Wednesday, December 24, 2014



The ancient Greeks thought of the four winds as gods, each with their own peculiar temperments. Boreas, the North Wind, was simultaneously viewed as menace and protector - his wife, a princess of Attica whom he kidnapped, bore him sons that would sail with Jason and his Argonauts in pursuit of the Golden Fleece. Though Boreas would swoop down from the north on his purple wings and bring the cold and misery of winter, he would sometimes join with his fellow diety Zephyr, the West Wind, to gift the mares of favored mortals with colts that would be the swiftest and strongest in the land. Boreas himself resided far to the north in Hyerborea, a land where, somewhat paradoxically, the season was one of eternal spring, and its inhabitants lived for 1,000 years in perfect happiness.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring — not even a mouse:
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. - Clement C. Moore

Though much changed in detail, our own legends and myths of winter bear some startling parallels to the tales of old. In this harshest of seasons, when northern lands are locked in the forbidding grip of snow and ice, so devoid of the thriving and bountiful demonstrations of natural beauty in summer, Santa Claus merrily brings us cheer and good tidings.

Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall. - Larry Wilde

My holiday memories from a childhood spent in northern NJ are among the happiest of my days. There was always an abundance of family, a brightly decorated christmas tree in the living room with lots of presents under it, delicious things to eat and a log burning in a fireplace overhung by stockings. One of my favorite memories is of mom and dad taking my sister and I to Rockefeller Plaza to skate. It was always incredibly cold, with a strong, icy wind blowing thru the concrete canyons of Manhattan - but it was also wonderful.


Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time. - Laura Ingalls Wilder

We celebrated Christmas my mother's way, using the traditions in which she was raised in Bologna. Christmas for us was a long celebration indeed, ending only in January when the Three Wise Men were said to have arrived in Bethlehem, following a star and bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Since I'm being completely candid, there are a few things I don't like about the Holiday season. To be honest, the Christmas service at church is always an especially long and boring one. Then there is eggnog - loved by my father and sister, but something I have always treated as somewhat less attractive than an infectious disease. There is also the realization that winter has really just begun, and the hardest months of the season - January and February - are still ahead. Nevertheless, it was and still is a fabulous time of year for me.

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? - Percy Bysshe Shelley

Dear Readers:
I actually still have some last minute Christmas shopping to do and am going to forego posting my followup to last week's discourse on the technical details and possibilities of graphene. I will bring it to you next week, though, to coincide with the arrival of the new year. The fact that this will also nearly overlap with the arrival of the Magi is hopefully propitious. ;-)

I want to thank all of you for your attention and kind words during the year, my first as a blogger. I am flattered that you find my writings of interest, and hope to bring you a great deal more useful data and information over the next year. There is no shortage of things to talk about.

I'd like to leave you with wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you all in 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014



Autumn is a second Spring when every leaf is a flower. - Albert Camus

In many parts of the country - New England, the Atlantic alluvial plain westward into the Appalachians, the Pacific Northwest - the fall season brings a beautiful color combination of turning leaves in a soft autumn light. But the season is particularly distinct in Southern Utah. With the changes of landscape between mountain meadows at 10,000 feet in Cedar Breaks down to the desert country of the Vermilion Cliffs towards Arizona, there is a simply dazzling array of leaves in green, yellow, brown, red and orange shades lit in either desert or mountain sunlight. Throw in the many red, orange, white and pink cliff faces, canyons & rock formations of the area with stands of quaking aspen at the higher elevations and the autumn looks positively unreal in this region.

I actually used to hate the fall when I was a kid. Back then, autumn in New Jersey meant the end of summer's freedom with the start of school, weekends spent raking leaves out of the front and back yard and the approach of the cold and flu season. But just as one's taste for things like spinach, cheese and carrots goes from revulsion to happy acceptance and items such as whole milk, pasta and pizza become food which you simply can't get enough of to things that put inches on your waistline if you're just within 100 feet of them, everything changes with age. I now look at the fall as a time of warm fireplaces, cozy sweaters & blankets and urgently needed hats; of a final harvest from the garden and fruit trees, the approaching festivities and the closing of a busy and varied year.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It's a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it's time to reflect on what's come before. - Mitchell Burgess

The cycle of the seasons and our own cycle of life is part of the rhythmic ordering of the natural world. There is, of course, an underlying structure supporting this order - one based on the 6th element of the periodic table: Carbon.

The intrinsic properties of carbon are such that it is magnificently suited for the formation of complex multi-atomic structures in the form of chains, arrays or other interesting geometries. Like almost all elements (boron being a particularly interesting exception), carbon is in its most stable state when it possesses 8 electrons in its outermost shell (this is known by chemists as the Octet Rule.) A single carbon atom only has 4 electrons in its outer shell, also called the Valence Shell. Thus, it can be said somewhat figuratively that carbon atoms 'hunger' for another 4 electrons, and are thus described as having a valence of 4. 

When an element forms a bond with another, it does so by sharing electrons from the valence shell. The closer to the atomic nucleus the valence shell is, the stronger the bonds. Here we see a major difference between carbon and its close cousin silicon, which also has a valence of 4 and is one row lower in the periodic table. Whereas carbon's valence stems from its second shell, silicon has a full complement of 8 electrons in the second shell and 4 electrons in its third. As a consequence, silicon can form very hard minerals such as quartz and granite, as well as chains of atoms that are hundreds long. However, carbon can form the hardest substance known to man - diamond. It can also form molecules many thousands of atoms long and can be found in millions of different chemical and geometric configurations. It is for this reason that Mother Nature chose carbon over silicon to express the incredible complexity and variety of organic life.

