My Keynote Showcase Panel at the Real-Time 2008 Conference

I was honored to be invited to sit on a showcase panel at the GoldenGate Real Time 2008 Conference in San Francisco back in June.  The topic of this panel was “Technology Driving Business Innovation”, which is a pretty generic wishy-washy title, if I do say so myself.  Much of the topics we spoke about dealt with enterprise data issues.

I must first issue a disclaimer:  I look like crap here.  It looks like I was beat over the head with a bag of nickles.  The reason for this is quite simple:  I was out drinking until 2:30am the night before and the panel started at 9am.  OK, maybe that was not the smartest thing to do before sitting on a panel in front of 500 people.  But this was the second year in a row that the I was scheduled to speak first thing in the morning after the conference’s annual social event (or, the “competitive drinking competition”, as I like to refer to it).  “Networking” certainly has it’s dangers at times…

My colleagues on the panel where Ian Koenig, the Chief Architect at Thomson Financial (now ThompsonReuters after the recent merger) and Michael Franklin, Professor at Berkeley and CTO of Truviso Corporation.  It was a honor to be paired with these two.  They have some really interesting things to say.

Here’s the video (please note that the first 20 seconds is a bit messed up – it clears up after that):

You can read the detailed biographies of the panel below:

Moderator: Alok Pareek – Vice President of Technology, GoldenGate Software

Alok Pareek is Vice President of Technology at GoldenGate Software since 2005, providing vision, technology and research direction across data integration and high availability solution areas. He manages the advanced technology, research, platform technologies, and the center of excellence teams. Alok directly works with customers at the leading edge of deploying real time technologies to solve business problems. He brings more than 10 years of database kernel design and development experience from Oracle’s Recovery/High Availability area. He was responsible for the redo generation component of the Oracle database from 8i to 10.2, and has numerous significant (patent-filed) contributions at Oracle and GoldenGate. Alok has authored numerous published papers and has presented at industry conferences including Oracle OpenWorld, SQL Server PASS, and AFCOM. He holds a graduate degree in Computer Science from Stanford University.

Panelists: Ian Koenig – Chief Architect, Thomson Financial

Ian Koenig joined Thomson Financial in September 2005. Prior to joining Thomson, Ian was the Chief Architect for Products and Platforms at Reuters, where he worked for 19 years. Ian assumed the role of Chief Architect reporting to the CTO. Ian has global responsibility for technology strategy, information architecture, application architecture, physical architecture and architecture governance.

Throughout his 20+ year career, Ian has held technical positions of increasing scope and responsibility, beginning his career at Reveal Software on Long Island in 1982. In 1986, Ian joined Reuters, with responsibility for the Reuters Terminal product. Ian was one of seven people who received the Microsoft Pioneer Award in 1994. Ian was recognized by the Industry as one of the individuals who significantly contributed to the ultimate success of the Microsoft Operating system. The award was presented by Bill Gates at Spring Comdex in 1994.

Ian received Bachelors degrees in Mathematics and in Biology from the University of Rochester .

Christopher Uriarte – Chief Technology Officer, Retail Decisions

Christopher Uriarte is the Chief Technology Officer and Head of International Development for Retail Decisions, the London-based global leader in payment processing and fraud prevention services. He has managed the development of ReD’s mission critical products and services since 1999. Last year, Retail Decisions’ systems processed over 12 billion payment transactions worldwide. He is the architect of the company’s flagship fraud prevention service, ReDShield, which is used by the world’s largest retailers, including Wal-Mart, Sears, Tesco, K-Mart and Macy’s. In 2007, he was named one of the top 25 most innovative technology executives in the country by InfoWorld Magazine and was previously named to the InfoWeek “Hot 30 under 30” list. Chris is based in New York City.

Michael Franklin – Cofounder and Chief Technology Officer, Truviso, Inc.

