Good deed for the day

I would never guess looking in the mirror that the reflection I see is a face you could trust. Yet, repeatedly I find myself being approached by strangers of the female persuasion asking for help. On several occasions, little old ladies have stopped me in the hardware store to seek my advice. Just last year, while riding my bike, a college student flagged me down and managed to convince me to help her move furniture.

And then today, I found myself again helping a damsel in distress.

I was crossing a parking lot when I spotted the big SUV. It appeared to be jacked up on one side and was halfway in a parking spot. The engine was running and the door was open but there was no one inside. As I rounded the vehicle, I spotted the driver and the problem.

The driver was crouched down looking at the tire. She had her hands over her mouth in exasperation.

The tire had gone up over the curb and into a ditch. That was the good news. The bad news was the tank — I mean Lexus — was wedged just inches from the next vehicle on one side and a dumpster on the other.

“Do you need some help?” I naively inquired.

Her eyes lit up but her response was not in English. I took an accompanying head nod as affirmative. I began to walk behind the car to get in position to direct her but she stood up and pointed to the driver door.

“You want me to drive?” I asked.

Again, she shook her head.

I chuckled to myself but climbed up in the vehicle. I looked around to familiarize myself with the dashboard and surroundings, as you might do when renting a car. I noticed that the seat was already positioned at just the right length for me. This seemed peculiar, given my friend-in-need stood no more than 5 feet tall.

I tested the throttle to ensure I had a good sense of how this two-ton beast was going to react when I tried to get it moving. At that point, I also wondered: whose insurance covers this if something happens? This is not a question that comes up in Knight School.

Throwing caution to the wind, I pulled the shift into reverse and nudged the tire back up on the curb. This was one of those new fancy vehicles with radar detectors everywhere. And they just love to complain when you get too close to some immovable object. If the beeping wasn’t bad enough, my friend was visible in the rear view mirror, providing extra pointers, frantically waving her hands this way and that.

I went into zen mode to become one with the vehicle. With intense concentration, a steady hand on the shift and one on the steering wheel, an ever-so-gentle tap on the accelerator, some back-and-forth rockings to the tune of a hundred or so more warning beeps, I set the ship upright and properly moored in its berth.

As I got out, my friend said: “Oh thank you! You are a life-saver!”

“No problem,” I said. And as I walked away I wondered how it was that this was the only phrase she knew in English? And then it dawned on me. Perhaps that was why the driver’s seat was already set at the height of an average man. She has been here before and was waiting for the next chivalrous individual to happen by.

Oh, well, all in a day’s good deed. For what it’s worth, I charge extra for dragon slayings.

A little light reading on the plane

A curious bit of infotainment while on board an Air Portugal flight over the Atlantic. As we glided across the celebrated body of water, our TV screen map included locations and dates of major maritime disasters. The Titanic, of course, is the most famous. But the other ship names included in this map aroused enough curiosity to do a bit more research when I reached dry ground.

Only two years after the Titanic disaster, The RMS Empress of Ireland collided with a the Norwegian Storstad, resulting in 1,012 deaths. Percentage-wise, it is a higher mortality rate than the Titanic. What is truly tragic about this incident is that the ship sank in the relatively calm and shallow waters of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in Canada. And the Storstad remained afloat and was on hand to help rescue passengers and crew. But the hull of the Empress was sliced open in the accident, causing the vessel to take on water so rapidly that it capsized and sank within 14 minutes. Reportedly, open portholes contributed to the rapid flooding.

I remember stories of the Andrea Dora shipwreck as a kid but, did not know the details. Apparently, this gem of the Italian shipbuilding industry collided with the MS Stockholm in 1956. (What is it with these Scandinavian sailors, anyway?) Forty-six people perished off the coast of Massachusetts. But it could have been a lot worse, considering it had a total of 1,700 passengers and crew.

