Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why we should all support Ron Paul's "Audit the Fed" legislation

This topic is very near & dear to my heart. Transparency at the deepest levels of government is critical for a functional Republic to remain as such.

Call, write, email, or visit your Senator today. Ask them to support S.604 if they value taxpayer dollars.

At its most basic function, an audit of the Federal Reserve would give the American people a long overdue look at where our dollar is lent, who holds our debts, who buys a stake in our nation, and well, who the heck is pulling our strings.

For virtually all Federal programs, Congressional oversight is mandatory. The American people, through their locally elected Representatives, have a right to review and make public how and where our money is spent.

But for too long, the Federal Reserve has been able to operate in secrecy with near zero accountability. We cannot accept this to continue. We must have a full audit of OUR money!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blogo Heene?

Am I the only one who thinks of disgraced ex-Gov Rod Blagojevich when I see or hear the balloon hoaxer Richard Heene? Maybe it's the big hair, self delusion, and erratic behavior...

Which one is Blago?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The world will end on Dec 21, 2012

Have you seen the promos and trailers for the upcoming Sony Pictures movie "2012"?

Are you worried that the world is going to end on Dec 21, 2012?

Were you also worried that the world was going to end on Dec 31, 2000?

Yeah, crazy calendar dates are a tricky thing. So where does 2012 come from? And why Dec 21? To begin to answer those questions, I'll need to start you off with a story. Actually, an allegory.

Here's a synopsis of Plato's "Allegory of the Cave":

Plato imagines a group of people who have lived chained in a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Plato, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to seeing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not constitutive of reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners. 1

That's going to make more sense in a little bit. Think of the shadows on the wall as celestial constellations. Ancient people believed these to be gods that help us humans divine some meaning to our lives.

We were, over centuries, observant enough to recognize that twelve main constellations dominate our night sky (in the northern hemisphere). And we recognized that these constellations appear to "travel" across the sky over long periods of years. We gave each period of time a designation of "age" that roughly works out to around 2162 years. And we even calculated that constellations would "rise" and "fall" relative to each other over these periods of time (ages).

We personified these constellations. And we often deified them. We used them as the basis to develop measurements of time and calendars. What we did not know until very recently is that it was the earth that moved, not the constellations (relatively speaking). It was the earth that revolved around the sun, not the other way around.

But the damage was done. We have a daily clock broken into two 12-hr cycles (one rising in daylight and one declining in daylight). We have a 12 month calendar broken into 4 seasons (the first two rising in daylight and the last two declining daylight). And major religions are rife with illusions to "12", like 12 disciples of Christ and 12 tribes of Israel.

If you ever read the Bible cover to cover and then see a picture of a zodiac, you'll also see other odd similarities. You'll see Bulls, Rams, Fish, Twins, Scales, Water Bearers, Scorpions, and all sorts of other things. And you'll see these images match key time periods in the Bible. If you really know your stuff, you'll even recognize parallels with the description of each of the 12 disciples with that of the characteristics of each constellation in the zodiac.

Now think back early parts of the Bible with references to twins or duality, specifically Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel. Jump ahead to Abraham and consistent imagery of the Bull. Or Moses through the time of Christ with imagery of the sheep/ram. During Jesus's time in the New Testament, much talk was given about Fish. And he warns his disciples to be on the lookout for the one who will follow Jesus - a man will pour out water (Water Bearer).

The progression of Adam & Eve (Twins/Gemeni) to Abraham (Bull/Taurus) to Moses (Ram/Aries) to Jesus (Fish/Pisces) and to the "Second Coming" (Water Bearer/Aquarius) is a pretty clear reference to the constellation pattern in the zodiac. And a few slots down the line we have Libra, or the scales... this is often considered by western culture to be the age of judgment.

Well, that's all a nice way of tying a religion to celestial events. This is going to still rest on a matter of faith, because no one really knows if these references were inserted at a time after the original scriptures were written, or if these scriptures were complete fabrications altogether. What we do know is that these religions were tied to a belief that the earth is young and we're nearing the end of the cycle of ages.

- - - - - -

What does this have to do with the world ending on Dec 21, 2012?

Nothing. And Everything. The Mayans had a celestial calendar that restarts on Dec 21, 2012. Based on their observations and interpretations of the shapes in the night sky, they view the transition from what western cultures call Pisces to Aquarius as the end of their calendar. Western cultures typically designate an end to their calendar during the Libra age.

Incidentally, western cultures pick up a new celestial cycle with Virgo (virgin, virgin mother with child).

- - - - - -

I guess the bigger question is, why do the Mayans want to destroy the world and how did Europeans get it all so wrong!?!

To answer that, first consider what happens at the end of every day. It's already dark and the clock strikes midnight. Uh oh. But wait, we're now approaching 1am. And then the day begins and it gets brighter and brighter... Or its December 31 at 11:59pm. Jeez, better crawl into the bomb shelter, right? Nope, we just start over again on January 1.

And that's exactly what will happen with the Mayan calendar. It just starts over.

Now I know, it isn't as fun to say the sky won't fall. That's so boring! The thought of the world ending just sends people into a wingbat frenzy as they go to buy batteries and flashlights and all sorts of things that would supposedly help them if the world were to explode. In fact, I should start selling canned goods, ham radios, and bomb shelter kits. I could make millions.

- - - - - -

Okay, so now you get the whole general calendar concept thing. I bet you've still got a nagging question about the particular date of Dec 21. Why not Dec 31? Well, let's go back to our annual cycle and see what happens.

Every year around Dec 21, the Sun reaches its lowest peak point on the horizon. This is considered the "death" of the sun. For the following three days, the sun remains fixed at this low point. After this period of time, on Dec 25, the sun begins to rise again. This is considered the "birth" of the sun. (Comparisons to Christmas should be made... Dec 25 was an ancient holiday which celebrated the "sun" god. Early Christians took cover in this holiday so that they could worship the birth of Jesus without being executed).

So back to the Mayans... In the year 2012, the twelfth age of their celestial calendar ends marked by the lowest point of the sun during that particular year. Hence Dec 21, 2012 (12/21/2012) is the "end" of the Mayan world. However, on Dec 25, 2012, a new world is born.