Michael Franklin is a Professor of Computer Science at UC Berkeley and is Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Truviso, Inc., a start-up developing a new generation of data management technology. At Berkeley his research focuses on the architecture and performance of distributed data management and information systems. His recent projects cover the areas of data stream processing, large-scale sensor networks, high-speed message brokering, scientific grid computing, and data and application integration. After a five-year stint as a database systems developer he attended the University of Wisconsin , Madison , where he received his Ph.D. in Computer Science in 1993. He was on the faculty at the University of Maryland before joining Berkeley in 1999. He is currently on the editorial boards of the ACM Journal of Data Quality and the VLDB Journal and is a trustee and member of the Executive Committee of the VLDB endowment. He is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery and is a recipient of the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the ACM SIGMOD “Test of Time” award, and most recently, the Best Paper award at the 2007 IEEE International Conference on Distributed Computing Systems.

The Final Word on Eos, Silverjet, Maxjet and Every Other Business-Class Airline That Tried to Weather the Storm

And then there were none.

I’ve probably spent too much time writing about the ups and downs of the now-defunct Eos Airlines, which I consider to be the best airline to ever operate – at least in my flying lifetime (Refer to my detailed Eos Review, my one year update, and my notes on their demise). But the ultra-luxurious all-business-class airline with only 48 seats was certainly worthy of writing about.

Eos Airlines Seating (NYC to London)
[That, some of you may recall, was the Eos seat…]

Eos was the grandest of the all-business airlines that tried their best to make it on their own, until high operating costs, mostly driven by the soaring price of fuel, forced the planes grounded. First went MaxJet. Then, Eos closed up shop, leaving me stranded in London while holding one of their return tickets. Silverjet was nice enough to honor my flight home at a discounted rate, but soon experienced their own demise weeks later.

Left all on its own was L’Avion, the final of the independent all-business-class airlines. Their Newark-to-Paris 757 service operates a couple of times a day and, for the most part, the reviews have been positive (I have never flown them myself). I am sure that they could see the writing on the wall, however, and, regardless of what they actually sold it for, it was probably a good move to accept British Airway’s bid to acquire them just a few weeks ago.

After I flew Silverjet home from London following Eos’ bankruptcy, I was all set to write a detailed review of the airline, but they went under before I could get back to my keyboard. All I can say is that, as a passenger, you could tell that things were looking pretty bad in its final days. My flight back from Luton was mostly empty, appeared understaffed and the food was just poor. I have actually had better quality food in economy class on other international airlines.

The dessert that came with my dinner was Jello. I kid you not. Jello. ‘Nuf said. (Just in case Bill Cosby is reading this, I have absolutely nothing against Jello – in fact, I love it. However, for a $2300 one-way ticket, I would have expected something a bit more, um, substantial.)

Just for those of you with morbid curiosity, however, I figure that I will post a couple of pics for the archives.

The seats were of ugly, brown “bucket” variety, which are similar to those offered in Qantas’ Business Class (They call it the Qantas Skybed). They do recline flat to 180 degrees, but force you to lie on a slight angle, which I always find uncomfortable. To be fair, this is just fine for the short 7-hour-ish hop from London, but could be a real strain on the back if you were enduring a 20-something hour flight from New York to Sydney!

The End of Silverjet

The seat did have an annoying, protruding built-in “shelf”. I really found this thing to be in the way and it couldn’t be moved or adjusted in any way:

The End of Silverjet

It did have all of the pretty controls you would expect, however:

The End of Silverjet

For entertainment, you were given a personal video player, similar to what Eos offered. If I recall, the selection was quite poor, however. Eos and Virgin offered much higher-quality programming.

The End of Silverjet

To be fair, comparing Silverjet to Eos isn’t, well, fair. They are of two completely separate classes. And, although I would fly Silverjet over coach any day, their service was not up to par with most other airlines’ international business class services. Their best feature was, by far, their private air terminal at Luton, which allowed you to bypass the main terminal and the long security lines (although, you then had to take a bus to the awaiting plane on the tarmac, which was a bit annoying, particularly in the rain).