The flexibility of carbon is such that its structures contradict each other in the properties they manifest. For instance: diamond is the hardest substance known and is used in powerful industrial sanders and oil well drill bits, whereas graphite (which was the 'lead' in our pencils in grade school) is one of the softest materials and an excellent lubricant. One can see the same contrasts between diamond and graphite in terms of thermal or electrical conductivity.

Of all the configurations of carbon, one of the most amazing is the Aromatic Ring. The name describes a family of organic compounds that share a common structure and, interestingly, an often pleasant aroma. The geometry is rather basic - a planar hexagon. In its simplest form (that of benzene), each of the six carbon atoms bonds to its nearest neighbor and to a lone hydrogen atom. In order to complete the necessary electron octet of each carbon atom for stability, there are three double bonds interspersed in the carbon ring.


Naturally, the valence of the carbon atoms in the ring could be satisfied if the double bonds in the above diagram switched places with the single bonds. These bonds do, in fact, move around rather readily. Thus, for the sake of simplicity and to avoid truly silly arguments, the benzene molecule is often drawn simply as so:


If one were to remove one or more of the hydrogen atoms bound to each carbon, the ring can form an exquisite variety of molecules. The one of greatest interest to us for this discussion is a nearly miraculous material which holds tremendous promise for the future of the entire High Technology industry - Graphene.

Silicon has served wonderfully for the past 67 years as the underlying foundation of the second industrial revolution. At this point, however, it is undeniable that silicon has run its course as a material on which to base further major advances in High Technology. The ability of the vast collection of intellect and talent in technology circles to extract further value from silicon is reaching its end, based on the limitations inherent in the material. One can see this from the statements made by Broadcom's Henry Samueli this week regarding the utility of doing designs in silicon nodes deeper than 28nm:

What is it about graphene that suggests it could become the best way forward from silicon? There are indeed aspects of the material which are seemingly miraculous.

The Holy Grail


The Holy Thing is here again
Among us, brother, fast thou too and pray,
And tell thy brother knights to fast and pray,
That so perchance the vision may be seen
By thee and those, and all the world be healed. - Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Idylls of the King"

The legends concerning King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are rooted in Dark Age tales and annals of highly disputed origin and authenticity which, nevertheless, gripped the minds of storytellers in England and France in the 12th and 13th centuries during Europe's High Middle Ages. Though the popularity of the legend waned in the Renaissance, it grew again in the 17th century and again in the 19th and 20th, a testament to the universal appeal of these tales to the fundamental hopes, aspirations and ideals of generations widely separated by time and circumstances.

The quest for the Holy Grail is perhaps the greatest of the stories associated with Arthur and his Knights. Thru this quest, Arthur sought to end the conflicts between his faithful yet competitive and ambitious servants - all eager to please their liege and elbow each other aside to win the king's favor - by providing them a cause towards which they could direct all their energies. Each and every knight failed in this great quest except for Sir Galahad, who proved the only one with a heart pure and true to deserve the honor of recovering the Grail. No matter the writer or era in which variations of the story have been produced, it is always implied that the quest for the Holy Grail is a way for Men to renew a spiritual proximity with the Divine and bringing about a Golden Age for humanity.

Yet the grail itself is supposedly a very ordinary thing - a simple cup or bowl, humble of composition and design in either stone or clay, from which Jesus is alleged to have drunk at the Last Supper. A scientific/engineering analogue for this basic item exists in the form of the aromatic ring, which in its most mundane form belies its potential significance for the future of High Tech.

In 1962, it was discovered that a simple benzene molecule stripped of its hydrogen atoms could bond with other aromatic rings in the same condition to form sheets of material one carbon atom in thickness in a honeycomb or chicken wire pattern. The resultant sheet, first isolated in the lab in 2004, demonstrated incredible properties. 

From a purely mechanical point of view, graphene is the strongest material known to science. By point of comparison: graphene has more tensile strength than the strongest steel by more than two orders of magnitude (let that sink in for a moment.) Its resistance to sudden shock is also quite stunning - though the material is vulnerable to fracturing, it nevertheless demonstrates an ability to distribute the force of a violent impact that is 10x greater than that shown by steel for the same unit weight.

The thermal conductivity of graphene is far superior to any other form of carbon. The regularity of the matrix permits thermal energy to be conducted with high efficiency in all directions. The implications to heat dissipation and long term reliability of complex circuit designs implemented in graphene are thus very positive.

The key capability for any material that hopes to replace silicon will be its electrical properties. Once again, graphene proves itself to be highly unusual in this regard as well as fantastically promising. (Note: for this portion of the discussion, you may want to keep a bottle of tylenol handy.)

The key to understanding the different conducting capabilities of a conventional silicon lattice and a 2D sheet of graphene lies in the structure of the materials. While pure silicon forms the same hard and dense crystalline cube as carbon does when it is in its diamond form, the flat hexagon building block of graphene is starkly different - remember, it has those three double bonds floating around within its form. An interconnected grid of these rings could thus be said to be 'soaked' in a bath of electrons. This leads to a much greater ease of electron flow thru the structure and provokes materials scientists to view graphene as having the nature of a metal. 

There are other pecularities that are being researched intensely. One of these is how graphene conducts electricity. In most materials, making a molecule conduct requires moving an electron from its valence band to a conduction band, as described in quantum mechanics. There is an energy expenditure associated with this, commonly described as a band gap. In graphene, however, this band gap is zero. Once again we can see how the ease with which an aromatic ring moves electrons around its hexagon translates to an extreme ease of movement of electrons throughout an array of rings in graphene.