I would not be at all surprised if the upcoming "2012" movie infuses Christian imagery by ending the worldwide destruction on Christmas day. Oops, that could be a spoiler alert.

Bonus points for the first person to recognize the brief shot of a symbol as the homepage loads for 2012 (site).

- - - - - -

Well that's all for now. I've got to go back to digging my "end of the world" shelter.

- Jim

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Media Diversity

I'm watching Glenn Beck's show on Fox right now... I have to chuckle a bit about Beck's freak out over moves by the FCC to diversify media. He views having more owners of media outlets as a consolidation of media by Obama and other "minorities."

Personally, I have felt that corporate media is generally a bad thing. GE, Turner, and Murdoch control virtually the entire media apparatus in our nation. The FCC proposes to breakup the ownership of media in America so that you cannot have one man or company own multiple media outlets in multiple markets.

The FCC would also like to restore journalism to the broadcasting standards prior to the 1980's. In the past, news programs required a balanced discussion so that the viewer was presented with both sides of an issue. News programs were also hosted by journalists - not the glitzy commentators that feed modern day propaganda.

Imagine watching MSNBC and instead of lopsided segments run by Keith Olberman, you'd have a real news anchor in the mold of Chronkite presenting facts without bias or spin.

But I guess that wouldn't be as entertaining as watching Glenn Beck. And I guess that's the point. Media has become a product and is rewarded by appealing to our worst characteristics.

Ted Turner owns CNN, Headline News, Time Magazine, AOL, TBS, etc etc. Rupert Murdoch owns Fox News, Fox, Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, New York Post, etc etc. I would love to see GE break up it's NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC units away from each other and away from the parent conglomerate.

A healthy Republic demands a free media. When I say free media, I do not mean a media owned by three people who can craft the message for 300 million.

The day that media is free from control by a corporate oligopoly will be a great day for America.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Devolution of the Republican Party

It saddens me to see a mighty elephant flailing around. While there are many issues in which I completely disagree with the GOP, I can always say the same for the Dems.

My view of a vibrant Republic depends on strong, intelligent factions working to balance the power of competing interests in a constructive way. Unfortunately what we have with the modern day GOP is a unified mouthpiece of downright crazy distortions and dangerous ideas.

This is the party that arrogantly waved the "Country First" banner just last year, but has stopped at nothing to derail policies and destroy individuals for pure politics - the country be damned.

This is the same party that flooded evangelical churches with flag pins and yellow ribbons and other token trinkets of disengenious patriotism. "Only 'good white Christians' love America", they said with a smirk and wink. All while driving SUVs as they send someone else's kids off to die for oil and war profits.

This is the same party that is now so transparently concerned with deficits and expansion of government power with the recent memory of a rubber stamped USA Patriot Act, creation of the Dept of Homeland Security, the nationalization of airport security, and the whole sale bailouts of insurance and airline companies following 9/11.

Let's not soon forget their grossly perverted interpretations of the Constitution to justify domestic spying, death squads, mercenary forces patroling US cities, indefinate dentention facilities, torture of Americans and POWs alike, naked war profiteering for companies once run by the Bush family, Cheney, or Rumsfeld, and countless other atrocities that I pray history will soon lay bare.

This is the same party that dismantled financial regulations that were installed to keep the country safe from another Great Depression, only to put this country on the brink of financial collapse before the term of their president was even through.

This is the same party that rails on about the need to reverse the deficit as they pass glutonous tax breaks that go almost exclusively to the very rich. These tax breaks are passed even as we engage in two wars. The result was a doubling of the national debt.

So to the GOP, stop this complete nonsense about "not seeing a birth certificate." You're friggin retarded if you simply refuse to look at the stamped/signed copies provided by the state of Hawaii for distribution to the media. Stop trying to destory the president personally to score political points. What about trying to help this country? What about trying to bring new ideas to the table? What about appealing to our better angels?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tech Stocks to Watch

To continue with my series on tech stocks, I'd like to include some larger companies that - in my opinion - belong in the tech portfolio of any good investor.

I'm providing this analysis as a general summary of each company and I do not give advice on the exact timing and pps for an entry point. This is part of my DD for the investors in my own company - you must do your own due diligence. As always, read the stock disclaimer before anything else.

Amazon - Buy
Google - Buy
AMD - Buy
eBay - Buy
HP - Buy
Dell - Buy
Apple - Neutral
IBM - Neutral
Oracle - Neutral
Cisco - Neutral
Yahoo - Hold (short), Sell (long)
Microsoft - Hold (short), Sell (long)
Sun - Sell

Next: Amazon »

Google (GOOG)

(No Surprise Here)

As I blog on the Google Blogspot service, using a Google Gmail account as my moniker, and search for research material on Google Search and Google Finance, I find it easy to recommend GOOG to investors.

Google hosts my company's email service (Google apps) and I highly recommend it to the organizations that I work with. I've largely abandoned the desktop driven MS Office application suite in favor of the web based and highly interactive Google Docs. We use Google Analytics for web traffic analysis, and spend some cash on Google Ad Words. I'm also looking into Google's cloud features for possible future deployments.

Google's revenue stream is heavily advertising driven, so one would expect their profits to suffer greatly in a recession. However, Google has capitalized on a great new market and is siphoning revenue from traditional media outlets (newspaper, TV, radio, etc) and competitors (Yahoo, Ask, Microsoft, etc) alike.

Google also gets a handsome amount of revenue for their enterprise applications like Google Earth, Google Apps, and Google Enterprise Search.

Google Chrome OS
Google's recent foray into the Operating System marks an important shift in computing. To many glossy eyed pundits, the announcement is dismissed as Google getting involved in what it knows nothing about.

Other pundits (including yours truly) see much more depth to this move than meets the eye. Forget for a moment that Google has essentially maintained its own operating system for years - what highly customized systems do you think run the worldwide Google farm? Forget for a moment that some very powerful open source operating systems have already found modest success on their own (Ubuntu, Red Hat). And do your best to forget that Apple's OS X is merely a pretty face on an open source operating system (BSD).

Google is simply going to apply a clean, user friendly face to the Linux kernel - much like Ubuntu and Apple have done with some success.

