News Article | November 15, 2016
Tony Sos, a personal injury attorney at Dellecker Wilson King McKenna Ruffier & Sos, has been appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors at United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Central Florida. The position is a 2-year commitment, which began on July 1, 2016. As Chairman, Sos will lead the all-volunteer Board of Directors in providing fiduciary and legal oversight of the organization while promoting its services and raising awareness. "I am looking forward to a great term with UCP. The schools provide vital support for parents and students of all different abilities in myriad ways. I see it as my job and the Board's job to help ensure that the support and unique services offered continue meet the needs of the families in the schools," said Tony Sos of Dellecker Wilson King McKenna Ruffier & Sos (http://www.dwklaw.com). Sos has been active with UCP for over 6 years, serving on the Board of Directors and helping to fundraise for the organization. "I was hooked early on. As soon as I saw how kids of all different abilities interacted and learned from one another, I was in. It really moved me to see kids learning together and from one another like that," noted Sos. UCP of Central Florida is a tuition free public charter school. The school is a resource for families, children, the medical community, and referral agencies in Central Florida, providing support, education and therapy services in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties. UCP operates seven campus locations for children with disabilities and developmental delays, including cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, autism, spina bifida, and speech and hearing delays. "Tony will be a great asset to our Board of Directors. His experience as an advocate for children and families makes him particularly well-suited to the role of Chairman of the Board. I have no doubt his deep concern for the students’ well-being will be first and foremost in his decision-making," noted Dr. Ilene Wilkins, President/Chief Executive Officer of UCP (http://www.ucpcfl.org). Sos is a partner at Orlando's Dellecker Wilson King McKenna Ruffier & Sos law firm. He is a recipient of the 2015 Lawrence G. Mathews, Jr. Young Lawyer Professionalism Award and an active member of the Orange County Bar Association. He earned his law degree from the University of Florida in 2003 and his undergraduate degree in legal studies from the University of Central Florida. He is a member of The Florida Bar, the Florida Justice Association, and the American Association for Justice. Learn more about Tony Sos here. UCP relies on the skills and services of volunteers to make a difference in their schools and communities. They have volunteer openings for students, individuals, and local businesses that want to make a difference in the lives of UCP's students and their families. About Dellecker Wilson King McKenna Ruffier & Sos: The personal injury attorneys at Dellecker Wilson King McKenna Ruffier and Sos in Orlando, FL, serve as allies, strategic coordinators, and resources to help families obtain compensation for damages and costs they have endured from incidents such as car accidents, medical malpractice, and defective product injuries. They specialize in cases that involve injuries or losses that will impact their clients for the rest of their lives. Visit http://www.dwklaw.com to learn more about the attorneys and their areas of specialty. About UCP of Central Florida: UCP of Central Florida consists of seven public charter schools serving kids with and without disabilities in the Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. Research-based academics lay the foundation for each student's future success. We provide support, education and therapy services to each of our students and families, therefore creating a learning environment that unlocks the potential for every student.
News Article | January 27, 2014
In 2004, the U.S. Army made a colossal mistake. It introduced a new digital camouflage called the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), a single pattern designed to work across all environments. Only a few months later, however, as the war in Iraq was intensifying by the day, every soldier on the ground knew the truth: by trying to work in every situation, UCP worked in none of them. Unfortunately, the race to find a pattern that actually works—a race officially known as the Army's Camouflage Improvement Effort—has been its own kind of debacle. In 2012, The Daily called it a "$5 Billion Snafu." The competition solicited new patterns from hundreds of camo designers, then whittled the entries down to four finalists. After four years (and millions of dollars), the Army seemed ready to pick a winner. The four finalists selected by the army included patterns from Brookwood, Crye Precision, Kryptek, and ADS Inc. with Guy Cramer. Yet the delays have continued. The latest rumor was that the entire Camo Improvement shebang was about to be cancelled. Instead, the theory went, the Army would simply adopt MultiCam, a digital camo made by the Brooklyn company Crye Precision, which has served as a stopgap measure since the revelation that the Universal Camo pattern didn't work. Yet that hasn't happened yet, either—and the tale grows stranger. Back in December, Congress introduced a bill that would block the Army entirely from introducing a new pattern this year. By 2018, however, the bill would require the entire Defense Department to adopt the same pattern. Politicians, it seems, are sick of spending money on this never-ending problem. In response to my request for comment from the military itself, spokesman William Layer could only tell me the following—that "the Army is weighing numerous options and are factoring in recent legislative restrictions." Amidst accusations of general incompetence and bureaucratic red tape, there's also the fact that warfare technology is rapidly evolving—and no one can predict quite how camo will need to adapt in the long term. The burgeoning field of military science that revolves around how our eyes interpret—or misinterpret—information—is still very young. And flinging billions of dollars at the problem hasn't had the intended effect. Today's camouflage has a relatively short history. At the birth of modern warfare in the 18th century—when long-range rifles emerged—the concept of camouflage involved dressing in forest green or field grey. By World War I, troops were experimenting with "dazzle" that made it difficult to gauge the proximity of a ship in the distance. Soon, the technique was being used on humans. 1917: A soldier in World War I models early camouflage. Image via the National Archives/Department of Defense. At the dawn of World War II, the distinctive kidney-shaped splotches of more contemporary camo had emerged—and things escalated quickly from there. By the end of the war, modern painters had even helped develop optical patterns to fool the eye, borrowing ideas from Cubism and Op-Art. In the late 1970s, though, the Army introduced a new (and unpopular) type of pattern called "dual texture," an early forerunner to the "digital" camo we know today. Dual-tex used perfect squares of color to mimic two patterns at once: one smaller, and one larger, effective at multiple distances. It was an early forerunner to digital camo, but it wasn't until the 1990s that camo developed on computers emerged—and, with it, a renaissance in the scientific study of camo. An army officer named Timothy O'Neill, "the grandfather of modern camo," pioneered the genre with his small squares of color that were able to trick the eye into seeing a camouflaged soldier or truck as part of the background of a scene. Dual-tex camo from the 1970s and 1980s. Image: United Dynamics. Why did pixels do a better job that traditional blobs? Because pixels are better at mimicking fractal patterns—which our eyes interpret as white noise. By looking less like figurative "nature," digital camo gives our eyes nothing to fixate on. But the eye is a complex