Since graphene does not behave like other materials when it comes to conducting electrons, the mathematics that describe it are also starkly different. Electron behavior in silicon can be captured with the classic Schrodinger formulation of quantum states for particles small enough to clearly exhibit the wave-particle duality that predicates quantum mechanics. However, Schrodinger's approach does not work effectively for graphene. Instead, it has been discovered that a simplified version of Dirac's more complex equations describe electron behavior in graphene extremely well. This has fascinated solid state physicists and materials scientists for some years now, as the Dirac theorems were the first to unify quantum mechanical theory with Einsteinian relativity. In other words, graphene's electrons seem to manifest relativistic behavior. (Feel free to pop open that bottle of Tylenol now.)

Graphene electrons are not actually moving at the speed of light - they are in fact 300x slower (though that's still pretty fast.) Nevertheless, the relativistic characteristics of current flow are such that electrons in graphene appear to be massless. Even at room temperature, graphene conducts so well that it seems to support superconducting current levels. 

This does not mean that graphene is not without its problems. The material, as noted before, is highly reactive. Placing various conducting or semiconducting materials (including other graphene sheets) in close proximity has a notable effect on graphene's behavior. The fact that single sheet graphene is what shows the greatest promise is also, at the moment, an Achille's Heel of the material, as it is subject to small mechanical defects and irregularities induced by heat or vibration which also profoundly affect its properties. Much research is underway to determine ways of controlling graphene as predictably and meticulously as can currently be achieved with silicon. 

For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad. - Edwin Way Teale

Like nature in Autumn, researchers are using the approaching winter of silicon to sew the seeds for a new technological Spring based on graphene. There are a great variety of things engineers and scientists are trying to do with graphene to make it amenable to IC applications. We'll talk about that in the next installment.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Excerpt from "The Edge of Zero", Chapter 4 - What Is High Tech Marketing?

 Author's Note: Marketing is the most poorly practiced and least understood profession in High Tech. The essay below is one of several chapters in "The Edge of Zero" which explores Technology Marketing in all its facets. As an excerpt, the reader may notice some lack of continuity due to references within the text that refer to earlier or later chapters. Nevertheless, the chapter does stand reasonably well enough on its own and marketers as well as non-marketers will likely find the editorial of interest.

I am also doing a great deal of research on new technologies on the horizon that I think many of you will find exciting - Machine Vision, AI, Voice Actuation, Graphene and others. If you have particular interest in these or other topics, please let me know in the comments, as it will influence the order in which I publish the new material.


Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things. ― Miyamoto Musashi

Before elaborating on the new Marketing Canon for High Tech in Lean Times, we need to start from a common understanding of what Marketing really is. The High Tech sector has never really had to learn how to perform Marketing properly and thoroughly because the end user market appetite for Technology has been heretofore insatiable. Yet the lessons will very soon come due, as history amply illustrates in a previous technology revolution from a full century past.

Case Study: The Model T

Henry Ford experienced the same phenomenon of seemingly unlimited, nondiscriminatory demand when the nascent automobile market proved so hungry for the new transportation tech that it didn’t matter if the only thing available at the right price was a black Model T.  This situation lasted from 1908 to 1929, when Ford shipped its 15 Millionth unit of this iconic automobile.


But all good things come to an end, and the Ford Motor Company was caught flatfooted at the worst possible time – on the eve of the Great Depression. General Motors began to overtake Ford with new models, available in a range of colors and styles for a more discerning and frugal customer base. While Ford clung to its operations-driven approach of cost-efficient mass production and floundered during the 1930’s, GM continued to grow and remain profitable during an incredibly difficult economic era and surpassed Ford in 1933, leaving them in the rear view mirror for the last 80 years and counting.

So where did Ford go wrong? What were the facets of the business that they did not properly grasp?

 In reality, what Ford experienced was not a single point failure such as a lack of color choices for its products or meeting the ‘right’ price level. The root cause of Ford’s dethronement from the pinnacle of the automotive industry was the result of complete inadequacy in every aspect of Marketing.

The rest of this chapter will illustrate what knowledge, methods and practices the profession of Marketing encompasses in its totality. Along the way, it will become transparently evident how Ford’s lack of understanding of what Marketing is all about directly led to their undoing.

Bricks & Mortar

The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

The classic definition of Marketing essentials is known as the “4 P’s” – Price, Product, Promotion and Place.  Marketing textbooks from the 50’s to the 80’s always identified these factors as the fundamental ingredients of effective Marketing.

For purposes of clarity, the 4 P’s can be broadly defined as follows:

Price – formulated thru the convolution of a firm’s desired return/margins, an estimate/SWAG of what the target market can effectively bear, an empirical measure of the relative desirability of the product or service versus competitive offerings, and the estimate of the customer cost point believed by the company to encompass the share of the market they wish to own or the segment which it has targeted.

Product – in High Tech, this could be a device, system, component, module, software package or ‘widget’ of some kind, a service or bundle of services, and frequently both. The term should be interpreted broadly as the combined capabilities the company presents to the marketplace as offerings for which it charges a Price.

Promotion – a term which broadly captures the methods and techniques used to incentivize customers to engage with a company and purchase its offerings. The methods and instruments used vary per industry, and can include advertisements and commercials thru various media, coupons, calendar sales events and other price discounts, as well as the attractive packaging and dissemination of information in various forms concerning the features and benefits of the company’s offerings.

