Feeling a little chuffed

At the last London Barcamp I did a presentation entitled "Sec & the Investor". About 20 people turned up to watch.

I put it on slideshare here after the event, since which time it has been viewed 4,031 (as at 26th Aug 07). I'm a bit chuffed.

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Blogger down, but Zoho 24x7 spotted it for me

Blogger and Blogspot, the blogging and blog-hosting services, were offline for over an hour earlier today.

I only knew about it because the excellent Zoho service 24X7 sent me an email because it spotted that my blog site wasn't responding to its periodically checks. Before I could check the site, it had sent me another email to say that the site was back up.

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Free PAYG Orange mobile SIM with 100 free texts

I stumbled across this free offer that is valid until 30 September 2007.

Orange and WICKED The Musical have teamed up to give you a great deal - a free Orange pay as you go SIM Card. (Oh, and 100 free texts to get you started).

Link is here. Looks like Orange have lots of such offers here.

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4 ways to access your files remotely

Occasionally when I'm out of the office I realise I need a file (or perhaps the latest version of a file) off my desktop PC / office network. Having realised through experience it's simply too hard to explain to someone else which file you want (assuming that is even an option), it makes sense to travel with a good remote control software application that allows you to access your files from anywhere via a browser.

My favourite is Orb which is slingbox without the hardware, but with the added benefit of letting you access your files too. It's free to use and I've found it to be easy to set up.

LogMeIn Free is another option. It too is free but has the added advantage that you can easily specify multiple remote computers to connect to.

Third option is ShowMyPC which offers free remote access via this open source offering

Of course, my more technically able colleagues seem to prefer the hardship of using more complex solutions like RealVNC, coz they are real men!

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This call may be recorded

Whilst there may be alternate ways of doing the same thing, I do like the initiative shown by the founders of EasyCallRecording, which provides the general public with an easy way of recording their calls.

As they point out "We're constantly told: "This call may be recorded". Wouldn't it be great if you could say it back?"

So, whenever ringing call centre to complain etc or dealing with financial matters, you simply call their number and dial out from their service in order to record the call. Calls are 10p per min and they store the calls for one year, assuming you don't choose to download the recording.

And if you want to share your experience/recording then Callsmayberecorded is a site where you can do just that.

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Free copy of the Bourne Ultimatum

Thanks to Steve Clayton for this tip off


The Bourne Ultimatum


Claim a free copy of the book today
To celebrate the release of Bourne Ultimatum out now in cinemas, The Times and Universal Pictures are offering a free copy of The Bourne Ultimatum book by Robert Ludlum on which the new film is based (terms and conditions apply see below for details).

Offer on till 21 Aug.

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Voyage - RSS feed reader

Voyage is an slick RSS reader that provides a visualisation of your "river of news". I confess that I haven't figured out how I would import my rss feeds or persist my account, but it's sufficiently tempting to investigate. Trouble is, it will be no where near as efficient as Google Reader because it only shows the headlines and I tend to read the opening paras before deciding whether to skip over or not.

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Heck, skype's broken

You never realise how much you depend on something till it's gone.

UPDATED 14:02 GMT: Some of you may be having problems logging into Skype. Our engineering team has determined that it’s a software issue. We expect this to be resolved within 12 to 24 hours. Meanwhile, you can simply leave your Skype client running and as soon as the issue is resolved, you will be logged in. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Additionally, downloads of Skype have been temporarily disabled. We will make downloads available again as quickly as possible.


Hmmmm. And someone even asked me if I had dropped them from my skype contacts because I wasn't online.

As for "it's a software issue" - duh, you think so guys.

Oddly I have read a few articles noting there has been a windows update in the last 36hrs that may have been the culprit - I confess that my PC has certainly been updated. Given ebay stock price has been hit, albeit that may be market issues generally, it would be interesting if Microsoft were held culpable. However, I doubt they would be found liable as they have no duty of care to skype.

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Wifi hotspots on Multimap

By accident I strayed onto Multimap today, rather than Google maps which I invariably use.

Wow. It's been updated with many features since I last looked. Most notably, though they've added some useful overlays to pinpoint things like cash points, parking lots and best of all Wifi hotspots.

The wifi hotspots are both paid and free ones it appears. This may not be the only place you can find hotspots data, but it's certainly a very convenient feature.

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Speaking the language of hedge funds

This article on MSNBC was a cutting piece on the explanations being offered by Hedge Funds on their current "discomfort".

