2018 Tech IPOs: Is Enterprise a Game-Changer?

Image: greentechmedia.com

Jon Swartz’s recent piece in Barrons asks “Is This the Year Tech IPOs Stage a Comeback?” Prior year IPOs did not meet expectations, with consumer companies like Snap and Blue Apron the poster children for a miserable performance.

But the speculation among the smart money is that 2018 tech IPOs will surge, and they’ll be driven by enterprise companies.

So, is enterprise the game changer for tech IPOs in 2018?

Continue reading 2018 Tech IPOs: Is Enterprise a Game-Changer?

The Security Frustrations of Apple’s “Personal” Personal Computer: Device Access, Two Factor ID, and 386BSD Role-Based Security

Image: smsglobal.com

Recently, a FaceBook friend lamented that he could not access his icloud mail from a device bound to his wife’s icloud access. He also expressed frustration with the security mechanism Apple uses to control access to devices – in particular, two-factor authentication. His annoyance was honest and palpable, but the path to redemption unclear.

Tech people are often blind to the blockers that non-technical people face because we’re used to getting around the problem. Some of these blockers are poorly architected solutions. Others are poorly communicated solutions. All in all, the security frustrations of Apple’s “personal” personal computer are compelling, real and significant. And do merit discussion.

Continue reading The Security Frustrations of Apple’s “Personal” Personal Computer: Device Access, Two Factor ID, and 386BSD Role-Based Security

Apple Store “Bait and Switch” IPhone Battery Gambit: Apple Giveth and Taketh Away

Image: cnet.com

Beware the Apple Store “bait and switch” iPhone battery gambit. We faced this yesterday in Los Gatos, CA where they tried to claim a working iPhone 6s with a good screen / original owner was not eligible for their $29 battery replacement at the appointment because it had a slight bow in the frame.

Now, by this point everyone likely has some flaw in their old iPhone, whether it is a slightly dinged frame from being dropped to a minute crack or scratch under the frame. It’s normal wear and tear. And they likely didn’t have a problem replacing the battery before the discount was announced and replacements were more costly and infrequent. But now, it’s an issue.

They did offer to sell an iPhone 6s for close to $300! This is a terrible price. Don’t go for it. This is what they mean by bait and switch.

Continue reading Apple Store “Bait and Switch” IPhone Battery Gambit: Apple Giveth and Taketh Away

Intel’s X86 Decades-Old Referential Integrity Processor Flaw Fix will be “like kicking a dead whale down the beach”

Image: Jolitz

Brian, Brian, Brian. Really, do you have to lie to cover your ass? Variations on this “exploit” have been known since Intel derived the X86 architecture from Honeywell and didn’t bother to do the elaborate MMU fix that Multics used to elide it.

We are talking decades, sir. Decades. And it was covered by Intel patents as a feature. We all knew about it. Intel was proud of it.

Image: Jolitz, Porting Unix to the 386, Dr. Dobbs Journal January 1991

Heck, we even saw this flaw manifest in 386BSD testing, so we wrote our own virtual-to-physical memory mapping mechanism in software and wrote about it in Dr. Dobbs Journal in 1991.

You could have dealt with this a long time ago. But it was a hard problem, and you probably thought “Why bother? Nobody’s gonna care about referential integrity“. And it didn’t matter – until now.

Continue reading Intel’s X86 Decades-Old Referential Integrity Processor Flaw Fix will be “like kicking a dead whale down the beach”

Silicon Valley Bank and eVestment Hit a Nice Exit with Nasdaq

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People often fixate on the Home Run Deals: the Googles, the FaceBooks and the like. A home run deal is a 50x-100x return on a deal where you get in 1) really early, 2) really cheaply, and 3) an astronomical valuation that you 4) stay with the entire ride without being diluted. It is the stuff of movie magic and business books. But it’s also extremely rare and risky.

Continue reading Silicon Valley Bank and eVestment Hit a Nice Exit with Nasdaq

Is Google Just Another Uber Bro? Unraveling the Tangled Silicon Valley Tech Geek Myth

InterProphet: My first funded startup as technology co-founder on our first anniversary. Image: Jolitz, 1998.

The most recent attack on women and minorities in Silicon Valley has arisen unexpectedly from Google. Mounted by an anonymous Google engineer as a “manifesto”, it presents no facts, regurgitates disproven theories on the “biology” of men and women and, most tellingly, blames diversity for upper management’s cancellation of underperforming products at Google.

Symmetric Computer System wirewrap prototype, 1983 and 375 BSD Unix system, 1989. Vintage Computer Faire. Image: Jolitz

There are a lot of women who have worked on technology projects in SV over the years (me included), but you wouldn’t know it because no one writes about it, so no one believes that it happened even though this is a young industry and most of us are still alive. That missing piece of the story leads to the notion that women have not had any involvement in any technology and it’s a man’s world. It’s an absurd notion.

