JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 52 : July 20, 2001

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

  • Final Fantasy - the movie
  • Napster alternatives - Gnutella P2P
  • Invensys decline continues
  • Honeywell background: Bonsignore Bossidy Bust-up
  • Robo-pups for sale
  • eFeedback :
    • Reading eNews on a PDA
    • A.I. - the movie
    • Charity

Final Fantasy - the movie

The first film with photo realistic animated actors, opened in July in US theaters. It has successfully simulated human emotions and movements through computer graphics animation. This is NOT a cartoon, like ANTZ or TOY STORY! Judge for yourself - go see it.

Question: Once "virtual" movie actors become popular, who will need high-paid human movie stars? (BTW: I did not come up with that question - a highly paid human movie star did....)

Final Fantasy's hyper-real animation used Maya for animation and RenderMan for rendering. Four Silicon Graphics M 2000 series servers, four Silicon Graphics Onyx2 visualization systems and 167 Octane workstations were used for "production". My son, Chris (who is in his final year at Academy of Arts College in San Francisco, studying digital animation) is crazy about this kind of stuff! He is spending his summer vacation playing with Maya - the software, not a young lady....

Special challenges - realistic flowing hair and follicles, the physics of how cloth wrinkles and drapes as the body wearing the fabric moves, the fluidity of human movement, and facial movement.

Set in an Armageddon-like year 2065, the film stars a female scientist named Aki, one of the few survivors following an invasion of phantom-like aliens that have killed most of the world's population. The story is OK - the "virtual reality" technology for a major-release movie is a breakthrough.

Before you see the movie, visit the FinalFantasy website - it's awesome (especially if you have a high-speed web-connection)! You can view a trailer (with full graphics and sound), see a gallery of amazing pictures, and select several sequences and sounds to "make your own movie". If you spend less than an hour playing on that website, let me know - I dare you!

Click FinalFantasy website

Click Kurzweil.net links to the making of FinalFantasy

Napster Alternatives - P2P

Remember our discussions about peer-to-peer (P2P) and distributed computing?

If the recording industry thought Napster was a headache, it's going to get a genuine migraine from GNUCLEUS, a free open source software program for GNUTELLA file-sharing networks.

Gnucleus software is one of several clients (such as LimeWire and BearShare) that run on the Internet's self-organizing Gnutella network. The software programs combine the shared contents of constantly shifting clusters of about 10,000 or so linked personal computers into searchable interactive archives.

Gnucleus can't be put out of business by the record industry or the government, because it's not a business. It's just a piece of free software. The programmer behind Gnucleus has no commercial aspirations. Instead, he says that all he has done is create a new tool for sharing files, one that works without its author exerting any control over it and without him having any knowledge about which files are being shared.

Ironically, the recording industry has done the most to help push users toward the legally invulnerable Gnutella network.

Click Read about the Napster alternatives

Click Why the proposed Napster settlement won't fly

Honeywell background : Bonsignore Bossidy bust-up

In the aftermath of the GE-Honeywell merger bust, The Wall Street Journal carried this story on July 18, 2001 (summarized here):

Michael Bonsignore, CEO of Honeywell was rattled. Honeywell was reeling from merger-related woes, and a discreet search was on for a possible successor. Worst of all, Bonsignore had learned from allies on his board that Larry Bossidy, his predecessor and the former chief of AlliedSignal, had privately told directors that Bonsignore wasn't capable of running the $25 billion conglomerate created by the 1999 merger of Honeywell and AlliedSignal.

So Mr. Bonsignore pulled the board of Honeywell into a confidential executive session to confront them. "Either you're with me, or kick me the hell out now," he said.

Remarkably, this tussle didn't take place recently but on May 26, 2000 - more than one year before the Honeywell sale to GE unraveled, leading to Bonsignore's forced retirement at 60, and the rehiring of Bossidy, 66.