But the real secret to releasing an operating system is the recognition that the "Operating System" as we know it is over. The OS is a commodity in Google's world vision. There is no more room for a monopolistic company to keep the masses bound to one platform for all PCs.

For this world view to survive, two critical things must happen. (1) Companies must be willing to change their operating system, and (2) applications must be willing to go from the desktop and on to the web.

I think that since 2006 or so, many companies have been holding off on new IT investments. When hardware has reached a temporary plateau and Vista did not provide enough to convince folks to move, companies held tight to WinXP. Application vendors held off and many new services are at least partially offered online. Most importantly, the next crop of workers were raised in the Internet Age. They expect to do their work on the web.

The trend is moving overwhelming in support of Google's world view. The big question is how well Google is equipped to handle stewardship for the next great technology boom? Since they also have a lock on Silicon Valley brain power, I'd say their chances look good.

Just remember, Google: Don't be Evil.

Amazon (AMZN)

Amazon is truly a hidden gem of the modern technology age. I doubt that few investors fully understand the cloud technology that Amazon has developed and made into such a vital part of the company.

Aside from being one of the largest online retailers (focus on books), Amazon has drop ship services for merchants and sells a digital book reader called Kindle.

Below the surface of lives a hive of hundreds of thousands of machines at dozens of locations around the world. It is this massively scalable compute farm that gave engineers at Amazon a brilliant idea - rent out their unused horsepower to smaller organizations that could benefit from a massively scalable farm of their own.

Several years later, companies like Nasdaq, the New York Times, and countless unnamed government and Fortune 100 organizations now rely on the computing power in Amazon's cloud.

I'd love to go on and on about Amazon Web Services (AWS), but that's really a topic for a separate and highly technical discussion. The bottom line is that companies looking for short term horsepower or an outsourced core network can choose from a menu of services offered by Amazon.

For those needing to store large amounts of files (pictures, video, news content, backup files, etc), Amazon S3 charges a few cents per month per GB to hold the data. And it will also charge a few cents per GB transferred to host the data for the world.

For those needing 10 machines or 1000 machines, Amazon EC2 will provide this to you within minutes of issuing a command. There are no contracts or startup fees - you simply pay a few cents for each hour you use a machine. You can choose from a variety of hardware sizes, and you have the option to use Windows or Linux. This is a favorite of researchers, academics, and web startups looking for temporary or highly burstable traffic.

If you need a database, you can also rent this functionality by the transaction. Amazon's SimpleDB is internally scalable, so there's no need to worry about clusters or mundane maintenance.

Bottom Line
Amazon has positioned itself as a leader and early favorite in the cloud computing market. This, combined with a strong online retailer position should push Amazon into a highly profitable future.

Disclaimer: My company runs its services entirely through the Amazon EC2 farm. We also take advantage of S3 for file storage and are looking at modifying some apps to take advantage of SimpleDB.


I should start by saying that I've always been partial to AMD's processors. When I used to build my own PCs, I used AMD exclusively.

I believe that the EU's recent anti-trust rulings against Intel will favor AMD attempts to compete on a level playing field.

I also think that AMD should - in theory - have the sales advantage during a recession because their products consistently provide more horsepower for the dollar.

Combine this now with Google's efforts to release an operating system, and I think we're going to see a reemergence of the PCs wars. Such a burst in spending will greatly improve the AMD bottom line.

In the 90's, our choice was simply Apple OS on Apple hardware or Windows OS on a variety of PC hardware choices. Today, Windows can run on either AMD or Intel, as will Google Chrome and other Linux systems. In fact, Apple is now running on x86 architecture and could easily run their systems on AMD.

Barring some unforeseen revelation, there is nowhere to go but up for AMD.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Delta Smelt or Delta Sharks?

Why Are California's West Side Farmers Getting Squeezed?

California is the nation's top agricultural exporter and home to nine of the top ten farming counties in the entire nation (1). Much of the San Joaquin Valley (roughly the area between Sacramento to Bakersfield) is devoted to farming operations. This region was once one of the largest in-land lakes, but it was extremely shallow and irrigation projects allowed the region to be settled and farmed.

Fast forward to 2009. The hot button issue with farmers is a decision to cut off irrigation to many west side farmers out of "respect" for a variety of fish called delta smelt. These are not native fish, but they thrive in one of the key reservoirs that delivers mountain water to west side farmers. When the irrigation gates are opened, the small fish tend to clog up the machinery of the gates - killing many fish and costing money for clean up.

To fix the problem, the state says it will need as much as $25M to install fish screened gates. I'm sure they could have picked a more ridiculous number out of their hat, but $25M seemed credible enough. In the meantime, water deliveries to thousands of farmers are simply cancelled - a move that will likely cost 60,000 jobs in the farming sector in this season alone.

Sounds horrible, doesn't it? It's almost enough to get one hating all environmentalists and moving even further to the right...

Unfortunately, this story has many strange bedfellows.

It's like déjà vu all over again

As the Los Angeles basin was developing beyond its means last century, developers sought to get further out into the basin where land was cheaper and rules were loose. The problem was finding sources of water to support new residential and commercial developments.

Some of the very successful developers worked out deals with water commissioners that inexplicably led to water supplies getting cut off to small, rural farmers. The resulting season brought that farmer bankruptcy - without water, he can't produce and earn money to pay his debts. And without water rights for the farm land, the dirt was nothing more than a worthless desert.

At this point, developers would head out to that poor farmer and offer him a 'generous' deal on his land - walk away for pennies on the dollar and we'll assume your debts. Once all of the farmers in an area were out of the way, water rights would be restored and a city would spring up. All of this was massively profitable for the developer.

To see this scenario in action, go watch the classic movie called "Chinatown" (Jack Nicholson).

How does this relate to Delta Smelt?
Today's "Delta Smelt" water crisis is just cover for a more straightforward scenario.

California has long planned to develop the west side of the central valley into one large series of "sleeper" towns for LA & the Bay Area. The coastal regions are heavily populated and working class folks have trouble living in the towns that they work in. The plan has been to develop a high speed transit system to shuttle workers from the valley and into the major metro centers of LA and the Bay Area. Voters approved the high speed rail system last November, 2008.

But there is one problem to this plan: Farmers currently own all of the land.

