Monthly Archives: June 2005

Take off, you hoser.

Over a decade ago, I remember thinking that Boeing was being pretty damn shortsighted. They were getting the 777 off the ground, so to speak, and were drawing a lot of criticism locally for contracting so much airframe work off to Japanese companies. Most of the criticism was labor-oriented, that Boeing was forsaking Puget Sound area workers.

Some of the criticism focused on the fact that Boeing was basically giving away their engineering know-how and that at some point, there wouldn’t be anything left. Someone (I believe someone connected to Boeing) defended this action, saying that they still held a critical advantage in wing technology which would give them the edge over any attempt at completion for whole airframes from their suppliers.

I thought that was a pretty naive assumption. I knew there were companies building small commercial jets and figured they’d used that experience to build a capacity for larger airframes that could eventually challenge Boeing while it was busy worrying about Airbus.

It’s interesting to see where things are now:

  • “Embraer”:, a Brazilian aircraft maker who started making small commercial jets a decade ago is taking orders for a model that will seat ~100.
  • “Bombardier”: has jets that seat as many as 80 and are looking for launch customers for a new jet that will seat 130 and offer a range up to 3000 miles.

Of course, I missed the real reason these manufacturers would be interesting: Small planes are starting to compete with larger aircraft. As Elisabeth Eaves notes in one of her “dispatches from the Paris Air show for Slate”:

Air Canada used to fly an Airbus A319, which seats 122 passengers, once a day between Calgary, Alberta, and Houston, Texas. As of this month, it flies a smaller jet, the 75-seat Bombardier CRJ 705, twice a day instead.

I’d made the mistake of accepting on Boeing’s own terms that larger jets would continue their singular importance to airtravel. Airbus made a bet along those lines with the A380, which can carry 500-800 passengers and is designed for the hub-and-spoke model favored by the big airlines. The problem they are facing is that during peak hours, takeoff and landing slots are saturated, so flying bigger planes will increase the number of passengers they can carry.

This assumes that the passengers really want to travel the hub-and-spoke way in the first place. The smaller aircraft makers are betting otherwise. The Calgary-Houston example aside, many of the smaller jets have been serving on regional duty, replacing turboprops to haul people from major hubs to smaller regional airports that don’t merit service from a 737. However, they clearly expect growth from selling to airlines flying between smaller cities, bypassing the major hubs altogether.

“Boeing”: is pursuing a similar strategy, though at a different level of scale, by betting the company on a new aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner. The Dreamliner distinguishes itself not by sheer size, like the A380, but by delivering the per-passenger fuel efficiency and speed of a wide body aircraft in a mid-sized jet. They are doing so because they also believe that people would prefer point-to-point flights to the hub-and-spoke cattle-call, though they are targeting routes with heavier traffic (and greater distances) than Embraer and Bombardier.

“James Fallows”: has an excellent book called Free Flight that looks at some of the forces shaping the future of air travel. He thinks the future is even smaller, and focuses on the arrival of inexpensive small jets that carry as many people as your average car or SUV from startups like “Eclipse”: These planes will make possible “airlines” like “DayJet”: that promise to sell air travel “per seat and on-demand.” If these air taxis come to pass, it may be possible to avoid the snarl of the large airports altogether, instead traveling between the small airports that are within 30 miles of most people’s origins and destinations for a price that’s competitive with a full-fare business seat.

When iPod news isn’t new

Over a year ago, “Downhill Battle”: did a little math on some numbers from some Apple press releases and came to the conclusion that there have been an average of 21 songs sold on the iTunes Music Store for every iPod sold. It’s a striking statistic that’s been getting a lot of attention after “Boing Boing linked to it”: yesterday.

What’s getting lost in the retelling is that the data is over a year old. Boing Boing includes the full dateline on the quote in their post, but “other people”: aren’t being careful about including the year, making it look like the data is recent. I have to wonder if they are even aware that this news isn’t really news.

Other’s picked up on things and note that the current numbers (now that more than 16M iPods have been sold) are more like “31 songs per iPod”:

I think it’s also important to keep in mind that 13M of those iPod’s are less than a year old and so the owners haven’t had that much time to accumulate songs from iTMS. Broad averages don’t necessarily tell you much about a dynamic and varied population.