To outsiders, Bonsignore's downfall seemed abrupt. But Bonsignore's troubles started well before the GE deal was inked. Apparently, he was done in not only by his leadership failures but also by his strained relationship with Bossidy.

We should recognize here that Bossidy is ex-GE, and reported to be a good friend and confidante of Jack Welch.

Click Complete WSJ story on Bonsignore-Bossidy Bust-up

Invensys decline continues

On Thursday 19 July '01 (as we go to ePress), Invensys shares closed on the London exchange at 102.95, with a low during the day of 101.25. Compare this with a price of about 400 when Wonderware and Eurotherm were acquired, before the BTR acquisition. It seems likely that a drop to two-digit-p will occur soon.

The UK Guardian newspaper wrote this on July 12, 2001 (summarized here):

    "Invensys came under fresh attack yesterday amid fears that management will be forced to revise earnings guidance and scrap plans to float its power systems division. A profits warning from US rival Emerson Electric was the catalyst for the latest speculation, which left Invensys shares down 11.25p at 115p. Over the past month they have fallen by 25%.

    Traders were said to be advising clients that Invensys shares were heading for 100p and profit forecasts were too high in the light of recent poor news from the industry."

Click Guardian (UK) - July 12, ‘01: Electric shock for Invensys

Following previous Invensys coverage in eNews, I received a flood of support and appreciation - for news and views that no one seemed to be willing to report. A group of Invensys managers in Europe sent me this (summarized here):

    "The focus at Invensys is profit and cash. Everyday we receive messages like this :
    • Suspend payment to suppliers;
    • Avoid business travel;
    • Suspended all salary increases;
    • Suspend all new investments.

    Mr. Yurko seems like an Emperor surrounded by "yes men". The divisional chiefs spend all their time finding ways to present information to him, fearing his negative reactions. Yurko imposes an order just one millisecond after the answer is "yes". These so-called "senior-managers" then come back and present the decision saying, "We are sorry, but it is impossible to say NO in front of Yurko."

    Morale practically does not exist. Every one seems to be looking for a new job, because they know that sooner or later they will be fired. The only Yurko strategy that anyone understands is to make a profit by reducing people.

    Everybody has heard about Project UNITY. The question arises: Does this man know what he is saying? How is it possible to realize a project like this when BAAN is losing people every day and the software is practically a disaster? Project Unity mentions Deloitte & Touche - and everyone knows that the real target is to outsource accounting."

A senior manager at Invensys in Europe, after reading this lengthy diatribe, responded supportively :

    "Invensys may be teetering, but so are a number of others in the sector. We are not isolated from a declining market.

    "I don't think Yurko has swung from "good" to "bad" in the course of a year. He has reacted, perhaps too quickly, to a series of pressures and has obviously upset some people, not for the first time. But his perspectives and vision remain valid in a number of ways. Particularly the integration of software and hardware offerings is, in my opinion, market-leading."

I (Jim Pinto) had previously suggested that Allen Yurko was an excellent manager. Someone recently asked whether I had changed my mind. This feedback from Dave Hillquist, Plant Engineer, Inland Paperboard & Packaging, Ontario, California, changed my perspective:

    "It is interesting that you describe the calamitous misadventures of Invensys and then call CEO Allen Yurko an excellent manager. Is there any meaningful way to judge a manager's competence or effectiveness, other than by the results he or she achieves?

    "Yurko has all the resources at his direction, and, certainly, determining whose advice to follow is a fundamental part of his responsibility. I think the evidence shows Yurko to be a poor manager who has made bad decisions. Yurko may be able to explain his failures; he may be able to convince some that he is not responsible for them; but he really has no excuse. In this age of elaborate explanations it would do many people good to consider the difference between explanations and excuses. Yurko cannot escape his responsibilities by offering explanations.