386BSD conference button, Dr. Dobbs Journal. Image: Jolitz

Whenever one sees these attitudes one also sees history has been deconstructed to focus only on one person at the expense of others – unless earlier in the history of the field there were key women who could not be deconstructed, like physics has Curie and Meitner. Those who control the information – tech journalists, writers and amateur enthusiasts – have had an almost laser-focus on men. Why?  Continue reading Is Google Just Another Uber Bro? Unraveling the Tangled Silicon Valley Tech Geek Myth

Google Cloud OnBoard San Francisco: Buried Alive by PR

Lynne and William Jolitz, Google Cloud Onboard, Hilton SF Union Square, July 2017. Image: Jolitz

There are times when a seminar or conference or training session induces trepidation because the expectations are high. One questions whether it was worth the time to travel to the destination, wait to park in the wreck-a-lot, find the coffee urn empty, and then find a chair in the back where you can barely hear the speaker. All the while, slack messages are building up at home base. Is it worth it?

I’ve always found a reason to make the trip worthwhile – a small tidbit of knowledge, an off-the-cuff experience, an interesting speaker. Sometimes I run into an old colleague and we chat over lunch. Maybe even something *new*.

Then there was Google Cloud OnBoard San Francisco. This conference did not meet expectations. And given the stakes in the battle for the cloud between Amazon, IBM and Google, Google must excel. It did not. 

Continue reading Google Cloud OnBoard San Francisco: Buried Alive by PR

Hello world!

InterProphet party, 1998. Image: Jolitz

After a non-brief hiatus where health matters intersected with work matters, I’m back to writing about technology, policy, people and innovation in Silicon Valley.

I’ve always lived in Silicon Valley. I was born in Fremont, got my physics degree at UC Berkeley, and have worked at and co-founded several tech companies here. I road my bike through orchards and fields now filled with homes and shops. I drove 2 lane roads now turned into always busy expressways. I went to school with people who have gone on to successful careers, even reshaping industries… and some who are no longer alive.

I’ve lived in Los Gatos for the last two decades. It’s a nice town (really and literally, the Town of Los Gatos), with a splendid library, just out-of-the-way enough to participate in Silicon Valley without enduring too much of the transitory madness of chimerical tech trends.

It’s an easy drive to all those places that matter, although those places have changed too. What was hot is soon not. Money changes hands, or vanishes into pockets. And the must-hear pitch is as quickly forgotten as yesterday’s weather.

Lynne and William Jolitz, Homebrew Computer Club reunion, 2013. William attended the first meetings of the club in 1975.

There are patterns and anti-patterns to Silicon Valley, this Valley of Heart’s Delight. But now the heart is made of silicon and transistors and zeros and ones. It beats in picoseconds through cores of processors and devices. Thoughts and dreams and desires, both subtle and base, are accessible with a touch.

A. C. Clarke said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Perhaps this is why the gap between science and public policy, education and superstition has grown in the United States. This is a threat to Silicon Valley innovation and national security. 

Continue reading Hello world!

Can we “Tawk”?

Phil Bronstein today asked the unmusical question “What Tech Buzzwords Make You Go, “Huh?”. He brings up terms like “interstitial” (like, look it up buddy, it’s in the dictionary) and “open source” (if you don’t know this one by now, you’re doomed).

But what if the technical term is, to put it delicately, eff’d up?

A story from the legendary editor of the late great Dr. Dobbs Journal, Jon Erickson, told to yours truly to illustrate: One of the cover stories was on Thompson AWK language and as editor he set the enthusiastic tone (yes, some folks get really excited at the thought of AWK) with “TAWKing with C++”. However, somebody wasn’t minding their p’s and q’s (when they actually did mind p’s and q’s). When the magazine cover came back for final review it said something slightly different – “Twaking with C++”.

I don’t know if meth-heads read DDJ, but Jon wasn’t too pleased. Reportedly everyone could hear it thrown across the room and wham into the door. Oops.

Later, as a joke, the staff put together a fake cover with another “twak” reference. This is why journalists are heavy drinkers and why editors have short tempers.

SpaceX and Open Source – The Costs of Achieving Escape Velocity

The successful low-earth orbit of a Dragon capsule mock-up by the Falcon 9 rocket was a great achievement by SpaceX last week (June 4, 2010) and a harbinger of the new age of private space transport. As I watched their success, the excitement from the press and space enthusiasts, and the unexpectedly vindictive response from many inside NASA, I was reminded of the launch of 386BSD – and why those most able to understand your achievement often are the most parochial.

Space exploration is a family tradition for the Jolitz clan, starting with William L. Jolitz developing transponders and thin and thick films for many spacecraft at Ford Aerospace (some still transmitting telemetry long after his passing) to his son William’s work at NASA-Ames on an oscillating secondary mirror for the Kuiper Airborne Observatory as a high school intern, to his three grandchildren working at NASA in astrobiology (Rebecca Jolitz), orbital dynamics and space fatigue simulations (Ben Jolitz) and spacecraft logistics for science projects (Sarah Jolitz).

