Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Cold eye cast on once-hot biodiesel play

A year ago there was lots of positive promotional coverage of Bio Willie “farm fresh biodiesel” fuel. In the newest issue of Forbes Magazine (“Stardust: the troubled history behind the company that signed Willie Nelson“; January 8, 2007; page 42; byline Daniel Fisher), Earth Biofuels and the “colorful background” of one of the chief figures associated with that company undergo scrutiny. This author analyzes the financials and ventures some opinions about the future. Nothing is said about how any ordinances banning trans-fats used in restaurant and fast-food cooking might affect the raw materials of biofuels. Will our city council follow NYC’s lead? What will be the effect on the exhaust-pipe aroma of those vehicles using biofuels? Stay tuned.

Austin biz on the page

Under the Finance / Private Equity rubric, Business Week (November 27, p. 60; “A Dicey Win for Blackstone,” byline Emily Thornton) takes a look at the Freescale buyout and declares it to be “fraught with risk.” The teaser subhead reads: “The bidding war over Freescale went to the private equity powerhouse and its partners. But the chipmaker’s debt load may jeopardize its future.” In its hard-copy form, this is a two-page article. There’s an analysis of the chip industry in general. Elsewhere in the issue, we learn that Michael and Susan Dell stand eleventh in a list of the 50 most generous philanthropists and there’s quite a bit of detail on amounts and beneficiaries. There are those with lesser net worths who give more in dollars, and more proportionately. T. Boone Pickens is on the list, and we have some of the Walton family here in Texas, but the Dells represent Austin in the world of large-scale giving. The impression is that there may be less giving to area recipients, here where it all began, and more of an attempt to make a splash in the greater world.

Home Up, Up and Away

Remember when Austin was flooded with fleets of 20-somethings cruising in new Porsche Boxsters? Or when over-eager families would bid up houses before they even went on the market? Yes children, I’m talking about a magical time called the Tech Boom, when techies and online entrepreneurs were flush with ever-expanding options, and they ruled Austin like kings!

Then one day, the evil gremlin named Reality swooped down and burst their mighty tech bubble. For many, the riches disappeared as quickly as the catered lunches, lavish celebrity-sponsored parties, and other accoutrements of fancy financed by Internet pixie dust.

But some Austinites were more fortunate than others. A select few Tech Warriors sold high, crested the wave, and learned that the Internet was about information and connectivity, not just another place to sell dog food. Those hardy few banded together in an underground limestone fortress, waiting for the time when online services would no longer be mocked for their sock puppetry ways of the past, and they might rise again.

Lo and behold children, those days are upon us, for an Austin clan named HomeAway has just raised $160 million in venture capital! Together with the $47 million plundered earlier this year, HomeAway is sounding a call that echoes the glory days of 1996. In just two years, they have transformed from a handful of executives with a rag-tag collection of online properties into a bustling guild of developers and phone support technicians (and more executives) poised to consume their greatest rival.

HomeAway’s booty is all the more impressive since the wizards of venture capital are loathe to share their secrets since the dark times of The Bubble. Some whisper that HomeAway lured the capitalists with tales of existing profits and untapped markets in vacation rentals, with nary a mention of Web 2.0 or wiki mysticism.

If leader Brian Sharples has his way, HomeAway will transform into the Expedia of vacation rentals. There are many dangers lurking ahead, since they must tame the motley cadre of owners who feed their site while also convincing travelers to trust unknown proprietors as they would the Hilton and Radisson overlords.

There are not many “happily ever afters” in Tech Land, and that is for the Gods of the Market to determine. But with $160 million in their treasure chest, HomeAway is poised for an epic journey which will be retold in song and story for generations to come.

Presidential Plug?

delltv.jpgI was listening to the Bush press conference yesterday afternoon on KUT and thought I heard him specifically mention Dell as a brand of television in answering a question. I didn’t think much of it until I saw this post on BoingBoing today.

After watching the video, it doesn’t seem like a stutter, but I also can’t imagine that it was intentional. It seems pretty unlikely that anyone would name Dell as the first brand that comes to mind when discussing “television screens” although they have been pushing them a lot more in the last year or so. Weird.

Computer enlightenment

guru.jpgThe hand-me-down laptop very suddenly, between one session and another, exhibited the kinds of symptoms that nobody wants to see. Although I’ve always fooled around with the innards (and software) of desktops, I knew right away that this was beyond me, so it was off to PC Guru on South Lamar.

Only after the hand-over did I learn from the Chron Best-of-Austin issue sitting around unread since Thursday that Austinites voted PC Guru the best computer-repair shop.