Some great highlights included

Hedge-Fund Phrase: Challenging
Translation: Run for the hills!

Hedge-Fund Phrase: Unprecedented, unique circumstances
Translation: Stuff happens. But we had no clue.

Hedge-Fund Phrase: Market volatility has produced unfair, unrealistic prices.
Translation: The market is efficient only when it works in our favour.

Hedge-Fund Phrase: Our results were affected by the selling behavior of other firms.
Translation: We made the same dumb trades as everyone else.

Goldman Sachs CFO David Viniar noted that the firm's decision to inject $2 billion into its ailing Global Equity Opportunities fund "reflects our collective belief that the value of this fund is suffering from a market dislocation that does not reflect the fundamental value of the fund's positions." In other words, the losses shown by these funds isn't the fault of the managers, it's the fault of a market that just won't value assets properly. Ironically, you never hear fund managers say that their gains have been unwarrantedly large due to the market's failure to reflect stocks' fundamental value.


Today is also the last day for investors to give their usual 45 days notice to withdraw funds ahead of Q407. So a number of hedge funds are going to find out what investors think about the current situation and their confidence in their managers. Of course, this could well prompt another bout of selling to create cash to fund redemption, which will be amplified by leverage i.e. if you used investors funds as a deposit on leveraged trades say 10x. Then for every hundred dollars they need to be paid, you need to liquidate a thousand dollars of positions.

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Desperate times or price competition is here

Either they were desperate or Goldman's are starting a pricing revolution in hedge funds

Terms offered on their Global Equity Opportunities Fund to the "bailout" investors - No (2%) management fee, and no incentive fee until the fund performance exceeds 10%. Heck. The bar may have just been raised.

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Timebridge finally opens up


A long time ago I registered to trial Timebridge, an online service designed to help you find times to meet others that are mutually convenient in a single hit, rather via a series of email-exchanges.

Well, some 9 months on they've finally opened up and dumped their tight integration with Outlook that they initially planned and ran in the private beta.

Techcrunch covers the launch here.

Having registered, I'm impressed with how slick it looks but two things are irritating
1. no ical integration. Whilst most of the world probably use Outlook or Google calendars which Timebridge does support, I'm delighted to be using Airset which is ical enabled.
2. you are limited to suggesting 5 times for a meeting. That may seem a lot, but when you are suggesting an hour or two here and there, it's a painful constraint.

Both are these irritations are absent from my current service Timetomeet, which I think I shall probably be sticking with. It too is free to use. Whilst it would be easy to move, I've gotten used to the equally excellent interface they offer.

I'd agree with many who suggest that this sort of feature should be embedded within calendaring applications like Google calendar or airset, but as they are not here are some others you may care to also try

http://www.diarised.com
http://www.timetomeet.info
http://www.doodle.ch
http://www.ipolipo.com
http://tungle.com
http://www.biz-e.com

UPDATE

Yori from Timebridge kindly left a comment on this post and drew my attention to one EXCELLENT feature I hadnt spotted and which will probably swing me over to Timebridge as soon as they add ical integration, namely automatic slot management enabling you to offer the same time slots to multiple meetings/people, without fear of conflict. To repeat his illustration, suppose you are to interview 5 candidates on Monday. You can offer the same time slots to all five candidates, and the system will confirm their times automatically and cleanly. This is a big win and a feature I've asked Timetomeet about repeatedly. Without it you end up having to remember to withdraw slots from the calendar offered to people - thankfully because it's held online, you can adjust it before they accept. BUT IT IS A PAIN.

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Be still my bleeding heart & mind the gate

The Street has another story of how Sentinel Group is dealing with its' investors requests to redeem their investments including this letter sent to the investors.

SENTINEL MANAGEMENT GROUP, INC
August 13, 2007
Dear Client

As you undoubtedly know, the credit markets, along with most other markets, have experienced a liquidity crisis in the past several weeks. Investor fear has overtaken reason and has induced a period in which most securities have simply ceased to trade. We’ve all read the stories about one hedge fund or another suffering losses related to subprime exposure and closing down or being rescued. This fear, while warranted in some cases, has spilled over into the rest of the credit market and liquidity has dried up all over the street. In addition, investment banks and securities firms are stuck with LBO deals they’ve already entered into but cannot find buyers for the bonds so must inventory them themselves. This liquidity crisis has caused bids to disappear from the market and makes it virtually impossible to properly price securities or to trade them. High grade securities are trading like junk bonds as panicked investors dump names like General Electric at Tyco‐like prices.