piece of anatomy—and recreating the same optical trick for millions of soldiers in an infinite number of environments is nearly impossible. As a result, a cottage industry of independent contractors and engineers has sprung up, each hocking their own unique variant of digital camo—including the four finalists in the Army's Camo Improvement effort. Find the US4CES: An image shows Guy Cramer and ADS Inc.'s finalist entry in the camouflage competition. Image: Hyperstealth. Some of these companies declined to comment when I contacted them for this post, most likely because the army's winner announcement was still to come. But one in particular—Guy Cramer, CEO of Hyperstealth Biotechnology Corp, designer of camo for the armies of Jordan and Afghanistan and one of the four finalists in the Camo Improvement effort—was kind enough to answer many of my questions about camo design and the army's attempt to improve it. As Cramer explained to me, digital camouflage attempts to use advanced optical tricks to confuse the brain into missing the body of a target, rather than simply "blending in" to the surrounding landscape. "You can't just throw paint on a wall and call it camouflage," he says. "We're not necessarily trying to create randomness. We want the brain to interpret patterns as part of the background." Affecting that kind of visual trickery is a tall order. It involves ideas about color science, the anatomy of the human eye, and even the logistics of pattern-making. And it's still not perfect. Let's take one of the biggest shortcomings the Army's failed digital pattern, UCP: the scale of the pixelated patterns. All digital camo has two layers: a micropattern (the pixels) and a macropattern (the shapes the pixels form). If the scale of the macro blobs is too small—as they are with UCP—it triggers an optical phenomenon called "isoluminance," rendering the carefully-constructed camo pattern into a light-colored mass. In other words, it makes it incredibly easy to spot targets from a distance. That was one of the biggest problems with UCP, as you can see. An example if isoluminance from Hyperstealth's website. And what about color? In 2004, when the army introduced UCP, it revealed that there was no black in the entire pattern. Black doesn't occur in nature, officials explained. But Cramer completely disagrees. Black and brown are essential to mimic shadows. Cramer's finalist pattern for the Improvement Effort includes something called "boundary luminance," a thin black line along the macro and micropatterns that tricks the eye into seeing 3D shapes: The so-called "boundary luminance" in Cramer and ADS Inc.'s US4CES. "If you don't have at least a percentage of that on your camo, it will stand out and look very 2D because it doesn't have that depth effect," he explains. "It was a hard lesson learned." There are more than half a million soldiers in the Army right now—and printing and cutting enough uniforms for all of them (at the lowest cost!) presents its own unique problem. It's important that camo "breaks up" the outline of soldier's body at crucial points like the wrist, knee, and ankle. Just like a tiger's stripes, which run perpendicular to their limbs, these visual "breaks" help to disguise the anatomy of a human target. When a roll of camo fabric is being cut up into millions of uniforms, however, it can be tough to predict where these breaks will land. Likewise, our brains are very good at recognizing patterns—if we see one shape twice, we're instantly aware that something's up. So it's incredibly important that a uniform's left and right sides don't ever match. "A lot of patterns will have this issue," says Cramer. "The brain will see an anomaly on the right part of the chest, and if it sees a very similar pattern on the left side of the chest, the brain immediately connects the dots and says, I now see the top part of a human body." Cramer's success has come, in part, because of his ability to engineer patterns that meet all of these complex criteria. He is a pioneer of algorithmic camo design: Rather than relying on his own brain to design patterns, he writes programs that generate true geometric fractals. Fractals, like the classic example of a leaf, are mathematical patterns that repeat themselves at any scale. Without a reference for scale, our eyes can't differentiate between a fractal and the background. That's why Cramer's patterns have been used on everything from guns to helicopters (not to mention more than 2.5 million uniforms): Because they are scaleless, they hide objects that are as small as humans and as large as buildings. The art of testing these patterns is almost more important than the design itself—and it's a process Cramer knows well, because he's helped the Army test patterns for nearly a decade. The process involves quizzing the Army's best snipers using thousands of photographs. At the United States Military Academy at West Point, the test subjects—which include snipers with perfect-or-better vision—don eye-tracking gear and are ushered into an immersive theater where they're shown slide after slide of camouflaged soldiers in different environments. There are a huge range of images to go through: For every conceivable environment, from deserts to marshes, and every conceivable weather event. Beyond environmental information, there are issues like range: a pattern must perform well close up as well as far away. According to Soldier Systems, the Camouflage Improvement Effort had 900 subjects test each pattern in 45 environments, resulting in a total of 120,000 data points. A crucial part of the testing process isn't just how quickly subjects can identify a visual anomaly—it's about how quickly they can identify where the body of the soldier is actually lying. That millisecond decision can have a huge impact in the field where, according to one NBC report, identifying a target take the average sniper only 12 to 30 seconds. In late August, a Special Forces team was unexpectedly removed from a mission in Libya, after terrorist groups stole dozens of guns and gadgets from US Army trucks. What does that have to do with camouflage? Everything, actually. Along with machine guns and lasers, the raiders stole a gadget that could eventually do just as much damage: A special type of US Army night vision goggles that detect short-wave infrared light—aka the SWIR spectrum. At $45,000 a pop, these goggles let soldiers see at around 1 μm wavelength, where colors blend together into a white mass. In other words, they make camouflage completely useless. The only pairs in existence have rested safely in the hands of the U.S. Army, until now. Hence the pull out. "It was never an issue up until now," explains Cramer. "Now, you've got the bad guys running around with the same tech." Which hints at the underlying explanation for the camo snafu, beyond sequestration or inter-agency spats: as enemies change and the supply channels for the latest military technology evolve, the Army can't be sure what exactly the other guys are seeing when they peer over the horizon at their troops. We've come along way from the stone-grey or field-green camo of the 19th century. We've even come a long way from the 1960s and 70s, when a single pattern could do for many decades and many conflicts. Modern warfare is changing at a dramatic speed—and, even when the Department of Defense picks a new pattern this year or next, it won't be long before they will be forced to reevaluate it. A concept image for Hyperstealth's "Smart Camo" textile, which can't be shown Image: Wired UK/Hyperstealth. It's almost as if the Army isn't looking far enough into the future—where rapid prototyping and smart materials could generate new patterns and textures simultaneously as field conditions change. Hyperstealth, for example, is working on a project called Quantum Stealth—a light-bending camo project that's been called an "invisibility cloak" in the media. One project, sadly, that its creators just can't discuss yet. Lead image: US Marines Patrol Remote Part Of Helmand Province Near Kajaki Dam. Scott Olson/AP.