Farming is a profitable business and California farmers have a penchant for strong business acumen and highly efficient operations. Modern farmers in this area are also wise to land prices. When urban development approaches, they know it's time to cash out and they work to transition their land into "entitlement ready" parcels.

And that's where modern farmers run afoul with history. By being smart businessmen, they are cutting out middleman developers who seek to buy farmer land below value by any means possible and sell it to builders. The workload is light and risk is low, but for all of their near zero effort they expect to see 10-20 fold returns.

It looks to me like these modern day developers (sharks) appear to be turning to old dirty tactics and slight of hand.

By convincing a few bureaucrats to cut off the water supply, many farmers will go into default on their land. They'll be forced to sell in a hurry or lose everything in bankruptcy. Speculators will come in and buy the land cheap, hold it for a few years, and then develop it during the next housing boom cycle. Without this fire sale, few developers will work to rapidly buy up and build out the valley. And without irrational development on the scale that we saw from 2003-2007, the state will not be able to fully realize the goal of a giant 300 mile long suburb along the I-5 corridor.

How to solve a phony crises?
I urge you to look at history as your guide as to how this situation was engineered and how it will play out. You'll have a lot less success fighting the delta smelt than you will fighting the true culprits of this phony crises.

You can do a few things.

  1. Call a spade a spade. Shine the light on this scenario - but do it carefully and in full view of historical examples. You'll quickly find politicians from both parties aligning to dismiss such claims. Take their names and look into their political donations.
  2. Provide training to farmers to arm them with the tools necessary to negotiate their land prices. Show them the basic steps to removing their land from the Williamson Act and work towards basic entitlement steps. Such moves blunt efforts by developers to claim that the land would be worthless without a farm. Farmers must be one step ahead of developers if they hope to stay in control of their land.
  3. Use "environmentalism" to your advantage. The recent federal energy bill paves the way for small landowners and farmers to use their property for energy production. The west side has decent winds and full sun, so consider adding a few turbines and solar panels along side your crops. Not only would you get access to new federal funds and financing, you would also be protecting your land from urban conversion and generating some passive revenue. Revenue generated from electricity could be enough to float you through a season without water.
  4. Get connected with Families Protecting the Valley. While they appear to be a decidedly right wing only organization, they are well funded and well directed to meet this challenge.
I wish you luck if you are one of the farmers affected.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Palin Resignation

I've been struggling to understand the core reason why Gov Palin abruptly resigned her office. It would certainly make sense to resign if she had been appointed to an ambassadorship, was elected to a national office, or was embroiled in an embarrassing scandal.

None of the conventional reasons appears to be in play. Unless the governor has not disclosed the true reason for leaving - such as a brewing scandal, big money deal, or a plan to run for Senate or the White House - we all just sit here and guess.

Palin may actually believe that quitting during the middle of her first term as governor will improve her 2012 prospects. It might actually play well with her ever hardening base of "true believers". But I'm sure anything she does would play well with them - just as it would with the hardcore base of any popular politician.

Let's not forget that Palin has abruptly quit public office before. She was appointed to a state oil & gas commission, but resigned in protest halfway in to her term. Now she has resigned as Governor halfway into her term for what is being explained as fatigue.

Interestingly, Palin has also suggested that her resignation is for Alaska - that it's not fair to the state that so much focus is being put on her and not on the issues at hand. Following that logic, Palin believes that she is actually sacrificing herself for the state as it's the only way to move legislation forward. How messianic of her.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I completely agree with Karl Rove: I am perplexed by this resignation.

It is a bizarre move for a politician at that level. I would dare say it is an amateur move. It is almost as if Palin was playing a game of checkers while everyone else were playing chess.

Her actions must be disappointing to the GOP. They were hoping to revitalize the party at midterms and have a solid option to Obama in 2012. The GOP needed someone who had a good run as a governor and was ready to step it up at the national level. I'm sure they were looking for Palin to step into this role.

Palin should no longer be a credible candidate for an even more rigorous and vicious office at the national level. If she thought being Gov of Alaska was tough, trying working in the Senate or White House. You simply cannot quit in the middle of your term because you're getting picked on or you feel tired. These are serious jobs that require serious and dedicated individuals - and Palin may have just showed herself to be less than serious.

Time will tell what her true game plan her was. We'll see if a scandal pops up, or if she gets a high dollar gig at Fox News, or if she goes on the speaker circuit, or if she really didn't think this through and fades from public view, or if she announces her candidacy for 2012 a few years early just to get dibs.

I certainly do not believe that her 60 days under the campaign microscope compares to the grueling two year primary that Barack & Hillary went through. Palin has nothing on the 8 year ordeal of George W Bush. That guy was parodied from the start by SNL (Will Ferrell) as a bumbling, drunk frat boy. Bush was skewered through the failings of the Iraq war, two close elections, intel lapses, domestic spying, torture, Katrina, etc... yet the guy still kept his chin up and came to work every day. I can respect that.

Politics is a dirty game. For someone who strives to someday be President, Gov Palin needed to meet her challenges with thick skin, brilliant solutions, and hard work. Resigning early is whithering in the face of challenges and not the stuff that our national leaders are made of.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

eDoorways Part 1 - Introduction

This article is the first in a series that analyzes a company called (EDWY). I spent some time reviewing the service and considered buying stock, but decided against the purchase for now.

Here's why:
Now I'm just some anonymous blogger posting comments from a deep, dark, undisclosed location. But don't let that fool you. The vast majority of people posting to blogs use an alias because they don't want that "knock on their door."

In real life, I have been working in the IT field for over a decade. I've earned some high level certifications as a grunt, worked my way into managing a regional IT dept for a Fortune 250 company, and currently own/operate a web based company focused on a vertical niche (completely unrelated to eDoorways). I've been asked by some angel investors in my company to analyze other start ups that hold promise.

I have no desire to trash EDWY - quite the opposite. I see things in the company that have potential for a viable site. But I also see some big land mines in their path that they're planning to step on. If you are an investor, please read my recommendations before you start commenting. There is real promise here, but you must use your leverage as an investor to effect change in the company.

