imho \im-hö\ abbr In My Humble Opinion

Temptation Capital
Sand Hill road VCs meet reality TV...

Sometimes life reveals a strange juxtapose. After a long day of proofing my latest book, I was relaxing on the couch reading eCompany and watching TV. At the exact moment that "Temptation Island" came on, I flipped the page to the next feature article in the mag: "My Hunt for America's dumbest VC." Both held me captive for the next hour.

What struck me at the end of those 60 dramatic minutes is this: neither the "committed contestants" on TI nor the "savvy investors" on Sand Hill Road knew what they were getting into. The guys and gals in Belize suddenly found themselves with a plethora of singles in search of relationships, the guys and gals in Silicon Valley discovered they had billions of dollars of OPM* to play with. Hey, hey, hey, things are looking up! Or are they? Reality is pretty darn rough. And four couples and hundreds of VCS are finding that out the hard way.

But that got me to thinking. What if we combined concepts? You know, Reality TV Goes to Bucks.** Let's see, we need some contestants (that would be the venture capitalists). We need some temptations (that would be a swinging mixture of shallow people, ideas, and patents). We need some challenges (playing musical chairs with Lear Jets doesn't quite seem right, perhaps we'll just let each VC have one deal-blocker that they can play on one of the others, or perhaps one of the ideas to be funded is just a fake [sort of like half of the dot-com business plans of 1999-2000, may they RIP]). And they can't finish breakfast until they've made at least one deal and torpedoed another.

On second thought, this show doesn't have a chance, does it? First, your stars are half conservative, half nerd--and the worst halves of each--with all the personality of lobotomized Martha Stewarts. The only things they can talk about are term sheets, who they can bring in as CEO, what companies they accidentally invested in that made it big (come on Valentine, stop bragging about Apple), and how, besides making more money then the economies of most of the 190+ countries of the world, "this is the idea that's going to change the world as we know it." (I've yet to hear a VC ever add "for the better" at the end of that sentence, by the way).

So don't look for "Temptation Capital" on your TV anytime in the near future. And if you didn't want to see the TV show, then whatever you do, don't eat at Bucks.

*OPM=Other People's Money
**A common breakfast hangout of Silicon Valley VCS If you didn't have breakfast at Bucks, you didn't meet with a VC. The food, frankly, ain't that grand, and the atmosphere (other than the smell of all that money) is decidedly forgettable, so I'd have to say the real reason VCS like Bucks is because of the not-so--subliminal message the restaurant's name sends to the people they're meeting. "We talked about bucks at Bucks." Yippee.
*** (Hey, there wasn't a *** in the article! Consider this a bonus footnote.) In case you were wondering about who eCompany decided was the dumbest VC: Ann Winblad, who, for some reason, can't be described without the line "used to date Bill Gates." Can we please place a moratorium on that construct? First, it's not fair to Ms. Winblad (I've yet to see anyone state who John Doerr at Kleiner Perkins used to date). Second, it's not relevant (unless you're discussing an investment in, a successful and profitable online venture [which no one is], and she happened to find Bill through their services [she didn't]). Finally, it's just name dropping (hey, my best friend once dated Steve Jobs' girlfriend, does that count?). Give it a rest.

This Month's Microsoft Tirade
What's up with that?

I guess I must be a masochist. That's the only explanation I can come up with. I'm a serial Microsoft product purchaser and can't seem to stop my addiction. Please help me before it's too late.

For months I've been experiencing a weird little dance every time Outlook goes to check my email. Outlook invokes MSN, MSN dials and connects, Zone Alarm (a free--and highly recommended--software firewall) pops up the message that is trying to break into my computer and that Zone Alarm has successfully stopped it. Then my email downloads from the MSN server, my computer disconnects, and...MSN immediately dials the local POP a second time. About once every four or five times, this second connection crashes Explorer (or Systray or some other critical Windows component).

I guess I've gotten used to the abuse. Every day I reboot my machine just often enough to never get the crash while I'm working, but most mornings I awake to find the dance has repeated.

It took me awhile to figure out what was going on. Apparently the old MSN (5.3 and earlier?) uses an IBM server to supply updated information about access phone numbers and perhaps even other "maintenance" chores. And somewhere within the MSN software was a stack problem that eventually triggered if it didn't hear from that server. Another nagging problem was that I would often get kicked off the MSN servers at random moments, even while I was in the middle of browsing. I put this latter problem off to MSN being behind the curve in POP connections and server power--I was just experiencing the Peak Use User Shuffle.

Last week a new MSN disc arrived in the mail. It wasn't an update disk from Microsoft, of course, but one of those free "coffee coasters" like AOL has been providing us nerds with for the past several years. In other words, I'd gotten on some marketing list somewhere, and Microsoft was inviting me to a free month of MSN to see what I've been missing. (I've been missing something all these years I've been an MSN customer? Perhaps a stable system?)

So I did what any fool would do, and installed MSN from the disk (yes, I did look at the fine print first to make sure that existing customers could use it, which, in footnotes to the fine print, made it somewhat clear that it did). Installation proceeded smoothly, and I marveled at the way Microsoft has discovered how to fade controls in and out, just like Apple has been doing for awhile now. Spiffy graphics, guys, though I'm not sure what to make of the big, yellow, rubber duck icon (is MSN now a bathtime plaything?).

I answered all the questions and clicked all the buttons, and low and behold, I was suddenly connected to MSN with the "butterfly browser" (it even added a cut little rainbow-colored butterfly icon to my desktop just to remind me). I guess that's a marketing ploy to attract AOL users, many of whom have butterflies tattooed on their body somewhere. Of course, the butterfly browser crashed three times in two hours of surfing, something even Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 hasn't managed to do on my machine. There was also the curious automatic switch of my email account from POP3 to Hotmail (this means that you no longer download it to your machine; instead you read it via the Web browser; it also means that you can't use Outlook or Outlook Express, which, last time I checked, were Microsoft products for creating and reading email). That was most certainly not what I wanted. After a bit of sleuthing, I discovered that MSN had a Web page that allowed me to switch it back (it worked on the third try), but why didn't they just ask me up front if I wanted to switch? Once again Microsoft shows that they care a bit more about what they want (to switch you to the Hotmail server for some strange reason) than what the customer wants. Heck, they didn't even ask me what I wanted, they just made the switch, then sheepishly hide a "oh, you didn't want us to do that, eh?" link on the site.

I was also getting miffed by the new MSN sign-on process. First, the sign-in dialog is a big ugly thing (with that rubber duck icon popping up next to my name; I didn't like that association at all). Second, to allow multiple users, the sign-on was now a two step process. Heck, the last time there were multiple users in my household, Clinton hadn't even decided to run for President yet. I can do without that step, thank you. Hmm, so how can I get rid of it? Oh, I know, I'll use the Dial-Up Networking Wizard to build a new log-in icon that skips past all those butterflies and ducks and any other animals that may be lurking about. So I did.

But I soon noticed something curious: the Zone Alarm warning about that nasty, hacker-laden site didn't reoccur when I used my new, minimal connection icon. No more phantom dialing after disconnecting. I haven't crashed Explorer or Systray in a week. I've actually been able to walk away from machine for over five minutes without getting kicked offline prematurely. I can only conclude that all the hand-holding junk that MSN spews onto the desktop, into the system tray, and onto your menus is just that: junk. I'll take my Internet straight up, sirs, no handholding necessary. I think another week of this and I might actually stop dreaming that a big yellow rubber duck keeps quacking at me to check my email.