News Article | November 18, 2010
Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) has announced the new executive structure for NBC Universal (NYSE: GE), ending Hollywood’s favorite guessing game these past few months. Few surprises given the endless speculation, but there were shifts worth noting on both the content and distribution sides of the digital business. Matt Bond, previously executive vice president of content acquisition for Comcast’s portfolio of cable channels, becomes executive vice president of content distribution at NBCU. That will put him in charge of distribution of Comcast’s now-massive portfolio of programming. Responsibility for NBCU distribution previously rolled up under Jeff Gaspin, who also oversaw the broadcast and cable assets. With Gaspin exiting NBCU, his direct reports on the distribution side now report to Bond: Bridget Baker, who managed affiliate relations, and JB Perrette, who led digital efforts. It was to be expected that distribution would be broken off into a separate job given Gaspin’s responsibilities were likely seen by Comcast as overly broad to begin with. Essentially, the position reverts to what it was when David Zaslav was in this role before he moved on to run Discovery Networks. Bond is certainly cut out for his new role given he was already spearheading negotiations for Comcast’s programming; in addition, he led efforts to build up Comcast’s On Demand Online. Bond joined Comcast in 2002 after stints at Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network and AT&T (NYSE: T) Broadband. On the digital content side of the business, Lauren Zalaznick will assume oversight of Daily Candy and Fandango. They were previously overseen by Amy Banse, who AllThingsD reported is shifting from her role as president of Comcast Interactive Media to run a private-equity fund that will combine separate funds previously maintained by Comcast and NBCU. CIM will now be run by Matt Strauss. Daily Candy and Fandango are natural additions for Zalaznick given she already had women’s web hub iVillage in her portfolio. The combined portfolio of cable networks between NBCU and Comcast have been split between her and NBCU’s Bonnie Hammer, each of whom hold onto the channels they were managing previously while picking up additional assets as well. Ted Harbert, who previously oversaw most of Comcast’s channels, transitions to management of the broadcast network, NBC. He will be joined by former Showtime programming chief Bob Greenblatt, who will focus on the creative side of NBC while Harbert handles business affairs. Here’s Comcast’s memo on the reorganization from COO Steve Burke, which includes a detailed breakdown of responsibilities: For nearly a year, we have worked hard to identify people from NBC Universal, Comcast and outside the two companies to form our new leadership team when the deal closes.Â Our goal has been to find people who have the skill sets we need to succeed and who reflect the values that will be the hallmark ofÂ NBC Universal, including teamwork, integrity, creativity and a commitment to treating people the right way.Â ?¨?¨We have also been very focused on putting in place the best possible organizational structure.Â To that end, we have created some new positions, changed the scope of others, and shifted some reporting assignments.Â We think we’ve developed a structure that organizes the company in the smartest way possible. Â We are beginning our leadership announcements now because with the anticipated close of the deal nearing, we want to give everyone enough time to begin to think about the specific opportunities and challenges they will face beginning the day of the close.Â This is particularly true for areas that have transition work to complete before we close.Â While new roles won’t be effective until the deal closes, and while there will be more announcements to come, it is important that we are prepared to hit the ground running. Â To that end, I am pleased to make the following initial announcements of members of the new NBC Universal senior management team: Â Bonnie Hammer will become Chairman, NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios. Â USA, SyFy, E! Entertainment, G4, Chiller, Sleuth, Universal HD and UCP (Universal Cable Productions) will report to Bonnie. Â Neil Tiles will remain President of G4 and report to Bonnie as will a newly appointed president of E! Entertainment. ?¨Lauren Zalaznick will become Chairman, NBC Universal Entertainment & Digital Networks and Integrated Media.Â Bravo, Oxygen, and iVillage will continue toÂ report to Lauren, as will the Integrated Strategic Marketing Group, which oversees initiatives including Green Is Universal,Â HealthyÂ at NBC Universal and WomenÂ atÂ NBC Universal.Â Digital properties Daily Candy and Fandango, Spanish language broadcaster Telemundo, and cable networks mun2, Style, andÂ PBSÂ SproutÂ will also report to Lauren.Â Telemundo will continue to be led by Don Browne (President) and Jackie Hernandez (Chief Operating Officer); Â Salaam Coleman Smith willÂ continue to lead Style;Â and Chuck Davis willÂ continue to lead Fandango and Daily Candy,Â each reporting toÂ Lauren. Â Dave Cassaro will become President, Cable Advertising Sales, reporting to both Bonnie and Lauren.Â Dave will be responsible for cable and digital sales. Steve Mandala, Peter Naylor and Mike Rodriguez will report to Dave. Â Ted Harbert will join NBC Universal from Comcast as Chairman, NBC Broadcasting. Ted will be responsible for broadcast advertising sales, NBC affiliate relations, companywide research, domestic TV syndication and the NBC station group.Â Alan Wurtzel, Barry Wallach, Vivi Zigler and John Wallace will report to Ted. Â Marianne Gambelli will become President, NBC Network Advertising Sales. She will be responsible for network primetime, news and sports advertising sales and she will report to Ted. Â Bob Greenblatt will become Chairman, NBC Entertainment, responsible for all aspects of prime time and late night programming, business affairs, West Coast research, marketing, public relations, scheduling and NBC Universal Media Studios. Most recently, Bob was President, Entertainment for Showtime Networks, Inc.Â Marc Graboff and Angela Bromstad will report to Bob. Steve Capus will continue to serve as President of NBC News/MSNBC. Â Mark Hoffman will continue in his position as President of CNBC. Â Dick Ebersol will become Chairman of the NBC Sports Group.