All the best - Jim

Update: I'm currently an investor in EDWY. I bought in at $.0255 so that I can participate in the investor preview of the software. As of 7/9/09, I'm down a few hundred bucks. No surprise. You can bet I'll sell my initial investment as soon as the pps exceeds $.027.

eDoorways Part 2 - Primary Focus

A Purpose Driven Site
One of the top killers of a .COM venture is the lack of a primary purpose.

When you think of Google, you think of search. eBay - auctions. Linkedin - networking/recruitment. Facebook - social/networking. And so on.

When I first looked at, I had to go back and re-read the home page. I could not find what the purpose of the site was. I'm sure there is one, but the company has not made the effort to be clear on the primary function of eDoorways. That will haunt them if they go to launch with this fuzzy purpose.

The site talks a lot about how they are like Google, eBay, and MySpace all mixed up in a high speed blender. That's utter nonsense if I've ever heard it. Get serious if you want my investment.

Every site must have a primary purpose that consumers attach to your .com. Without it, you'll be forgotten very quickly.

Examples of Purpose Driven Sites
To get a sense of what I'm talking about, compare the following sites to the screenshots on eDoorway's site.
  5. Facebook
  6. Bing
  7. Google

With these examples above, the user clearly sees what the site is about. Furthermore, the user does not see tons of side clutter and pages full of wigdets and gadgets that confuse the eye and delay usage.

Bing Case Study
A great case study of this clutter phenomenon is Microsoft's evolving search platform that has recently culminated with Bing. Microsoft's first major attempt at a search engine was They made it the default homepage of every Windows/Internet Explorer user. Even with this built in advantage of getting 90% of the world to see you first, little old Google still won the search wars. Then came Still, too many things going on, too much noise, and it just couldn't catch up to Google.

Bing has a chance only because it is a different type of search for a different type of purpose. Google has the quick and dirty searching locked up, so Bing has focused on a niche search that combines several related search avenues into the default search results page. For Google and other engines, this is often a secondary step. Bing won't topple Google, but it may have found a way to carve out a viable place in the search world.

Most importantly, the purpose of Bing is clear from the homepage. A big simple page with a pleasing graphic and only one thing to do - Search! Microsoft may have finally learned.

Hunch Case Study
eDoorways should take a close look at Hunch. This is an automated version of consumer decision making that is similar to the EDWY model (consumers ask and live professionals answer in real time).

With Hunch, businesses buy ads through answers and help develop a controlled set of questions that lead the user to predetermined set of answers. It's a clever way to mix non-commercial answers with paid advertisements. As long as the advertisements are relevant and accurate, this should be a great tool for the indecisive.

Get Focused
The final thought I have on this topic is about the common response I've heard from investors in EDWY - "eDoorways is revolutionary and will unify all aspects of consumer and business interaction." I wonder if they have ever said this out loud a few times to hear how silly that sounds.

From the beginning of the commercial Internet, ventures have set off to "unify" the world with a holy grail type web site. ALL HAVE FAILED. It's like chasing the gold at the end of a rainbow or searching for the fountain of youth. Unifying the web is such a vague concept. Successful companies tackle one major need and do it well.

Once they're successful, they often branch out to complimentary services - but never will you see a successful company like Linkedin start holding eBay style actions and selling pet food.

EDWY does not currently have a self-evident purpose. People have to spend a lot of time reading to really "get it". A consumer will give you 5 seconds.

EDWY Advice
EDWY - Get a purpose. Focus on one thing and do it well. And most importantly, be able to explain that one thing in a single phrase.

Investor Homework
Investors - Go to the eDoorways web site and come up with a one sentence description of this company. Post it here, on the Google Finance boards, or on the EDWY corporate blog.

Update: 7/9/09
Since I have not been able to get valid answers from investors on "what does eDoorways do?", I decided to post the phrase that should be on the tip of every investor's tongue:

"eDoorways helps you solve your problems."

That's kind of a generic umbrella, but it clearly communicates the primary focus of the core eDoorways service (SOLVE). IRG will need to help eDoorways more effectively communicate this purpose to the masses.

eDoorways Part 3 - Target Market

According to this eDoorways page, the company's target market is the 47 million "micro-boomers". The young adults who grew up during the Internet Age are seeking out hip new sites and services like Twitter, Facebook, Hunch, etc. They have a new lingo of 'tweets' and 'googling'. They spend their days on sites that look clean, slick, and easy to use.

It is hard for me to reconcile that target market with what I see on eDoorways. First of all, the terminology is like something my parents would find appealing: Doorways, portals, . Doorways? Really? You want hip young adults to talk like grandpa? "Well, I finally got onto the Internets and opened a door to a site where I could ask questions. They had little rooms that I could sit in and other doors for me to go to when I had other questions. Then I cranked up my iPhonograph and listened to the hot new single from Fats Domino."

You might as well put a midi file looping on every page so that you create that great elevator music atmosphere. Or post phone numbers so that users can just call each other with questions. Or deliver a delorian to each user so they can go back to 1993 when a concept like doorways would have been cool.

Web 3.0
The easiest way to spot a person with no clue about technology is when they say a site will be so 'Web 3.0' and go on to talk about unified services and real time collaboration. That phrase was picked up by Microsoft to dismiss its utter failure at recognizing Web 1.0 and it's struggle to compete in a web based desktop world of Web 2.0. So if you can't compete with current technology, grab some new nonsense term that fools some people into thinking you're actually on a new level.

There is a general theory behind the next iteration of the web (which some dub Web 3.0). Whereas the current iteration (Web 2.0) is about connecting people, the next iteration will focus on connecting people with complex questions to information. In other words, you'd type in a complex question into Google like "I want to go to Paris for less than $2000" and it would immediately spit out a link to a cheap flight with a package of low cost hotels.

The inference is that the future search algorithms are much more aware of colloquial human speech and are populated with common outcomes to human decision making.

Doorway to the 90's
And that is everything that eDoorways isn't. eDoorways starts by playing catchup to the social networking game. Then they depend entirely on a live database of humans to answer questions in near real time. That is a huge step back to Web 1.0 style message boards. A true 'Web 3.0' company would be far more automated and semantic.

If eDoorways really wants to be hip and relevant, they should model a mix of and At Hunch, people can and do type in complex questions. They are then presented with a set of questions to clarify and narrow their needs. After a minute of questions, they are presented with three answers that most closely resemble their needs. The answers are a combination of paid ads that qualify with the semantics of the question and user defined criteria.