We have carefully monitored this situation for the past several weeks and have met regularly to discuss the potential impact it may have on our clients. We had previously thought that the market would return to some semblance of order and that our clients would not join in the panic. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. We are concerned that we cannot meet any significant redemption requests without selling securities at deep discounts to their fair value and therefore causing unnecessary losses to our clients. We contacted the CFTC today and asked for their permission to halt redemptions until we can honor them in an orderly fashion.

Sentinel has always sought to protect your interests and since our inception in 1980, we have
never experienced a situation quite like this one. We will continue to monitor the markets and we will raise cash as opportunities present themselves.

We understand that this will obviously cause inconveniences on your part however, at present, we do not see an alternative and we don’t believe it is in anyone’s best interest if a run on Sentinel took place and we were in a forced liquidation mode.

We value your trust in us these past 28 years and this has been a very difficult decision for us
and we understand the implications of this decision both on you and on Sentinel. We feel, however, that this is the best way to assure you the best possible value on your investment.

We will remain in contact with you and update you as things progress.

Sincerely,

Sentinel Management Group, Inc.


Mind the Gate! It snaps fasts

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Hedge Funds & Beta - no longer an oxymoron?

Hedge Funds are not a homogenoueous group - individually they pursue many different strategies. However, one thing you will consistently hear from people in the hedge fund industry is that such funds are not closely (or in some cases, not at all) correlated with major market indices i.e. just because the markets go down doesn't mean funds will be affected i.e. the measure of correlation or "beta" is weak.

It is for this reason, investors are told, that hedge funds charge 2 & 20 (2% annual management charge on funds under management and 20% of gains made), rather than the paltry 10bps or less for index trackers.

So, it must have come as a shock to many investors to read headlines such as

Hedge funds forced into equities fire sale
Tue, 14 Aug 2007, 00:11 The Times

Goldman Sachs has made the announcement that everyone has been waiting for. The investment bank admitted yesterday that three of its high-profile hedge funds had off-loaded massive equity holdings following days of stock market turbulence. In recent days, whispers at rival fund managers had blamed a fire sale at Goldman Sachs for the devastating downward spiral afflicting global financial markets. The truth is that the bank was not alone. Almost every big quantitative fund using a strategy similar to Goldman's - known as an equity market neutral (EMN) strategy - was suffering in its own way. The result has been a rout of one of the most popular types of quant fund. Hedge Fund Research's EMN index had lost 7.6 per cent by last Thursday and undoubtedly saw further points shaved off during Friday's plunge in equities.

Unsurprisingly it is anticipated that a large number of investors will curtail future investments. More importantly the industry is bracing itself for withdrawals of investment at the next pricing point (assuming funds can even be valued in the current climate - many fund administrators are clashing with managers over the value to place on illiquid instruments in the current environment). This potential exodus is significant for a number of reasons. Most importantly, how many funds will simply close the "gate" and deny the investors the ability to withdraw funds, as I posted on recently? Equally important though, is that if funds are forced to liquidate positions to satisfy redemptions then this will have a market impact as Merrill Lynch found when they sold Bear Stearns collateral.

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The credit card squeeze

One of our venture companies has just had the most torrid time with a leading merchant services firm (credit card processor). Their application, which it was claimed would take 3 days, has languished for over 2 months inside the inept bureaucracy, despite regular chasing. Correspondence was regularly lost by the card company, they would fail to advise that they wanted additional information and so a week would pass until chased etc.

Anyway, I was passed their proposed tariff for comment and was startled by the quote - it was very high. This was particularly so given the entry of firms like Google into the online card processing space with Google Checkout offering no fees in 2007 and 1.5% +15c thereafter.

But it certainly wasn't as bad as the Gower Report on copyright protection suggested was the case for downloaded music.

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Credit squeeze the air from the markets

The markets have been on a a bumpy downward ride in the last few days with London losing 2.7% today alone, a fate shared by most major markets. The news reels have been full of stories of hedge funds being hard hit by the turmoil.

Financial Times today:

BNP Paribas, one of Europe’s biggest banks, blamed a “complete evaporation of liquidity in certain market segments of the US securitisation market” for the temporary decision to stop redemptions from [three of its hedge funds]...

Collapse of demand for some forms of securitised debt made their assets impossible to value, the bank said.

Freezing the funds, which invest in asset-backed securities, was the best way to “protect the interests and ensure the equal treatment of our investors”.

