Lost City of Dubai

palm_jumeirah_150The Atlantis Hotel located on Palm Jumeirah in Dubai had it’s grand opening on Nov 20th, 2008 the same day the world equity markets were hitting multi-year lows. The hotel is based on the mythical Lost City of Atlantis, the irony is that Dubai seems to be some what lost at the moment – massive debt, collapsed economy, over capacity and no one stepping up to save it.

Back in 1998 I spent several weeks working in Dubai and the common theme was “I’m just waiting to get my US visa and then moving.”  In 2005, it changed to “Dubai is the place to be, it’s the Hong Kong/London of the Middle East.” I would constantly hear from friends and business associates who said Dubai was the place to be, “it had more money then God” and if anything goes wrong Abu Dhabi would bail it out. Abu Dhabi is one of the world’s largest oil producers and home to Abu Dhabi Investment Authority the monster USD 1 trillion sovereign wealth fund.

The Dubai myth is over.  It’s clear Dubai has more borrowed money than God and Abu Dhabi is quietly buying marquee assets at distressed prices some of the names being thrown around are the real estate company Nakheel, the Emirates airline and the Dubai Metro.

Several family and friends went to Dubai two weeks ago and got to see it first hand. Malls were empty even with the Dubai Shopping Festival going on.  Most construction had stopped and high end villas were down 40-50%. People are leaving their cars at the airport and heading back home. The last statement might be hype but the reality is Dubai is bust no matter what metric you look at.

All this is not really surprising to me, what is shocking is the velocity of how fast it collapsed. Back in July 2008 major news organizations where talking about how Dubai would weather the global economic storm because of the growth potential. I remember talking to several people in early September (pre Lehman bankrupty) and they kept on telling me how great Dubai was doing even with the world markets collapsing. If Dubai can collapse then anything is possible.

Below are several links detailing the boom and bust of Dubai.

CBS’s 60 Minutes – July 2008
NY Times – July 2008. Some great quotes…laughable now.

DW-TV (via YouTube) – February 2009
CBS News (via YouTube) – February 2009
NY Times – February 2009

GM's 5 year plan

gm_logoAs part of getting federal money, GM released its 5 year restructuring plan this week (download PDF). I briefly scanned the 100+ page document and it touches on some key points but misses the biggest point – build cars that people want to buy. Below are my recommendations:

Only 3 divisions should be left – Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC. Chevrolet should be focused on cars below USD 40,000.  Cadillac will focus on cars above USD 40,000.  GMC should be the truck/SUV division. Stop the overlap of designs and pricing between divisions which just confuses the shi@#$ out of consumers.  German cars are so damn easy – small, medium, large.  Small (A4, 3 series, C class), Medium (A6, 5 series, E class) Large (A8, 7 series, S class).

Buick/Pontiac – get rid of them. Once again, does anyone believe Tiger Wood’s drives a Buick? Pontiac had it’s glory days but it’s over (NY Times).

Saab/Hummer – Bye. Never could figure out who buys Saab, none of my friends. Hummer…really do we need this kind of fossil fuel consuming vehicle on the road?

Saturn – Should focus on India or China where cheap cars rule.  A Saturn car with ding/dent proof doors would do very well in Bombay traffic. But as far as a US entity selling cars…goodbye.

Of course, I have not addressed the two biggest issues ailing GM – unions and health care. That’s for another day.

Video Conferencing Done Right

Wow…is all I have to say after getting a chance to use Cisco’s video conferencing solution called TelePresence, it’s the way video conferencing should be. Over the years I’ve used video conferencing products from Cisco, Polycom and Tandberg to name a few and they were all kludgy and just never really worked. Granted, you can never replicate an in person meeting but TelePresence gets pretty close. I was in Bombay and initiated a call with several people in Irvine, California and you felt as if everyone was in the same room.

The Cisco team built TelePresence from the ground up and went as far as designing the room, chairs and table that need to be used. The unit I was using cost around USD 300k per side and had three 65″ LCD’s running full 1080p…yes 1920 x 1080. That means several gig’s of data was compressed to under 15Mbps which is still a lot of bandwidth but it is so worth it. Below are some pictures but they really don’t do justice, first 5 pics are from Bombay and the last 2 are from Irvine. I really should have taken a video!

More info on TelePresence from the Cisco website.

Google Sync

goog_largeOver the past couple of weeks, I’ve been debating whether to upload my personal data contained in my address book and calender to the Googleplex. I figured Google is already a massive part of my life with search and Gmail do I really want to hand over more of my life to Google? I have no doubt Google will not profile my data or pilfer it, but in this current environment of anything is possible (countries going bankrupt, USD 50 billion ponzi schemes, Starbucks closing stores etc…) you never know.