Suggested Actions
eDoorways is really close to the mark. They've got to figure out a way to solidify a purpose and interface that matches their target market. If they continue to focus on "micro-boomers", they have a long road to hoe. If instead they focus on older users that are relatively new to the web, I think eDoorways will be much more successful in that niche.

Update: 7/7/09
eDoorways just hired IRG (Investor Relations Group) to manage their public image. Excellent move. At the very least, IRG will be able to generate a smokescreen of good press for the short term. Even if the web service doesn't take hold, they should be able to bring in enough traffic to hold a sustainable mass.

eDoorways Part 4 - Technology Scalability

Don't Panic
This section is really more about preference than objectivity. I am personally less likely to invest in a company that has a higher operating cost per page served than its closest competitors.

For example, say Massive Motors spends $8,000 to produce a car that sells for $15,000. Their competitor Nimble Wheels spends $6,700 to produce a similar car that sells for $14,000. Who would you invest in based on that limited information?

The same principles hold true on the web. Google manages hundreds of thousands of machines to operate their global network. They rely on open source (free) operating systems, an open database product (home built), and uses a mix of free to use languages that do not need to be licensed (C, Python, among others). Google is able to deliver a cost per search that undercuts Yahoo and Microsoft. As such, they have more leverage in negotiate ad deals.

Potential competitors to eDoorways like Hunch, Yahoo Answers, Experts-Exchange, and GetSatisfaction all use open source server platforms like FreeBSD or a Linux variant. eDoorways will run on Windows, so every server in the farm will cost more to license and operate.

To make matters worse, the software for eDoorways is being written in a .Net flavor, so it will always require a Windows server underneath. The competitors listed above use Ruby on Rails, PHP, Perl, or Python, so they can shop any host and any platform that meets their needs.

It is often argued that .NET is cheaper to program in, but arguing about programming languages is a lot like arguing which Religion is the True Religion. It really has more to do with what your team is comfortable with, what your consumers need, and what is the most feasible selection for your company to operate. One thing is true for shops running a Microsoft stack: They burn through more cash than those companies using nimble alternatives.

So the investor takeaway on this shouldn't be anything more than being aware that some operational dollars are going to be eaten up by software licensing while most competitors do not have that built-in cost.

Reduce Costs during launch
Many start ups also burn cash by designing their infrastructure to meet the initial peak demand of hundreds of thousands, only to have the investment wasted when the traffic settles down to normal levels.

I would highly recommend that eDoorways look to augment their standard server farm with temporary traffic load measures available through cloud computing services. Amazon AWS offers on-demand servers (EC2) starting at $.10/hr for Linux and $.125/hr for Windows. They can also host content with S3 for $.10/GB hosted.

Mixing cloud resources into a launch is a massive cost savings. Say they need an extra 500 servers for the first month (~730 hrs) to meet peak demand. Traditional deployments would require them to go buy 500 servers and have them all on and running. Figure that each server will cost a minimum of $1K. That's really conservative considering that you'll also need racks, switches, routers, storage arrays, software licenses, etc. But let's just say $500K is what they need to meet that peak demand in the first month.

With the cloud, all they'd pay is 730 * .125 * 500 = $45,625. It gets better, since this is largely a US based service, most of these machines can be turned off at night. Also, traffic tends to rise as a bell curve throughout the day and throughout the week. And the best part about the Amazon cloud is that you can script the farm to expand and contract automatically based on load. So as traffic picks up, machines turn on automatically. When traffic declines, the capacity declines to match usage. All the while they just pay for the hours they use. EDWY could easily provide massive scalability for the launch for less than $30K.

Investor Takeaway
If I were investing in this company, I would certainly ask the management about their deployment plans for the launch. Are they going to build peak capacity in house? What happens when demand exceeds capacity? What happens when the initial burst of traffic dissipates into normal usage levels? Have they heard of cloud computing?

These comments here are targeted for current investors and are designed to help you pressure the company to be more nimble in their ongoing operations. The less cash they burn monthly means the more profits that you the investor can pocket.

eDoorways Part 5 - Enterprise Driven Design

Designed for the Enterprise
The developer of eDoorways is speakTECH. This development firm is described by eDoorways as a company specializing in building applications for large enterprise clients.

It should come as no surprise that the screenshots posted for the eDoorways 'SOLVE' platform look strikingly similar to an enterprise application. The images look busy, cluttered, and full of all kinds of tools and buttons. Enterprises love that stuff. End users hate it.

Consumers consistently use simple and efficient tools over complex and combersome tools. In a previous post I referenced the comparison of (failed) and (failed) to Microsoft's first two attempts were to beat Google by offering more and more tools all right up front. Because Google is simple, fast, and effective, it's market share grew ever more dominant.

Why does design matter?
If eDoorways were designed as a software package to be sold to enterprises, it would undoubtedly do quite well. The problem is that eDoorways is supposed to be targeting consumers on the open web. As such, it is at the mercy of consumer design fads and practices. The Golden rule with consumer sites is that the Simplest Site Wins.

When consumers look at Hunch, GetSatisfaction, and Yahoo Answers, they are more likely to understand the purpose of the site and get into it. When the average consumer sees the current eDoorways homepage (screenshot), they are going to feel overwhelmed.

EDWY should test their site with focus groups in their target market. Put groups in front of Hunch, GetSatisfaction, Yahoo Answers, and eDoorways. Just watch how long it takes the user to get started with each site, how well they succeed at getting their goals accomplished, and interview them after using each tool.

The insight gained from this exercise should be quite valuable. You should be able to score the results and compare that with your site's goals. If they don't align (which I suspect they won't), your options are to redisign the interface or find a new target market that more closely aligns with your site.

eDoorways Part 6 - Achilles Heel

Achilles Heel
This post will perhaps be the most contentious assessment I'll make of eDoorways. The foundation of the SOLVE platform is the novelty of consumers asking questions and having real-time responses from experts/businesses.

That sounds wonderful.

Now back to reality
Let's remind ourselves of the target market: micro-boomers (20's & 30's) and local small business owners. Most micro-boomers are savvy enough to get most questions answered through searches, and most small business owners cannot devote hours each day to answering questions for people outside of their market.

