Thursday, September 11, 2008

PC Trial Software: "To Free or Not To Free?"

Best Buy's decision to provide a service to remove "free-trial" software from computers must have been a wake-up call to PC manufacturers. On the one hand, I applaud the move as a consumer. It bugs the hell out of me everytime my computer at home tells me that I'm unprotected and I must purchase McAfee software or else.

On the other hand, as a software publisher, I dream of seeing our software preloaded on PC desktops. All of them. Every single one. All over the world. I understand why the manufacturers need to do it -- with notebooks costing $500 these days and desktops half that . One Toshiba product manager confided to me, "Software is how we make our money." I like the approach of Grant Shenk, Worldwide Software Marketing Manager for Lenovo who told me he wants to provide software that is not annoying, that is not a trial, and that provides real value to Lenovo customers to enhance their experience owning a Lenovo computer. That makes sense to me. Another approach that makes sense is to provide consumers an opportunity to try various software programs by visiting the website of the PC maker who supplied it. In this scenario, the customer is making the decision to browse for software to become more productive -- or simply to have fun -- while the manufacturers and software publishers share the revenues from sales. That's a win-win for everyone.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Evangelizing Business Graphics in Asia-Pacific

On a five nation Asia-Pacific swing in July I met with resellers of SmartDraw’s visual communications software. I found a receptive message to “thinking straight”, “working smarter”, “better presentations”, “raising the level of education” and “making money” at each destination. At this stage in SmartDraw’s development the company doesn’t have an overseas office [yet]. So, we’re working with partners, distributors and resellers to get the message out. Highlights:

ChinaCogito Solutions of Hong Kong & Beijing was founded 10 years ago by Jimmy Wong. His youth will give him the energy required to introduce a growing brand to Hong Kong and the explosive China market. Because his company is relatively small, he can provide focus. Cogito distributes SmartDraw through Jardine’s , PCCW, Microware and other channels. (Excitement for the Olympics was building, the Peeking Duck is still delicious and watching the noodle makers spin and weave noodles by hand is hypnotizing.)

Singapore – SmartDraw has been represented for years in Singapore by Infoland, who’s Marketing Director Mee-Leng Poon has introduced SmartDraw to schools. Interestingly, she’s found that SmartDraw can be used as an authoring tool for kids to make fun presentations. For the business market, we began working recently with Efektif, who has already succeeded in introducing SmartDraw to the United Overseas Bank (UOB). Efektif has been a value added reseller of various business graphics solutions for years, such as project scheduling software, and mind map solutions. (We had time after our meetings to sample the famous pepper crab.)

Malaysia – Our distributor Nadi-Ayu Technologies observed a problem in Malaysia’s schools: Many teachers had computers, but weren’t using them. Nadi-Ayu wondered what would happen if teachers had better software? So, they did an experiment with a group of instructors giving them SmartDraw. Their conclusion: teachers with SmartDraw used their computers more. The Ministry of Education agreed with these findings, and awarded Nadi-Ayu different projects to supply more than 30,000 licenses of SmartDraw to instructors and computer labs. During a 5-day visit we met several government ministries in Putrajaya, the new capital area of Malaysia, and also universities. (Awaking each morning to the calls of prayers from a nearby mosque, we had one free moment to sample a Durian, the fruit that scared participants on the TV show “Fear Factor” with its sensuous bouquet.)

Australia – My arrival coincided with the Pope’s visit to Sydney. Dodging the PopeMobile and the PopeBoat I visited SoftwareTime located in a quaint area of Sydney. Software Time has a strong education focus, and manager Chris Marlow expressed interest reselling SmartDraw if we could get the margins right (I assured him we could). Next there was a meeting with Aquion – a distributor, with strong ties to resellers like Insight. Insight is a large reseller to corporate customers – but we need “order makers” not “order takers.” Fitting the “order maker” profile is a reseller called MindSystems of Melbourne, an experienced marketer of business graphics software, who sees an excellent fit with SmartDraw in combination with its other productivity software offerings. Melbourne is also the home of City Software, a traditional software seller who has been offering SmartDraw for a couple of years already, and whose SmartDraw sales have been expanding in line with our world-wide growth. I was impressed with the offices and strategy of Edsoft, which has an education focus. (One of the main features of the office is a glass meeting room with an artistic rendering of the company’s roadmap in vibrant colors on the clear wall. The company is located near a former artist colony – and the influence is apparent.) However, because Edsoft has requested exclusive rights to be the sole reseller for SmartDraw, it is not likely we will be doing business with them at this time. (MindSystems located not far from a vineyard, so after lunch which included Australia’s great oysters, we were able to grab a taste of Melbourne.)

New Zealand: Cold, rainy, at the height of winter ….Met with James Taylor of Metro Business Software, a long-time business partner whose SmartDraw sales have been rising the past two years. I also met with Patrick Baker of Mindlogik, who is in the business of consulting, training and “business mapping”. Patrick sees SmartDraw fitting in beautifully with the consulting services he and his partners offer to New Zealand companies. (James suggested we have lunch on scenic Waiheke Island, just a short ferry ride from Auckland. NZ is not just about “All Blacks” and whites: try the red wine!)

Conclusion: I'm bullish on the growth prospects of "business graphics" and visual communications in Asia-Pacific and throughout the world.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Business: Melbourne Style

For the first time in my 27 years of international business, I spent $400 on taxi fares rushing to meetings in Sydney and Melbourne over a two day sprint.

I escaped the political demonstrations in Malaysia to find a jubilee of traffic jams in Sydney: the Pope had arrived.
At my first meeting in Sydney, I'm greeted by a Jack Russel Terrier mix, who grabs the most expensive tie I own and starts pulling. (In Texas, they'd just cut it off with scissors -- here, they send in the dogs.) I left with the order.
After a morning meeting Saturday with our new reseller in Melbourne, MindSystems, we head to a restaurant to feast on fresh oysters, lamb brains, raw steak tartar and “wagu” Kobe beef at the Wine Room in St. Kilda. Then, it's off to the wine country on Mornington Peninsula, town of Mt. Eliza. We follow the coastal road – Melbourne is situated at the back of a very large bay. We pass Canary Island Date Palms and Protea “bottle brush” trees that rise as tall as 4 story buildings.

MindSystems is a true "order maker" and a true value added reseller of business graphics software solutions. They have the formula. I'm looking forward to working with them.

