JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 56 : August 10, 2001

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

  • Update: Kamen's 'IT' (Ginger)
  • Kamen's iBOT - revolutionary (but not IT)
  • Invensys: Yurko's last stand
  • Frozen (low speed) Light
  • eFeedback:
    • Jive dialect version of "cutters & builders"
    • Feedback from an ex-Fox veteran
    • Lyric: The Wreck of the Mike Bonsignore

Update : Dean Kamen's 'IT' (or, Ginger)

You might remember the introduction of Dean Kamen's 'IT' or Ginger (eNews January 17 & 27, 2001) - a mysterious new invention that had attracted significant venture financing and attention in the press. A half-year later, several people have asked : Where is Kamen's IT now? Does Ginger have a name? What is IT? Can I see a picture?

Well, it seems that IT (or Ginger) is still a mystery. Passionate interest in Kamen's forthcoming project, thought by some to be "a new transportation device so revolutionary that it will force urban planners to redesign cities in its wake", has made him one of the most watched scientists on the planet.

At the other extreme, there are those who balk at the outrageous claims ("personal transportation vehicle destined to change the world"; "entire cities will require re-thinking to accommodate the power of this monumental breakthrough"; "the invention without comparison since man learned to use tools") and they think that Kamen is just a modern day "Robin Hood", taking from the rich and giving to the poor (Kamen does a lot of work with kids). At best, they suggest that he is simply getting funding from fat corporations and naive investors, to keep himself in helicopters, yachts or whatever.

The vast audience of the Internet loves sleuthing, so if you're intrigued, you might like to review all the discussions and guesswork. A lot of websites have mushroomed up over the past year. Some have pictures (spoofs) of IT, and you can even find movies of IT operating!

If you DO discover what IT is, please let me know!

Click Project Ginger Home Page

Click Movie of Ginger in operation

Click Kamen stays mum, urges responsibility

Kamen's iBOT - revolutionary (but NOT 'IT')

Kamen's iBOT has made good progress - an all-terrain wheelchair that can climb stairs, cross sand, and effortlessly balance on two wheels. Johnson & Johnson has invested $50 million with Kamen in developing the "INDEPENDENCE(tm) iBOT(tm) Mobility System" - the first product being developed at Independence Technology, a J&J subsidiary. It is described as a revolutionary new mobility device that is designed to give disabled people maximum autonomy. iBOT is now in FDA trials and availability "by prescription" is projected for 2001, at less than $25,000.

Bob Metcalfe, the father of Ethernet, founder of 3Com and now an in-demand author, pundit and conference host, says: "It's something you don't believe until you see it. It looks like a sleek wheelchair, with two pairs of midsize wheels on a swivel, with a joystick. If you approach a curb or stairs, the wheels automatically swivel up the curb or swivel repeatedly up the stairs. If you were in a supermarket, hitting the IBOT's "stand" button would swivel you up onto two wheels to reach the top shelf. What must it be like for people who have lost their legs to again face the world standing up?

In shoving matches, IBOTs win. They keep their balance better than humans do by using gyroscopes and microprocessors. NBC's John Hockenberry (himself confined to a wheel-chair) threw a 25-pound bag to Kamen, who was sitting in an IBOT, balancing on two wheels. The IBOT detected the bag's heavy arrival and instantly regained balance by spinning its wheels. Only a replay shows the wheels making their moves. Kamen in his 200-pound IBOT easily beats a triathlete up a 3,000-foot-long 10-percent grade.

Click Johnson & Johnson - Independence Technology website

Click Bob Metcalfe's comments

Click MSNBC Story (with photo)

Click Updates and Photos on iBOT

Click Good, balanced summary about Dean Kamen

Invensys : Yurko's last stand

Earlier this week (Monday, August 6, '01) the soon-to-be-departing Allen Yurko sent this letter to all his key staff (summarized here):

    "Comments about the Group following announcements last week have raised concerns. These comments refer to our financial position, particularly our debt levels, and also the future of the Group as an independent company.

    "What Invensys is going through is no different or more extreme than most of our competitors, or industrial companies in general. Our debt levels are manageable and we do not expect to break the covenants that govern them. We are actively managing down our working capital and containing capex. In short, we are implementing exactly the right programmes to weather this storm and emerge stronger, without sacrificing any aspect of customer service.

    "I believe that Rick Haythornthwaite will therefore have a solid platform from which to build winning strategies to catch the maximum benefit from the upturn when it comes - which inevitably it will. And make no mistake, Rick was brought in to GROW the Group, not sell it. If the Board had wanted to do the latter, they would not have needed a new CEO, they would simply have asked me to do so.

    "As for Rick's former company, he did not set out to "sell" it. He substantially improved its performance, reshaped it and then was forced to fight off a prolonged hostile bid, which he did, successfully. Ultimately, however, the offer was increased substantially and became friendly. Rick's Board, in the interests of good corporate governance, had to accept. So in fact, Rick is today widely admired for actually fighting hard to keep Blue Circle independent.

    You need to share these insights with your customers and suppliers. You need to get across our key message - "it's business as usual at Invensys"."

Pinto Prognostications:
This letter is all "flannel". No one can expect Yurko to say: "we are in desperate shape and need to sell assets to keep afloat." While this is the truth, to announce it would reduce the value they could get for those assets. They are now considering all offers for pieces or all of Invensys. As Yurko suggests, they must - "in the interest of good corporate governance".