Â He will be responsible for NBC Sports, The Golf Channel, Versus and the Comcast Regional Sports Networks. Jon Litner (RSNs), Jamie Davis (Versus) and Earl Marshall (Golf) will report to Dick. Â Ron Meyer willÂ continue to be President and COO, Universal Studios.Â Adam Fogelson will continue as Chairman, Universal Pictures and Tom Williams will be in charge of Universal Parks and Resorts. ?¨Jeff Shell will join NBC Universal from Comcast and move to London to become Chairman of NBC Universal International. Â Peter Smith will report to Jeff. Â Lynn Calpeter will continue to be Executive Vice President and CFO of NBC Universal.Â In addition to the financial team, Ed Swindler, COO of Ad Sales, will report to Lynn and he will be heavily involved in companywide sales efforts. Â Pat Fili-Krushel will join NBC Universal as Executive Vice President with a broad portfolio of functions reporting to her, including Media Works, Business Strategy, Human Resources and Legal.Â Pat joins us from Time Warner (NYSE: TWX), where she served as Executive Vice President, Administration.Â Â Rick Cotton will continue to serve asÂ Executive Vice President and General Counsel of NBC Universal and will report to Pat and me. Â Salil Mehta will continue to serve as President, Business Operations, Strategy and Development for NBC Universal and will also report to Pat. Â John Eck will continue his role as President of Media Works, reporting to Pat as well. Â Adam Miller will join NBC Universal as Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs. Communications will report to Adam and he will also work on special projects.Â Adam joins us from the Abernathy MacGregor Group, where he was President and served as a longstanding adviser to Comcast.?¨?¨Matt Bond will join NBC Universal from Comcast as Executive Vice President, Content Distribution, responsible for domestic television content and digital distribution.Â Bridget Baker and JB Perrette will report to Matt.?¨?¨Paula Madison will continue to serve as Executive Vice President, Diversity. Page Thompson will join NBC Universal from Comcast as Executive Vice President, Strategic Integration, responsible for identifying synergy opportunities between Comcast, NBC, Universal Studios and Parks and the cable channels. ?¨Jeff Gaspin, Mike Pilot and Allison Gollust will be leaving NBC Universal at the close of the transaction. These transitions are often difficult and at times people who have made great contributions end up leaving.Â I want to thank them for their hard work and professionalism throughout the transition planning process. Â The team described above will not begin to operate the company until after the transaction closes, which will occur following regulatory approval.Â Between now and then, each business will continue to be managed by its respective leadership team, and NBC Universal will continue to be led by Jeff Zucker, whose talent, hard work and commitment have been instrumental in building NBC Universal into the company it is today.Â Â Â Â Â I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone at NBC Universal and the Comcast Programming Group for your continued patience, hard work and focus. Â While this announcement provides some clarity to some roles and responsibilities, it is only the first in what will be a series of milestones as we move into 2011. Â I hope you are as excited as I am by the prospect of what we can accomplish together in the future. Steve
News Article | February 27, 2014
The Vkontakte shareholder drama saw new developments yesterday as United Capital Partners (UCP), which acquired a 48 percent stake in the social network last year, announced that it is suing the company’s two other shareholders in Russian and international jurisdictions. The Russian fund is accusing Mail.ru Group and Ivan Tavrin — who bought his 12 percent stake from Vkontakte founder Pavel Durov a few months ago — of “blocking the company’s development” and “taking decisions which are not in its best interests.” Specifically, Mail.ru Group and Tavrin have not supported UCP’s demands for independent auditors to investigate the “numerous abuses” of the company’s resources which it claims have taken place over the last few years. In addition, UCP accuses Durov of spending a part of his time on Telegram, an IM project that the young entrepreneur launched last year outside of Vkontakte, which entails potential conflicts of interest. “As a shareholder of VK, Mail.ru Group represents Telegram as not competing with VK and instant messaging systems as holding no interest to VK. This position is increasingly difficult to understand when industry experts and financial anaysts tell us the opposite and Facebook has bought WhatsApp for $19 billion,” UCP states. UCP also sees a “conflict of interest” in Mail.ru Group’s ownership of Odnoklassniki and Moi Mir. “These two social networks compete with VK,” the fund maintains, an assessment with which it is hard to disagree. The fact that Tavrin works for Megafon, which is controlled by Mail.ru Group main shareholder Alisher Usmanov, is another cause of UCP suspicion. Mail.ru Group and Pavel Durov – who rarely missed opportunities to air their own shareholder disputes in the past – responded to UCP’s claim immediately and in solidarity. While Usmanov representative Ivan Streshinsky condemned UCP’s action as “pressure exerted by force” and “greenmail,” Mail.ru Group GM Dmitry Grishin called it a “tactic of corporate trolling that only harms the business.” Streshinsky recalled the controversial conditions under which UCP had acquired its stake in VK, which it characterized as “dubious schemes.” “Since they [became] a shareholder, UCP has opted for a strategy of threats, blackmail and intrigues [instead of] buidling a constructive community with other shareholders,” Streshinsky insisted. “In particular, they exerted legal pressure and attempted to publicly discredit Vkontakte founder Pavel Durov” with the ultimate aim of controlling the ocompany’s operational management – in spite of their minority position and in violation of shareholder agreements, according to Streshinsky. In addition, the Pereponsky brothers are suspected of having committed criminal offenses while they were part of the social network’s management team – on which the audit currently conducted by Deloitte and Ernst & Young should shed full light in spite of UCP’s opposition, according to Streshinsky. “Strangely, UCP hired Ilya Pereponsky as a consultant immediately after he left Vkontakte,” Streshinsky added with undisguised suspicion. For his part Durov recalled that since UCP became a shareholder, VK had, under his own management, “strengthened its leadership among social networks