Monday catchup in Silicon Valley: Platial, Kavam, Insider Pages raise $$

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SF-Google (credit)

No dirt on SF-Google relationship — You’ve probably seen the story about all the ties between San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Google co-founders, including the Switzerland trips together on their private jet and so on. It makes for entertaining reading, and it is good that a local newspaper like the San Francisco Chron keeps an eye on these relationships.

What is remarkable is how, turn after turn, the relationship stays pretty above board. Sure, Google has a bid in San Francisco to operate the city’s Wifi network, and it would be unethical if the Mayor favored Google because of their friendship and any favors Google has done for him. But the Mayor turned down Google requests more often than he accepted them, has made all the proper reimbursements, and apparently isn’t influencing the Wifi decision. No real dirt here.

Kleiner backs mashup start-upPlatial is a company that does “mash-ups” of Google maps with different data. Big-name Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network have invested in the company, according to the NYT. We’ve heard that angel investor Ram Shriram (the guy who was founding investor in Google) is also involved.

Ethanol cheaper than gasoline?This New York Times story covers much of the ground we’ve already covered on Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla and his late investments in ethanol. One thing that gets environmentalists excited is when Khosla starts saying the following: “Ethanol is cheaper to produce, unsubsidized, than gasoline today….As these technologies ramp up, they will be cheaper — unsubsidized — than gasoline even if petroleum drops to $35 a barrel.” But it is really cheaper, when you account for the higher energy output that you get per unit of each fuel produced? That’s the debate, and it is quite controversial. Most people say that ethanol is in fact more expensive, but that cellulosic ethanol (which is produced from plant fiber and other debris) might change this within three years.

Despite its name, ajaxWrite is, well, not AJAX-based — Michael Robertson’s online word program, ajaxWrite, which we mentioned Friday, might be cashing in on the AJAX hype, but AJAX is an amorphous terminology. In fact, ajaxWrite should not really be considered AJAX after all, as it is an XUL application, according to Alex Russell:

This thing is appropriating the necessarily amorphous terminology of “Ajax” for an implementation that is directly at odds with why Ajax is an important technology. A XUL app being billed as “Ajax” is just as laughable as a Flex or XAML app suddenly growing the same moniker… So I’m calling on Michael Robertson to do the right thing and rename this product.

It is worth noting that ajaxWrite is supposed to be just the first of a barrage of applications that Robertson said he was about to unleash every Wednesday at noon PST, which would begin to replace most of Microsoft’s PC applications. But Robertson, at least as of this writing, hasn’t responded the latest flap about ajaxWrite.

Randy Adams launches Kavam — Randy Adams is a true Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur, founding three or four companies before launching AuctionDrop in 2003 to make it easier for people to get rid of the goods they no longer wanted — and throwing them up on eBay for a fee. Now he has raised $4.75 million for a Palo Alto company called Kavam, in a round led by one of the big-name venture capital firms here in Silicon Valley, Sequoia Capital. The company is stealth, and there is little known about it (sub required). He is hiring. So where does the name Kavam come from? For starters, it is a type of plant from the Star Wars universe.

Microsft, blah. Try MySpace — Eric Schmidt, in a Newsweek story about the Web 2.0 phenom, says that he doesn’t understand why people think his company wants to be the next Microsoft. “Everybody thinks we’re building operating systems, PCs and browsers. They clearly don’t get it,” he says. So where does Google want to go? “Look at MySpace,” he says cryptically. “Very interesting.”

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Elon Musk having trouble in space — Elon Musk, 34, who co-founded online payment company, PayPal, has stumbled a bit with his new company, SpaceX. He’s invested about $100 million of his own money into the company, but has had endured several launch delays, and his Falcon 1 rocket failed Friday because of a fuel leak.

This picture shows the flames around the bottom of the first stage. Musk says he’s prepared to suffer through three failed launches before rethinking his investment. The failure cost $6.7 million, and was covered by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — yep, the old taxpayer. Also, an unusual payload arranged for a future launch caught our eye:


There would also be a more unusual secondary payload, arranged through Texas-based Space Services Inc.: memorial capsules containing the cremated remains of 187 people, including Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper and “Star Trek” actor James Doohan.

Yahoo insider sad about Google Finance — Jeremy Zawodny, an employee and lead blogger at Yahoo, frets with a remarkably frank post about how Yahoo has failed to keep innovating at its Yahoo Finance division, giving Google a chance to steal the initiative. Ironically, Zawodny’s post even ended up on Google Finance, as one reader pointed out.

Tropos vs. Bellsouth — Silicon Valley company Tropos and others helped build out the New Orleans wireless mesh network, so that residents could get online after the Katrina devastation. Greg Meffert, the city’s chief information officer, told the Red Herring that 15,000 people use the service, and calls it the “lifeblood” for businesses. He’d been talking with Yahoo and Google to step up and provide access to the rest of the city, and said that Google had been interested until recently. But it appears Bellsouth’s lobbyists are trying to shut down the network: state law prohibits cities from providing more than a relatively sluggish 128-kilobits per second network (the emergency network is 512 kbps). “If I have to go to jail, I guess I will,” said one of the city’s officials. “But we simply cannot turn off these few lifelines we have to our city and businesses.”

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Insider Pages, a local search engine, gets cashInsider Pages bills itself as the “Yellow pages written by friends,” and has raised $8.5 million in second round of venture financing, bringing the total to $10 million, according to VentureWire (subscription required) Sequoia Capital, of Silicon Valley, led the round. So it is no surprise that the company is moving from southern California’s Pasadena to Silicon Valley’s Redwood Shores.

Thrift store Buckmaster — Noteworthy profile here of Jim Buckmaster (registration required), the chief executive of Craigslist, the SF-based online classifieds company, and how frugal he was (and is). As a student, he decided to spend the winter in Ann Arbor, Michigan with no heat on in the house, making his own mittens out of old purses.