That said, I’ve had my iPod about 18 months, and I have 47 songs i”ve purchased from iTMS. In that time, i’ve probably purchased 2-4x more tracks on CD. There are a couple reasons for this. First off, i’m not entirely satisfied with 128kbps AAC tracks. Lately I’ve been ripping at 160kbps. Secondly, the discount for buying via iTunes isn’t quite enough to make me feel good about being stuck with a compressed copy of the song and, on a related note, I don’t feel the loss in flexibility that comes with DRM is compensated by the discounted iTMS rate in many cases. Basically, if I just want one or two tracks off an album, I’ll buy off iTMS, but if I think I want most of the album, I put up with the added expense and hassle of buying a CD from a local store or online retailer.

Apple’s “Piracy Strategy”

An “opinion piece on Apple Matters yesterday”: suggests that users running pirated copies of OSX on generic Intel hardware (once it is released) could be to Apple’s advantage. The article was picked up on “Slashdot today”:

The basic argument of the piece seems to be that the value of the mindshare Apple gains might exceed the lossed revenue from sales of Apple branded hardware. A slashdot poster points out that Microsoft is rumored to have been accepting of Windows 3.1 piracy because it helped drive widespread windows adoption.

What I think everyone is missing, as far as I’ve seen, is that the hardware & OS revenue is just part of the pie for Apple, just as the OS revenue was just part of the pie for Microsoft back then.

Back before windows 3.X, Microsoft was primarily an operating system and developer tools company. Their application software for the PC sold reasonably well, but other people dominiated. Windows 3 shifted the playingfield quickly. For one thing, Microsoft had its apps ready, while WordPerfect took time to make a serious effort. For another thing, Windows undermined WordPerfect’s superior collection of printer drivers, by abstracting the print model and making the drivers the resoponsibility of the driver maker. The more copies of windows installed, the fewer chances for WordPerfect, and the more opportunies for Word.

It obviously worked very well for them.

Apple has similar opportunities if MacOS for Intel is widely pirated.

Each home PC running MacOS is one PC that isn’t going to be running Windows Media Player and buying music encumbered with Microsoft’s DRM, which reinforces iTunes Music Store and the iPod’s advantage. It also helps out any fledgling Internet video offering Apple has. In addition, their are the iLife applications, and .Mac, which, togeather, can mean $200/year to Apple if people stay current.

Of course, I have to wonder how likely people pirating the OS are going to be to buy any of Apple’s other offerings.

More startups? Fewer VCs?

Last week, “I wondered”: whether the appearance that its easier for small companies to do more, had some relationship to the appearant over-supply of venture capital and venture capitalists. Continuing on that theme, Business Week “reports”: on a recent VC panel discussion, and quotes “Promod Haque”: of North West Venture Patners

bq. “Over the next five to ten years, I believe there are going to be half as many venture capital firms in this business, and there are going to be half as many companies being created”

My bet is that he’s only half right. There will be half as many VC firms in the business, but the number of companies created will expand, not contract.

Either way, its not a promising trend for the VC world. It’s bad enough being a player in a shrinking market, but its even worse having a shrinking marketshare in a growing market.

Perhaps its time for a bunch of VCs to see if they can find the find economies of scale in “Grameen-style microinvesting”: Perhaps they can find a way to salvage the social networking investments they’ve made to create a new form of social reputation-based credit-rating for micro-investing. Or maybe-not, given the amount of gaming people do on sites like friendster when there isn’t even any money involved.

pointer to BusinessWeek article via “TJ”:

Tempest in a Teapot

Most people don’t know this, but Utah was one of the crucibles from which computer graphics grew as both an academic discipline and an industry:

They knew that they were “onto something big” while outsiders at other universities disparaged the work in computer graphics as an illegitimate application of computing machinery
from The Inception of Computer Graphics at the University of Utah 1960s – 1970s

Gourard and Phong shading, texturemapping, and motion blur, among other important techniques, were first explored at the University of Utah. Industry luminaries, like Ed Catmull (Pixar), John Warnock (Adobe), Jim Clark (SGI & Netscape) were all in the PhD program there.

However, their greatest contribution might be the Utah Teapot, which was originally a demonstration model that has become a ubiquitous icon in 3d computer graphics, an acheivement that won it a cameo in Toy Story.

2nd screens for laptops

“Many”: “people”: are “writing”: “about”: the “tritton see2 usb monitor adapter”:, which lets you attach a 2nd (or 3rd, etc) display to your notebook or PC via its USB port.

They all seem to be missing one important thing: The lack of suitable lightweight, battery powered displays made to accompany laptops on the road. A lot of laptops already support second displays, which many people use while in the office without buying a separate, slow, external display adapter. I’ve not seen anything that will give me a second screen while I’m working out of a WiFi coffeeshop (ignoring the question of whether using one would be terribly gauche), or a hotel room.