First stop is Morningstar Estate – picture perfect for weddings. We pull into the driveway where grazing sheep catch my eye. This is what we need at the Blue-Merle Vineyard for weed control and dog control. (Our shepherd needs something to do – so not only would a pair of sheep keep Bluey occupied, they keep the weeds down and don’t eat the vines.)

The winery has a tasting room, restaurant and hotel , and I’m thinking this is the place to stay on my next trip to Melbourne. Especially since MindSystems is located just down the road. From the terrace, you catch glimpses of the bay. My first thought: mildew.
“I don’t like red wines,” says our pourer, a young man of 23 years.
“How’s the mildew around here?”
“I’ve never heard of a problem.” Yeah, right.
The pinot is drinkable. The cabernet-merlot blend is not. According to Derek Barton, author of “Australia’s Best Wine Tours” which I purchased from one of the many book stores in St. Kilda, the peninsula is known for good pinots. We head outside to the vineyard. I’m struck by two things: the way end posts are supported (see picture), and the pruning. The end posts are not put in at angles; rather, they are straight, given extra support by another end post placed at the top. (See the picture.) The pruning method is to prune back to a single shoot, which stretches across the cordon wire. This is to control vegetative growth in this challenging microclimate (surrounded by water).

Whereas Morningstar Estate is a beautiful castle, our next stop across the road is a bohemian hole in wall with attitude, the Under Ground, where the yard is littered with barrels and the grounds could use a good cleaning. This is the place to have fun and to talk with the winemaker who describes in great detail the challenges of mildew and the pruning techniques. I notice they are using the breathable, oxygen permeable plastic drums, which are reputed to allow wine to age with a slow oxidation process similar to barrel aging. The winemaker concurs with the assessment and gives me the name of the Flextank supplier.

We enjoy sampling the sweet muscat wines, and I am especially keen on trying the Duriff, which they have named “Dr. Duriff.” We know this back home as Petite Syrah (no, it is NOT petite shiraz, mate), which is a thick, dark, chewy, big wine – of which we have a barrel full back at the Blue-Merle vineyard, maturing nicely. Dr. Duriff does not disappoint, and I purchase a bottle to bring back to the artisans of Blue-Merle Country. Next stop, New Zealand.

When you go:
Place to stay: Novotel, St. Kilda. Located about 5 miles or so from the Melbourne City Center, along the bay. Jog along the beach in the morning. Enjoy breakfast and a “flat white” coffe at the racer’s café (where all the cyclists hang out).

Lunch or Dinner: Melbourne Wine Room The George. 125 Fitzroy St., St. Kilda. Tel: (03) 9525-5599. Reservations recommended. Everything delicious. Ask the waiter what’s good the day you go.

Morning Coffee: Racer’s Café, St. Kilda

Sails on the Bay. Restaurant. Despite being located right on the beach with a bay view, the food is good. 15 Elwood Foreshore, Elwood, Victoria.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Intoxicating Durian: The Majestic Fruit That Kills

(July, 2008 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) -- Durian is the King of Fruits. This is the football sized “spike” fruit of Asia, found in markets from Bangkok to Jakarta. Its bouquet is so powerful the fruit is banned from airlines and hotels in Singapore and KL. It was used as an obstacle on the TV show “Fear Factor” – the smell scared away the participants.

Ah, but the taste. If you get past the smell, you’ve got it licked.
The first time I tried it in 1993 I wasn’t so sure. We had met for happy hour at the Raffles Hotel Long Bar in Singapore, and after downing a yard of beer, I was taken to the nearby “hawker stall” for delicacies of sting ray and the fruit of fruits.
“Don’t eat Durian after drinking beer,” Ricky warned.
“I can’t take too much,” said Angeline, a Singaporean. “It’s too ‘heat-y’,” that is, it caused her body temperature to rise. After eating it, she would need to eat something “cool” – like watermelon-- to keep her system in balance.

We walked by the stalls inspecting the spiky fruit, inserting a nose here and there into the cracks, as if discerning a fine wine, to find one perfectly ripe. I did my duty as the honored guest taking a few bites, the last one with some difficulty. That was enough. The next day when we met to discuss strategies for increasing sales of desktop projectors in the region, I was moving a little slow. Was it the tail of the sting ray or the beast of fruits?

That evening, the talk turned to Durian. Ashok recalled driving up to Malaysia and coming to a market where the fruit was on sale. He loaded up on it, stuffing the trunk of his Mercedes. To this day, the smell lingers. Then, they told me how it is forbidden to bring into hotels (if it gets into the ventilation system, the hotel might need to be evacuated, and the odor might linger for days, if not years). It seems that not everyone in Singapore appreciates Durian. (Well, even half the population of Japan dislikes “natoe” – the “rotten” soybean dish, which is really good for you and prevents blood clots.) Better informed about this fruit, I became intrigued and told myself that I’d give it another try, someday. I soon had my chance the next week at a market in Malaysia (the country reputed to have the best Durian – at least according to Malaysians) – when I suggested to my host, “Let’s eat Durian!” He was surprised to hear that from a Westerner and undoubtedly pleased. He got some of the fruit, warned me not to drink beer with it, and I dove right in. This time, there was no turning back. I had become a Durian addict.

“The Wild West” are three words I use to describe Indonesia in the 1990s. Here’s one reason why. After dinner one evening, I suggested to my hosts, “ Let’s get some Durian. They thought that was a grand idea. We gorged ourselves, but couldn’t finish it all. (The taste is very rich, and a little goes a long way.) Too expensive, and too good to throw out, they offered me a doggie bag to take back to the hotel. “I can’t take this into the hotel,” I protested. “It’s banned. They’ll knock on the door, and throw me out of the hotel .”
“You’re correct,” Julius said, in that wild-west way of talking he had. “They will come knocking on your door, and they will tell you, ‘Please, give me some of your Durian!’” he concluded with a laugh and his Cheshire cat’s mischievous smile. He insisted all Indonesians love durian. Encouraged by my hosts, I brought the doggie-bag back to my room in the Hotel Intercontinental and put it in the refrigerator. I had a bite the following day, and left the reminder in the fridge when I checked out. (I can only surmise what was done with that fridge.) I imagined the ultimate pick up line had I been single: “Would you like to come up to my room and eat some Durian?” Now who could have refused that?