as well as its technical leadership in the mobile segment,” while the company’s value grew by “150 to 200%.” “UCP’s stated goal of making the company independent from its founder is not obviously in line with the issue of making it successful,” Durov added. As for Telegram’s independence from Vkontakte, Durov explained that it was a precondition for its international success as a communications medium “independent from the Russian secret service.” Arguments between shareholders did not stop the social network’s growing popularity. Vkontakte recently registered a record 60 million visits from Russia and beyond in one day, Durov claimed last month on his VK page, up 10 million in a mere four months. TNS has estimated Vkontakte’s average daily audience in December 2013 at 24.9 million unique users – ahead of competing networks Odnoklassniki.ru (17.9 million), Moi Mir (5.1 million) and Facebook (4.1 million). Facebook lags far behind its Russian competitors in monthly terms, too, with 25.4 million unique users vs. 51.2 million for Vkontakte. TNS’s figures take into account only users of 12 to 64 years of age from Russia.
News Article | September 21, 2014
Last week, Mail.ru Group, the LSE-listed Russian Internet giant, announced it now fully controls Vkontakte (VK.com), the leading Russian language social network with over 250 million registered accounts and 60 million daily users. The group, which already owned 52 percent of the Vkontakte, bought the remaining 48 percent stake from UCP, the Russian investment fund that had become a VK shareholder in April last year. The all-cash transaction amounted to $1.47 billion. The move put an end to a three-year-long saga over the ownership of the company, which involved financial interests, personal disputes, international lawsuits, and political pressures. Here’s how it played out. When Mail.ru Group went public on the London Stock Exchange in October 2010, the fact that it did not control Vkontakte was regarded as a weak point. The Mail.ru Group, which already fully owned the two other leading Russian social networks Odnoklassniki and Moi Mir, started expressing an interest in taking control of Vkontakte in early 2011. “We currently own 32.49 percent as well as an option on 7.5 percent. It would be strategically correct for us to take control of the social network or, even better, to acquire all its shares,” the group’s CEO Dmitry Grishin stated at that time. “We rule out, and consider to be utopian, the full integration of Vkontakte into Mail.ru Group,” replied Pavel Durov, Vkontakte’s general manager and minority shareholder at that time, in an open letter. In July 2011, nevertheless, Mail.ru Group, exercised its option to raise its stake in Vkontakte.ru from 32.49 percent to 39.99 percent. The transaction valued the company at $1.5 billion. Responding to the move on his Twitter account, the independent-minded Durov referred to Mail.ru Group as a “trash holding.” The message was accompanied by a disrespectful photo of Durov’s “official answer to Mail.ru Group’s last attempt to absorb Vkontakte.” Durov also condemned Mail.ru’s file hosting service, files.mail.ru, as “a tasteless warehouse of viruses and warez,” and accused the group of “massive bribery.” In late 2012, Mail.ru Group’s main shareholder Alisher Usmanov – who had kept a relatively peaceful relationship with Durov – said he was still willing to increase his group’s stake in the social network. “We’ll [soon] reach our goals,” the billionaire said. VK’s ownership changed radically in the spring of 2013, when United Capital Partners (UCP), a major Russian fund operating in various industries, acquired a 48 percent stake from co-founders Vyacheslav Mirilashvili and Lev Leviev – who owned 40 percent and 8 percent stakes, respectively. While opposition-minded observers saw in the move an attempt to increase the Kremlin’s control over the Russian Internet, UCP claimed it had “purely financial” motivations. The transaction was put in doubt, however, by Durov and Mail.ru Group. UCP appeared to have acquired legal entities that controlled 48 percent of Vkontakte – not shares in Vkontakte directly. This “dubious scheme,” as a Mail.ru Group spokesman put it, allowed the sellers to get around their obligation to first offer their stakes to existing shareholders. In a concerted effort, Durov and Mail.ru group went to court in April 2014 in a bid to return the litigated 48 percent to what they claimed were the true shareholders. In addition, Durov threatened to sue the UCP for defamation, following statements made by UCP partner Yuri Kachuro. The latter had publicly accused VK’s CEO of “spending most of his time on personal projects” and of being “pathologically unable to respect agreements and rules of conduct.” On its side, UCP filed a lawsuit in the British Virgin Islands against Durov and Mail.ru Group, in order “to protect its economic rights following the launch of Telegram” — an instant messaging application launched by Durov in 2013 outside of Vkontakte. Durov’s initiative entailed potential conflicts of interest, according to UCP, which saw Telegram as a VK competitor and claimed ownership over the application. Mail.ru’s acquisition of UCP’s stake brought all that to an end. Simultaneously with Mail.ru Group’s acquisition of UCP’s stake, the parties announced last week that the outstanding litigation and claims concerning VK and related matters between UCP, Mail.ru Group and Durov, will be dropped immediately. “All the parties have achieved their respective goals: Mail.ru Group will consolidate 100 percent in VK; Durov will be able to fully control and develop Telegram; and UCP as a financial investor is quite pleased with the return on investment,” said Nafisa Nasyrova of the UCP’s press service in an exchange with East-West Digital News. She however could not disclose the acquisition price in last year’s transaction. Durov — who lost his minority stake in late 2013 and was dismissed as CEO in April 2014, claiming to be the victim of political pressures — also seems quite satisfied. “I welcome the decision of my former partners to abandon their claims towards Telegram and to transfer the American entities under my control. For my part, I acknowledge the dismissal of claims against UCP and congratulate all parties involved on the settlement,” Durov stated. No Durov comeback to Vkontakte is to be expected. “He is not in the country, and is running his own projects. No new role for him in VK has been discussed,” Kseniya Chabanenko of the Mail.ru Group’s press service told East-West Digital News.