Place – this refers to the location where the customer can most readily purchase the offer for sale, whether it be thru a reseller, distributor, or directly from the company. This can also be referred to as “Channel.”

But just maximizing the “4 P’s” for a given business enterprise does not automatically result in productive and successful Marketing. One can see Ford’s failure written large right here. 

Ford was supremely confident that it had the 4 P’s covered. The entire enterprise was organized around maximizing economies of scale thru mass production to achieve an affordable Price, with a high quality and easy to maintain Product, a clear and consistent Promotion focus thru the 1910’s and 1920’s on price and product leadership for the middle class consumer, and a convenient Place for customers to acquire the product thru a nationwide distribution system of franchised dealers – a concept invented by Ford. Yet it all fell to pieces precisely during economic conditions where conventional wisdom proclaimed any competitor would have found it the most difficult period imaginable to mount an effective and ultimately successful challenge.

Evidently, knowing  the 4P’s and applying them to a firm’s offerings is not enough to ensure success. In the same way that gathering 150lbs of carbon, iron, calcium, sodium, phosphorus and other natural elements and combining them with several gallons of water does NOT produce a human being, focusing solely on the  4 P’s does not spontaneously result in the successful marketing of the firms’ products and services.  In truth, the 4 P’s are merely the building blocks of a concerted and sustained Marketing effort.

Hammers & Shovels

If the 4 P’s are the bricks and mortar of Marketing, you still need tools to build anything with them. And there are lots of tools – advertising campaigns, promotional plans, coupons, editorials, press and analyst interviews, conference papers, datasheets, product briefs, brochures and more. There are also channels to use these tools –print publications, television, radio, trade shows, distribution partners and sales.  The digital age has spawned the WWW as a new channel with worldwide reach, along with a powerful selection of instruments - websites, Search Engine Optimization/Marketing, embedded video, social media, webinars, eDocs, eCommerce, pop-up ads, targeted email campaigns and so forth. There have never been more tools and channels available to a company to fill its sales funnel, and later chapters in this book are devoted to selecting and properly using these items.
However: successful marketing does not simply arise from the energetic development and execution of ads, promotions and campaigns, regardless of the conventional or digital instruments & channels employed. Marketing departments often work frantically to vomit forth a voluminous storm of dazzling promotions, campaigns and events, but rarely with anything but a transitory effect on the firm’s market standing. These activities are, in the end, just tactics.


Source: flickr

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.  ― Sun Tzu

A successful marketing effort requires, first and foremost, a comprehensive Strategy. Developing an effective strategy is a prerequisite to genuine, sustained effectiveness in Marketing. Not taking the steps to formulate a Strategy puts the cart before the horse, sending the company on a long, hard journey without a roadmap to a concrete destination.

A company has to make a market aware of its presence and what it has to offer, as well as making any buying decision easy to execute.  Careful, detailed planning in advance regarding the channels for communicating with customers and increasing their awareness of the firm and its offerings, providing them with the knowledge to make an informed decision regarding the usefulness and benefits of its products and services and delivering the means for customers to decide on purchasing the company’s offerings & adopting them as an integral part of their own personal, professional and/or business activities is the essence of strategy. Tactics are merely the ways and means of implementing a thoughtfully crafted strategy.

There are multiple models used to define and implement strategies in the business world, including AKA (Awareness-Knowledge-Adoption) and AIDA (Attention-Interest-Decision-Action, made notoriously famous by Alec Baldwin’s character in the film “Glengarry Glen Ross.”) Either model or any of the various derivatives and elaborations, if used properly, are equally effective at guiding the genesis of a winning strategy. The important thing is to use tools and tactics in a congruent, complementary manner so that campaigns are mutually reinforcing and achieve maximized, long-enduring and positive effects.

Before formulating a strategy, however, a company must have in hand the means of victory.

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.  ― Sun Tzu

Stated differently, an enterprise first has to express in both verbal and written form what it offers the market that none of its competitors can offer as effectively, if at all. This is the core value proposition of the firm.  The company must then make the market aware of the advantages it brings to its customers. A company’s core value proposition serves as the basis for generating the appropriate messaging and positioning for its products and services to have maximum effect in the marketplace.

The value proposition is the key. A small company can seem large in the eyes of the market if its value proposition is so compelling that it overshadows the firm’s competitors. The messaging and positioning that flow from the value proposition must be crafted to generate that ‘larger than life’ image while remaining truthful. For instance, a technology firm that states it is ‘the leader in XYZ technology ’, even if true, actually harms itself by using such unimaginative, dispassionate and uninspiring phraseology. The messaging and positioning must be every bit as extraordinary, memorable and substantive as the actual value proposition on offer to the market.

A strong value proposition does not focus on just one particular advantage of the company’s offerings.  There is no such thing as a one-dimensional company, and focusing everything on a single strength always leaves important competitive leverage on the table.

Case Study: Samsung and the HDTV market

An instructive example is offered by Samsung, the largest and most globally recognized of the South Korean chaebol. The rise of Samsung in the HDTV market has been nothing short of meteoric.

Five years ago, Samsung was not a serious contender in HDTV but was not deterred by this fact. They spent years of effort on developing  internal expertise to create world class products for this market. The engineering results were spectacular. The intrinsic superiority of Samsung televisions stemmed from their ability to produce video with the same or better resolution than their rivals at half the price.

Yet Samsung did not build positioning and messaging solely around its enormous price advantage, but around total cost of ownership – in other words, the total value to consumers of an HDTV every bit as technologically sophisticated and high quality as anything on offer from Sony, Toshiba, Phillips or Panasonic, combined with a significantly lower price tag.