Before making a comment on the markets, let me pause on the really scary thing - hedge funds investors only have liquidity when they don't need it. The moment they want out i.e. redeem their fund holdings, they find the only exit route barred. Why? Because, their only option is to sell back to the manager and when the markets are in free fall, hedge fund managers don't want to add to their problems by being forced to sell assets to fund redemption. So the investor is left to dangle - had they held the underlying investment directly at least they might have been able to liquidate at some price.

That managers are not obliged to keep the fund open for redemptions is plain wrong, when those same managers generally preclude investors from being able to trade their interests with others in a secondary market.

As for the markets, the last few days have created some interesting buying opportunities but it has also put a brake on a number of the forces that have been supporting a bull market eg the ability of private equity firms to borrow to fund their acquisition.

One firm that has been caught in the headlines was Merrill Lynch who liquidated the collateral the held as prime broker to the Bear Stearns hedge funds. By coincidence I was out in London with Lawrence Tosi, Merrill's COO a few days after they intervened and we chatted about where this was headed but neither of us saw the pace of the falls we've seen.

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Spinvox - it's easy when you know how.

Ordinarily I don't republish comments left on my blog posts, but I though this one was sufficiently interesting to highlight it. The original post was here.

Sadly the comment was left anonymously.

Predictive text within the application HUMAN agents use to transcribe all Spinvox messages makes this possible but I believe your 10 seconds is a little off, perhaps 30 seconds is closer to the mark. How do I know this? I used to transcribe Spinvox messages and I am definitely a human.

The application is called Tenzing and it uses predictive text to assist the operator during transcription. It is very clever and appears intuitive but can get things completely wrong occasionally. Messages are transcribed in various countries including India, Ireland and South Africa where the operation is run by the parents of the VP security and compliance for Spinvox, Sean Groenewald.

The amazing thing is for most of these agents, English is not their first or second language but you will note a lot of common English names are transcribed incorrectly whilst Indian names are usually perfect.


Spinvox continues to be a really useful service for me, and I haven't needed to listen to a voicemail in over 6 months as a result, so I am a fan. My only criticism has ever been that they should simply dump the hype about being a tech company, albeit I recognise that will hit their valuation multiple.

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EMI Shareholders vote Terra Firma top of the pops

EMI shareholders back Terra Firma deal with 90.27% of EMI shareholders accepting the offer, thus giving it the green light to purchase the major record label.

I suspect the prospect of Terra Firma walking away because Citigroup might not have agreed to fund an extension to the offer or improved offer must have preyed on some shareholders minds who were fearful that this was the last chance of a decent offer for a while.

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100th Anniversary of the Boy Scout movement

Radio 4's Today programme covered a story this morning about 40,000 Scouts meeting up for a camp in Essex to celebrate 100 years of Baden Powell's formation of the Boy Scouts.

It followed a story on the show about paedophiles attempts to infiltrate children's online networks and how parents need to be vigilant to their children's online activities.

Other than thinking how Scouting is probably one of the relatively few remaining nationally organised children's groups that can provide an alternate outlets for kids to be dragged away from their computers, I also pondered how Baden Powell would have fared in the current climate if he had suggested taking a group of boys away to go camping in the woods, none of whom were his children. i.e. in a climate where Parents are refused permission to take pictures of their children at school events because of who might see them subsequently.

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Concerns that 'in-person' social-networking could corrupt children

As you'll know, it important for investors to keep up with trends in consumer behaviours to inform their investment outlook. Thus, I was intrigued by this story on NewsBiscuit

A controversial new teenage social-networking trend is emerging across the country, causing alarm amongst parents and community leaders. Rather than using the safety of computers or mobile phones to talk to each other, young people have started meeting up in person to chat, listen to music, share photographs and even form relationships.

This dangerous new craze goes under many benign-sounding names including, ‘hooking up,’ ‘hanging out’ and ‘seeing my mates,’ making it difficult for parents to realise that their children are embarking on a risky pastime.

If borne out, this would mark a worrying development for all internet Social Networking sites and could result in dramatic falls in their current valuations. It may well be the reason why Facebook opened up its' community to adults who have lost the ability to have a real social life and hang out at the Amusement Arcade, as well as to developers who have a new reason to stay in coding.

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Africa unites for 'Flood Aid' concert in Somalia


I am indebted to Hawkeye for drawing this to my attention. An inspiring moment that reminds us we are one big community.

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