That Invensys is doing badly, like everyone else is baloney! Invensys was going wrong for some time before the US slowdown started. Invensys and Emerson are the two closest comparators and actually make very similar products. Invensys profits will halve this year; Emerson will be down about 10%. Others too have had downturns, but (other than Honeywell) no one is "in extremis".

Right now, Invensys finances look very stretched. The new CEO appears to have no idea of what he is getting himself into and he is soon going to find that the accounts are in bad shape. Best guess is a big restatement, asset write-done, yet more restructuring and probably a fire sale of assets, maybe even an emergency rights issue.

Yurko was a good Manager. But, over the last couple of years, he fell prey to the notion that he could delegate and didn't get down into the details. Make no mistake, he was fired and is (in American lingo) "the fall guy" for Marshall - who is now steadfastly avoiding blame in the Invensys disaster. A review of all the companies that have Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge on their board is a painful one. The City of London is quickly wiseing-up to that fact.

There is little doubt that Rick Haythornthwaite currently believes all that Yurko’s letter contains. He is in for a rude awakening - soon. When he does, his Blue Circle background might stand Invensys in good stead.

Click Read the whole background & story The Invensys decline

Frozen (low speed) light

When an unshakeable physical constant is shown to be changeable, you know that a whole bunch of startling new developments will occur.

The speed of light (186,000 miles per second) is (or rather, was) one of the unshakable properties of the universe. Now physicists can manipulate clouds of atoms with lasers, so that pulses of light travel through them at one twenty-millionth of their normal speed -slower than traffic. A similar technique completely halts the pulses, turning them into a quantum imprint on the atoms. Later, another laser beam converts the frozen pulse back into a moving light pulse with all the properties of the original.

As well as being of great scientific interest, slowing and freezing light have a number of applications. At sufficiently low temperatures the ultra cold clouds of atoms used in slow-light experiments form remarkable systems in which all the atoms gather in a single quantum state and act in synchrony. This also opens up new possibilities for optical communications and data storage; and for quantum computers that would utilize quantum phenomena to outperform conventional computers. The freezing-light system essentially converts between motionless forms of quantum information and photons flying around at the usual speed of light.

Click Scientific American - Frozen Light


Dave Korpi Quixnet [korpi@quixnet.net] sent this :
    "Jim, I've got to say that your piece on cutters and builders has scary truths in many businesses where "professional" mis-management is put in place. These folks, clearly with good intentions simply lack the profound understanding of what makes a business run. They certainly know business theory but have no clue that they need to apply K-Factors to the real world. They wonder why the business they have been charged to run does not match case study 312 on page 809 of their best textbook, you know, the one where they got an A-. They get steeped in bean counting and forget the folks who brought them where they are. They forgot about PEOPLE. My lesson is to never forget PEOPLE!

    I have converted your piece to a jive dialect. I will hang it on my wall for everyone to learn and enjoy!

      Good managers (in any type uh business) is conservative wid deir resources and do NOT box demselves in by makin' fancy fo'ecasts dat dey cannot meet. Man! A modicum uh marketin' vision would gots seen dis decline comin' and allowed balanced managers t'act wisely, startin' years ago. 'S coo', bro.

      Dere is cutters and dere is builder; cutters is typically financial wizards wid some baaaad memo'y fo' facts, figures and faces, who immediately tune in t'stupidity and wuzte. But, dere be plum so much wuzte ya' kin cut, befo'e ya' run out and start cuttin' into de bone. A financially-o'ientated cutta' duz not invest in R&D fo' de long-haul; compensashun and bonus - and da damn kudos dat come wid "instant results" - kinnot wait fo' some fuzzy, long-haul payback. Ya' know?

      You's kinnot cut yo' way out uh a decline - ya' need t'build, wid a different set uh tools : employee ownership (to keep de best sucka's); a sensible level uh R&D t'generate new products fo' some new age; conservative financial management accruals which anticipate some wo'st-case scenario wid a realistic plan; no sho't-run financial fiddlin'; long-haul commitment to survival and success."

Pinto : tanks, bro! Ah luvv de jive rap!

A regular eNews reader wrote this:

    "I used to work for Invensys, actually for Foxboro, and have met Al Yurko many times. I agree with many of your observations. I have now left the industry to find my fortune elsewhere but can well remember the days at Foxboro when all we worried about was customer problems and solutions with creative application of control technology. I had the good fortune to work directly under some pretty good people, stalwarts in the industry, and can say it was a very enriching time professionally. Alas but those days are long gone! I sure hope, for the sake of the good people still in the industry, that fortunes turn for the better. Most people deserve better."

A current Honeyweller, name withheld : (I've got a family to feed - wait, what's that? There's a banging at my door!! It's the HR police!!! They've found me out!!! AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!) sent this ditty, to be sung to the tune of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot :

    The Wreck of the Mike Bonsignore

    The legend lives on from the management on down
    Of the failed merger with GE.
    The deal it was dead and many have said
    It was killed by a man they called Monti.
    With an annual gross of twenty-eight billion or more
    Honeywell was lively and kicking.
    But many quiet men with greed cold in their veins
    Saw a business ripe for the picking.

    There are 6 more verses. For a copy of the complete song, send me an email: Click Jim@JimPinto.com

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