SunPower (SPWR) Presents at Solar Power 2006 Conference

Some nice information from the Cleantech Blog on the recent Solar Power 2006 conference, specifically on advances made by SunPower on increasing the efficiency of photovoltaic (PV) cells:

SunPower is approaching a 23% efficient PV. This helps it take business from typical 17% efficient PV. Dr. Richard Swanson, CEO, SunPower gave the conference good reason to expect continued high growth. He pointed out that in 1975 solar modules cost $100/watt. By 2002, the cost had fallen to $3 per watt. The industry learning curve of 30 years has been consistent – each time that production doubles, cost drops 81%. Dr. Swanson expects $1.40 per watt by 2013 and 65 cents per watt by 2023.

There is a lot of fascination with green technologies in the Valley right now, but solar really looks like the real deal in terms of technology plays.  The economics are very close to fitting consumer pocketbooks (a 2.5kW single home system costs approx. $15,800 after taxes, and can cut your utility bill by 95%), and they will continue to get dramatically better.  Even more exciting, it looks like a lot of competing technologies are going to be released in the next few years to really drive down the cost, and drive up the efficiency of these systems.

I found this news through Seeking Alpha, but clicking through I found a few really neat blogs on the topic:

This is technology news that is worth getting excited about.

iSale 3.3 Adds Support for eBay Express

I normally don’t highlight every application that supports eBay Express, but I thought this one deserved a note for a few reasons:

  1. iSale is a great eBay listing tool. It has a very intuitive user interface, and they have really gone out of their way to design a beautiful and easy-to-use application.
  2. iSale is built for Mac OS X. One of the most common questions I get at eBay Live every year is about listing tools for the Mac. There are two that I love: iSale and GarageSale. So I love to see great news about either product.
  3. eBay Express integration. eBay built eBay Express to be backwards compatible with As a result, all qualifying eBay sellers & listings will appear on eBay Express with no additional effort. However, iSale has really thought hard about additional features that sellers will want on eBay Express, and they integrated them into their application.

The webpage outlining the new features in version 3.3 is live. In particular, I’m very excited about their support for:

  • All global eBay Express sites: US, Germany, and United Kingdom.
  • The ability to list items that only appear on eBay Express (Germany & UK only)
  • The ability to preview any listing in the eBay Express look & feel.

So, kudos to the equinux team. If you are a Mac user and you sell on eBay, you should definitely check out the new iSale. They offer a free trial where you can use the software free for up to three listings.

Please note, this is my personal blog, so the above post represents my opinion only. It does not represent any official endorsement of this product by my employer, eBay.

Harvard MBA Indicator for Wall Street (HBS)

I caught this article a few days ago in the New York Sun. It came up in one of my Google News searches:

Equities Swing with Harvard MBAs

It’s a fun piece, and it brought me back to my Private Equity class with Prof. Bill Sahlman at Harvard Business School in 2000. One day, Bill shows the entire class these beautiful rising bar charts. It turns out that each of them shows the rise in percentage of HBS graduates at key times in history – Wall Street in the late 1980s, Internet companies in the late 1990s, and in 2000, a rising trend towards Private Equity. The conclusion was obvious – a strong ramp in HBS hiring looked like a pre-cursor to a bust.

The article quotes Ray Soifer, who was HBS Class of 1965. He seems to have tailored the theory exclusively to measuring the ups and downs of Wall Street. Investment Banking always draws a large number of HBS graduates, but for Soifer, the magic number is 30%. When the number of Harvard MBAs destined for banking in a given year crosses that threshold, it’s bearish. Lower, is neutral or bullish.

Interestingly, a little web searching reveals that Mr. Soifer seems to trot out this theory every year, and speaks on it quite a bit. Check out this list of articles on his website. It includes this one from Slate in 2004 that sounds awfully familiar…

My take on the theory is little less dramatic, but more plausible. Harvard MBAs tend to be very intelligent people with excellent credentials. They also tend to be expensive and discerning hires, since most people go to business school to not only learn but also to take their careers to another level. The breadth of the student body introduces them to a wide number of global industries, and provides contacts and insights into most of them. It’s not surprising that the industries that are currently economically flush have more resources to pursue these candidates, and its not totally surprising that when one industry gets too flush, it’s a sign of some sort of bubble.

