Dirty Birds as Harbingers of Doom

According to The Register, Sun is killing off its UltraSparc V project, code-named Eagle. I guess this is a shame (maybe they have something better in the pipeline?). I’ve never been a fan of Sparc (basically, register windows suck), and the various product names have always reminded me of Ian Banks’ ship name Ultimate Ship The Second — I guess the first iteration wasn’t ultra or ultimate enough.

[We need an official ordering of Ultra, Mega, Super, and so forth. It’s too easy to get confused. “Is this GigantoSparc-8000 faster than the Whopper-432?” It’s like trying to buy detergent in the 1950s, where the Giant size of something could weigh half that of Regular.]

There are two rules of thumb that you can use to sell a tech company’s stock short. The first rule is: Any time a company starts building a campus, the stock is going to tank, and it might not come back up. (Evidence: Atari, Apple, 3Com, Sun, AMD, and a whole raft of others that I’ve forgotten). I don’t know why; maybe by the time that a company starts having problems that management thinks a campus can solve, it’s too late (and maybe a campus wouldn’t help fix those problems anyway). Or perhaps it’s a hubris thing, God’s response to companies that promote truly bad architecture (“You wanna build something that looks like a cruise ship ramming a high school? Okay, but it’ll cost ya.”)

The second rule of thumb is, any time a company starts a save-the-company project code-named “Falcon,” start diversifying. Falcon was the name of a save-the-company phone thingy at Atari (it is truly too incredibly lame to credibly describe; my friend Jack told me they were into double-letter PC board revisions before the lights went out). HP has had at least one project named Falcon. There have been a few others over the years. While the correlation between a Falcon and a company disaster is more tenuous than the campus connection, due to secrecy we might not know about all the Falcon projects that have been started. Keep your ear to the ground for the F-word.

Sun has courted failure — I’d even say tickled it — by naming a major project after a bird closely related to the falcon. The next few months will tell us whether the rule is falcon-specific, or general to birds of prey.

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