Samsung understood early on that one should not bring to bear strength against strength, but strength against weakness. They realized from the start that their competitors had economies of scale in their own factories that, if not quite at Samsung’s level, were still significant, and could be remedied over time thru a focused effort.  If Samsung had chosen a one-dimensional strategy as a pure price leader, competitors would have bought themselves time to improve their cost position by taking the margin hit and lowering prices for a limited period to ensure that Samsung did not build substantive market share, while portraying Samsung’s TV’s as cheap electronic junk. Instead, Samsung aggressively touted their preeminence in HDTV technology thru demonstrably superior performance and quality along with a profound cost advantage, creating a devastating one-two punch combination and an unbeatable value proposition.

One can see from this example how a comprehensive marketing effort can make all the difference. By taking the time to define a more comprehensive and refined value proposition, Samsung was able to build a powerful go-to-market strategy, with messaging and positioning built around the core value of the company’s offerings and reflected in every campaign, advertisement and promotion the company undertook. Their strategy was so well crafted that, in effect, Samsung had already won the battle before taking to the field.

Audaces Fortuna Iuvat

Truly paramount marketing plans are not intended to be passive instruments. An often overlooked benefit of a skillfully crafted marketing plan is that a well formulated and comprehensive strategy, with a compelling value proposition reinforced with appropriate positioning & messaging and executed thru an array of tactical campaign plans, provides a business with perhaps the most important factor for success – the role of the Aggressor.

I don't want to get any messages saying, "I am holding my position." We are not holding a Goddamned thing. Let the Germans do that. We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything, except the enemy's balls. We are going to twist his balls and kick the living shit out of him all of the time. Our basic plan of operation is to advance and to keep on advancing regardless of whether we have to go over, under, or through the enemy. We are going to go through him like crap through a goose; like shit through a tin horn! – George S. Patton

Case Study: 40 second Boyd

As the Aggressor, you gain the distinct advantage of forcing your competitors to react to you.  The US Air Force captured this principle brilliantly in a formulation that serves as the guiding paradigm for their fighter pilot training – the OODA loop.


Developed in detail by maverick pilot John Boyd, the OODA loop breaks down human behavior under stress into a recognizable and exploitable pattern – Observation, Orientation, Decision and Action. A pilot in combat will observe his surroundings, orient himself to the immediate threats and opportunities gathered from his observation, decide on an appropriate response, and finally take action.

Despite limited combat experience, Boyd’s intimate knowledge of aerodynamics and aircraft design gave him such insight into the operational limits of fighter aircraft that, as an instructor at Nellis Air Force base – site of the famed Fighter Weapons School, or “Top Gun” – he issued an open challenge to all Air Force, Navy and Marine pilots wherein he would allow them to position themselves immediately to his rear in a ‘confirmed kill’ position and, once given the ‘go’ signal from his pursuer, promised that within 40 seconds he would reverse the situation.  Despite being confronted by dozens of veteran pilots and aces from WW2 and the Korean war, he never lost an engagement.

In battle, if you make your opponent flinch, you have already won.  ― Miyamoto Musashi

The technique Boyd used was to take actions that would present his opponent with a limited set of responses. By anticipating and planning for those responses, Boyd continually outguessed his opponents, staying ahead of their reactions and placing them further and further into a position of disadvantage. He described this as being ‘inside’ of his opponent’s OODA loop, which forced the opposing pilot into a defensive posture, reacting to Boyd’s actions in ways that Boyd could anticipate into order to guide his opponent to his own defeat.

By being the Aggressor, a company puts itself into a position of at least partially dictating terms to its rivals, tilting the field continually in its own favor. A comprehensive marketing plan builds this into its strategy and tactics, with periodic reviews conducted to realign activities based upon competitor choices and reactions to previous company campaigns, keeping adversaries perpetually off-balance.

More Than The Sum Of Its Parts

One can see how vitally important it is for the long term success of an enterprise to develop a complete Marketing plan. This is not simply the isolated, compartmentalized activity of one department in the company, but invariably touches on and co-involves the entire organization.

There is an actual multiplier effect from an adroitly formulated Marketing plan. A well articulated plan provides a direction and sense of purpose around which the entire firm – not just marketing and sales, but every department in the company – can coalesce.  The efforts of internal departments become mutually reinforcing, further expanding a company’s value proposition over its rivals. When this value is properly communicated to the market, customers are drawn to the firm thru their understanding of the advantages that will accrue to them by doing business with it, and the competition will be left scrambling to catch up as the company’s business grows and outpaces them.

It is difficult to realize the true Way just through sword-fencing. Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things.  ― Miyamoto Musashi

Thus, you must start from the top. Determine your firm’s fundamental value proposition(s). From this derives the logical positioning and messaging. Once these are clear, develop a strategy for using the positioning and messaging to communicate your value to the market. From the strategy, individual tactics arise – campaigns, promotions, programs and tools for implementing them. These tactics drive the 4 P’s as dictated by how their relative strengths in your value proposition can reinforce your messaging and positioning.  

As abundantly demonstrated by the experience of the Ford Motor Company, an enterprise cannot implement only parts of this hierarchy. All must be developed in detail, as individual layers and components relate organically to the whole, such that this whole becomes larger than the sum of its parts. And all of this – along with all of the cross-functional and cross-departmental difficulties and complexities which it implies - is the domain and responsibility of Marketing.

