Saturday, June 23, 2007

A happy, safe Midsummer (Jāņi) to all

I just want to wish all my readers (very many of whom are in Latvia) a happy, safe Jāņi holiday with beer, cheese, merriment, līgo songs, bonfires and the whole business :).  At the same time, I want to share a thought that came to mind at an informal lunch with some people from a Latvian state agency (telecoms-related). We talked about the upcoming Jāņi and I said my best Jāņi were in the US, at the Piesaule camp in New Hampshire owned by the Latvian Lutheran Church. Some 60 (?) summer houses have been built over the years (since 1954?) in Piesaule and a number were owned by people named Jānis. So what happened was that there was a procession (two, actually) to all the cottages of Jānis(es) with singing, cheese and beer served by the respective hosts and finally a big gathering at a bonfire, dancing in the barn etc.
At many other places in North America, the centerpiece of the Jāņi celebration has been some kind of show by the local folk dance/singing organization showing a more or less traditional Jāņi celebration so that all present would see "this is Jāņi in (olden days, traditional) Latvia." It was more or less the Skroderdienas Silmačos scene.
I said it is time to update this to show Jāņi in 21. century Latvia. The scene opens on a stage with a flatscreen TV, a couple of couches and a grill. In the background, an SUV pulls up and the first Jāņubērni emerge carrying Rimi or Maxima bags filled with special Jāņi packages--six packs of Aldaris or Cēsu beer, buckets of shašlik meat and shrink-wrapped, heart-shaped Jāņu cheese. They fire up the grill, have a few beers and turn on the TV. It is too early for the Maestro (Raimonds Pauls) to take the the stage at the Līgo Lejasvaimanas 2008 mass event, so the camera crane zooms over the crowd of thousands gathering by the outdoor stage and listening to a Latvian country band in cowboy hats. 
The Jāņu bērni in the couches (except for the grillmaster) start channelsurfing. They stop for a few seconds at a 1980s recording of an outdoor performance of Skroderdienas (a Latvian classic about tailors,  a mismatched wedding in a country farmstead and a Jāņi celebration where all gets set right). Then they channel surf to a blond babe in a bikini being carried uphill by an older man (or maybe she is asking to be driven to the Estonian hill, Munamegi) -- this is from the film A Limousine the Color of Jāņu Night. Finally they hit a channel with the alternative to the Maestro's Līgo Lejasvaimanas for a younger audience with the comedians Ufo and Fredis and some people rapping in the Latgallian dialect, followed by some folk/punk rock band, or at the very best, Ilģi. And so the show goes on, more or less like a happening or installation rather than a performance. The Jāņu celebrants drop off one by one as the beer and šašliks run out. One staggers to the SUV to get some more at the all-night Statoil down the road. There is a loud simulated crash after the SUV drives away. But our hero is unhurt, we see him staring pathetically out the window of a Latvian police prisoner transport bus that drives by, ending the performance.
OK, this was to entertain my Latvian readers. Back on topic after the holiday. 

Friday, June 22, 2007

Vista goes Latvian (in Latvian)

Here is a videoblog of a rather strange (for non-Latvians) presentation of the Windows Hen (that's Vista in Latvian) in Latvian featuring the Suitu district female burdoon singers (Suitu sievas). Daiga Jace, the marketing manager for Microsoft in Latvia talks about the new Latvian Vista and Office.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Nick Henny on UMG's royalty system, made in Latvia

Universal Music Group (UMG) vice chairman and CFO Nick Henny talks about UMG's new royalty transaction system, being built by Exigen in Latvia and St. Petersburg, Russia. This is a project aimed at saving tens of millions of USD for UMG as royalty-generating transactions grow rapidly in number but fall greatly in value (99 cent iTunes purchases instead of USD 19.99 CDs). Ultimately, UMG wants to offer the system (when completed in late 2008) to the entire entertainment industry. Warner Music, originally a partner in the project along with UMG and Exigen (it has headquarters and legal personality in the US, but all software development is done in Latvia and, of late, in Russia)

Here is the video interview:

Monday, June 18, 2007

Microsoft honcho speaks on Dynamics

I filled in for a colleague whose kid was graduating from high school and attended a Microsoft Dynamics press/analyst seminar in Copenhagen June 14-15.
My impression was that Microsoft's Dynamics assortment of ERP and related software is heading for some kind of de-facto convergence and will be a single, highly scalable SOA-based solution ready to compete with Oracle and SAP in the enterprise market. Many hints, but no official confirmations were dropped about this. The road map looks like this will happen after 2010.
I spoke to Henrik Brorsen, an MBS and Dynamics honcho for EMEA about this in this somewhat glitchy video (the sound screwed up on the transitions, time to learn iMovie HD.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Government supports Lattelecom MBO