Think about Susie who owns Little Susie's Bakery. Someone has a question about the best way to bake a pie. What is she supposed to do with that? Politely ask the consumer living 500 miles away to buy a pie from her shop?

How about Jim who owns Jim's repair shop. A guy logs in and asks for help restoring the transmission of '57 Chevy. Jim should say 'haul it over to my shop and I'll do it for $1500'... but that wouldn't work well with eDoorways' model.

Incidentally, you can Google both questions above and get those answers instantly.

With the live chat feature of eDoorways, both the consumer and the business would have to be geographically close to each other. That can be done through basic IP checks with varying success.

The larger problem is how do you guarantee that an expert will be online at any hour, for any topic, and in any location? If you can't provide that 24/7, you can't guarantee that live response service. And if you can't guarantee that live service, eDoorways is reduced to a Yahoo Answers style of site.

A Real, real-time response?
To guarantee a real time response, have the managers at EDWY really thought through what it will take to reach a mass large enough to support such a commitment? They are creating a chicken and egg scenario in which they must get a large enough group of consumers to make it worth the time for experts/businesses to devote on the site. But they must also get a large enough group of experts/business to make it useful for consumers to use the site.

Otherwise, consumers will just be asking questions with no one to answer in real time, and thus the entire purpose of the site is lost.

This criticism is fundamental to my view that eDoorways will ultimately disappoint investors.

To break that chicken-egg scenario, they could do one of the following:
1) Drop the real time guarantee and fall in line with competitors that guarantee a fast response (2-24 hours). ( & model)
2) Have a premium service that consumers pay into and experts/businesses are paid for their time. ( model)
3) Have the real time response be derived through semantic results - driven by predetermined logic that leads the user to outcomes that include relevant information and product placement. This can remain free and still be extremely profitable. ( model)

eDoorways could seek a different delivery mechanism. Building a Facebook app would instantly open a consumer base large enough for businesses to sign on. Facebook provides so many great demographics that it really could make for a viable combination.

eDoorways could also seek a different market. Rather than focus on consumer fed revenue model, EDWY might consider packaging the solution as a hosted app for enterprise customers. What better way to get get thousands of mini "SOLVE" portals than to have Toyota pay a license fee to offer a live Q&A for their consumers. Or have Best Buy provide real-time sales answers to their products.

Little Susie's Bakery or Jim's Repair Shop will be unlikely to derive any revenue from such a solution relative to the amount of time the owner would invest online. Local advertising is still going to be their best marketing avenue.

eDoorways Part 7 - Recommendations

Summary of Recommendations
Here's the recap of the concerns I have with the platform and suggestions to improve the service.

Find a Purpose
The most fundamental recommendation that I have for EDWY is to solve the riddle of purpose. What is the targeted primary goal of the site? If your visitors remember one catch phrase about your service, what would it be?

Innovation is vague and is not a goal. Putting Google & MySpace in a blender is campy and not a goal. A B2C gateway is vague and not a goal. A platform for consumer Q&A with experts is close to a goal, but it competes with other stated goals of providing a marketplace and a 'connection to the global community.' helps you manage your money. helps you make decisions. keeps you connected with friends. Deep behind the scenes of all of these sites you're matched with products and services through ads, emails, and in-line product placement.

So what does eDoorways do?

Solve the Chicken & Egg
Figure out a way to be profitable in the event that the ratio of consumer questions : expert/business answers is not maintained in perfect balance.

Drop the expectation of real time answers unless you can really back that up. Really. You only have one shot at a successful launch. The online hoards will not forgive a fumbled start.

If you do offer real time support, you're going to end up having to pay people to provide real time answers during the startup period and during periods of every day for ever. That's why you should charge for the premium service or drop the expectation of live, expert answers from businesses near your home.

Consider additional delivery models
Consider building a Facebook app to give you instant access to a massive user community.

Consider building an interface for the iPhone or a generic mobile device to give you access to a larger community. Some CSS styling can usually make your app functional on any smart phone. With mobile devices, you can quantify location of the user and match them with the nearest expert (geographically) - especially as the user travels. Plus, you'd get more direct access to 'experts' who might have day jobs. Sending questions on their phone will bypass the corporate network and make it more likely for experts at businesses to respond quickly. For instance, the real time chat could be done through a txt message gateway.

Consider licensing an instance of your app to enterprises for dependable revenue. Not only would you get regular cash, you would ensure a dependable user base of experts paid for by the large corporate clients. So if you're smart about it... you make the back-end fluid enough to intermingle the Q&A from both the corporate instances and the main site.

Test your 'Target Market'
Get a focus group going with your target market and see how your service compares with other close competitors. You still have time to adjust your target market or tweak your site, so get going on this asap.

Augment your deployment with the 'Cloud'
Check out what Amazon is doing to help power the next iteration of web sites. Mixing in scalable and cost effective horsepower will save EDWY hundreds of thousands of dollars and help ensure a smooth and responsive launch.

eDoorways Summary

Investor Summary
All of the recommendations are applicable to you. Since you are a partial owner in the company, I would highly recommend that you press EDWY management for answers to some of these concerns and learn about how they are prepared to address them.

You have the right to influence the company through investor pressure. There is certainly opportunity for EDWY to be successful. As it is currently designed, however, I see the expectations vastly outweighing the likely performance of this venture.

I fully expect the share price to rise in anticipation of the October launch date. If you're currently underwater, consider selling at a spike and buying back your position with the profits you made. Then the pressure is off. But I fully believe that once the post-launch performance of the site is measured, the consensus will be that eDoorways underperformed to the expectations and your shares will drop significantly.

I welcome any comments on these posts and my conclusion. If you have questions about my analysis, I also welcome a discussion.

I am not invested in EDWY. I considered it when news of the conference call came out. I was asked by the investors of my company to provide them with an analysis of this and other tech stocks. I did not write these posts to trash the company, and if you read through my analysis and suggestions you'll recognize that this is constructive criticism. When tech writers pick up the launch of eDoorways, don't think for a minute that they'll be treating yet another .com venture with kid gloves.

If I or my investors buy into EDWY, I will update the post here to reflect the price per share that shares were purchased at.

