Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2008

This week is the O’Reilly Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. At the last minute I got a deal on a pass, and really wanted to come out here to listen to a few of the sessions. There is nothing like getting out to the San Francisco Bay Area to learn and mingle with the web world. I came in today to attend the Workshops they were offering … there were a couple that caught my eye.

I got to wake up at 4:30am to get out of the house by 5:00am … it’s an hour drive from Heber to the Airport … to catch my 7:00am flight to SFO. I like a conference like this because upon arriving at SFO it was a short walk to the AirTrain to ride to the Bart station … then a quick ride on Bart to the Powell Station just blocks from my hotel and the Moscone convention center. I dropped my bags at the hotel, and heading over to the first session on Starting Up: Strategies for Financing & Growing Your Web 2.0 Startup … presented by Rob Hayes & Jeff Clavier. I got in an hour late … so missed some of the initial slides … but got some good points from them:

Picking your source of funding
They spent a great deal of time talking about how to pick your source of funding carefully. They really stressed to not waste YOUR time. There is no use going to a angel or VC if their investment profile, and current investments, don’t align with your type of start-up. Do your own research into who is out there, and what types of investments they make … what dollar levels, and what risk levels. Do they invest pre-revenue, and how big is their fund. All of this will ensure that if you can get in the door … there can be some synergy between the investor and your organization.

The presenters then spent a good bit of time talking about the value of introductions. They both stressed that although it is not the absolute rule, if they hear about you and your company through one of their current investments, or someone that they know, it can really assist in getting you more attention. C’mon … this is obvious thinking, and so they said to again look at where and how you can do some networking, and meet the people who know people with money. They talked about the numerous Bay Area tech parties and meet-ups (which Jesse and I both agree we want to see more of in Utah!!) where tech people hang out to talk about what they are up to … and share knowledge and ideas. These events are happening on a weekly and nightly basis! They both commented about the

The Process
They had a slide with too many bullets for me to jot down … and joked about what to be prepared for in the process of funding. From experience, I can say they are right …

  1. Pitch
  2. More pitches
  3. Due diligence
  4. More pitches
  5. Partner’s meeting
  6. Termsheet issued
  7. Terms negotiation
  8. More due diligence
  9. Legal docs
  10. Get funding
  11. Begin work!

They really wanted to stress that the process takes time … and is a lot of work. And to be prepared, and patient, with the process.

The Pitch
They spent some time talking about your pitch … don’t waste time … don’t talking about big flowery stories … don’t waste your time with them setting the stage for how you are going to save the world, and create world peace. The keys to a successful pitch are:

  • Goals – clearly state yours!
  • Audience – consider who you are talking to
  • Presentation – keep it short and sweet … 10 slides!
  • Energy – if you are passionate, they will know!
  • Attendance – choose carefully who is going to be there
  • Follow up – make sure to follow-up quickly and thoroughly

They then introduced some CEOs of small Web 2.0 start-ups. The first was the CEO and founder of Dogster & Catster, Ted Rheingold. He created vertical portals for pet lovers. As of March 2008: 750k unique visitors, 25 million page serves. He explained how they made a lot of mistakes … thinking they could make revenue through ad networks, affiliate programs, locally targeted ads, outside sales of ad inventory, and even over spending on marketing when they weren’t sure what they were marketing!

What he then explained worked … selling their ad inventory directly, integrated brand campaigns, sponsor-level brand advertisers (Important!), subscription service, leveraging customer base for QA/Market Research, and creating REAL content with viral fun!

There was a second CEO, and then open floor Q&A. There were a lot of interesting questions and comments.

  • If you are working on your start-up on the side, make sure it is not in any conflict with your full time employer. Do not use their equipment or resources!
  • Once funded, you must fully commit your time and efforts to the start-up. Period.
  • You are much more likely to get money from your local area. This relates to the investor being able to meet/see their investment. There are also possible tax issues, board meetings, etc. Local *can* be within a region … western USA, eastern USA. It’s simple logistics. How far does the investor want to travel for you? The investors time *is* money.
  • What do the VCs look for? An idea? A prototype? One answer was: Who you are, who is on your team, what is the market, how do they (the investor) perceive the market.
  • Investors want to see *some* level of experienced team members.  They *might* invest in a new “just out of school” team, but they feel much more comfortable with a team that has at least one experienced member.  Never say never … but it’s worth finding an experienced entrepreneur with a track record of some kind.
  • Do everything that you can to keep your “burn rate” down … low expenses … careful spending … until you actually get a “tick up” – a real rise in users and usage – which proves adoption.  That is when the Series A funding becomes possible.

