JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 112 : February 22, 2003

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

  • World conscience on the march
  • Invensys - the Valentine's Day crash
  • Rockwell - positive opinions on Interwave
  • SQL Slammer worm spreads worldwide in 10 minutes
  • Analog design at the leading edge
  • eFeedback:
    • Broad support for UN approval
    • Human arrogance threatens our survival
    • The global job shift - what next?

World conscience on the march

You know, I find it surprising how upset some people seem to get when one expresses an opinion that is different from their own. Some even feel that being against war is unpatriotic. The freedom to express your opinion is what America was built upon. Long may it flourish!

My recent commentary sparked a lot of feedback - much of it positive. But I do get some flak: that I should stick to automation and tech-trends, without expressing "ill-considered" opinions (please, my opinions ARE carefully considered); that I seem like a "liberal" or a "pacifist" (I'm uncomfortable with labels, but I wasn't aware that those labels were bad); that my social commentary should be relegated to the last item. My response (repeated) is that I would feel shallow, and even a little stupid, if I wrote other "stuff" without at least some comments about the significant and historical process that is still unfolding. But hey! Feel free to skip items you don't enjoy.

My personal opinion, in brief: Saddam Hussein is despicable and should be removed; the US should first get UN support before launching an attack (with all its deficiencies, the UN is a symbol of world involvement); war will kill a lot of innocent people, and is only a last resort. I'm trying to stay open-minded, and the exchange of ideas always helps.

The impending war against Iraq is polarizing the US (and Britain) against the rest of the world. In Britain, an overwhelming majority is working to stop Tony Blair from supporting the war; they'll probably succeed. One wonders how many people will have to protest before the US administration stops to take notice.

Last weekend, in an effort to stop the US and British governments from launching a massive military attack on Iraq, people mobilized in more than 700 cities and towns, across more than 60 countries and on every continent. It was a global outpouring of anti-war sentiment, from California and New York to England and France. The protests were the biggest since the Vietnam War 3 decades ago.

In New York, rally organizers estimated the crowd at up to 500,000 people, stretching 20 blocks deep and two blocks wide. People throughout the world have thronged to anti-war demonstrations in numbers that even protest organizers thought unimaginable. It appears, based on conservative estimates, that more than 12 million people have taken part in the largest coordinated anti-war demonstration in history. The next major anti-war protest in the US will be a convergence at the White House on March 1.

Please join me in registering for a Virtual March on Washington on February 26th. This has never been done before and will be a powerful reminder of the breadth and depth of opposition to a war in Iraq.

Click Virtual march on Washington

Click Millions across globe protest against war on Iraq

Click The world conscience

Click Soft Solutions for hard problems

Invensys - the Valentine's Day crash

Invensys kept insisting that 2003 profits would meet forecasts. Last week (eNews 14 Feb. 2003, out Thursday pm) we predicted that this would be impossible since several things had gone awry. That same day - St. Valentine's Day - a revised forecast caused Invensys stock to crash almost 50%. After falling to about 16.0 p, the stock ended this week (21 Feb. 03) at 16p, wiping 600M off the market-cap and ending at 561M. You'd never have imagined that this pounds 11B giant would crash like a dotcom, to 5% of its former value!

CEO Rick Haythornthwaite, now 16 months in the job, has gone from potential savior to embattled fire fighter. He's now facing questions about his ability to pull Invensys out of the mess it's in. "It is clearly a blow to credibility", he conceded, "and I do not like the feeling".

When he was hired, Haythornthwaite's reputation was based on his successful sale of a cement company - he fought to get a higher price. At Invensys, he has sold off the good businesses to pay down sky-high debt, beating the divestiture target and schedule. Can Haythornthwaite run a business? Or is he just good at selling them?

"Slick" Rick (as he is called) insists that Invensys is still on track. After selling the good pieces of Invensys, he demonstrated his naiveté by declaring the ailing remainder "core", expecting to turn them around. His "strategy" brought in many (too many) newly-hired hired-guns, and lost the long-term knowledge-base. I know (personally) a lot of good people who have worked at Foxboro and other Invensys companies for many years, who were railroaded by incompetent new kids-on-the-block.

Haythornthwaite says he needs one more year to demonstrate the success of his "strategy". In the current volatile business environment, he won't get that year. His plea for more time has not saved Invensys's debt from being downgraded to junk status. And he's getting close to admitting that that Invensys may be better off dead than alive.

Haythornthwaite may throw in the towel soon - or be ousted. The thing that irritates employees and stockholders is that he (like Yurko) will probably be rewarded with a big golden handshake when he exits.