Taking The Reins

Marketing is, in the end, a LEADERSHIP role. The very act of initiating a Marketing plan for a company and its products means identifying the Value propositions which will make a firm’s offerings compelling to its target market. Thus, the company must either innately possess such value in its products, or it must begin developing and producing products that embody the market’s definition of irresistible value.

This means a marketer must be able to simultaneously grasp the potential of the company’s engineering team, the aptitude of its operations arm, the expectations, desires and dreams of its customers, and the capacity of its sales force. When a Marketing plan is formulated correctly, an enterprise will have the knowledge to develop the kinds of products its customers will happily buy, which the factory can skillfully build, and the sales force can readily sell.

Chance will not do the work—Chance sends the breeze;
But if the pilot slumber at the helm,
The very wind that wafts us towards the port
May dash us on the shelves.—The steersman's part is vigilance,
Blow it or rough or smooth. - Walter Scott

However, as is true of all human activity, Markets are not static. Competitors, suppliers, and customers evolve and change – sometimes in fluid, linear and predictable ways, at other times in unsettling, jarring and improbable directions.

After two decades of success, Ford was unable to perceive the evolution of its marketplace, and once the change was impossible to ignore further, their rigid adherence to previously successful guiding principles had ossified the firm and further compromised its ability to respond to changing market conditions until it was simply too late, and the battle was lost to GM.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. - Ecclesiastes 9:11

Change is an unavoidable circumstance of existence. Fighting it, fleeing from it or ignoring it leads to decay, defeat and ruin, as Ford discovered. Thus, Marketing plans need to be frequently assessed, reviewed and challenged at all levels and in detail, then as warranted either adjusted accordingly or scrapped altogether and reformulated to reflect changing circumstances.

But what kind of person must a Marketer be in order to do all of this? What mix of talents, skills and traits are necessary, and how does a skilled, proficient and effective Marketer think, plan and execute? The next chapter explores this topic in depth.

Friday, December 5, 2014

High Tech "State of the Union" - Q3 2014 Supplement #3


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: — Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert.
 Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away. - Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ozymandias"

Thirty years ago I stopped in London on my way to vacation with my mother's family in Bologna, Italy. I arrived in early June and found in my first visit to the great city that it was foggy and freezing (which I understand is not too unusual for that time of year.) 

Despite the inclement weather, the side trip was an excellent one and included many wonderful discoveries. For instance: the hamburgers I wolfed down made the absolute best on offer back home taste like cardboard by comparison. A few pub stops revealed a selection of astonishing beers which I found superior to anything I've had even in Germany (side note to my German readers: before you send me a storm of hate mail, you have to admit that the Brits are exceptional brew masters.) Finally, I had the opportunity to try Indian cuisine for the first time in a quiet little restaurant near my hotel - a very unpretentious place with impeccable service, where the tablecloths were changed for every sitting. The experience shattered all my preconceptions of what fine food was like and demonstrated to me that even the best French and Italian cooking was like boiled mud by comparison.

Of course, only a minor selection of my experiences were on the culinary front. While in London, I decided to pay a visit to the British Museum. One of the great cultural institutions of the world, there was one exhibit in particular that burned itself into my memory. In one of the halls I beheld an Assyrian relief carved into some sort of black stone - obsidian or marble, I'm not sure which. The relief was massive, depicting scenes from Sennacherib's sundry victories over neighboring cities and tribes. In one scene, the leaders of a defeated force of the kingdom of Elam in southern Iran pleaded for mercy from Sennacherib; an inscription proclaims that he "cut their throats like sheep." Though such displays of cruelty were traditional amongst warring parties in the region in those days and were in fact considered 'de rigueur' as demonstrations of strength, the relief's carvings and depictions collectively left an impression upon me of truly terrible power - and by that I mean 'terrible' in the old sense: a feeling that combines awe and fear.

The state of Assyria, at the northern end of the Fertile Crescent in the Near East, was founded on the city of Assur (or Ashur) in 2600 B.C. For the next 16 centuries, the Bronze Age Assyrians experienced alternating periods of subjugation to their neighbors - Babylonians, Akkadians, Hittites, Sumerians and others - interspersed with periods of independence as a regional power. It wasn't until the beginning of the Iron Age in the early 900's that a militarized Assyria became overwhelmingly dominant, with hegemony over a vast area that encompassed the entire kingdom of Egypt, the states of the Levant, central and eastern Turkey down to the northern limits of the Arabian peninsula, and east over the Zagros mountains to the western plateau of Iran.

For three centuries, Assyria stood at the apex of the world as the most advanced, sophisticated and powerful civilization on the globe. A standing professional army, paved roads reaching to all corners of the realm that both facilitated troop movements and expanded opportunities for trade, a pony express system for accelerated communications and an efficient civil administration all relied on the Assyrian mastery of sophisticated organization and leading technology of the era. It seemed an invincible empire, wealthier than any nation seen before and an unstoppable, merciless scourge to its enemies.

Yet fall they did, to a resurgent and implacable Babylonian power to their south in 605 B.C. The energy and discipline of the Assyrians in their last decades never wavered as they implemented a continual stream of tactics and maneuvers to resist the Babylonian onslaught, but it was to no avail. Their undoing was, in the end, their own fault. Though the foundation of Assyrian society as a military state imposed limits on their ability to generate sufficient wealth for their war machine or instill the necessary loyalty and commitment from their subject peoples to respond to Babylon's challenge, they were unwilling to change their ways.

Some of you are at this point undoubtedly saying to yourselves "Arright, baldie, thanks for the history lesson. Now please tell me - what does any of this have to do with High Tech?"
It's a fair question, and I'll cut to the chase.