In later years, I’ve had my fun with Durian, introducing it to friends and family. “What’s this shit?” asked my Oklahoma cousin when I purchased some at a local Vietnamese market in OK City. When my friend Suki – who has spent a lot of time in India -- invited us and a group of his friends to his home in San Diego for a tandori chicken cookout a few years back, I brought Durian for desert. He’s still my friend – we play golf together -- but I wonder why he hasn’t invited us back for dinner? I’ve pondered bringing it into the office April Fool’s Day, but hesitate when remembering the reaction that ensued when one of the Asian gals in the office cooked some “tsurume” in the microwave. The fumes rose to the vent and reached me at the other end of the building triggering fond memories of eating the dried squid —heated by a match or butane lighter – with beer in our dormitory in Japan. I decided to join the feast, but couldn’t reach the kitchen because of the exodus of staff gagging at the smell, which they found disgusting. Since something as innocuous as dried squid has been banned from our company, what would happen if I gave Durian to my boss? (Since I like my job, we’ll hold this idea until I close my next million dollar deal.)

Fast forward to July, 2008 … it’s my birthday week and I’m in Malaysia and I’ve decided to treat myself to a present. Something I haven’t experienced in years and sorely miss. As someone once said, what happens in Malaysia stays there. I’m going to find the best one money can buy. But before that, a round of golf.
It’s a par 5-hole, and I’m in a bit of rough on the right hand side after my drive. Not a problem. I pull out a 5-wood, and hit it perfectly. The ball is sailing down the course but inexplicably drifts into a forest. I walk among the trees I don’t recognize but notice the sword of Damocles above my head: A durian fruit. Durian is so powerful, its magnetic force has pulled my ball into the woods. Says my friend Mohamed, “It’s the curse of the Durian tree.” I look for a fallen Durian, find one, pick it up, and to my amazement, the ball is not inside . “Major,” I call out – he was an officer in the army -- after finding my ball some 250 yards from where I last struck it, “Let’s crack open one of these and eat it.”
“You like Durian?!” he asked in disbelief. “The best Durian is in Malaysia. You’re lucky. It’s the season. You need to try D24. It’s the best,” and he proceeds to tell me about all the varieties of Durian. After the golf game, we pass by a fruit stand. Stepping out of the car, I’m struck by the pungent fragrance which scared off the challengers in “Fear Factor”. As we sniff different fruits deciding which one to purchase, it all just smells delicious.
Durian is the king of fruits,” Mohamed says.
“What’s the queen of fruits?”
“I don’t know.”
Normally, two small wedges of the fruit are enough for me – it really is filling. But Mohamed has bought us each our own fruit the size of a football. The first one called a “fox” Durian – it’s delicious, and I understand why foxes love it. Next, we open up a D24, which I find even sweeter. I’m so full, that I won’t need dinner. Warns Mohamed, “Don’t go out and drink any beer tonight.”
“What would happen?”
“The Durian causes gasses to mass in your stomach, and when it mixes with beer, it will make you sick. I knew a guy who drank beer with Durian – he ended up in the hospital.” He also told me that people with heart conditions and diabetes will get sick – and could die-- if they eat it.
We’re giddy now, high on Durian, telling jokes about the consequences of burping after eating Durian. This is fifth grade humor, and we’re in an uproar. “Craig, the Durian has made you drunk!” cries Nadira, our hostess.
“There’s death to drug traffickers in Malaysia,” I recall. “Why isn’t this banned?” Who needs alcohol in this country? Durian is intoxicating.
Nadira , if I had eaten Durian before going into the club last night, would all of the ladies have come up to me to lick my lips?”
“I’m sure, but just don’t burp on them or they will run away. The smell of Durian from your stomach mixed with ‘nasi lemok’ is horrible,” she giggles.
We approach a roadblock on the highway back to KL. Police are on the lookout for trouble makers, as there are planned demonstrations against the government. I roll down my window, as if to burp in the officer’s face, which puts us in stitches.
We’re on the road again and it seems that Mohamed just can’t avoid the pot holes, which is setting my stomach ajar, and I’m concerned about a very voluminous, liquid “burp” with horrible consequences that could strip the paint off of his Acura. We each roll down our window – with more giggles – at the next bump in the road.
I get back to the hotel past 10pm and there is a message from earlier in the day. “Craig, it’s Iris. Give me call, and I’ll take you to the Durian market.” Iris is another one of our resellers in Malaysia, of Chinese descent. She looks like the actress Michele Yeoh and sells like a fireball. It’s too late to call her, so I send her an e-mail, proudly stating that I am now an aficionado who has sampled D24, the king of the kings.
She writes back: “Yep, that is a good grade of durian. Great to hear that you had finally tasted the Malaysian grade Durians. Well, my choice is not D-24 (too commercialize), I prefer the unknown grade. Besides D-24, there is XO, D2, D101, Red Shell, etc. But to get a good taste pls. visit Chinese Durian sellers….”

Monday, July 7, 2008

Malaysia: "Fascinating Destination" Continues Strong Investment in Education

My first visit to Malaysia was in January 1986 while en route to Japan to pursue graduate studies. Until then, I had travelled extensively in Europe, and was something of a “professional Eurrailer” – having made numerous trips from Paris to Helsinki. Something I enjoyed, with friends in most major cities along the way. My reaction to setting foot in Malaysia: “This is really interesting.” The sights. The food. The people. The hawker stalls. The durian. It was at that point I made the transition to Asia-Pacific guy.

My second visit to Malaysia was in 1993 – on a mission to understand distribution opportunities for desktop projectors. I met with professional audio-visual and computer resellers. My hosts told me about the Malaysia 2020 project – the country’s ambitious national goal to significantly raise the level of its population through technology. This was a positive development for information technology suppliers.

I took time to meet with my uncle – a former Yale professor who had written books on computer programming languages – who was teaching in Malaysia. His role: to prepare Malaysian students for studying abroad.

From 1993 – 1998 I had many occasions to visit Malaysia to support the activities of our resellers – and to enjoy the pungent Durian fruit, the spicy chili crab, and even to enjoy the “break fast” during Ramadan. The Ministry of Tourism ran a campaign for Visit Malaysia Year calling the country “Your Fascinating Destination.” I would agree with that moniker.

Ten years have passed since my last trip to Malaysia, but the country’s investment in technology to improve skills and knowledge of its students continues. This time, the Ministry of Education has selected SmartDraw’s business graphics software for use in classrooms throughout the country as part of its PPSMI Project (Phase 4). SmartDraw will be used to support a program to improve learning of math and science in English. It’s hoped that because many of the teachers already have computers, that SmartDraw software will encourage them to actually use their computers more. I’ll have an opportunity during the next week to meet with Ministry officials, schools, technology integrators and our OEM partners (Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo & Acer are preloading SmartDraw on their computers at the Ministry’s request) to discuss implementation, training and other issues and to learn about “fascinating uses” of business graphics software in the classroom.