News Article | April 24, 2014
The former CEO finds out about his dismissal from the press, says he won’t return to Russia CEO Pavel Durov has left Vkontakte (VK.com), Russia’s leading social network which he founded in 2007. His resignation was announced by the company’s press office in a statement published by the Russian news agency Interfax. “Judging by the news, I was fired today as the general director of VKontakte. Interestingly, the shareholders did not have the courage to do it directly and I learnt about my mysterious dismissal from the press,” Durov wrote on his Vkontakte page. In an exchange with TechCrunch, Durov said he was out of Russia with no plans to go back. “Unfortunately, the country is incompatible with Internet business at the moment,” he believes. On April 1, Durov had resigned from the CEO position, explaining that his freedom in running VK had been reduced by the recent shareholder change. On April 3, however, he withdrew his resignation, saying his departure would have affected VK’s future negatively. Durov now sees in his forced resignation a move from the two main VK shareholders, the UCP fund and the Mail.ru group. ”Now the site has moved under the full control of Igor Sechin and Alisher Usmanov,” Durov stated – an “inevitable development in Russian conditions,” according to him. Sechin and Usmanov are widely seen as Kremlin-friendly oligarchs. The former is said to be close to UCP managing partner Ilya Shcherbovich. The latter is the main shareholder of the Mail.ru Group, which could soon control 52 percent of the social network. However, according to Reuters UCP stated that Sechin was neither its client nor a shareholder. Furthermore, in what appears as a new development in an endless shareholder saga, the fund maintained that it had not approved Durov’s dismissal and that the question should be discussed at the next board meeting. Durov believes his dismissal has been motivated by his “public refusal” to collaborate with the FSB, the post-Soviet successor to the KGB. It was for the same reason that he was forced to sell his remaining 12 percent of the company this past January, he claimed last week. “On December 13, 2013 the FSB demanded that we disclose personal information on the leaders of Euromaidan [the Kiev-based movement that organized protests against the regime of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich]. Our response to such requests has always been ‘no,’ as Russian jurisdiction does not cover VKontakte’s Ukrainian users. Giving Ukrainians’ personal data away to Russian authorities would not only have been illegal, it would also have been disloyal to the millions of Ukrainian citizens who trusted us,” Durov explained. Durov has displayed an official two-page letter that the FSB allegedly sent him in December. The letter contained a list of 39 VK.com users among Ukrainian organizations and individuals that the Russian security service believed deserved scrutiny. Durov emphasized that he did not regret his considerable loss of property – VK was recording some 60 million daily visitors at the time – since protecting personal data was worth it. “I haven’t held [VK] shares since December 2013, but keeping a clear conscience and defending my ideals is more important,” he pointed out. In another post on his page Durov said he had faced pressure from another powerful Russian agency for weeks over his repeated refusal to pull the plug on an anti-corruption online community led by Alexei Navalny, a prominent Russian opposition politician and blogger. “On March 13, 2014 state prosecutors demanded that I close down Navalny’s anti-corruption group and threatened to block VKontakte if I didn’t. I didn’t do that in December 2011, and I certainly won’t do it now,” he maintained. Durov emphasized that what he labeled “political censorship” is something neither he nor his team will ever engage in, as “the freedom to disseminate information is an undeniable right in a postindustrial society…[and] the absence of it would render VKontakte’s existence meaningless.” VKontakte was nevertheless accused two years ago of collaborating with state security services to counter anti-Putin activity by its Russian users. What do you know about IT in Russia? Take our quiz!
News Article | June 5, 2015
Last year, the Army announced that it had chosen a new camouflage uniform, finally selecting the replacement for its pixelated camouflage outfits, known as the Universal Camouflage Pattern. The reason was straight-forward: those outfits didn't work. And now the replacement uniforms — really, a version of older uniforms — are coming. The UCP story is a strange, complicated, unfortunate one. In 2004, the Army adopted the new patterns in the hopes of improving invisibility, but that didn't happen — in fact, the pattern may have made troops more visible. So in 2010, the Army launched a competition to find the next generation of camouflage, but as Gizmodo reported last year, the competition never led to a winner. Instead, the Army chose a pattern it had designed in-house, under contract from a company that had designed the stopgap camouflage soldiers were using after it was discovered the UCP designs didn't work. The Army had that in-house pattern since 2002, meaning, essentially, everything that happened afterward never needed to. This week, the Army finally announced that those "new" uniforms — known as "Operational Camouflage Pattern" — are here. They will be sold in military clothing stores across the United States on July 1st.