Invensys chairman Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge has had a 10-year unbroken record of failures since he, with now disgraced CEO Allen Yurko, brokered the 9.4B merger between Siebe & BTR, and changed the name (not the stripes) to Invensys. The recent UK Higgs review recommended a ban on holding more than one FTSE 100 chairmanship; Marshall is also chairman of British Airways which, like Invensys, is also in danger of being booted from the FTSE 100. The next review date for membership of the blue-chip index is 3 weeks away; the Lord will likely lose both his FTSEs at once.

The serious question here is whether Marshall, as the titular chairman of two crisis-ridden companies, knows when it is time to step down. One wonders how long the Lord will be ensconced in his board-seat. And, if he doesn't quit, who will remove him? And will he too get a golden-handshake??

Click Haythornthwaite blooded by ongoing Invensys road crash

Click Hoover's article - Invensys out of control

Click Invensys weblog - updated commentary and feedback

Rockwell & Interwave - positive opinions on Interwave

In the previous eNews (14 Feb. 03) I mentioned the Rockwell acquisition of Interwave Technology. Included was a negative comment on Interwave, made by a leading industry observer. This raised a stream of protest from many people who respect Interwave; they felt that the comment was biased, and especially because the source remained anonymous.

I asked the person who made that negative comment whether I could use his name; he preferred to remain anonymous and I respect his wishes. I have known this marketing expert for many years and value his opinions. After I received the protests, I questioned him in some detail. I feel that his opinions were balanced, based on personal experience, without any particular ax to grind.

I do recognize that it is important to provide objective and unbiased commentary. Accordingly, by request, I am including feedback from people who know and respect Interwave. These comments were immediately recorded (when received) on the Rockwell weblog.

Rick Bullotta [rick.bullotta@lighthammer.com], CTO of Lighthammer Software wrote:

    "I happen to know Interwave quite well (they are headquartered within a mile of our offices) and have known many of the principals (and their work) for nearly 15 years. I can unequivocally say that they are among the best of the best in the integration space these days. Are they going through lean times? Certainly. Most of them are. The quality of their work and the capability of their team, however, is of the highest level."
Rich Santoriello [richard.santoriello@lenox.com] responded to the negative comments on Interwave:
    "We, Lenox China, have been a client of Interwave Technologies for slightly over 2 years and in that time I found their services to be of the highest quality and integrity. They definitely helped us find the MES track as it pertains to Lenox. "Unfortunately, not every relationship between an integrator and client ends well. In addition, knowing Interwave and how they operate, I would venture a guess that this would be the exception, not the norm. FYI, Lenox China inquired w/ Wonderware as to the best integrator of their InTrack product and without hesitation they said Interwave Technology."
John Richardson [johnr@cimnetinc.com], CEO of Cimnet, Inc. was also positive on Interwave:
    "To set the record straight, Interwave is one of the leading MES integrators in the industry. Interwave has done many MES projects for CIMNET in the past year and they are involved in a multi-million dollar integration job for us right now. Our customers have nothing but great things to say about the work they have done. Therefore I would suggest that they are a race horse in our industry."

Click Read these, and other comments on the Rockwell weblog

Click Interwave Technology website

The spread of the Slammer

On Saturday, Jan. 25, the 'Slammer' worm, the fastest computer worm in history began spreading throughout the Internet, doubling the number of infected systems every 8.5 seconds. It achieved its full scanning rate (over 55 million scans per second) after just 3 minutes. The growth rate then slowed, simply because of network bandwidth limitations. It infected more than 90% of vulnerable hosts within 10 minutes!

Slammer exploited a buffer overflow vulnerability in computers running Microsoft's SQL Server or MSDE 2000 (Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine). The weakness was discovered in July 2002 and Microsoft released a patch. But many system administrators evidently did not install the patch; the worm infected at least 75,000 hosts, maybe more, and did much more damage than just slowing down Internet browsing and email. Many "business critical" applications that use database services were affected, and network outages caused airline flight cancellations, ATM failures and other widespread damage!

The significant thing is that this worm was NOT malicious. One can only imagine the results if it HAD been. Lesson learned: install patches as soon as they are announced. Take a look at this picture - it shows how the world looked just 10 minutes after the Slammer started spreading.

Click Picture showing worldwide spread of Slammer

Click The Spread of the Slammer Worm

Click Reuters - SQL Slammer Worm Spread Worldwide in 10 Minutes

Analog design at the leading edge

At Action Instruments, the company I founded in 1972, we sold millions of Action Pak modules, analog signal converters, to accept millivolt signals from sensors such as thermocouples and turn them into high-level outputs for the industrial environment.

At Action, Tony Bowker (the analog guru) pursued his dream for several years - to develop an ASIC chip that would take isolated mV DC signals and convert them to digital output with high accuracy. When he succeeded, the component count in Action Pak dropped from 100 to about 20; price and performance streaked ahead of the clones, who still have not caught up.

Analog design has always been considered a 'black-art'. Another Action wizard, Norm Looper, is still pursuing micro-volt DC signals - looking for the nit on the nut of a gnat....