Update: I made a personal stock purchase in EDWY. I'd like to see the investor walk through and potentially revise my analysis.

Good Luck
Good luck to those investors who are riding profits. I also hope that EDWY takes these suggestions under advisement.

All the best - Jim

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Coleman concedes the MN Senate race to Franken

Bloomberg is reporting that Norm Coleman has conceded defeat in his Senate re-election bid. The move puts the ball in Gov Pawlenty's court to sign the election certificate for Senator-elect Al Franken.

Read more at Bloomberg »

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Tale of Two Jacksons

Over the next few days, we'll undoubtedly see reports on the two very different lives of Michael Jackson.

On one hand you had the brilliant musician who forged a trail as a pop music phenomenon. Mr. Jackson was an astute businessman who had the foresight to buy the catalog rights to his music as well as several other musicians - most notably owning 50% of The Beatles' collection. Michael's music was known in every corner of the world; his face and celebrity making him arguably the most recognized human being on the planet.

Michael Jackson was one of the first modern celebrities to use his fame for a noble purpose - his "We Are the World" production was a novel and instrumental effort in the power that celebrity can bring to world causes.

Then you had the other Michael Jackson. Chronically embroiled in lawsuits and under constant suspicion of child abuse. You saw a 7 year old boy trying to live in an adult body. And you saw an adult constantly trying to live with 7 year old boys. A horrific fire during a Pepsi commercial was followed by years of plastic surgery, reducing Michael's appearance to a common late night joke. And then you have the dangling of "Blanket" over a German hotel balcony.

His personal life was a tragedy, in part because of his inherent circumstances but largely of his own making. In spite of this, history will undoubtedly remember his ground breaking contributions to music and pop culture.

As with any death, my thoughts are (and yours should be) with his family.

Michael Jackson dies at age 50

Multiple news agencies are now confirming that Michael Jackson has been pronounced dead. For a few days at least, let's try to remember him as the man who contributed so much to pop music.

Michael Jackson has died?

MJ is in the hospital and TMZ has already put the nail in his coffin.


Update: 3:27pm PST
CNN confirming that MJ is in a coma, but echoing reports from CBS and LA Times that MJ died.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gov Sanford should not resign

To resign or not to resign - that is the question for Governor Sanford.

I do not believe that politicians who have affairs or other sexual exploits (Vitter, Craig) should necessarily be forced to resign. Of course, there are some exceptions.

I do believe that a politician should consider resigning when they make a career out of family values, conservative Christian morality, or take every opportunity to blast other political figures who suffer from infidelity. The hypocrisy of such a scenario should be a testament to the integrity of the individual, and voters have every right to demand accountability.

I also believe that ethical investigations should be launch whenever politicians use their positions of power to reward/punish the individuals with which they are romantically involved with.

That said, I think Governor Sanford is profoundly troubled by this indiscretion. I think he did the right thing by reimbursing the state for his travel expenses to Argentina (where his mistress lives). And since the Governor is termed out of office, I think it would be wise for him to take the opportunity to fade from public office when his term is up and put his administrative talent to use behind the scenes. Or write a book. Or go on Fox like many other fallen Republicans.

In the meantime, we should let him and his family deal with these very serious personal and private issues.

Minnesota Senate Race is Resolved! (Satire)

January 2, 2015

And in other news, the 2008 Senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman was finally decided in favor of Fozzy Bear. The surprising comeback of the long shot write-in candidate came as a shock to political officiandos.

When asked for comment, Mr. Bear simply replied, "Wocka, wocka, wocka." Unfortunately for what would be the nation's first Muppet-American Senator, the decision came as his 2008 term is about to expire.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Notre Dame Invites Obama - So What?

I've been following the growing controversy over Notre Dame's decision to invite President Obama to speak at their 2009 commencement ceremony and award the President an honorary degree. The central issue of opposition appears to be that Obama is pro-choice - a view that runs contrary to Catholic Doctrine.

As I sip my Flavor Aid (grape is great!), I seem to recall that an important man once said: "He who is without sin, cast the first stone."

A commencement ceremony that includes only those who are 100% in lock step with Catholic Doctrine will be one lonely party.

Notre Dame has welcomed presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush to speak at their university. Not a single one of these presidents were Catholic. Not being Catholic a serious departure from Catholic Doctrine.

Most of these presidents supported the Death Penalty. Last I checked, that was a no-no.

George W. Bush's administration supported torture. Does the Catholic Church support torture? How about a preemptive war that has so far led to the brutal death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis - not to mention thousands of our troops and tens of thousands more wounded. Does the Church support the death of our troops?

The economic policies under the two Bush presidents resulted in recessions and hundreds of billions of dollars lost in financial crises. Savings & Loan, deregulation, sub-prime lending, ponzi schemes, credit default swaps, etc all left millions of families in a perilous position. Untold numbers of people suffered in smaller, more silent ways. Does the Catholic church encourage poverty?

Are we to believe that Catholics should not be concerned with the death penalty, torture, bloody wars, and economic despair? Is the message to Catholics that we must only follow the Golden Rule and be pro-life?

How long has the Catholic Church supported the pro-life movement? And how much change to Roe v Wade has that support produced? What specific acts have Presidents Carter, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush DONE to reverse Roe v Wade? Faith without works...

As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed in the Church's actions over recent years. From the handling of the sex abuse scandal, encouraging a more forceful and fundamentalist view of doctrine, and turning a blind eye to massive atrocities that dwarf the issue of abortion all lead away from the path of Christ.

So let's recap here:
Rule 1) The Catholic Church opposes leaders that disagree with Church Doctrine.
Rule 2) Rule 1 only applies to the issue of abortion
Rule 3) The Catholic Church receives leaders who support torture, wars of aggression, and the death penalty
Rule 4) The Catholic Church continues decades of support to political parties and movements that have done little to reverse an important issue
Rule 5) The Catholic Church appears to forget central tenets of Christianity that emphasize tolerance, acceptance, and forgiveness

As a Catholic, I would welcome anyone into my house - even those people with whom I have disagreements with. That's what my faith taught me. We are all human, we are all with sin, and we should all strive to accept and tolerate others in spite of that.