term 'techno-human' illustrates the external power of technology in war. Ever since stone and wood were fashioned into spears, superior technology has translated into superior military might. Boundaries change. Nations rise and fall. But the real changes happen inside. Technical superiority somehow translates into moral and intellectual superiority, and justifies the use of that power for any end. 'Shock and Awe' is the result. In Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness', Kurtz went to Africa carrying the torch of civilization and ended up uttering his famous postscript, 'Exterminate all the brutes.'

    "Morality aside, the modern world can no longer afford this kind of thinking. Any country or group of dissidents today can create weapons of mass destruction. The technology and the information are there, and cannot be put back in the bottle. Any attempt to squash terrorism with bombs, instead of dealing with the underlying reasons for hatred, effectively multiplies and spreads the terrorism. For every person killed, two more terrorists are created. To do this without U.N. support weakens and possibly destroys the last, best chance of dealing with terrorism. I fear for us all.

    "The world breathed a sigh of relief when communism fell, and another when common markets and free trade agreements were hammered out. But after this war, the world will be left a meaner and more dangerous place. The proud Muslim and Arab peoples now will have split-screen scenes pumped at them every evening: Israeli tanks in Palestine and US tanks in Iraq.

    "Bush has his war. I have my regrets. The soldiers of this world have my condolences, and the children of this world have my heartfelt apologies."

After an insightful and valued email exchange, I promised John Wilson [sharpevalves@pacbell.net] that I would publish his passionate protest against what he considered was my 'anti-war propaganda':
    "Let us be of one accord, let us stand proud, and let us be the human shields of prayer, encouragement and support for the President, our troops and their families and our country, as well as belief in the freedoms we uphold as righteous.

    "I feel this war is completely justified. How many scuds need to land on YOU before you realize that Saddam Hussein is also a terrorist? He is in complete violation of many UN resolutions. The peaceniks should 'put a cork in it' until the story is played out. If you can't wholeheartedly support the President and our troops, at least keep your mouth shut for the time being.

    "Certainly people have the right to protest and rally for or against a cause, but in this case are they justified? Should the media even cover the protests? If the reasons we're over there are proved wrong, the liberal media will have plenty of opportunity to criticize. Will all the pundits be quick to print retractions for all of the discord, once chemical weapons are found?

    "The premise that war under any circumstances is wrong is pure folly. The sad part is that, once again, the USA is forced into a position of being the global police force. The impotency of the UN was finally seen for all its shame. After years of making resolution after resolution calling for disarmament and disclosure by the Iraqi leadership, the USA stepped in to enforce the resolutions. Only after Saddam is brought down will there be any hope for the Iraqi people.

    "Evil is evil, and anyone that feels Saddam's regime has any benefit for the Iraqi people is ignorant. Ignorant of his terror, murder, hate for America, and the theft of the country’s untold billions of dollars in oil revenue that has been squandered or put towards his own personal wealth.

    "Please realize that the reasonable and normal Iraqi people will benefit greatly once a new and reasonable government is established. Only then will Iraq be able to flourish with free prosperity for all their people."

Over the past two years, eNews has often featured 'Segway', Dean Kamen's 2-wheeled Human Transporter. Now I'm jealous! My old friend, Don Ross [dbakerross@yahoo.com] from Portland, Oregon, just bought a Segway. Here is his initial report:
    "I have been following the news on 'It' since the beginning and have be fascinated by it. I have only had use of my Segway for 2 days and the weather has been quite rainy, not a surprise in Portland. I am still in learning mode, so have not used the key which allows maximum speed. It is quite intuitive, but I still feel I want to get very familiar before I max out.

    "As an example of uses, I have delivered a book to the library (1 mile), visited the post office (1.3 miles) and gone to Safeway shopping (.7 mile). If the weather is decent I soon expect to use it to reach light rail (2.6 miles) and proceed downtown, where I will use it to meet my son for lunch (.8 mile).

    "I did use it yesterday to go to Home Depot, about 1.2 miles. The weather was cool and a little wet but it was still useful and enjoyable. I'm about to leave for the post office again now. I am still using the 'Sidewalk' key, which limits my speed to 8 miles per hour. It is intended for more congested areas, but I'm using it until I feel more natural in my operation. The learning key limited speed to 6 mph. The final key, which I will move up to, is 12 mph.

    "It is very fun to use and attracts a lot of attention. People are truly fascinated. I get horn honks, thumbs up and many 'Wow!' expressions. Most people are aware of it from television but have never seen on in person.

    "As far as practicality, I think it has a fairly large footprint that would make it difficult in downtown Portland with very narrow sidewalks. Right now it attracts attention so people move out of the way, but with many in use it could be a problem. The one I have is the first model, designed more for commercial use. There will shortly be a new model that is smaller, lighter and cheaper designed for public use. That may be more practical for general sidewalk use.

    "I think the Segway falls in between the hype and the skepticism. It is great fun and useful, but does have limitations. It can be dangerous if used improperly. Anyway, these are my thoughts after 2 days of use."

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