News Article | August 27, 2015
New EVO: RAIL Solution and VMware vSphere Virtual Volumes Support help power software-defined infrastructure for VMware environments. Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) has announced new hyper-converged infrastructure solutions and software enhancements for VMware environments. The solutions help eliminate complexity, protect workloads and reduce operational expenses, and are particularly helpful for partners and customers who want to transform traditional data centers and embrace private and hybrid cloud environments. The newly available Hitachi Unified Compute Platform (UCP) 1000 for VMware EVO:RAIL™ is a simple, pre-built and fully optimized hyper-converged appliance that is designed for rapid, low-cost deployment of remote office, test and development, virtual desktop and similar virtualized solutions. Like the existing UCP family from Hitachi Data Systems, UCP 1000 for VMware EVO:RAIL provides enterprise converged infrastructure solutions that easily support core-to-edge IT workloads and simplifies increasingly complex data centers, and now remote offices. Hitachi also announced new VMware vSphere® Virtual Volumes support for the industry-leading Hitachi Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) G1000. The Hitachi implementation of VMware vSphere Virtual Volumes allows customers to automate and take full advantage of granular VM control and policy-based management of VM growth and drive greater data center efficiency. “Increasingly, organizations are transitioning from dedicated, separate compute, networking and storage systems to converged and hyper-converged infrastructure architectures to accelerate time to value and simplify data center management. We also see growing demand for functionality, performance and reliability as organizations deploy private and hybrid cloud,” said Ravi Chalaka, Vice President of Solutions Marketing and Social Innovation, Hitachi Data Systems. Further added, “In collaboration with VMware, our long-time strategic partner, we are pleased to now offer new solutions and functionalities to enable partners and customers to meet their business objectives.” For simple, cost-effective data protection, Hitachi UCP 1000 for VMware EVO:RAIL offers optional integration with Hitachi Data Ingestor software that allows for “bottomless backup” on-premise with Hitachi Content Platform (HCP) or in the cloud with Hitachi Cloud Service for Content Archiving. Hitachi UCP 1000 for VMware EVO:RAIL provides customers with the flexibility and agility they need in remote office and other environments at a lower cost than other solutions. A new release of Hitachi Virtual Infrastructure Integrator 3.0, a comprehensive data protection and management solution that is specific to VMware vSphere, simplifies data management for file and block storage and allows scheduled and instantaneous backup, recovery and cloning services. It also helps customers meet backup and recovery service levels at the VM level while improving resource utilization. Hitachi Data Systems is also now offering stretched storage cluster capabilities on VSP systems using global-active device technology in conjunction with VMware vCenter Site Recovery Manager, allowing customers nondisruptive application mobility and improved recovery point objectives (RPO) and recovery time objectives (RTO) in the event of disaster. Hitachi Data Systems provides highly available, active-active clusters with automated recovery for Tier 1 business applications. “For years, VMware and HDS have worked together to help customers on their journey to the unified hybrid cloud by developing new, reliable solutions that are simple to use and can support growing business needs,” said Toni Adams, Vice President, Global Partner Marketing, VMware. Also said, “Building on that partnership, we are continuing to work closely with HDS to help our customers accelerate time to value, with infrastructure that can protect workloads and enable reduced operational expenses.” VMworld San Francisco 2015: Hitachi Data Systems will be demonstrating its new solutions for VMware environments at VMworld, August 30 to September 2, 2015 in Booth #905 at Moscone Center in San Francisco, CA.
News Article | February 27, 2017
SAN JOSE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--UCP, Inc. (NYSE:UCP) today announced its results of operations for the three months and full year ended December 31, 2016. Dustin Bogue, President and Chief Executive Officer of UCP, stated, “We are pleased to achieve record earnings for the full year 2016 as a result of sustained revenue momentum, operating discipline and a transformative approach to generating stronger profitability. During the year, our efforts to design innovative homes and uphold best in class construction standards allowed us grow homebuilding revenues and improve homebuilding gross margin, despite inflationary increases in material and labor costs. In the fourth quarter, the West division continued to be the main driver of growth, with home deliveries growing 22.8% and net new home orders growing 31.7%, on the strength of demand from our first-time and move down home buyer. In the Southeast, fourth quarter net new home orders grew for the second consecutive quarter. Overall, our West and Southeast markets continue to demonstrate healthy housing fundamentals with year-end backlog up 45.4% to 362 units. As we look to 2017 and beyond, we are committed to growing earnings through a sustainable pipeline of well-located communities to drive high-quality orders at attractive margins. We plan to accomplish this while improving balance sheet metrics, extending our debt maturities and maintaining an effective land strategy to improve returns on equity.” Net income increased to $9.3 million for the quarter, compared to $7.6 million for the prior year period. Net income attributable to Class A common stockholders was $7.2 million, or $0.89 per share, compared to $3.2 million, or $0.40 per share, for the prior year period. Net income and net income attributable to Class A common stockholders of UCP for the fourth quarter 2016 included a $5.6 million tax benefit the majority of which was in connection with the removal of UCP’s valuation allowance of $5.5 million on its deferred tax asset as of December 31, 2016. Homebuilding revenue increased 17.5% to $104.4 million, compared to $88.9 million for the prior year period. The improvement was driven by a 15.2% increase in homes delivered to 257, compared to 223 during the prior year period, led by increased deliveries of 22.8% in the West. The average selling price of a home increased 1.8% to $406,000 per home, compared to the prior year period. Homebuilding gross margin percentage was 18.6%, compared to 18.0% for the prior year period. Adjusted homebuilding gross margin percentage was 20.9%, compared to 21.1% for the prior year period, due primarily to inflationary increases in material and labor costs. Consolidated gross margin percentage was 18.5%, compared to 19.6% for the prior year period, primarily as a result of lower revenue from a significant land sale in the fourth quarter of 2015. Sales and marketing expense was $5.7 million, or flat compared to