In 1958, Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments and Bob Noyce at Fairchild Semiconductor built the world's first integrated circuit, for which Jack Kilby won the Nobel prize in 2000. This has become the basis of a world market of about $150B annually. It's interesting that the first ICs were analog, not digital.

Analog chips enable computers to interact with the physical world, dealing with continuous information like light and sound before this is changed into the ones and zeroes for digital handling. And then the processed digits are converted back into analog signals for real-world interaction. Analog and digital, yin and yang.

For decades all effort and focus has been on miraculous advancements in digital chips. But, a new article (12 Feb. 03) in Red Herring predicts that the next ten years will see a shift in emphasis to analog technologies. The company Analog Devices has kept it's name, growing steadily to almost $2B in a digital world. And high-profile startups like Foveon are building new types of analog chips that can capture images with great clarity and color.

For artificial intelligence and robotics and to get to the next level, significant advances must be made with smell, taste, touch and even selective hearing - the senses that humans do routinely with tremendous range. Robots typically have just a few sensors, while humans have literally millions - on the skin for example. The human ear can detect the sound of breathing at just a few decibels, and yet can survive the 120-decibel blast of a jet engine taking off. No one can build a digital sensor yet with that kind of range - while biology does it routinely.

The solution will be 3-dimensional structures that mimic the way nature gathers and processes data. Over the next few years, analog design is coming into the limelight to attain the next level of sensing performance.

Click Red Herring (12 Feb. 03) - Digital demise

Click Analog Devices - analog, mixed-signal & digital signal processing

Click Foveon - High-res image sensors


Bill Ellerton [ellerton@bigpond.com] from Australia sent this:
    "Well done for speaking out. I can tell you that despite the Prime Minister of Australia slavishly following President Bush's line, polling suggests that more than two thirds of Australians are opposed to a war with Iraq. Support turns around the other way when people are asked if they would support a UN sponsored attack on Iraq."
Responding to the Freeman Dyson vs. Bill Joy debate on whether the Future needs us, Mark Lochhaas [Mark.Lochhaas@advantech.com] wrote:
    "I agree that Crichton is actually conveying a warning in his novel PREY; most of his work includes the same message. Very specific concerns regarding biotechnology gone awry are far from new. "The Lord's Pink Ocean" (1972) by David (Harry) Walker is in the same genre; your e-news brought it to mind. The basic plot is that biotechnology wipes out most of mankind.

    "All eschatological fiction like this begs several questions. First, if the balance of things gets thrown out of kilter and mankind begins to decline, is ultimate decline inevitable? That is, would mankind survive at all?

    "Assuming mankind does survive, what is next? Does technology survive? Does the blight survive? Does a symbiotic relationship develop between the threat and mankind? Does mankind completely annihilate the threat as the only path to survival? Does the threat have some thread of continuation? This leaves room for more novels.

    "I believe the real question being debated is the fragility of mankind and the human life-supporting environment. Further, are humans capable of producing a threat that could directly and utterly destroy the environment and mankind? These questions are interrelated in that perhaps we think too much of ourselves, that we could actually create something that would annihilate every living person. On the other hand, perhaps we have misjudged the frailty of our environment and we have already set things in motion that will prove to be unstoppable.

    "Crichton, Walker, Orwell, and many other fiction writers induce challenging and troubling thoughts in us. Although it may be partially urban legend, the scientific community had some concerns when the first nuclear bomb was exploded. It was posited that Earth could be consumed once the reaction was started. Yet we tested it. Are we arrogant? Or is it simply a "libertarian" risk (as you have described Dyson's position)? Or, are we really even capable of annihilating the environment and mankind at all?

    "During the Cold War we worried about a nuclear exchange that would annihilate all life on Earth. Was it possible? With the detonation of the first bomb, did we actually trigger a slower reaction that will ultimately end with the same result - the obliteration of the Earth?

    Perhaps Walt Kelly's Pogo was right: 'We have met the enemy and he is us.' But then, this is fiction. How much will become reality?"

Bill Mostia [wmostia@exida.com] wrote regarding the global job shift:
    "I wonder, after all these upscale jobs move offshore, who in the US will be able to afford to buy the products and use the services produced via offshore work. Can the US have a world class economy when everyone works in the face-to-face service industry?

    "And even more, will we have money to even use banks, credit cards, house loans, etc? What will our financial businesses do if we do not have money to use their services? There seems to be a house-of-cards here. Is there some point of catastrophic failure of our financial structure?"

And, on the same subject, from Mickey Moore [mmoore@Instshop.com]:
    "I believe that things will come full circle for the world economy, though maybe not in our lifetime. As more jobs are shifted to India and Asia, it won't be long before workers there will want a taste of the US lifestyle in their own countries. This will drive their demand for more money for the jobs they do."

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