(Disclosure: Craig Justice is Director, Worldwide Reseller Sales & Business Development for SmartDraw.Com Click here to read the press release about the Malaysian Ministry of Education’s investment in SmartDraw’s software.)

Caution: Pan Asia-Pacific Airline Ticket Troubles Humble Veteran Traveler

I just purchased my first pan-Asia airline ticket since 9-11. Things have changed. And not just the price. My itinerary: San Diego, LAX, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland back to the US. Another difference this time – I had to do the booking myself, without the services of a travel agent. As a legacy flyer (over 1-million miles) on a legacy airline (United), I tried to book my itinerary on United and its partner airlines, figuring if I ran into trouble, they’d be more likely to help. Here are the road-blocks, obstacles and surprises I ran into:
1) Couldn’t book it on-line. It was all going smoothly on line, until I tried booking the segment from Sydney to Melbourne. This should have been easy, because there are over a dozen daily flights. United kept wanting to send me back to Singapore, to fly from Sydney to Melbourne. (At this point, I called United ticketing).
2) Through Singapore Airlines, United offered a flight leaving KL with a change of planes in Singapore for Sydney. Issue: sold out in economy class. When I asked how much that segment cost flying business, I was told that I would be required to book the whole itinerary in business (which was out of the question). I asked about direct flights on Malaysia airlines – perfect, a direct flight, less hassle, gets me to Sydney early in the morning for a full day of work. Booked it.
3) United no longer has a partner airline in Australia, so the United agent suggested I take Virgin airlines. “I often book people on Virgin,” she said – recommending the airline. OK, book me.
4) The agent quoted a price of $4,500 before taxes. I said that was fine. She said she needed to send it to the rate desk for final pricing. This was on Tuesday. I was given a deadline of issuing the ticket Sunday midnight.
5) By close of business on Friday, I hadn’t heard from the rate desk. I called United to purchase the ticket. They said it’s still at the rate desk. They say they’ll call back. I give them my mobile.
6) They call on Saturday. The price, $7,500. At this point, I’m stuck, because the consolidators I know aren’t working Saturday afternoon …
7) On Sunday (a week ago) – I purchase the ticket. In fact, they do it as 3 tickets. 2 United tickets (one covering the domestic flights, the other the international flights) and the Malaysian air flight. The United tickets are e-tickets. They will issue a “paper ticket” for Malaysia airlines. They tell me they will Fed Ex it, and it will arrive Tuesday, July 1st. Fine.
8) On Weds. Morning the ticket has not arrived so I call. “Do you have a tracking number?” I asked. “We mailed it.” Hmmm, I’m skeptical it will arrive in time. “Don’t worry … just go to the airport three hours before departure, and you can file a “lost ticket” claim and have the ticket reissued. (By the way, when I reviewed my Amex bill, I saw three charges of $25/each for “mail ticket.”)
9) Saturday afternoon, check the mail box. No ticket.
10) San Diego commuter airport, Sunday morning. “We can’t issue the ticket – but you can do it in Los Angeles when you get there.”
11) When I arrive in LAX, I go to customer service, wait ½ hour in line. “We can’t issue it here … you need to go to ticketing outside security, but you don’t have time. When you arrive in Hong Kong, go to the ticketing desk there and get it done” – don’t these people realize business travelers have appointments to dash to when arriving?
12) Captain can’t make the flight; a 2.5 hour delay is announced, so another captain can be brought in. Alright, enough time to get the ticket (I assume). I go to the Red Carpet Club to see if anyone there has the “magic powers” to do this ticket. (At United 10-years ago, the people in the 100K flyer lounge had the magic powers at LAX.) No, but he recommends I go to terminal 6 – one terminal over, because they have a 100K line, and I’ll get better service there.
13) Arrive at the 100K desk. They are polite, but can’t do a thing. I need to go back to terminal 7 and find “Line 7” which is for “paper ticketing” and lost tickets. They tell me there’s a person there who can help me. This is a slow moving line. Fortunately, I have a thick book: Texas by James Michener, and I have nothing better to do than read while waiting 45 minutes in line. As advertised, this is “the man” (actually a woman). And, the ticket is issued in about 10 minutes as she does research, makes phone calls and punches keys. I give her a United “attaboy” coupon for excellent service. “By the way, how about that ticket from Sydney to Melbourne?” I ask. “Is that a paper ticket also?” She responds, “There is no ticket. You have to go and buy that yourself.” And, in one of the positive changes the last 10 years, I pull out my computer, log into the wireless network, go to Yahoo travel, and book an e-ticket on QANTAS (adding another $210 to the total cost of air travel).
14) In summary, the people who did the original ticketing at United’s international desk:
a. Didn’t say the Malaysian airlines ticket needed to be purchased separately.
b. On two occasions, never mentioned that the ticket in Australia needed to be purchased separately.
c) Sent part of the ticket via "snail mail" instead of FedEx, which didn't arrive before my departure.

Travelers beware!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Implementation of TI's DLP Technology By AVIO Said To Be Best Ever

I remember the first DLP projectors manufactured in 1995. They were huge clunkers, and I doubt any of them are still working today.

Times have changed. You probably even know what DLP stands for. That's not the way it started.

I had lunch yesterday with my old friend Yukinori Kimura, International Sales Manager for Nippon Avionics, a company I first met in 1994. He was fresh from INFOCOMM, the annual trade show and convention for projector manufacturers and the display industry, where he had met with Texas Instruments executives and showed them the new AVIO iP-40SE projector.

"The best implementation of DLP technology for business users," said the TI executive. I wouldn't disagree. What AVIO has done is taken the best TI has to offer (6-color processing) and made a projector with a high resolution "document camera" inside. Then, they added a high-quality Carl Zeiss lens and a slot for an IC card, which means with one device, a presenter can do all of the following:

* make a PowerPoint presentation
* show live images of papers, documents, 3-D solid objects

And, by hooking up a DVD player, you can project videos, movies, etc. All from one unit.


Not quite sure how the AVIO iP-40 works? Since seeing is believing, click here to check out this video on You Tube showing how the iP-40 works.

Here's the official press release:

(July 7, 2008) San Diego -- Alliance International, distributor and authorized service center for Nippon Avionics AVIO projectors, has introduced a new AVIO projector with built-in camera, Carl Zeiss optics and a built-in SD card slot that is portable. The iP-40SE at 11 lbs. is half the height of previous AVIO models, allowing it to be easily carried to remote locations to project live images of documents, 3-D solid objects, computer presentations and video from one projection device.