the prior year period. As a percentage of total revenue, sales and marketing expense increased slightly to 5.4%, compared to 5.3% for the prior year period, due to a reduction in land development revenue. Sales and marketing expense as a percentage of homebuilding revenue improved by 100 basis points year-over-year. General and administrative expense was $10.1 million, compared to $7.6 million for the prior year period. General and administrative expense in the fourth quarter 2016 included approximately $1.3 million of one-time expenses associated with professional fees in connection with capital market activities, which was partly offset by tightly managing other G&A expenses. As a percentage of total revenue, general and administrative expense was 9.6% compared to 7.1% for the prior year period, primarily attributable to the one-time costs in the fourth quarter of 2016 and a reduction in land development revenue. Net new home orders increased 26.1% to 232, compared to 184 for the prior year period, led by a 31.7% increase in net new home orders in the West. The average number of selling communities remained consistent with the prior year period at 28. Unit backlog at the end of the quarter was up 45.4% to 362, compared to 249 at the end of the prior year period. Unit backlog in the Southeast improved 64.1% to 105 homes. Backlog on a dollar basis increased 37.6% to $149.6 million, compared to $108.8 million at the end of the prior year period. Total lots owned and controlled were 6,638 at December 31, 2016, compared to 5,878 at December 31, 2015. UCP reduced its number of owned lots by 720 lots to 4,031 and increased its number of controlled lots by 1,480 lots to 2,607, as UCP continues to prudently manage its inventory and strive to expand its return on equity and assets. Net income increased to $14.4 million for 2016, compared to $5.8 million for 2015. Net income attributable to Class A common stockholders was $9.2 million, or $1.15 per share, compared to $2.4 million, or $0.30 per share, for the prior year. Total consolidated revenue increased 25.3% to $349.4 million, compared to $278.8 million for the prior year. Homebuilding revenue increased 36.2% to $343.9 million, compared to $252.6 million for the prior year. The improvement was the result of a 17.0% increase in the number of homes delivered to 820 during 2016, compared to 701 during 2015, and a 16.4% increase in the average selling price per home. Land development revenue was $5.4 million, compared to $21.1 million for the prior year. Opportunities to sell land at attractive margins did not exist during 2016 to the extent they did in 2015 and the economics did not justify foregoing margins available from building homes through ongoing operations. Homebuilding gross margin percentage was 18.3%, compared to 17.8% for the prior year. Adjusted Homebuilding gross margin was 20.7%, compared to 20.3% for the prior year. Consolidated gross margin percentage was 17.6%, compared to 18.5% for the prior year. Selling, general and administrative expense was $48.4 million, compared to $45.8 million for the prior year. As a percentage of total revenue, selling, general and administrative expense was 13.9%, compared to 16.4% for the prior year. Net new home orders increased 8.5% to 933 from 860 for the prior year while the average number of selling communities remained consistent with the prior year at 28. In June 2016, UCP’s board of directors authorized a stock repurchase program, under which UCP may repurchase up to $5.0 million of its Class A common stock through June 1, 2018. As of December 31, 2016, UCP had repurchased 146,346 shares of Class A common stock for approximately $1.2 million under this stock repurchase program. UCP will host a conference call for investors and other interested parties on Monday, February 27, 2017 at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (9:00 a.m. Pacific Time). Interested parties can listen to the call live on the internet and locate accompanying presentation slides through the Investor Relations section of UCP’s website at www.unioncommunityllc.com. Listeners are advised to log on to the website at least 15 minutes prior to the call to download and / or install any necessary audio software. The conference call can also be accessed by dialing 1-877-407-3982 for domestic participants or 1-201-493-6780 for international participants. Participants should ask for the UCP Fourth Quarter 2016 Earnings Conference Call. Those dialing in should do so at least ten minutes prior to the start of the conference call. A replay of the conference call will be available through March 27, 2017 by dialing 1-844-512-2921 for domestic participants or 1-412-317-6671 for international participants and entering the pass code 13653240. An archive of the webcast will be available on UCP’s website for a limited time. UCP is a homebuilder and land developer with expertise in residential land acquisition, development and entitlement, as well as home design, construction and sales. UCP operates in the States of California, Washington, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. UCP designs, constructs and sells high quality single-family homes through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Benchmark Communities, LLC. This press release contains forward-looking statements. You should not place undue reliance on those statements because they are subject to numerous uncertainties and factors relating to UCP's operations and business environment, all of which are difficult to predict and many of which are beyond UCP's control. Forward-looking statements include information concerning UCP's possible or assumed future results of operations, including descriptions of UCP's business strategy. These statements often include words such as "may," “might,” "will," "should," “expects,” “plans,” "anticipates," “believes,” “estimates,” “predicts,” “potential,” “project,” “goal” "intend," or “continue,” or similar expressions. These statements are based on assumptions that UCP has made in light of its experience in the industry as well as its perceptions of historical trends, current conditions, expected future developments and other factors it believes are appropriate under the circumstances. Although UCP believes that these forward-looking statements are based on reasonable assumptions, it can give no assurance they will prove to be correct. Therefore, you should be aware that many factors could affect UCP's actual financial results or results of operations and could cause actual results to differ materially from those in the forward-looking statements. Any forward-looking statement made by UCP herein, or elsewhere, speaks only as of the date on which it was made. New risks and uncertainties come up from time to time, and it is impossible for UCP to predict these events or how they may affect it. UCP has no obligation to update any forward-looking statements after the date hereof, except as required by federal securities laws. Homebuilding adjusted gross margin, land development adjusted gross margin and net debt to capital are non-GAAP financial measures. A reconciliation to the most comparable U.S. GAAP financial measures is presented in Appendix A hereto.