Here’s what I liked: It’s open on Saturday, the rate structure was clearly explained, the estimate of what was likely to be involved was concise yet complete, additional information was sought when needed, and the equipment (and everything accompanying it) was returned just as it had been left, and soon. except that the laptop is now in working order. I like it that, instead of selling a replacement hard drive, PC Guru determined that the old one was still under warranty and took care of having it replaced expeditiously for free. I like it that, without my asking, the battery status under the second Dell recall notice was checked. I like it that all was restored, data and other stuff, pretty much as it had been. Thank you, PC Guru.

One Web Day

top.jpgJon L. reminds me that today is One Web Day, a celebration of everyone’s favorite series of tubes.

Austin is celebrating tonight at 7pm at Café Mundi, 1704 East 5th Street.

From the press release:

If you can’t remember or imagine life without the Web, then you shouldn’t miss this event!

Join the conversation. Stand up and tell everyone how the web has changed your life.

One Web Day is the Earth Day for the internet, and it’s being celebrated for the first time this year around the world. Because the web is made of people, it’s up to us to celebrate and protect it.

I’ll refrain from any Soylent Green quotes or Charlton Heston impersonations on that last one.

I go to Dinosaur school, roar!

I’m thoroughly annoyed with ACC. Really. It has its merits- smaller classes are nice, love my yoga teacher, but my main qualm is this- how does any college get by without wifi these days? How?
I guess I’m spoiled. UT wifi rocks my face off and though it doesn’t help me pay attention in class, its fun to have during breaks, especially if you commute like me and you’re stuck on campus for 5-6 hours. Hey, Outdoor Mesh project, when you expand on the city wifi, throw a little northward, say 12th street or thereabouts.

Backed up to a point

The Dell desktop was hot stuff when it was new, almost a decade ago. But it just died, and with it went my most recent images, captured with the help of my toy Concord EyeQ Mini flashless cheapo digital camera. Everything should have been uploaded to Flickr right away. Gone are the pix of the watermelon truck on Airport, with the handmade sign in watermelon colors. Gone are those of the beautiful nearby shrine, with bright pinwheels and fresh offerings of candy.

The CompuAdd ordered down on Sixth Street before there was Dell went to Goodwill. So will anything perhaps useful this time. Prospects include two ancient printers, one PostScript, with parallel connectors, and one ancient scanner with a driver just as ancient. There must be others out there needing a mouse and a keyboard with PS2 connectors, along with some printer cables.

The last time that a monitor died, it went to Axcess. The monitor being used with the Dell was used when it came here and is seeing its last days anyhow, so it probably is headed for Axcess.

So the new rig at home is an aging laptop (or I guess we’re expected to say “notebook” these days) with three USB ports and one of those free Dell all-in-ones scavenged from a friend. Except for the most recent photographs, everything had been conscientiously backed up. But I wish that the old set-up could have continued forever.

Good money chasing bad money?

Today’s Austin Business Journal reports:

At yesterday’s city council meeting, the council approved a $317,500 proposal to pay a Virginia outfit called GTSI Corp. (Nasdaq: GTSI) to do a technical trial to design, build, and operate a system to provide broadband Internet service over the city’s power grid.

What concerns me is the company GTSI. Did the council see this Washington Post article entitled “GTSI’s Struggles Lead Ernst & Young to Doubt Firm’s Ability to Survive“?

The article states:

In financial results for 2005 that had been delayed, the company also disclosed that its independent accounting firm, Ernst & Young LLP, had informed executives that there was “substantial doubt” that GTSI could continue as a going concern. GTSI had $22,000 in cash at the end of 2005, down from $397,000 last year.

On the plus side, the Post article indicates GTSI recently received a $125 million revolving credit line. Although, usually these lines of credits have enough convenants and provisions where if something slips, the line of credit dries up.

And it sounds like this company was until recently a computer reseller without a long track record in deploying broadband over power lines (BPL). I don’t know the technical challenges involved, but I am assuming there are some significant hurdles. With GTCI employees jumping ship, are the best engineers still around. It’s doubtful.

BPL is sort of the Sasquatch of broadband. We’ve heard about it for years, but has anyone actually seen it? By going with GTCI, will Austin see anything out of this $327,000 investment?

Unveil your inner dork


David Nunez announces that Dorkbot 2 is this Thursday at Cafe Mundi. Dorkbot is a collection of people doing stuff with electricity among other things. There’s Dorkbot groups around the world. The local chapter had its first meeting last month with presentations by Bob Sabiston, the programmer/animator behind the animation technique used in A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life.

So if you’re into theremins, tesla coils, rail guns, or rewiring your roomba to spy on your sister, you should go check it out.

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