Ben and Rebecca Jolitz also had the opportunity to meet Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, at the 2007 Mars Society Conference held at UCLA and were inspired by his vision and determination (it was at that conference that Ben decided he wanted to major in physics at UCLA). Though still in high school, they had recieved honorable mention in the Toshiba ExploraVision competition for their highly creative concept of a Mars Colonization Vehicle based on using an asteroid in a controlled bielliptic orbit as a transport vehicle to provide the “heavy lifting” of supplies and personnel between Earth and Mars. They were invited to present a more detailed talk on their project for the Independent Study track. The speakers at this conference were a great spur to their scientific enthusiasm.

So it was with great satisfaction that I watched SpaceX demonstrate that “rocket science” is no longer the province of great nations but instead will bring about a democratization of space – cargo and transport, experimentation and eventually mining and exploration.

This is no quick path, however. The struggle for open source software, beginning with Richard Stallman and his remarkable GCC compiler, Andy Tanenbaum’s Minix system, Lyon’s careful documentation of version 6 Unix, our Dr. Dobbs Journal’s article series on 386BSD Berkeley Unix and subsequent releases and Linus Torvald’s amazing synthesis of the prior Unix, 386BSD and Minix works to achieve Linux occurred during a enormous burst of creativity that actually totaled about five years (1989-1994). After this came the long process of usability design – driver support, GUI support, applications support, new scripting languages – which is still a work in progress after another decade. Big vision projects take a lot of time and are not for the timid.

It is no secret that NASA has been struggling for many years with a lack of purpose. Just like Unix in the mid-1980’s and Windows in the mid-1990’s, technology which is held too tightly to a single group or company or national agency tends to calcify. Innovation becomes too risky. Agendas and interest groups override design decisions which may theoretically impact their funding. It becomes easier to add to a design than subtract from it, resulting in an unwieldy project which never converges in form or function.

Eventually, more effort in put into maintaining the flaws than eliminating them. Bugs and unexpected interactions begin to dominate, resulting in more meetings, workshops and conferences. Tools to manage the side-effects and flaws of the project become the object of research, while the actual project suffocates as it becomes more and more obese.

The life cycle of an operating system, like the life cycle of a space exploration vehicle, encompasses a brief burst of risk-taking and innovation followed by a long series of “rational” decisions which add heft and gravitas, followed by bloat, loss of purpose and final collapse. But during the long period of bloat and dementia, the lack of satisfactory execution provides an opportunity for newer faster designs leveraging new technologies in other fields to pry into previously unobtainable market niches and slowly eat out the old markets. This happened with open source, and it is happening with space exploration.

The shuttle itself is over 35 years old and encompasses aging technology which can no longer be retrofit – and has been long scheduled for decommission. This schedule has been put off again and again for two reasons: 1) the US has refused to properly fund and schedule a replacement because the costs and commitment are very great and 2) the maintenance and rocket groups are based in key states dependent on continual funding. Politics as usual has been to fund existing projects when we are long overdue to redefine NASA’s mission and goals. And, as is often the case, in refusing to examine other options, we have been left with only one option – end the shuttle program and depend on other nations and consortiums for transport – Russia and the European Space Agency primarily.

The Bush-era Constellation program was in theory supposed to provide an alternative, but the results of this program were laughable – it became a symbol of a bloated self-referential insatiable rocket bureaucracy that couldn’t build a real rocket to get pizza, much less get to the moon. And there was the tragic side to this – so many Americans love to complain about their government by saying “If we could get a man to the moon, why can’t we do” whatever, when in reality America lost that ability over 25 years ago with the decommission of the Saturn 5 rockets. Since then, like many other government makework projects, “rocket science” has devolved to fantasy powerpoint presentations and one-off prototypes that might have been flown, except for the risk of failure.

So while the science side of NASA, with their unmanned probes and experiments and space telescopes, has continually advanced despite the occasional loss, the rocket side has cowered, fearful of failure yet addicted to the status quo of “no risk = no failures”. And this stance, while appearing to play it safe, has created more opportunities for the SpaceX’s of the world as space transport, satellite maintenance and other niche markets look for more effective and less expensive approaches.

Competition, we are always told, is good for America. After all, it was competition with the old Soviet Union that launched the space program – and the need to hire rocket scientists to get us up there. So in principle NASA’s rocket guys should be pleased with SpaceX – they can leverage SpaceX’s experience while encouraging their own demoralized workforce to become more innovative. Like open source, the knowledge that “it can be done” should provide both a relief to fear and a spur to greatness. It’s a win-win, right?