The main benefits of the iP-40SE are:
** Improved optics, with the Carl Zeiss fish eye lens, so that images appear more clear.
** IC card, so that PowerPoint presentations and other images can be shown without a computer.
**Increased portability, because of the size reduction, less weight (weighs only 11 lbs.) and all-in-one design.
**Quicker set up time and less clutter, because the camera is built-in; there is no need to set up a separate document camera and connect it to the projector.
**Ease of showing documents and 3-D solid objects; just lay them on the flat platen, as you would a photocopy machine or scanner.
**Clear image even when showing full page documents because of the high-resolution CCD camera built-in with over 4-million pixels.
**Improved viewing in brighter rooms, because brightness has been increased from 2,000 to 2,500 lumens.
**Improved video image, by utilizing DLP's latest 6-color wheel processing technology.
**Easy to save images and annotate over images, using the built in image capture and electronic whiteboard annotation features.

Unlike other projectors with an optional camera arm or using a traditional document camera or flex camera which is a separate device, the AVIO iP-40 projector has a camera built-inside, allowing users to easily place documents and 3-D objects on a glass platen incorporated into the images tops. The AVIO iP-30SE projector offers users convenience, because they can project clear images of full-size documents and 3-D objects without having to set up and use a separate document camera. And, the camera lighting is built inside, so you don't need to depend on their being light in the room to show objects.

Showing documents and 3-D objects is as easy as using a traditional overhead projector (OHP) or a photo-copy machine -- just place the document on the glass platen and the image appears.Nippon Avionics, based in Japan, has been producing LCD projectors with cameras built in since 1995. In the past, the projectors have been bulky, with a depth of 12 inches, or more. The AVIO iP-40SE is shipping, and available to government customers on the GSA contract through Tierney Brothers, to education customers through CamCor or available on-line at The price is $4,995. Click here to see the You Tube video of the AVIO iP-40.

Adopters of the AVIO's technology have been attorneys, who use the projector in the office for client presentations and internal meetings, and easily bring it to a courtroom for presenting evidence. Other AVIO projector adopters have included schools, colleges and large manufacturing companies who use the projectors for training.

About Alliance International:Alliance International Trade & Investment Group, Inc. was founded in 1997 as a wholesales distributor and international trade consultant to the professional audio visual, telecommunications, computer and software industries. The company's long-term clients have included JABRA Corporation (hands free Earsets), InFocus (projectors), PolyVision (electronic whiteboards), Yokogawa (document cameras), and Media Go Engineering (Digital Class electromagnetic LCD monitor with annotation software). In 2004, Alliance was appointed U.S. distributor for Nippon Avionics AVIO projectors with built in camera, and completed service center training in October, 2007.ALLIANCE INTERNATIONAL Trade & Investment Group, Inc. San Diego, California, USA Tel: (858) 558-2030 Fax: (858) 558-2031 Corporate Website: E-store: E-mail:

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Target Seattle" Revisited: 25th Anniversary of Seattle Petitioning Sister City Tashkent in the USSR For Peace

In March 1983 a group from Seattle travelled to the Soviet Union carrying 5,000 petitions with over 42,000 signatures calling for residents of Seattle and its sister city Tashkent to work together to prevent nuclear war. The petition and the trip were offspring of a city-wide teach-in called "Target Seattle" the year before, which brought together U.S. government officials, scholars, experts, clergy and citizens for a week long series of seminars on US – Soviet relations. Although critics complained speakers represented the liberal left, I remember attending sessions that included strong conservative speakers, such as the leading negotiator for the strategic arms limitation agreements, Undersecretary of State Richard Burt, Jeanne Kilpatrick (UN representative of the Reagan Administration) balanced by those who represented the views of "The Peace Movement." Moreover, one gentleman spoke about the benefits of a space based missile defense system, which President Reagan announced in detail to the general public while the Seattle group was in the USSR (much to the surprise of the group as their Soviet guests asked them to comment on the subject!)

A 25th anniversary gives an excuse to pause and reflect on the trip. Was it naïve? What good, if any, came out of it? And most importantly, what has become of the participants? It’s also an excuse to search through the garage and dust off the slides taken by Marlowe Boyer, son of a National Geographic photographer, who learned the art of photography from his father and documented the trip with outstanding photographs. (The photos in the attached article are his; I will post some of Marlowe’s work soon.)

Let’s first revisit those times, starting in 1980. Jimmy Carter is President. The era is referred to as "détente" as the US – USSR hold discussions on limiting nuclear arms production through the SALT (strategic arms limitation treaty) process and cooperation in other fields through CSCE (Committee For Security and Cooperation in Europe). On the other hand, the Soviet Union has recently invaded Afghanistan; moreover, as a provocation to NATO (which at that time was just 15 nations) the USSR has modernized its mid-range nuclear missiles in Europe with SS-20 rockets, which are capable of reaching any European capital. As a response to the Soviet threat, NATO makes the decision to upgrade its medium range missiles as a deterrent to the Soviet threat. The Atlantic Alliance takes a strong, unified position and will not be divided. Some of the citizenry within NATO’s membership, however, have different ideas. In the summer of 1980 in Copenhagen, students – numbered in the thousands, but not a multitude -- gather to begin a peaceful protest march to Paris against the missile modernization. (Of course, there are no demonstrations inside the Iron Curtain). The "Green" Party – supporting environmental issues and peace through non-violent civil disobedience -- are on the rise in Germany, and will soon clear a 5% hurdle in the polls to gain recognition in parliament as an official political party. Ronald Reagan is elected President, dousing fuel on the fires being stirred by the European left. His words against the "Evil Empire" raise concerns among Europeans who fear becoming a battlefield in a so-called "limited nuclear war" between the US and the Soviet Union. On October 10, 1981, a coalition of over 300,000 students, trade unionists, Greens, pacifists and concerned citizens take to the streets in Bonn (the West German capital) in peaceful protest. The "silent majority" in Europe does what it does best – remains silent, as the activists gain attention and make waves. There are stirrings of a similar nature in the US: the old anti-Vietnam War protesters and coalitions awaken as Reagan’s rhetoric generates concerns about a nuclear holocaust. Even Petra Kelly – one of the spokespersons for the German Green Party (whose father was an American soldier) travels to Los Angeles to address a rock concert for "peace" held at the Rose Bowl. (From my observation, the main draw to that event was seeing the likes of Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan and other stars appear on stage in the spring sunshine of 1982).