As part of my searching, I found the Coyote Blog, from another HBS graduate now running a small business in Arizona. He found another version of Soifer’s piece, but used it to describe his take on career paths for HBS graduates:

A more interesting HBS graduate job indicator for me has been “how has the jobs people have evolved since they graduated”. When I graduated, everyone seemed to be investment bankers and consultants. At our fifth year reunion, everyone was posturing as to how successful they had been, how far they had risen, etc. Most people were still in the same type jobs, with only a few outliers who had switched careers already. Our tenth reunion was totally different. At our tenth, no one talked about their job – everyone talked about their kids. The contrast was dramatic. Many people were in different careers, including a number who were testing the dot-com waters.

At the fifteenth reunion, everyone seemed much more relaxed. Job performance stress at from the fifth and family starting stress at the tenth were mostly gone. Many, many people (including me) had their own businesses, and few of these were ones anyone would have predicted; I don’t think anyone was a consultant anymore. Here are a few examples just from our 90-person section of businesses graduates are running now:

My observation – very few were the types of businesses that come recruiting at HBS.

My parting observation about career choices through life comes from Dan Simmons’ great Hyperion series, where the prophet Aenea gives here famously concise advice to humanity:

Choose Again.

Certainly true with careers.


I just got back from my fifth year reunion in June, so this gives me something to think about.

Blogs I Read: Ben Stein

I really love to read Ben Stein. His first burst of fame, as you may know, came from being the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off back in the 1980s. More recently, he hosted a game show for a while (Win Ben Stein’s Money), and he writes regularly for the New York Times on Sunday.

What people may not realize from his typical movie and TV stunts is that Ben Stein is really intelligent. Not just in a book smart kind of way, but in a profoundly intellectual way. As an actor, writer, economist and lawyer, he seems to have internalized not just the facts and theories of several different fields, but also how they fit together. I find his writing style compellingly simple, and yet rich and articulate.

More recently, Ben has become more proactive with writing articles to help guide people with their own financial lives. Here is an article he wrote in 2005 on saving for retirement:

The Early Bird Gets the Next Egg

An example passage, which I think demonstrates both his easy way with numbers and his compelling presentation of basic financial facts:

If you start at 25 with six months’ salary saved, you need only save 3 percent of your total, pre-tax salary per year to get the nest egg you need (roughly 15 times earnings at retirement) by age 65. But if you start at age 45, you need to save 18 percent of your salary (again, assuming you start out with six months’ of salary saved). If you start at age 50, you need to save 28 percent of your salary. And if you start at age 55, you need to save nearly 50 percent of your gross salary to get where you need to be.

In other words, if you start with a sensible plan at a young age, you can get to your savings goal without breaking a sweat. If you wait until you are middle aged, it takes some serious doing. If you wait until you are a silver fox, you’re required to do some heavy lifting indeed. If you assume the stock market has passed its glory days, you need to save even more.

I’ve found two great resources now for Ben Stein fans:

  1. He has a website. It’s worth bookmarking.
  2. He has an RSS feed. It’s worth subscribing to.

I’m going to be writing a follow up post on one of my favorite pieces by Ben Stein, clipped from the New York Times last year. I’m having trouble finding an online copy, so I may have to type up the whole thing. In the meantime, check out his RSS feed. It’s so exciting to me to find out that some of my favorite columnists and authors have their own feeds – it’s something I just wasn’t finding somehow before I started blogging myself.

How to Rebuild Your iPhoto Library (iLife ’06)

This is more of a quick tip, just in case you start having the same problem that I did.

I made a mistake recently where I pulled out my compact flash card before the iPhoto import was complete. Instead of handling this gracefully, I ended up with a bunch of images in iPhoto where the thumbnails don’t display. Instead, I get a bunch of white boxes with grey dashed-line borders.

Searching the web, I found out that other people who had this problem were able to solve it by rebuilding their iPhoto Library. Unfortunately, Apple changed the super-secret command key combination to do this between iPhoto 4 and iPhoto 5, and there is no help documentation on it.

Still, for those who are curious, here is the answer:

iPhoto 4: When launching iPhoto, hold down the Shift and Option keys.

iPhoto 5 & 6: When launching iPhoto, hold down the Option & Command keys.

Interestingly enough, if you hold down Shift & Option keys at launch, you can tell iPhoto 6 to use a different library folder… pretty nifty if you wanted to maintain different libraries for some reason.

Here is the web page where I finally found the answer. Looks like this guy wrote a clever “iPhoto Extractor” application based on his experiences with this problem.