    "There is a pervasive crisis at the highest levels of business management, which is illuminated by the situation of Invensys. It seems trite to say that management has a fiduciary responsibility to guard the interests of the stockholder, and yet this fundamental principle has been widely betrayed. Upper-level management has become a self-serving clique of insiders who each takes a turn at plundering the resources of the business. They receive fantastic sums in pay and bonuses whether they achieve positive results or not. In many prominent examples they leave serious damage behind them but depart cordially with high praise and still more exorbitant bonuses heaped upon them by the other insiders who wait in the wings for their own turn at the plunder.

    I think in most cases the actions in this deplorable scenario are motivated not by cynicism but by ignorance, arrogance and naiveté."

Click Read the complete Invensys in Decline - with updates

Robo-pups for sale

Caring for a real dog can be expensive. The latest robo-pups cost about as much as a real puppy, but with no further expenses for dogfood, hairbrushes, veterinarian visits, etc.

Sony's AIBO (JimPinto.com eNews No.28, 1 January '01) now costs $1,500 (reduced from $2,500). i-Cybie will be available at major toy-stores in August for only about $200. Equipped with 16 different motors, sophisticated sensors and a remote control, i-Cybie walks on his own, responds to voice and clap commands, and performs tricks like headstands and push-ups. When it's time to tinkle, he lifts a back leg and makes a musical sound - but leaves no mess.

There seems to be a definite market for these robotic pets. These are not "toys" but entertainment robots with rudimentary artificial intelligence and the ability to learn. Tech-savvy men and women ages 18 to 24 and baby boomers (now 40-ish) are buying the new AIBO. This extends the core demographic of male techies, 25 - 34 who snapped up the first AIBO at $2,500 a pop in 1999.

Who will buy the new i-Cybie?
I will - to play with my (real, live) cat.....

Click Reuters news story on Robo-pups


Nick Taylor [Nick.Taylor@frco.com] sent me this interesting tidbit about how he reads eNews :

    "I enjoy your newsletter and look forward to it BUT I almost always don't read it when it first arrives, preferring instead to catch up with the news when I'm next stuck in a boring meeting. I have a Palm V synched with e-mail and use it all the time. Colleagues think I'm making notes as I look up from time to time & nod wisely; actually I just look up at random every once in a while as I enjoy your latest news & views - isn't technology wonderful?"

Bob Holland [bholland@vvi.net] sent these thoughts after reading my article on Charity:

    "Too much rationalization going on in the charity essay. Basically, charity is connected to civics - the understanding that communities are groups of interconnected elements and that the non-profit elements are just as important as the private and for-profit ones. It's connected to the concept of generosity, of being thankful for having a good share of the good things in life like health, education, experience and wealth and feeling that sharing these with others is the right thing to do.

    "Most charity giving is in the form of volunteerism. It is not at all cynical to learn that, especially thru volunteerism, you get back more than you give. Of course a symphony orchestra or any other valid nonprofit organization is worthy of charity. When I buy a painting or a CD or a piece of jewelry or pottery from an artist, that's not charity, that's commercialism. Anyway, I love to read essays to see people strive to put their values on paper, but I felt that in certain small ways, your essay was, well...uncharitable."

Cary S Hillebrand [carycnb@juno.com] wrote about A.I.:

    "I enjoyed your discussion about Spielberg's latest movie A.I. The movie started out strongly, dealing with the convoluted philosophical and ethical issues that we may very well raise in the future. Unfortunately, about a third of the way through the film, when the robot's "adoptive mother" abandons him in the wilderness, the movie rapidly degenerated into improbable silliness.

    "The real question to be answered, and unfortunately Spielberg did not attempt to even touch on this issue, is whether we will ever be able to program consciousness. A robot can be programmed to "love" or "hate" or play chess, but can he/it really be programmed with (for want of a better word) a soul? If so, then complex questions of morality come into play. If not, then, a robot, regardless of its sophistication and pseudo-human characteristics, would have no demands on our emotions or moral obligations. It would remain a tool, no more or less than the PC on my desk."

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