The Latvian government has approved a management buy-out of the fixed network operator Lattelecom, in which it holds a 51 % stake. 49 % of Lattelecom is owned by Sweden's TeliaSonera.
The MBO will net the government around LVL 290 million.
Lattelecom's management proposed the MBO to break a deadlock in privatization talks between the Latvian state and the Swedish telecommunications group. TeliaSonera initially wanted to buy 100 % in both Lattelecom and Latvian Mobile Telephone(LMT), but the government said last year it would not sell Lattelecom to the Swedes. Valuations were then made of both Lattelecom and LMT in the hopes of a deal where TeliaSonera would swap its 49 % share of Lattelecom plus cash for 100 % of LMT. It currently controls just over 60 % of the mobile operator. That would have left the government holding 100 % of Lattelecom, but the proposed deal stalled.
Unbelievable, but the government --so says my Lattelecom source, this ain't on the wires yet -- has finally made a decision.

TeliaSonera ousts Anders Igel

TeliaSonera announced on June 12 that it was searching for a new group CEO. The present CEO, Anders Igel, will leave the company on July 31. This was a pleasant way of saying, Anders, you're fired! There had been mutterings about this in the Swedish press for some time.

How does this affect Latvia? First, it gives the government an opportunity to, yet again, procrastinate on any decision to privatise Lattelecom and to finally sell all of Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) to TeliaSonera.
The other aspect is not so obviously obvious. TeliaSonera needs a new group CEO, probably an international manager, not necessarily a Swede (for who knows who will own TeliaSonera in a few years), as well as someone familiar with its growing Baltic and former USSR markets.
Perhaps TeliaSonera need look no further than Nils Melngailis, the 40-ish, Latvian-American, internationally-experienced (IBM Business Intelligence, Coopers & Lybrand) CEO of Lattelecom. After all, with the company mired by the government in indecision about who will own it, the role of Melngailis and other talent at Lattelecom is being reduced to uncertain short-term stewardship rather than nimble, strategic management. The management buy-out idea did not come out of nowhere, it was, in one aspect, a pressure tactic to get the government to act.
We may see a miracle and actually get a decision, but more likely, we will get procrastination. So don't ask them to take your name off the short list in Stockholm, Nils (and Stockholm, do look at your own 49 % owned talent).

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lattelecom privatization may be decided June 12

The issue of Lattelecom's privatization may be decided at the regular meeting of the Latvian government on June 12. Nothing has appeared on the agenda, as yet (evening, June 11), but there appear to be three choices before the Cabinet of Ministers.

1) To approve the management/staff buy-out proposed by Lattelecom's management and, apparently, having the tacit approval of the half-mother, TeliaSonera.

2) to hold a closed auction (by invitation) to sell Lattelecom to a major international telco (assuming any show up) in the hopes of getting the maximum price.

3) to sell both Lattelecom and Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) to TeliaSonera after all, reversing the government's previous position that Lattelecom would never be sold to the Swedes.

Right now, the government is said to favor 2), the closed auction, claiming that the management buy-out (MBO) would contravene Latvian law. Strange, where was that law when the a government commission tentatively approved the MBO idea some weeks ago. One wonders...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Offtopic--March for Equality in Riga

Although it is of little relevance to the discussion here, I am politically a libertarian and, therefore, support unfettered freedom of speech, assembly and lifestyle. Last year I posted an angry videoblog when the 2006 Riga Gay Pride March was banned. This year, after a court decision overturning last year's ban, the same event, called a March for Equality, took place. I shot some video, not put together as best I had hoped, on my other blog in English, the rarely updated Thoughts From Latvia. Please have a look if this interests you.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The half-mother Agonistes in Riga

Anders Igel, top honcho of TeliaSonera, the half-mother of Lattelecom, and Kenneth Karlsson, head of Mobilty services, were in Riga to make a donation to the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. They took some time to sit down with both of my identities (Latvian language blogger for and Englis-language videoblogger for this blog). As I a pressed for time -- I have to go to my summer house and attempt to rig some wireless internet there as well as resupply a friend of my mother-in-laws who is watching the place while my wife, kid and mother-in-law are in Malaga-- I have linked to the Latvian audience version of the videoblog. So the intro titles and subscripts are in Latvian, but the interview is in English;