For me, it comes down to hardware independence.  I would love to buy a cheap USD 100 phone when I travel and not have to tinker with all the settings. Currently, I use a MacBook Pro (MBP) and iPhone combo to organize and manage my life, the two make sweet music like Hall and Oates.  My iPhone data is backed up to my MBP and my MBP is backed up to an external 250GB Toshiba drive.  My dilemma is I’m locked into an iPhone only solution at the moment and living in India means if something happens to my iPhone I have to shell out USD 640 for a new iPhone…that is a HUGH deal breaker for me.

There are two solutions to this:

1. Apple expands it’s iSync software to natively work with many of the new phones from BlackBerry, Nokia and Google’s Android platform. Most likely won’t happen as Apple historically is a closed platform. I’m a hugh iPhone fan, but the power of open source technology is no match for a closed architecture platform.

2. Move my data to Google which would be my central data repository.  Then using the various Google tools such as Google Sync I could download my data to a new phone and sync on the fly. And as more companies offer Android based phones I would have a much larger selection of phones to choose from. For example, Motorola just scraped their own phone OS and decided to exclusively use the Android platform.

I hope the competition between Apple’s iSync and Google’s Sync make both products better in the near future. Ideally, I’d like to stick with Apple’s iSync and not have my address book and calendar reside in the cloud but I’m guessing it’s just a matter of time.

Clash of the Utopias

tishman_speyerI can honestly say I don’t know sh#$% about New York real estate nor really care but an article in the New York Magazine got me some what hooked on it.  The article goes behind the scenes of one of the biggest real estate deals in Manhattan – Tishman Speyer, along with BlackRock Realty, agreed to buy Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, a sprawling 80-acre complex on the East Side of Manhattan, for a record $5.4 billion from MetLife. Best quote from the monster article:

“Stuy Town is the quintessential rent-stabilized apartment filled with well-educated old Jews, and you shouldn’t fuck with them,” says one affordable-housing advocate.”

NY Mag article

Doesn't Look Favorable

dlf_logo_2Doesn’t Look Favorable = DLF. India’s largest real estate developer DLF announced their 3rd quarter earnings this past week and it was not pretty.  I think we all understand the economic environment is grim and the real estate market is REALLY grim but hearing Rajiv Singh, DLF Vice Chairman, speak on CNBC-18 you get the sense it ain’t so bad…whatever.

There is no denying it, most real estate developers around the world and in India are living on borrowed time and borrowed money. Rajiv also stated in the same interview that he doesn’t expect homes prices to get cut beyond 20% yet they have a hugh amount of excess inventory.  Rajiv mentioned people are not buying because bank rates are too high, I think what’s high is either home prices or Rajiv or probably both.

Real estate projects can simply be classified as:

  1. New – in today’s environment only a complete moron would loan a dime to a new project
  2. Partial – Hugh dillema, throw good money after bad?
  3. Completed – sell or lease at rock bottom prices, this screws up the initial project cash flow calculations. Existing tenants will ask for a rate negotiation (read – lower prices)

For DLF the numbers don’t add up and they are massively over leveraged which is not a good thing.  Will DLF or any Indian real estate company file for bankruptcy?  No chance, Indian corporate law is so convoluted that filing for bankrupty doesn’t seem to be an option, instead the company will just be a zombie of it’s former self.

Previous posts on DLF:
May 2, 2006 – India’s next crorepati (billionaire): KP Singh
June 8, 2007 – Yes, DLF. Really?
Oct 10, 2008 – Boom to Bust

Getting Organized

things_macEvery year for the past several years I would make a New Years resolution to get organized, then I would download a bunch of Mac applications and get frustrated with them.  During the last half of December 2008, I decided to try 3 programs: OmniFocus, The Hit List and Things.  All 3 applications allow you to use the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology from David Allen. I like to call it “Getting Shi!@# Done.”

OmniFocus (OF) from The Omni Group.  I’ve tried this program several times and loved that it was really just a blank sheet and you could customize it. OF has both a desktop and iPhone version that sync up. But for some reason I just couldn’t fit it into my daily work flow. Otherwise it’s a great program from a very talented company.

The Hit List (THL) from The Potion Factory. THL is in beta and has a great interface.  THL fit in with how I work, but it’s iPhone app has not been released yet and that was part of my criteria for picking an application.  The iPhone app is in the works but I really wanted something on day one – Jan 1, 2009.

This finally bring me to Things from Cultured Code. I have been a part of their beta program and have tried using Things several times over the past year.  As their official launch at Macworld 2009 neared, their code base got better and was very rock solid. I again started to use Things and was impressed how much better the application was when I first started using it. The Things interface is so simple you can start entering data right away without reading a “how to” guide. The interface was a natural fit for how I work and took me no time to get organized. The iPhone version synced via WiFi without any issues to my desktop.  The iPhone version has a couple features missing but the team at Cultured Code are making sure those get implemented ASAP.

Overall, I would highly recommend Things if you are looking to get organized.  Things desktop is USD 50 and Things iPhone/touch is USD 10.

Update: Watch the Things screencast I created