In August, 1982 the USS Ohio – the first Trident Class Submarine—makes its maiden home port call to Bremerton, WA – across Puget Sound from Seattle -- with enough fire power, it is claimed, to destroy the world. It is another lightning rod in the debate on how best to keep the peace (through how much strength?) , and becomes a focal point for the Seattle "Peace Movement." In Seattle, a group of citizens from over 60 organizations including the church activists, the media, civic groups, non-governmental organizations and academia decide to put on a community symposium – coordinated by the Metropolitan YMCA in Sept. – Oct. called "Target Seattle" to better inform the public about US Soviet history, foreign relations, Russian culture and to study the consequences of Nuclear War. Seattle had sister city ties with Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, located in Central Asia (which is now in the news as one of the fronts against the "war on terror" and dealing with Afghani drug lords). One of the topics addressed by Target Seattle is "what can you as a citizen do?" One group comes up with the idea of the petition. Over 30,000 signatures are collected. Permission is given to bring the petitions to Tashkent, with stops in Moscow and Samarkand on the way, and a final stop in Leningrad before leaving.

One’s opinion of the trip to the USSR at that time depended largely on one’s ideological frame of reference. For those with a hard-line view, the trip was seen as no good and could only serve Soviet propaganda efforts. The Seattle FBI certainly took interest in it. For those going –no one was naïve nor expected political breakthroughs-- it was an opportunity to further educate oneself , and to try and foster more dialog between people. This delegation included "the good earth" of Seattle citizenry. It was not a "political" delegation headed by the mayor and full of politicians on a political junket, although the delegation included the wife of a future Congressman (Virginia McDermott). It represented an eclectic mix of Seattle citizenry, including: the director of the municipal league (Kay Bullitt), a school teacher (Linda Straley), a cancer doctor (Hugh Straley), a travel agent, a university professor & Rhodes Scholar and his family (Aldon, Elisabeth and Ruth Bell), a graduate college student (Mary Reichert, who had majored in Russian and was the group’s unofficial interpreter and "secret weapon" – who could sing folk songs in Russian and recite verses from Pushkin and disarm any Soviet official with her charm), a pediatrician (Rosh Doan), an agronomist (Roy Wiebe), a photographer (Marlowe Boyer), a Minister who served as Pacific Northwest Regional Director of the Congregational Church (James Halfaker) and his son (Jon), an engineer (Paul Cooke), an insurance salesman (Nick Licata) and others, including a journalist (Craig Justice).

My career would take me away from Seattle to Japan and working with Asia Pacific countries before settling of all places in California (a land loathed by Seattleites at the time). One regret in my life is losing touch with this group. With the power of e-mail and blogs, let’s see if this post will flush out and bring back others who were on this trip, so that memories and lessons learned may be shared.

Since the break-up of the Soviet Empire, the corruption Uzbekistan’s rulers has come to light. One wonders that the hell was really going on in that country when we visited 25 years ago and ate caviar, downed vodka toasts and dined on lamb pilaf with our hosts?

How about the religious leader, the "grand mufti" the Amim Hatib whom we met outside of Samarkand? I remember him speaking about the importance of peace to his faith… what has happened to him and his madrassa since the fall of communism and the right to practice Islam openly?

How about the InTourist guide Vladimir who accompanied us? What became of him?

When the butterfly flaps its wings in Seattle the wind stirs in Beijing. Did this peace voyage prevent a nuclear war? Of course not. Did a group of citizens better educate themselves? Absolutely! Did they become better citizens of the world for it? Let’s find out.

In November after the trip, many in the group helped organize a 9-day series of lectures, workshops and drama called "Target Seattle: Soviet Realities." The focus this time was on the Soviet Union, and included 22 well-informed speakers represnting different views who debated the Soviet military threat, US policy options, negotiating strategies while describing policital, social and econmic conditions in the USSR. "We are asking a very great deal of our citizens -- to confront the issues," said Don Bell, Target Seattle's chairman who had lead the trip to Tashkent earlier in the year. As part of that program, on a Sunday evening, a few thousand residents gathered in more than 550 homes across the city to discuss their perceptions of the Soviet Union, and actions that they could take as individuals to reduce the threat of nuclear war. They met again one week later. According to Bell, Target Seattle inspired similar, though smaller, events in a dozen other communities including Vancouver (Canada), Birmingham, AL and Hartford, CT.

In the years that followed, Seattle and Tashkent exchanged several delgations at the mayoral level and the people-to-people level, which is described by delegation member Dr. Rosh Doan.

Now let us praise famous men and women, the ordinary people of that delegation who lived their lives, and accomplished magnificent things, whom, it seems, were taken away from us before their time. First was Marlowe Boyer, the photographer, who put together a multi-media slide show of the trip (this was long before Al Gore and I had invented the LCD projector which would have made the enterprise much easier). Marlowe wrote in his will that when he died, he hoped "the slide show" would be shown at a gathering of his friends at a memorial service. Who could have imagined that such a young spirit would fall so early to leukemia. He was gone within 2 years of making the trip. Don Bell, Professor of History at the University of Washington, the "leader of the delegation" – such a generous and welcoming man – taken by the Lord (Absalom, Absalom cried the letter informing us of his passing from his wife) within a few years of the event.

And the rest of you – how did the trip to the USSR impact your lives? Looking forward to learning the rest of the story.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Distributor Funded Head: The Pros and Cons

The “funded head” concept – where a manufacturer or software publisher pays the cost of employing a staff member at a distributor—is raising its head in my current work space and is a worthy topic of discussion.

The question comes down to this: is paying the cost, or the partial cost, of a distributor’s employee an effective and economical way for growing companies to increase sales in new markets?

I’ve seen the situation from both sides. At Mitsubishi Trading Corporation in Japan in the mid-1980s, it was common among U.S. companies looking for access to the Japan market to form a joint venture with us. We would contribute the local staff; the U.S. firm would contribute the technology or the product. In this case, the venture was able to employ local staff quickly. But there was sometimes a question about loyalty – was the staff’s loyalty to the success of the new venture, or to the parent company from which they were on loan?

At Alliance International Trade & Investment Group, Inc. our marketing pitch when recruiting supplier partners to represent in overseas markets was this: “Let us represent and sell your products and you only need to pay us a commission on what we sell.” The appeal of that approach is there’s no risk for the vendor. No sales = no costs.