The U.S.S. Thresher submarine disaster of 1963 remains a mystery, 55 years after its sinking off the coast of Massachusetts. What is known is that all 129 crew members died as the hull imploded under immense pressure while plunging to a depth of 8,000 feet.

Not included in the Air Portugal map was an even more recent nuclear submarine disaster involving the Russian Dursk. The entire crew of 118 perished in the sinking in 2000. (Technically, this occurred in the Barents Sea, a body of water just north of the Atlantic and just south of the Arctic Ocean, but, hey, close enough for my book.)


Up in the Air

Not surprisingly, the Air Portugal map did not include major air disasters in and around the Atlantic, but here’s a few of the more notable ones:

Tenerife, Canary Islands, 1977. This collision of two 747s on a runway is still the largest air disaster in history, resulting in 583 fatalities.

Pan Am 103, better known as the Lockerbie Bombing, took the lives of all 243 passengers in 1988 when terrorists blew the plane up on takeoff. The flight was bound for Detroit via The Pond.

In 1996, TWA 800 exploded on takeoff from JFK, killing 230 people as the aircraft plunged into the Atlantic just south of Long Island.

Air France 4590 was bound for New York City from Paris on a hot July day in the year 2000. But debris on the runway punctured a tire and a fuel tank, resulting in the horrific calamity that cost 109 people their lives. This was the only accident involving the commercial super-sonic transport in its 27-year history. But it was also the last, as the joint venture between the French and British owners grounded the plane from that day on.

The only one I recall from the South Atlantic is also the most recent: Air France 447, en route from Brazil to France. In 2009, the craft plunged uncontrollably into the waters, killing all 228 aboard. Analysis of the accident concluded that ice crystals caused the autopilot to malfunction. When the pilots reacted. they over-corrected, sending the plane into an uncontrollable dive.

There’s more, of course, but these are the most notable.

Hashtagging #AirPortugal in case they want to add some new data to their infotainment maps.

And, hey, if you are reading this at the airport, have a safe flight!

SaaS has been around forever

Everything old is new again.

This couldn’t be more true than in the examination of Software as a Service.

If you start at the beginning of mainframe computing and the first remote log-in (some time in the 1940s between Dartmouth college and Bell Labs in New York), you get the first example of accessing computational functionality.

In the ‘80s, with the arrival of more computing power in smaller footprint, the concept of client-server came along. This was still the era of LAN/WAN and some connectivity to the Internet via TCP/IP.

The ‘90s kicked the concept of the network as the computer into full gear. While at Sun Microsystems then, I was responsible for marketing the Java technology, which provided the first universal programming environment for writing web-based applications that could run on any computer anywhere.

The first instantiation of cloud computing came about at the end of the ‘90s and early 2000 era with Application Service Providers. This was more the equivalent of private hosting. In other words, they took applications that you had been running internally within the four walls of your business and located the hardware and the software off-premise as a dedicated application for your business.

The SaaS consolidation trend

Consolidation. It’s the name of the game in the world of software. And as software manifests itself as a service (SaaS), the service companies are following the same path of consolidation.

If previous trends are any indication, we can expect the following:

Rapid innovation, which causes disruption.

Innovators battle it out with competition.

Some survive, some don’t and either get acquired or die.

History as an example

Let’s look at one example, the enterprise infrastructure software world. In 2000, there were a dozen or so companies — some startups and the big iron players such as IBM and Sun — trying to own the market. One company, BEA, starting making headway.

They acquired a smaller competitor, WebLogic, and this became the cornerstone of their revenue. They expanded and grew to be the big fish in the pond of enterprise infrastructure software with $1.5 b in revenue. (At the time, I believe they set the record for a software company reaching the $1 billion mark.) Then a bigger fish — Oracle — swallowed BEA. The enterprise infrastructure software (installed type) is now completely consolidated within the larger giants such as Oracle and Microsoft.