My late, ex-business partner, Lewis Kurfist, used to be an executive for Gulf & Western (then owners of Paramont Pictures) and he used to tell me about his experiences on the ultra-luxurious MGM Grand Airlines, which operated between New York City and Los Angeles back in 1987 (at that time, a $1000 one way ticket would get you on a 727 outfitted with only 33 seats). It didn’t survive and, perhaps, in the case of these modern airlines, we should have learned something from history. After seeing the MGM Grand commercials on TV as a youngin’, I had always dreamed of a time when flying was luxious, civilized and a bit glamourous. These airlines did their best to come close and I was lucky enough to experience them. Unfortunately, at least for now, it’s back flying with the big boys…

Snowboarding in August. In London. Indoors.

In the northern hemisphere, snowboarding in the middle of August may sound like an usual thing for most people, but, strangely enough, I’ve had a few experiences over the course of the last few years – most notably, my trips to Mt. Hood, near Portland, Oregon, to play on its Palmer Glacier in the middle of the summer (here are some pictures I took at Mount Hood in the summer, if you’ve never seen the glacier before).


[Above:  A pic I snapped of a friend hitting a quickly-made kicker on the fringe of the Palmer Glacier in August 2003.  The exposed, volcanic summer soil of Mt. Hood can be seen in the background. As a side note, the photo used on the top banner of this blog was also take at Mt. Hood.]

This year, however, I had an usual experience when I decided to take the short train ride from central London to Milton Keynes, the bizarre, planned city about 45 miles northwest of the city center.  Other than being a very atypically British city, Milton Keynes is probably best known as the home to Xscape, a massive entertainment complex, which includes an indoor ski slope using man-made snow.

The Brits are known for having a number of dry slopes scattered throughout the country and, I must say, they serve their purpose for die-hard skiers and boarders who wish to work their legs out in such a snow-deprived nation.  The proliferation of newer-generation dry slope materials, such as Snowflex, has made the experience even better.

But nothing beats real snow and strapping into your board in the middle of August is a great experience, regardless of how little vertical you have to work with.  For about USD $90 (yes, the exchange rate still sucks), you get a two-hour lift ticket, ski jacket & pants, and full equipment rental. (Note:  For sanitary reasons, they don’t rent gloves, although you can purchase them there).

Here are some scenes from Xcape:

Indoor Ski Slope, Milton Keynes, UK

[Above:  Looking up the center slope.  Rope tows are on, both, the right and left sides.]

Indoor Ski Slope, Milton Keynes, UK

[Above:  Looking down the center slope.  The beginner’s rope tow is on the left.]

Indoor Ski Slope, Milton Keynes, UK

[Above:  Looking down the (skier’s) right slope.  Rope tow is on the right.]

Overall, the experience was great.  Two hours on the man-made snow really gets your legs working.  I can see this being a good preparation for a holiday down in the Alps just to get those hidden boarding muscles worked out.

The length of the slope is small and there is very little steepness to the slope.  It certainly does not present a challenge to any level of experienced boarder or skier.  However, the point here isn’t to replicate a double-black diamond.  If you’re just learning to ski, I think this facility will serve anyone quite well.

There are a number of indoor snowdomes scattered throughout the world now and, Milton Keynes, isn’t the largest (that title goes to a complex in the Netherlands).   Strangely enough, they are in the final stages of constructing a large indoor slope about 8 miles from my home at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey, even though we are less than an hour from real slopes (See:  the Xanadu project).  This will be the first indoor snow facility in the United States. Will I be spending many weekends on indoor man made snow in the middle of winter? – nope.  But I can see myself taking a few trips over during the summer as I wait for the real stuff to start falling out of the sky.

The worst part about Xscape:  It makes you want winter to come quicker…