From the vendor’s perspective, I was always skeptical if a distributor asked us to pay for the costs of a person they wanted to assign to manage our product. Here’s why:

· I'm giving you a large discount (margin) to profitably run your business
· I'm giving you marketing support
· I’m usually giving you exclusivity, to help protect your investment, if your commitment is significant and the market is new for us
· And now you want me to pay for your staff? That’s what the margin is supposed to be for, right?

Give me a break!

I recently met with our partner Sigma Software Distribution in the UK and was presented with a funded head proposal. This one was different. It was focused on ROI, with a return of 5 to 1 for our investment. Now this was a proposal that caught my attention, and is under serious consideration. It represents a way for us to quickly deploy concentrated attention in the U.K. market, without the risks of employing a UK national and the accompanying UK employment regulations.

Then, just a few days ago, I was approached on the same topic for the U.S. market by one of our U.S. distribution partners, considering a plan to offer funded heads from $35K (part time) - $120K (full time). After expressing my initial skepticism, I’ve been giving it a bit of theoretical consideration as a mental exercise.

One selling point which came to mind is location. For small companies based on the West Coast, a funded head strategically placed on the East Coast offers reduced travel costs to East Coast resellers such as SHI, Programmer’s Paradise, PC Connection, PC Mall in Montreal, etc. for working the sales floor and call out days. (As we know, out of sight = out of mind. Those who are in front of resellers are going to get their products sold more often.)

The distributor with a funded head could also hold out access to major resellers as a carrot. For example, their pitch might be: “Sign up for a funded head, and we'll get you into CDW.” Typically, powerful resellers like CDW only deal with large vendors. Access would definitely be a benefit.

Moreover, if the proposed funded head is an experienced sales executive who knows the sales reps at the resellers, that would be a true value added proposition.

Still, it comes down to two issues for me:

· Whose interests does the Funded Head have at heart (mine, or the distributor’s)?

· Why don’t we just hire the person ourselves?

Monday, April 21, 2008

UK Software Distribution: Centered in Devon

Devon is located 4 hours by car from London to the Southwest. It’s something of a “vacation land” boasting a beautiful coast line and a national park (the Dartmoor) inland with higher evaluations and weather extremes.

Devon is a place where the devil visits the taverns and ghosts frequent abandoned mansions. (Could J.K. Rawling, who was educated at the nearby university in Exeter, have been inspired by these surroundings?) Our distributor for the UK, Sigma Software Distribution, is based in Devon and has a diverse cast. One speaks to the llamas in the hills (I don’t mean religious monks, but the glorified hairy beasts with long necks ). Another sports a long red coat and goes fox hunting during lunch (talley ho!). Another is a woman with 9 children who doesn’t live in a shoe, but after work marketing software by day operates an inn owned by her family (now that’s true manpower!). Another staff member greats you with a wide smile flashing large white teeth – he’s not a vampire, but a 5th degree black belt in martial arts. If ever there was a little town where the children are above average and the women are strong (the female managing director of Sigma Software distribution is a former army officer), is Devon not the "Lake Wobegone" of England?

Back to business with this cast of characters – Sigma Software Distribution represent a few good software brands including TechSmith, MindJet and now SmartDraw. All three softwares could be classified as “business productivity.” Sigma have worked magic with MindJet and TechSmith, driving sales at heavenly growth rates that can’t be matched by world-wide distributors such as Ingram Micro. One of their techniques for doing this is with the “funded head” a concept I had first run into 15 years ago with the now defunct distributor Tech Pacific in Singapore. The disty's pitch goes something like this.
a) We want exclusive distribution rights to your products
b) We want really good margins
c) We want you to pay for the advertising
d) We want you to pay us for allowing you to talk to our sales reps (well, the distributor doesn’t say that, but the resellers certainly say that!)
e) And now, we want you to pay our staff expense. (You pay us, and we’ll hire someone to sell your products.)
I always found this proposition troubling – because we were providing our distributors with more than enough margin to sell our product, promote it and to pay their staff. Look, if you’re going to ask me to pay so you can go and hire staff, I might as well hire the staff myself! Therein lies the challenge – hiring an employee in a European labor market where there is no "employment at will".

I allow the Sigma Sales Director (the self-described "thug" among this cast of characters with his fashionable bowling ball haircut) to make his pitch for the funded head, and he starts by talking about a 5 to 1 return on our investment. Now he’s got my attention, because the numbers make sense. What’s more, we can start with ½ a person, with an initial commitment of 6 months, paid quarterly, with a portion of the payment “earned” from achieving sales targets. So in our case, given our anticipated growth in UK reseller sales, the funded head makes sense, especially if we found a good person in Devon, at Devon wage rates. I wonder if this person will also talk to llamas, chase ghosts and go fox hunting?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

London Revisited 31 Years Later: Distributing Software In The UK

London – The DSGi computer group invited their best customers – IT managers from leading companies, government and education institutions—to attend a series of lectures and see the latest software and computer products at a mini exposition in Weybridge, an affluent suburb southwest of London in the Surrey district. The venue is an old car race track from 100 years ago, which now hosts a museum of race cars, a mothballed Concorde supersonic jet [the 2nd Concorde I’ve seen today as I passed by one at Heathrow this morning on my arrival] and a car dealership, Mercedes Benz World. Not just a place to purchase vehicles, at Mercedes World a professional driver will take you an obstacle course testing the latest Mercedes vehicles’ ability to accelerate, stop in water (without skidding out of control) and to swerve around objects at high speed (without rolling over or spinning out). This was an added attraction for the attendees [and a good place for me to practice driving on the wrong side of the road]. I was there in a booth representing SmartDraw, the leader in business graphics software, along with our distribution partner in the UK Sigma Software Distribution. I found the quality of the attendees to be excellent and was equally impressed with Sigma’s ability to engage customers. They shared the same philosophy I do, that you might as well throw money on the ground for each attendee who passes by whom you don’t engage and tell about SmartDraw. That’s a polite way of describing “kick ass and take names.” It was quite refreshing to see that in a reseller – someone who actually works and hustles for business--and I believe that we obtained more leads than anyone else at the show (especially given our location near the back where there was less foot traffic). I’ll be following up with Sigma staff on Monday, calling and qualifying the leads, and bringing orders right into the hands of DSGi’s sales reps in an effort to further grow SmartDraw’s sales in the UK to at least 15%, or more, of US sales.
Headlines in the BBC news today are the 150th anniversary of the installation of “the bell” in the Big Ben clock tower, and newly released videos from the 7/7 July terrorist bombers saying goodbye to their families. The London Marathon is tomorrow, and I’ve walked at least half that distance today through London’s major streets, parks and alleys. Having travelled to many European and Asian capitals during the last quarter century except London, I find the central parts (Trafalgar Square, Covent Gardens) magnificent to view, and bustling with activity. No wonder the city is such a popular destination. Dinner Friday night is with Nick & Steven Thompson of Marinesoft, our reseller partner for more than nine years. The company name comes from their passion for sailing. Instead of taking me sailing across the English Channel, we head for Rules, London’s oldest restaurant, established in 1798, where I take revenge on a rabbit who has been splendidly roasted and stuffed. Nick gives me a lesson about English character and management styles. "Non emotional," he says. I tell him that also describes the culture of SmartDraw: decisions are made based on facts and reason. Back at the hotel an urgent message awaits from the home front 8 time zones away, “Caught a gopher and don’t know how to get the corpse out of the trap. What do I do!?”