Or, let’s step back in further. Back to the future of the 1980s. Word processing was the killer app for PCs. Wordperfect quickly beat out competitors such as Wordstar and Multimate to be the king of the hill. Wordperfect’s stickiness was in its macros, keyboard shortcuts that, once you had learned them, you were reticent to try any other word processing app. Then along came Microsoft Word. With the inside track on DOS and then Windows APIs, Microsoft was able to displace Wordperfect as the predominant word processing app.

There were still holdouts: the legal profession in particular was dragged kicking and screaming into the new world. The killer death blow came when Microsoft cannibalized their own app and subjugated it to be part of its Office suite. And with that and a little magic known as OLE (object, linking and embedding), Microsoft could make drag and dropping from Excel, Powerpoint and Word seamless to the user.

The rest, as they say, is history. In the 2000s, search went through the same competitiveness, until Google, through a better search algorithm and little bit of luck as it stumbled upon the concept of Adwords and Adsense, beat out the competition.

Business Intelligence went through its innovation phase in the 2000s as well, and by the end of the decade, the major players were swallowed up.

What’s next?

So what can we expect to see in the world of SaaS (Software as a Service)? Mulesoft was recently acquired by Salesforce for a whopping $5.6 billion.

The interesting sidebar on this acquisition is that it came one year after Mulesoft went public. What motivated Salesforce to wait a year? Why didn’t they swoop in prior to IPO to offer a premium that would have saved them a few dollars.

Could be a few explanations. Perhaps the team at Mulesoft was more eager in testing the waters of the public offering. It could also be that Salesforce was — at least allegedly — a target of a takeover itself at the time Mulesoft went public. Perhaps Salesforce had its hands full.

Other significant acquisitions include Appdynamics scooped up by Cisco, just prior to Appdynamics IPO (the usual timing for these mergers). A study by a San Francisco firm tracked 95 software companies from 2005 onward. Seventy-eight percent — over three-fourths — of those companies have been acquired in the time period.

SaaS, I believe, is heading the same direction.

In it for the short haul

There’s lots of focus on the next generation of long-haul trucks, with Tesla, as usual grabbing most of the attention.

But there’s an enormous benefit to tackling the short-haul vehicle market first. Everything from grocery delivery vans, postal trucks, UPS-type vans for your daily delivery of Amazon packages etc. etc.

Converting these vehicles to electric (or more accurately, replacing these vehicles), will reduce air pollution in congested areas, where traffic lights leave vehicles idling and spewing out diesel fumes. And they are always within close proximity to home base for charging.

These vehicles probably need a range of 100 miles tops vs. the 400-hundred or 500-hundred needed to make the 18-wheeler-electric feasible.

Looks like Daimler is out ahead on the short-haul market.

An Apple a day

I’m a big fan of Apple products. I’m writing this on a 6-year-old MacAir that still works like a charm. I have or have had all the other gadgets over the years. They are innovative, reliably and they interact (in most cases) with each other to provide a seamless experience.

But the oft-asked question is: has Apple peaked? There are supposedly 1 billion iPhones out there. That’s a lot. Maybe the market is saturated. On the other hand: that’s 1 billion phones. That’s one heck of an installed base. Facebook can claim more “users” but ultimately, switching off Facebook is a lot easier to do than trading in your hardware device.

Chart source: Statistica

So Apple has this incredible installed base with, as we like to say in the industry, stickiness.

Apparently, the tepid response by analysts right now is: they have a good chance.

Can iCloud, Music and the App Store grow quickly enough? Services are where it’s at: Lower margins, annuity-style revenue and lots of chances for upsell and cross-sell.

My personal experience with iCloud as a proxy is this: They can do better. Dropbox and Box are moving much more quickly and nimbly. Apple should have the home court advantage, built-in features that make the laptop and iCloud seamless. But they are not there.

Still I wouldn’t count them out just yet.

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The author is long on Apple, with total ownership of 0.871 shares. At Tuesday’s capitalization of $858 billion for Apple, the author’s ownership amounts to 0.0000000001693881818 percent of the company.