In case you were wondering where Marc Andreessen got the material for his continuing blog series on startups, it looks to me like a lot of it probably came from his experience with Opsware — which has just been bought by Hewlett-Packard for a whopping $1.6-billion in cash. As Marc describes in his post, the deal is the culmination of more than seven years of toil, from starting the company formerly known as Loudcloud in 1999, to going public just as the tech sector peaked, to almost going under, to rebuilding the business and making it a leader in the industry. If anyone has paid their dues, it sounds like Marc has — and he just turned 36. In case you’re keeping score at home, it looks as though Andreessen will make about $165-million on the sale.
Kurt Vonnegut was already fairly famous by the time I became a fan — which would have been in my late teens — but I still felt like someone who had discovered a cool, underground band that no one else was into. His books weren’t quite science fiction, and weren’t quite fantasy, but a weird mish-mash of genres, complete with hand-drawn illustrations of bums and other things. They were strange, and funny, and fantastic.
I found out that Vonnegut had died by reading my feeds, from a post at Paul Kedrosky’s blog. I knew that he was elderly and not well, and therefore his death didn’t come as a total surprise — just as Warren Zevon’s didn’t come as a total surprise, since he had cancer — but it still hit me hard. The world was a lot more fun with both of those guys in it. And while I never made the connection until a long time later, Vonnegut books were a lot like Zevon songs: irreverent, and yet filled with beautiful imagery and ideas; poignant and funny, sometimes goofy, always rebellious — almost like free-form poetry.
As I said on Paul’s blog, I would put books like Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions and Cat’s Cradle up against almost any book published in the past 50 years. I have read them and re-read them and they just keep getting better every time. Some people have no doubt read his books and mistaken Vonnegut’s simplicity and irreverence for slapstick, and many authors have tried to reproduce that tone and come off sounding like idiots.
But Vonnegut always had a point — sometimes a funny one, and sometimes an uncomfortable one — and he made it by using the strange and the fantastic as a mirror to show us our true selves. (10 Zen Monkeys has an interesting story about one of the TV screenplays Vonnegut wrote that was turned into a tele-play with Sammy Davis Jr.)
Wow, time really flies, doesn’t it? It appears that today is the 25th anniversary of the first computer “virus” to be observed in the wild. And we know that because Rich Skrenta — now co-founder and CEO of Topix — got a call from an enterprising reporter who remembered that Rich created that virus, the legendary “Elk Cloner” virus, when he was a 15-year-old high-school kid goofing around with an Apple II. Yes, you read that right: irony of all ironies, the first virus found in the wild infected Apple computers.
According to the Wikipedia entry, Elk Cloner would hide in the RAM on an Apple machine and wait for a floppy disk to be inserted, then copy itself to the disk. On the 50th boot from that disk, the screen would be wiped clean and the following message would appear to taunt the user:
It will get on all your disks
It will infiltrate your chips
Yes it’s Cloner!
It will stick to you like glue
It will modify RAM too
Send in the Cloner!
Mention of the virus made it into Scientific American magazine and even Time magazine. Since there were no anti-virus programs, the virus spread relatively rapidly. The only way to immunize a disk was to manually stamp the virus’s ID onto a particular sector of the disk (track 2 around sector 8 according to this page at Skrenta’s site). And the PC virus? Came along four years later — the so-called “Brain” virus, courtesy of two brothers from Pakistan.
Occasionally I like to break free from the Web 2.0/blogosphere-centric focus of this blog, just for the heck of it (I think the last time was when I posted a photo slideshow from my vacation in Florida back in the spring, which I cleverly justified by claiming I was demo-ing Bubbleshare). This one was so cool I couldn’t resist: Matt Marshall of VentureBeat.com had the bright idea of asking Christine Herron, a venture capitalist with the Omidyar Network who blogs at Christine.net, to write about some of the things she saw at the recent Burning Man festival, which I have always kind of wanted to go to — and she did.
One of the things she mentioned was the Mondo Spider — a “vehicle” of sorts that carries one passenger/driver, and looks like a gigantic metal arachnid, with articulated legs that lift and swing forwards. Extremely cool. The Spider is the brainchild of a group of mechanical geeks led by Jonathan Tippett of Industrialus, who started the project as part of Vancouver’s Junkyard Wars. There is some amazing video on YouTube of the Spider walking in its first public demo last month.
I haven’t been able to confirm it yet, but I have a feeling Jonathan is related to NowPublic founder Michael Tippett (more Spider video here too).
Jonathan sent me an email and confirmed that he and Michael are brothers, and also mentioned some of the co-creators of the Mondo Spider — including Leigh Christie (frame/drive train), Alex Mossman (“power pack” or hydraulic system) and Charlie Brinson (force calculations and coordination) as well as a key patent holder on the leg design, Joe Klann. On top of that, he added, were half a dozen “very dedicated volunteer fabricators.” Incredible work.
It’s always fun when a rumour — or a rumour-based news story, which is often the same thing — gets poo-poohed by just about everyone, and then turns out to be true. It happened with eBay and Skype not that long ago, and now it’s Scott McNealy’s turn to put one over on The Register and Techdirt and all the other websites and news services that said he wasn’t going to step down as the company’s CEO. Well, he has. The rumours have been going around for awhile now, which is why plenty of people thought they likely weren’t true. They started with Caris & Co. analyst Mark Stahlman, who said in a report in March that since McNealy had more or less managed to right the sinking ship of Sun’s fortunes, he might step down.
More recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that it was likely to happen, but they didn’t have much in the way of timing or details, and so The Register made fun of them for it, and Techdirt likewise poured cold water on the idea, noting that it probably came from Stahlman just like the earlier rumours, and therefore wasn’t any more credible. Maybe Scott timed his departure to make some of those sources look stupid. I wouldn’t put it past him.
As McNealy himself said, “After me, things get boring.” Although he grew quieter as Sun’s stock melted over the past few years (although it has picked up recently), it was fun during the heyday of the Bill and Scott wars to hear what McNealy was going to come out with next. CNET has a great collection of some of his gems, including calling Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates “Ballmer and Butthead” and Windows NT “a giant hair ball.” And despite the dead ends and strategic mistakes, the vision that McNealy and Sun had of “the network is the computer” is a lot closer to being reality than anything Microsoft has come up with.
Now Gates has moved on to become a “chief evangelist” and Scott is doing so too. Does that mean Sun is going to get bought by Google, as some would like to think? Probably not. But expect them to get a whole lot closer. Jonathan Schwartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt are not only former colleagues, but they think alike on a lot of topics. Things could get interesting. The new CEO has a blog post up.