Friday, April 4, 2008

Another Great "Intelligent Projector" from Nippon Avionics, the AVIO iP-60E

One of my personal goals at Alliance International was to introduce unique products to the North American market. One of those has been the AVIO projector series, built by Nippon Avionics in Japan. You may never have heard of this projector manufacturer before, but their products are excellent. I first met their management team at the INFOCOMM trade show in 1994, and year after year they keep plugging away, delivering a projector with a unique, built-in camera, that allows you to show crisp, clear live images of documents and 3-D solid objects. The quality of the AVIO products is excellent.

Alliance Int'l has just released the AVIO iP-60E, a 3,500 lumen LCD projector with a 4-million pixel high resolution camera built in. The first shipment arrived at LAX on March 31st, and is sold out already. The next shipment should arrive at the end of April. Here's the text of the press release:

Alliance International Introduces AVIO iP-60E 3,500 Lumen LCD Projector With Built-In High-Resolution Camera

April 7, 2008 (San Diego, CA) -- Alliance International, North America distributor and authorized service center for Nippon Avionics, has introduced AVIO's newest LCD "intelligent projector', the iP-60E. The iP-60E features 3,500 lumens, and is the choice for organizations requiring a brighter projector with "all-in-one" capability of document camera, scanner, electronic whiteboard, large screen projection TV and PowerPoint presentations.Because it incorporates a high resolution camera, the iP-60E is used to project live images of documents and 3-D solid objects, in addition to tradition projector functions of computer presentations and video. The main benefits of the iP-60E are:

**Clearer image in well-lit rooms, because brightness has been increased to 3,500 lumens.
**Quicker set up time and less clutter, because it has a built-in camera. There is no need to set up a separate document camera and connect it to the projector.
**Ease of showing documents and 3-D solid objects; just lay them on the flat platen, as you would a photocopy machine or scanner.
**Clear image--even when showing full page documents-- because of the high-resolution CCD camera built-in with over 4-million pixels.
**Improved video image, by utilizing LCD technology.
**Easy to save images and annotate over images, using the built in image capture and electronic whiteboard annotation features.

Unlike other projectors with an optional camera arm or using a traditional document camera or flex camera which is a separate device, the AVIO projector has a camera built-inside, allowing users to easily place documents and 3-D objects on a glass platen incorporated into the images tops.The AVIO iP-60E projector offers users convenience, because they can project clear images of full-size documents and 3-D objects without having to set up and use a separate document camera. Showing documents and 3-D objects is as easy as using a traditional overhead projector (OHP) or a photo-copy machine--just place the document on the glass platen and the image appears.Nippon Avionics, based in Japan, has been producing LCD projectors with cameras built-in for over 12 years. In the past, the projectors have been bulky, with a depth of 12 inches, or more.The AVIO iP-60E is now shipping, and available to government customers on the GSA contract through Tierney Brothers, to education customers through CamCor or available on-line at The list price in both the US and Japan is $8,495.Early adopters of the AVIO iP-60E have been manufacturing companies, who use the projector in the office for presentations and training.

About Alliance International:

Alliance International Trade & Investment Group, Inc. was founded in 1997 as a wholesales distributor and international trade consultant to the professional audio visual, telecommunications, computer and software industries. The company's clients have included JABRA Corporation (hands free Earsets), InFocus (projectors), PolyVision (electronic whiteboards), Yokogawa (document cameras), Media Go Engineering (Digital Class electromagnetic LCD monitor with annotation software) and SmartDraw (business graphics software). In 2004, Alliance was appointed U.S. distributor for Nippon Avionics AVIO projectors with built in camera, and completed service center training in October, 2007.

ALLIANCE INTERNATIONAL Trade & Investment Group, Inc. San Diego, California, USATel: (858) 558-2030 Fax: (858) 558-2031 Corporate Website: E-store: E-mail:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Reflections On 10 Years In Business

Alliance International was founded in June 1997. Our first client was JABRA Corporation, which hired us to assist it market and sell its unique hands-free Earset for mobile phones in Japan. We incorporated the business in 1998. Ten years later, we're still here. What a journey!

The goals of the company have been simple:

* To assist US companies market and export their products abroad

* To find unique products to bring to North America

Our focus has been on industry sectors we know best: professional audio visual equipment, mobile phone accessories, computer peripherals & computer software.

Ten years in business. We must be doing something right. Looking back, there are a few things to be proud of (and many more to be embarrassed by that are saved for future posts):

* Helping to build the market for JABRA's Earset for mobile phones in Asia-Pacific when it was an unknown fledgling

* Introduction to the US of a series of document cameras made by Yokogawa with unique features such as rotating camera head, open stage (platen), integrated writing tablet, integrated LCD monitor (which are now common).

* Introduction to to the US of the Digital Class LCD touch-screen writing monitor made by Media Go Technologies, which forced market leaders such as SmartBoard and Crestron to re-think the way they did touchscreens and interactive monitors.

* Distribution of Nippon Avionics AVIO projectors in North America, which are unique because they include a high resolution camera for viewing documents and 3-D solid objects.

* Assisting InFocus Corporation market its projectors in Japan and Korea.

* Assisting PolyVision sell its interactive, electronic whiteboards in Japan and China.

Through the school of hard-knocks, I've learned some valuable lessons about the difficulty of competing against established market leaders. (It's not easy!) On the other hand, if we've been a "thorn in the side" of market leaders, our efforts have been a catalyst to industry innovation and improvement, resulting in better products for consumers. And it's certainly been a lot of fun.

To all of our customers, we express our most sincere thanks. Here's to another 10 years!