So why the malice and anger? Why did so many within the agency that could most benefit from this knowledge wish SpaceX ill? Why are they running down their achievement? Why aren’t they rising to the challenge? Aren’t they eager to break out of their repressive paradigms?

While envy and fear of change play a great role here, the loss of status is most pernicious. During the rise of open source, a new set of designers and developers began to set the pace for innovation. Many programmers frustrated in their work in industry found an outlet in open source. An avalanche of ideas – good, bad and indifferent – could no longer be repressed by groups controlling proprietary operating systems source. These groups – corporations, standards committees, technology “gurus” – derived much benefit from the old system. They were the leaders at conferences, the movers and shakers of agendas. More than even money, they had the power to elevate or destroy ideas and people on a whim. And believe me, I saw what happened when people didn’t “get with the program”. It wasn’t pretty.

When 386BSD was born, I was told by many in the hard-core Unix side that it would be “strangled in the cradle” – either by lawsuits (which of course, never happened) or by ridicule (which did occur, constantly). I didn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe that the experts I knew in the biz would wish it ill when they had an opportunity to finally work with BSD without all the proprietary license rigamarole. For years I had heard people complain about all the agreements and licenses and restrictions and “If only it were unencumbered”. Now that they had their wish, wasn’t it great?

Boy, was I misled. What I saw as an opportunity, many other good talented people saw as a threat to their comfortable professional existence. I understand comfort, and I never wanted to make anyone unhappy. But in giving them what they had wished for, I did make them unhappy, because I also gave it to everybody else – and that was inconvenient. Well, I plead youthful enthusiasm here to misunderstanding their desires. But if given the chance, I’d do it again, because it was the right thing to do – even if I did it the “inconvenient way”.

So what were the claims? I was told nobody would use open source because it didn’t have a big company behind it – and we see today that was wrong. I was told that nobody would make money off of open source – and today we see many companies developing profitable businesses off of support and new design. I was told that nobody would use open source to innovate, and yet I use entirely new applications and languages that were not even thought of at the time Dr. Dobbs Journal launched the “Porting Unix to the 386” series in January of 1991. I was told that the only way to distribute software was by selling it on a disk, and that we were crazy to put it out on the Internet, and yet now this is the way even proprietary software is distributed. When I talked about Internet-based OS’s, I was literally laughed at by experts I respected – and it hurt – but now we see the beginnings of the “webOS”.

The ridicule did have real and lasting effects. The constant intimations by Unix groups of pending lawsuits that never arrived but always “loomed”, the personal strain caused by creating entire OS releases on a shoe-string budget funded mostly by writing articles and refinancing our house while raising three young children, the ever-escalating expectations of a consumer audience demanding a commercial OS with all the bells and whistles dissatisfied by traditional Berkeley Unix research releases (with the traditional demands of self-administration – in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” moment I actually insisted the Dr. Dobbs OS release installation and administration be automated by default, with the traditional installation process selectable if desired, and was then ridiculed for not making them do it the hard way – sigh) and finally, the relentless badmouthing of any new approaches in the kernel – the raison d’etre of Berkeley Unix but not, admittedly, of a commercial corporate proprietary system. The last of these was the hardest to bear, frankly – and I understood why many other designers, seeing this, fled to Linux. After all, the ridicule, badmouthing and blacklisting was a piece of what they had experienced in their companies, so why endure it in a supposedly “open source” project?

So like 386BSD, the NASA badmouths and their corporate masters could potentially destroy SpaceX. Yes, SpaceX is better funded than a two-person project like 386BSD – our original “Falcon 9” rocket was a 300-400 kbyte kernel plus some apps (386BSD Release 0.0) and 17 5,000-10,000 word articles plus code on how to do it yourself – but getting out of a gravity well of Earth, not to mention the psychological gravity well of believing you can do it (which seems to be more like Jupiter in terms of magnitude) is a heck of a lot harder. Ridicule, the inevitable technical setbacks SpaceX potentially faces, liability laments (ah, there’s that “lawsuits pending” stuff again), a steep learning curve, American impatience (doing new releases with some new innovative work in the kernel took us about 8-12 months – doing the next stage in rocket / capsule design will take longer) and media disillusion when the audience fades (no audience = no money) add to the burden.

But even if, somehow, SpaceX is marginalized, their accomplishment are *real* and will spur others to try. Linux was able to grow and thrive during this time precisely because it was *not* an American project – based in Finland, the canards thrown at 386BSD were deemed irrelevant to Linux. Linux was a safe haven to many serious programmers disillusioned with the threats, lies and distortions promolgated around Berkeley Unix precisely because it was an outsider, uninfluenced by other interests.

People of ill will can kill an innovative project for a while. But they can’t kill the idea on which that project is based. It may be delayed for a while. But somewhere, somehow, it will spur others on to try. SpaceX, like 386BSD, is only the beginning.