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Dana Blankenhorn
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Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and a futurist all his life.He warned about the coming Houston oil collapse in 1979. He began making a living on the Internet in 1985. He launched the first e-commerce daily for CMP in 1994, warned of the... More
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  • HPEV Makes Any Engine A Hybrid

    HPEV is among the many companies trying to transform transport by making it more efficient.

    CEO Tim Hassett said his Hybrid Plugin Electric Vehicle has patents on a technique for using heat pipes to turn engine waste heat into electricity, which can then help power the vehicle. The electric motor acts as a "load assist," meaning the main engine doesn't work as hard and uses less fuel. In an automotive application it all gets attached to your rear axle.

    Hassett, who turned around a company called Hawk Motors after working for GE, is working with a company called Inverom in Chicago on the retrofits, focusing on vehicles the size of the Ford F150 or Dodge RAM 5500, which presently have mileage ratings in the single digits. (The company says Inverom can turn around a vehicle in a single day.)

    Part of the pitch for commercial fleets is a quick Return On Investment (NYSE:ROI) calculation, showing that the expense saves money fairly quickly. By re-using the heat generated by motors, brakes and other car parts, Hassett says his team not only saves fuel but extends the life of a commercial engine. And not just car engines. All kinds of motors, including the largest from GE and Siemens, can use the technology.

    Hassett is based in Santa Rosa, California, near the Sonoma Valley, but his team is virtual, in places like Florida and Pittsburgh. He says he's been working in electric vehicles all his life, because continuous miners that work underground have always been electric. "The technology used today isn't much different from what was presented" back in the 1960s by his father, he told me. But back then the car companies didn't want to hear about things like variable frequency drives and regenerative braking. They also didn't have lithium-ion batteries, and Hassett says they don't need them, that with his technology lead-acid batteries work fine.

    When people criticize alternative energy they usually talk about solar or wind power being non-economic. But the cheapest renewable energy is still the energy you don't use. This is the energy HPEV captures. If we can cut commercial vehicle fuel use by 20%, and extend engine lives, at a reasonable price, owners are going to go for it in a big way.

    Hassett and his team, which includes Quentin Ponder and engineer Mark Hadowanec, who worked at Siemens, are just one group out of many who are transforming the economy based on this cheapest renewable energy. Refitting and updating existing products so they do more with less fuel is money in the pocket, and just one way in which the renewable energy world isn't what you think it is.

    Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

    Mar 30 1:31 PM | Link | Comment!
  • Bitzio Bids For App Store Bit-ness

    According to Bill Schonbrun, head guy (OK, CEO) at Bitzio Inc. , Apple doesn't really want to run an app store. That is, they don't want to be in the business of approving - or disapproving - every program that runs on its iPhones and iPads.

    They just want their cut of anything that's sold.

    To Schonbrun, this spells opportunity. Bitzio has created a system that lets anyone create a Web app, that runs in an as Javascript and HTML5, which Bitzio will then distribute and monetize through ads.

    "We're arms dealers for developers," is the way Schonbrun puts it. The key is Everyone Apps, a program introduced late last month that acts as a sort of Blogger-for-apps, letting you design your app without programming, and an app runner, available through the Apple App store, that interfaces your new Web app with the iPhone's features, like its GPS. (Similar products will be available through Bitzio for other phone platforms.)

    Schonbrun describes Everyone Apps as "the first step of the Bitzio platform," which also includes a system called App Runner, described by Head Technology Guy (OK, CTO) John Swartz<

    We have 30 forms predefined. What we're going to do is let you lay out the forms, put content into the form, and we're not downloading executable code. It's like a PDF reader, customized for mobile." And since you've got a Web app rather than an Apple app, it can run on any device, on Android or even Windows, through Bitzio interfaces.

    While the technology engineering is impressive, I'm personally more impressed with the financial engineering.

    Most of Bitzio's key people are working for stock. That's why the company is already public, even though it's not yet on the main NASDAQ board and is classed as a "penny" stock, currently at 27 cents/share. (BTZO.OB is the symbol. Qualitystocks profiled it in September.)

