3dfx’s Stunning Turnaround — From Market Leader to the Chopping Block in 24 Months

A couple years ago graphic chip maker 3dfx was so far ahead of its competitors that people often used 3dfx and 3d accelerator cards as synonymous. Its competitors tended to put out propriety chips that didn’t work well (if they worked at all) and had numerous problems. 3dfx was on top of the world and looked, to me at least, untouchable.

This week, of course, 3dfx went out of business with rival chip maker and reining 3d king Nvidia acquiring the only thing of value 3dfx had left — its intellectual property in the form of patents and some physical assets. What happened?

3dfx got greedy. Rather than simply turn out butt kicking graphics chips, 3dfx listened to the suits who were whispering in their ears that they could make even more money if they cut out the middlemen who put their chips on cards with different configurations and went into the business of exclusively producing graphic cards with their chips. So where once you could buy a 3d card with a 3dfx chip from any number of companies, now the only place to buy such cards was from 3dfx. Unfortunately for the company, it sucked at getting graphics cards out almost as much as it excelled at creating state-of-the-art graphics.

Nvidia positioned itself simply as a graphics chip company and won. Why deal with all the headaches of different card configurations and technical support for every iteration — sell the chips to third parties and let them deal with that hassle (and conversely, let competition among card makers give consumers a much wider range of options than Nvidia could possibly support on its own).

In addition, Nvidia embraced Microsoft’s Direct 3D while 3dfx’s Voodoo cards supported its own Glide system exclusively. Early versions of Direct 3D were horrendous (and some argue the API has improved little since then), but hardware companies ignore Microsoft at their own peril

Of course hindsight is always 20/20 and it’s always that easy to tell the difference between a boneheaded move and passing up a golden business opportunity, but everything 3dfx was doing was so far removed from its bread and butter graphic chip business that it would really have been a shock if the company had been able to pull it off.

There’s also a lesson in there about just how quickly a company can go from market leader to dead meat. A lot of people thought 3dfx was making the wrong decisions, but nobody to my knowledge suspected they’d be out of business in only two years, much less from Nvidia which prior to its TNT chip produced cards that were generally considered inferior at best.

Animal Liberation Front Claims Responsibility for Vancouver Truck Firebombing

The Animal Liberation Front claim that on December 11 activists placed incendiary devices under three trucks at Ferry Meat Market in Vancouver, British Columbia, though apparently only one of the incendiary devices actually detonated.

In a communique republished by the North American Animal Liberation Front Press Office, the ALF activists said that,

Ferry Meat Market …was chosen because of its involvement with the barbaric meat trade that claims billions of lives yearly. All businesses large or small which participate in animal abusing industries will continue to be targeted as part of the ALF’s ongoing campaign to tend the slaughter of animals for profit. Let it be known to those with blood on their hands that we are watching.

In case anyone missed the point in that, David Barbarash — who insists he is only a spokesman for the ALF — said in the Press Office release that, “Meat companies and packing plants are frequent targets of animal liberation activists because of the inherent cruelty of raising an animal for slaughter. From the rearing of cows, pigs and chickens, to their confinement, to their ultimate slaughter all involve cruelty, pain, suffering and ultimately, death.”


A.L.F. claim fire attack on meat trucks. Press release, North American Animal Liberation Front Press Office, December 13, 2000.

Student Groups on the Dole

A few years ago, conservative students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison sued the university on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to force them to pay student fees which went to groups who espoused views they disagreed with. Essentially the students argued they were being forced by the state to subsidize certain viewpoints. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with the students, ruling that student fees used to fund student groups were within the realm of the educational mission of the university.

At the time it seemed like a slam dunk victory for the student groups on the dole in Wisconsin, but now it appears those groups may yet end up being made losers by the litigation. Specifically the U.S. Supreme Court said that student fee systems such as Wisconsin’s were Constitutional so long as they had a viewpoint-neutral system. Last week a U.S. Circuit Court ruled that, in fact, Wisconsin’s system was not viewpoint neutral and hence unconstitutional.

One of the interesting things about the latest development is that even one of the benefactors of the system admits it is not viewpoint-neutral. Here’s what Heidi Richgruber, the project coordinator for University of Wisconsin student group Sex Out Loud, told the Badger Herald,

I think the decision is significant. It scares me and makes me nervous thinking that the things which keep student organizations going is in jeopardy. However, I do agree that it is a biased system.

One of the amusing things is the number of groups the Badger Herald was able to track down who complain they simply wouldn’t survive without all of the money they confiscate from other students. From a lot of personal experience, groups that would truly fail without such funding are almost always very poorly managed and/or considered irrelevant by the vast majority of students. By crying that they won’t survive, such groups simply beg the question of what role they serve in the first place if there is almost no independent demand for their message.


Court decision worries U. Wisconsin student groups. Jill Bower, The Badger Herald (University of Wisconsin), December 12, 2000.

Scientist’s decode a plant’s entire genome

Genetic researchers from around the world recently announced they had successfully read the entire genetic code for arabidopsis thaliana, commonly known as thale cress. Although only a small weed, thale cress has already played important roles in several important genetic advances in plants and the full decoding of its genome promises even more advances.

According to the BBC, the work of decoding the genome took four years, cost upwards of $70 million and involved scientists working around the world in a massive collaborative effort.

Since thale cress is basically a small weed, it grows very quickly and has been an ideal plant for scientists to test ideas on how to genetically alter plants. Among other innovations first pioneered on the plant were methods of protecting wheat from diseases and genetic modifications that double the yield of oilseed rape.

According to Dr. Daphne Preuss of the University of Chicago, having the full genome available for study will further accelerate research involving the plant. “This landmark achievement,” she said, “means that every lab around the world working with Arabidopsis, as well as any other flowing plant, will be doing their science faster, easier and in a more thorough way.”

Dr. Ottoline Leyeser of New York University underscored the importance of the accomplishment by noting that in many ways it could prove even more important than the decoding of the human genome. “Plants are fundamental to all ecosystems in the world,” he said. “They are the energy inputs of those systems. But even if you take a human-centric view, the plant genome is still more important because far more people die from malnutrition than died from the diseases the human genome will help target.”


Little weed in science landmark. The BBC, December 13, 2000.

Animal Rights Activists Suspected in UK Bomb Blast

On December 11 a man barely escaped with his life after a bomb planted near his van destroyed the vehicle shortly before he was to leave for work. At the moment, animal rights activists are the focus of police suspicion.

The man worked for an electrical firm that was subcontracted to work for a pharmaceutical firm, which the UK media reported was probably Astra Zeneca. The van was used to transport electrical workers to the pharmaceutical company.

London’s Daily Mail reported that the bomb, which was powerful enough to destroy windows in homes and other vehicles 100 feet away, was similar to devices previously used by animal rights activists. The Daily Mail quoted detective superintendent Michael Ward who said, “The suspicion is that it has come from animal rights activists and it was directed towards one company. The vehicle attacked was used by a sub-contractor working for a company which has attracted the interests of animal rights activists.”

Update: This case was later definitively proved not to have had any animal rights connection.


Bomb blast blamed on animal rights activists. David Wilkes, Daily Mail, December 12, 2000.

Kenyan Girls Win Female Gential Mutilation Injunction

A Kenyan judge recently granted an injunction sought by two teenage girls to stop their father from forcing them to submit to female genital mutilation — the first time that a court has intervened to stop the practice which is prevalent in rural Kenya.

The BBC reported that,

The human rights group [The Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Kenya] says girls from the Kalenjin tribe are normally subject to circumcision and immediately forced into sexual activities or marriage.


Kenyan girls win circumcision ban. The BBC, December 13, 2000.