His resolve is not to seem, but to be, the best. - Aeschylus, "Seven Against Thebes"

Today we have our own High Technology empires that have carved out the story of their achievements and victories in stone - not from quarried marble, but fabricated silicon. These are companies with deep and broad IP portfolios that develop SoCs for the leading systems markets of the 3C's - communications, computing and consumer - as well as mobile computing (tablets and smartphones.) They are at the very pinnacle of the semiconductor value chain, with a mastery of both hardware and software technology so great that they have actually captured significant value away from their systems customers.

In "State of the Union" financial summaries from previous quarters, I put Broadcom, Qualcomm and Xilinx together as representative of this group, which I termed "The Stone Masons." Based upon requests from the readership and the evolution of my own thoughts on the subject, I stripped Xilinx out and put them into a new category along with Lattice and Altera, which I call "The Vanara" (supernatural beings from Hindu myth of great power that are reputed to be shape-shifters.) These companies were reviewed in the November 21st blog post. 

The Stone Masons now have two new members: MediaTek and Nvidia. In terms of technology and talent, this new lineup represents the cream of the crop in the semiconductor sector worldwide.

The Stone Masons have certain basic characteristics in common. When they started out, they were true technology pioneers, staking their claims on territories that were once dominated by ASICs. Conventional wisdom dictated that no single company could develop products that could encompass the many unique hardware requirements of OEMs or have the technical sophistication to build software stacks and efficiently integrate them into chip hardware architectures to the satisfaction of systems houses. Beginning with Broadcom, the SoC firms proved the pundits wrong as they developed chips that captured 80% or more of the hardware needs for wireline networking, broadband, storage and wireless customers while providing software distributions containing OS's, firmware, middleware and applications I/F's along with tools that gave system developers the flexibility they needed to create value-adding personalization thru software. They were, in other words, real frontiersmen and daring adventurers who opened vast new horizons for microelectronics.


Today, SoC product development is heavily governed by industry standard specifications - storage, networking, wireless and multimedia. Control plane processing is centered on individual licensing choices for ARM CPUs, whereas data plane processing tends to be a homegrown thing, such as Qualcomm's Adreno, Broadcom's VideoCore and NVidia's own GPU IP. There is some additional third party licensing for items such as DSP cores, which both Broadcom and MediaTek source from CEVA. Nonetheless, the great majority of the IP portfolio possessed by each member of the Stone Masons is home made. 

These companies are also ferociously driven by the scheduling demands of their markets - in particular, consumer applications with their very short system development, release and obsolescence timelines. For example: the development treadmill for segments such as HDTV are the most brutal and unforgiving sectors of High Tech. It has been a normal thing over the past two decades to observe a half dozen startups launch with promising new video technology and find only one survivor after 3-5 years. A single defect in a chip release could result in a missed market window and potentially spell doom for the fledgling firm.

As a consequence of the operational straitjacket imposed by market schedule demands and industry standards, SoC companies tend to be very sternly regimented with a quasi - military management style. Naturally, the intensity with which that administrative form is applied will vary somewhat from company to company and even between departments in the same firm. Nevertheless, as a general rule such work environments are hostile to initiative, creativity, going against the grain and challenging authority.

With this in mind, let's take a look at the quarterly revenue numbers, from q1 2008 to q3 2014. The MediaTek numbers are normally reported in New Taiwan Dollars; thus, to keep the results directly comparable, I've used an NTD:USD conversion rate of 30.77:1 (valid when I collected this data in the third week of November.)

Qualcomm and Broadcom were reviewed in the November 7 editorial and their status is unchanged. As a refresher, you can read the analysis here:

Like Broadcom, Nvidia has also been stagnant for many years. Unlike Broadcom, though, Nvidia did not experience a growth spurt from Q1 2009 to Q4 2010 - hence the roughly $1B difference between their quarterly numbers. 

There are more fundamental differences between the two companies besides revenue levels. Broadcom is a broad line supplier of extraordinarily sophisticated hardware and software solutions to large, established SoC market segments in the 3C's. Nvidia also offers exceptional technology, but relies on most of its revenue coming from the stagnating desktop and laptop computing segments. The Tegra mobile applications processor venture into smartphones showed early promise but has been soundly defeated, primarily by Qualcomm. The rest of Nvidia's segments are all exploratory in nature - industrial design, medical diagnostics, supercomputing, data analytics and other such initiatives. All of these expeditionary efforts are clearly intended to stretch Nvidia's visual and parallel computing technology to the limits with the hopes of triggering growth thru breakthrough applications that give rise to nascent markets dominated at the outset by the company.

One can only applaud Nvidia's courage in devoting so many resources to what are, in effect, applied R&D efforts intended to provoke the birth of new markets for the company's offerings. Yet this nearly seven year stretch of essentially zero growth is disconcerting, to say the least. There are two primary causes of Nvidia's continuing lack of success - management practices and unrecognized opportunities.

The shaft of the arrow had been feathered with one of the eagle's own plumes. We often give our enemies the means of our own destruction. - Aesop's Fables, "The Eagle and the Arrow"

A critical reason for failure can be placed squarely at the feet of the firm's leadership. Nvidia is notorious in Silicon Valley for having an incredibly heavy-handed and even viciously authoritarian style of management. 