    Operations are funded by teaching people how to use the tools, a $1,000/person course that drew 150 to San Diego recently, leaving a bunch of people trained to use the Bitzio tools. So far 800 people have paid $1,000 each for the course (with a free DVD), and they're now taking the show on the road - Orlando, Chicago, London - and will expand from there over the next several months.

    It starts accelerating in May, when the full Bitzio Platform is launched. The platform is what will monetize your app. It interfaces with mobile ad shops, making certain that any ad space in your app gets an ad, and that you're getting the best price for the space, whether it's Apple's iAds, Google's AdMob, a third party like MobClix, or someone else.

    "Schonbrun laid out the schedule. "What's out now is the App Code" - Bitzio's name for its education series - "and Everyone Apps. Everyone Apps is available only to those who signed up for the course. Everything else will be coming later - some will come out in pieces to May, but the Bitzio platform itself will be coming out May 1."

    The platform will be launched through another educational event, a real world tour, after which the plan is for the company to get onto NASDAQ's venture exchange, and get out of the pink sheets.

    You can buy BTZO right now if you have the nerve.

    Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

    Feb 08 2:36 PM | Link | Comment!
  • To Have Facebook Or Have Not?

    "You know how to whistle, don't you? You just put your lips together and blow."

    With apologies to Lauren Bacall, the Facebook S-1 is out, and here are the numbers you need to know:

    $1.974 to $3.711. $.606 to $1.

    The first set of numbers are Facebook's revenues, for 2010 and 2011, in billions of dollars. That's nearly an 90% growth rate. The second set of numbers are Facebook's earnings for the same period. Fast growth, and $1 billion in earnings is nothing to sneeze at. But growth there is slower.

    While most reporters are treating this document the way TMZ might treat Lindsay Lohan coming out of a limo, the question is whether you should take a flyer on it.

    There are three answers to that.

    1. Do you Facebook? If you don't, then don't touch the IPO. Don't invest in anything you don't understand, or at least know something about. And Facebook is pretty easy to understand once you join it. I did. Didn't like it. They still count me, but I haven't been to my page in a year. I use it to make snarky comments on Web sites that take that credential, I link stories from Seeking Alpha to it, and that's about it. No Farmville cows for me, and I don't look at their ads.

    2. Do the math. Facebook is talking about a $100 billion valuation. That's an Amazon-like PE of 100 on trailing year's earnings, 50 if you think they can double it again this year. But they can't, because the law of large numbers says it's harder to move the needle as the numbers get bigger. Right now the market is treating Google at a PE of 20, Apple at 15, Microsoft at 10. My guess is they'll value it at $70 billion and expect a big pop at the open - you always have to have a big pop at the open or what's the point of doing the IPO? What did you pay the underwriters all those millions for, if not for a pop at the open?

    3. Look at the headwinds. Forget Google Plus. They can't even get into China. Besides, China already has its own Facebooks, like RenRen, big companies that do whatever the government there says to do, without a qualm. And the market is highly competitive. It's not that they can't get in, I don't think they can compete. And if you can't make it there, your growth horizons narrow.

    The S-1 claims there are 845 "active" users on Facebook. I'm sure they include me in that total. I'm not one. Lots of people come into Facebook, and leave. Social networking is a very quirky business, competition always just a click away. It's mostly people who came of age after the Web was spun, the people who will really define the Internet (in contrast to my generation, which just built the thing).

    How sticky is Facebook, really? How devoted are how many Facebook users to living their lives on Facebook? Sure, Facebook has "second-mover" advantage, in that they overhauled MySpace and learned some things. But is this the last evolution of the Web, the final chapter?

    I don't think so. I don't think that chapter has been written yet. And anyone who does, I'll take your money, drink your milkshake, haz your cheezburger. To succeed Facebook has to ride, successfully, on top of a myriad of changes that have not happened yet.

    Its chances of doing this are fair. At least as good as Google's. But as good as Amazon's? I don't think so. The social networking boom, as I've written, began to bust as soon as its shares came to the public market. (Bought any Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN) lately? Any LinkedIn? (NYSE:LNKD)

    Trade it for fun, watch it rise like a skyrocket (because it will in the short term). But as soon as the lock-in period ends for the big shareholders, be gone and on to the next big thing.

    It's coming. It's out there. The next big thing is always out there.

    Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

    Feb 02 4:45 PM | Link | Comment!
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