Callousness with regards to recognizing and rewarding employee efforts and contributions seems to be standard procedure except for a few managers and departments. In such a work environment, innovation and creativity are not only stifled from above but also withheld from below, as employees spend most of their energies avoiding punishment and additional stress thru activities that are not particularly vulnerable to criticism. Stated differently: in an organization where negative feedback is zealously practiced, employees do not stretch themselves or stick their necks out to achieve great and noteworthy things but instead keep their heads down in order not to attract the attention of the whip.

Though Nvidia's executive management team would undoubtedly argue energetically to the contrary, the revenue numbers speak for themselves. What is especially tragic is that the basic elements to position the company for spectacular growth and leadership in the IoT are already in place, but there seems to be no executive recognition of that fact (see the discussion of the Jetson development platform from the November 14 editorial: .) 

My forecast for Nvidia is to expect further stagnation in its revenues. Until the company's leadership recognizes that its future lies in the talent and initiative of its employees and pushes most of its power and authority deep down the chain of command, its potentially stellar future will remain unrealized.


One of several companies spawned from Taiwan's foundries over the last two decades, MediaTek came into being in 1997 when UMC spun off its consumer electronics design group. The company has made a variety of acquisitions over the years to bolster its presence in Wi-Fi, DTV, DVD and STB markets, as it clearly intends to be the master of the Digital Home. 

MediaTek has also become a power in mobile telephony, particularly in low to medium end feature phones and smartphones for China. Qualcomm has eroded MediaTek's position in application processors, but the company has an increasingly strong offering in baseband processing and is contending aggressively with Marvell in the China market.

Starting from q1 2013, MediaTek seems to have put itself on a steady and healthy growth streak. From an IP standpoint, MediaTek has a world class portfolio of wireless and multimedia properties. The MStar merger was finally completed in early 2014, further reinforcing the company's positioning for the Digital Home. It seems distinctly within the realm of possibility that MediaTek will eclipse Broadcom as the world's largest broad based SoC vendor sometime in 2015.

For seeing they saw not, and hearing they understood not, but like shapes in a dream they wrought all the days of their lives in confusion. - Aeschylus, "Prometheus Bound"

Yet despite my optimism regarding the company's long term prospects, I remain somewhat guarded for the near and medium term. The mobile computing market has saturated and consumer electronics is stagnating. The latest reported health in revenues is likely due to the same anomalous spike in STB and home gateway segments observed by Broadcom. In fact, both companies are projecting business to be flat for q4 2014. 

What is particularly surprising is that MediaTek doesn't seem to have much of anything to say at all regarding the IoT - a market for which it is pre-eminently well positioned thru its highly talented workforce and rich IP library. It is, in fact, mystifying why MediaTek isn't demonstratively touting its innate capabilities for the IoT sector. 

The company did launch its LinkIt initiative back in June, with the MT2502 running an optimized OS targeting wearables and other IoT applications. MediaTek Labs was formed in September to shepherd the company's involvement in the IoT and support development by the 3rd party community.

But all of this is being done rather quietly - in fact, almost surreptitiously - in stark contrast to the efforts of Qualcomm and Broadcom to promote their offerings for the fledgling IoT space. The entire organization of the MediaTek Labs mission comes across as very regimented and perfunctory, even cookie cutter in its sobriety. This should be setting off alarm bells across MediaTek's investor community, as it seems management does not feel the appropriate sense of urgency to find and develop new markets for its wares. 



Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom. - Albert Einstein

When Zeus led the Olympians in revolt against Cronos and the Titans for control of Creation, some of the Titans defected to his side. Most notable of them all was Prometheus, who would afterwards thwart Zeus in his efforts to keep humans in abjection to his rule.

Things came to a head when Prometheus stole the gift of fire from Olympus and gave it to humanity. Wrathful Zeus had the rebelling Titan chained to a rock in the Caucausus mountains, where an eagle would feast upon his liver for all eternity.

The Stone Masons, having served a Promethean role for semiconductors in their creation of SoC technology, also find themselves victims of forces beyond their control or ability to resist:

The now chronic weakness in consumer discretionary income in first and second world economies torment the Stone Masons, suppressing and weakening their revenue growth. While consumers stringently manage their dwindling levels of disposable cash, fewer smartphones, tablets, high definition TVs, broadband routers and DVRs are purchased. This cascades downstream to the infrastructure providers for backhaul, edge routers, cable modems, networking equipment and datacenters, eventually reaching the SoC vendors, who find that falling demand and the approaching demise of Moore's Law constrain their ability to effectively add more features and value to their offerings and that their new and enhanced products have steadily fading leverage to command volume and defend margins.

However, while the fetters binding Prometheus to a rock were forged by Hephaestus at the command of Zeus, the chains and shackles restraining the Stone Masons are ones of their own making. Once daring and fearless in breaking thru the perceived confines of chip technology, the SoC companies are increasingly hog-tied by their own operational constructs that manacle employee initiative and curb the full flowering of their talent and creativity, channeling their energies into well worn paths of scheduled and controlled activity which once led to prosperity but now only reach stagnating pools and dead ends. 

Broadcom led the Stone Masons in bringing a Promethean gift to High Tech a score of years ago and in the process changed the semiconductor industry. Will they once again bring a new benefaction of technological, operational and creative fire to High Tech, or will it be one of their rivals? Then again, maybe the time of the Stone Masons is past, and like the Assyrians who clung to their ways and eventually fell to the Babylonians, perhaps the MCU houses will usurp the SoC sector and take the lead in the IoT market from them.

What indeed does the future hold for the Stone Masons? Perhaps a famous poet from old Attica said it best:

Time waxing old can many a lesson teach. - Aeschylus, "Prometheus Bound"