Overall … a fun presentation!  Off to lunch …

Earthquakes, Mashups, and Programming Components

Live Earthquake MashupOver the past week or more I’ve been having a lot of fun watching earthquakes all over the world. Not the actual earthquakes, but the reports of earthquakes. And not text reports, or overly dramatized news reports … but a timeline of earthquakes along with them being plotted on Google Maps, updated every 5 minutes. Live Earthquake Mashup is a very impressive demonstration of a “mashup“.

I found out about the site when a friend Tyler Whitaker twittered about the site … and it took me a day or two to go and see what he was talking about. Since then, I have left it up and running on my test workstation in my office … and it has offered me a whole new perspective on earthquakes! (As I was writing this, I just noticed there was an earthquake in Yellowstone National Park – not far from here – last night that was a 4.2 quake!)

There are several things that this has really brought to my attention … about earthquakes, and also programming. The truly fascinating thing that I have learned about earthquakes is that they are going on, all day long, all around the globe, but few make any news. The other thing is that they seem to cluster (duh!) around the key places on the earth where the plates are under the most pressure and shifting … and that these places are now clearly visible on the map provided! I keep thinking about what a movie of this map would look like if recorded over a long period of time. Like twitter, this mashup has raised my awareness about something that I otherwise would have never known. It has condensed an entire series of global events into a concise model that is presented to me while I work. I like that concept …

The other thing that amazed me about this mashup is just how simple it is. I do not want to minimize the effort and work of the author in any way … and I truly respect the creativity and thought that went into it. This is a powerful example of where we are going with software components, and ease of development.

When I first ran the application, of course I immediately recognized he had used Google Maps for the mapping … most everyone does. I was also aware of the USGS RSS earthduake data feeds that the US government provides. I was very impressed with the timeline that he had at the top of his application … it provided a very nice way to visualize the time series of earthquakes, and allows you to scroll easily through them, and to select earthquakes and have the map reflect their location. I did notice a copyright notice on the timeline – SIMILE. When I reloaded the application later, I saw it make a request to http://simile.mit.edu … huh … time to investigate …

What I found was impressive. MIT has a program called the Semantic Interoperability of Metadata and Information in unLike Environments … SIMILE. They have a whole set of components and software that they have created and are offering for free use. The Timeline is a SIMILE project, and it is a component that can be used in mashups as easily as Google Maps! (I’m slowly working my way through their site to examine all of the other components and software … pretty cool stuff …)
So the developer of the Live Earthquake Mashup took two high-level visualization components – Google Maps and the SIMILE Timeline, and knitted them together with some code to fetch and parse the RSS feeds (which might also be a available library) and created a very powerful and useful visualization of global data … and made it available to anyone who wants to see it. It was not a formidable task to create this incredible demonstration of what is possible.

Of course now this application has me thinking about other possible mashups that could be created with these same components. I know of a few, but it would also be interesting if law enforcement would release crime details as RSS feeds, or traffic accidents. What other types of data might be interesting to display on a real-time updating map like this one? I’d love to hear other ideas …

The Secret … circa 1902 …

In the last week I came across an author that I had not heard about before … James Allen. I also enjoyed two different conversations about the recent attention that The Secret has been getting. What was interesting to me was that both of the conversations about The Secret were with people who simply did not want to consider the power of their own thoughts in defining their destiny.

At one time in my life, I too would have been a skeptic, but almost a decade ago I became open to varied explanations of “how the world is.” I no longer hold onto my traditional science and logic as I once used to … and it has served me well. The deeper I had been digging into quantum sciences, and reading the thoughts of leaders such as Schrödinger, Einstein and Wittgenstein, I quickly began to question “reality” and the various models of the universe that I was taught from childhood. I believe that as science continues to explore the depths of the universe, we’ll all become a little uncomfortable as some of our core beliefs continue to be rocked.
James Allen is a refreshing read … so little is know about him and his history. But his writings communicate the same basic understanding of the world that is repeated by some many people, and so many books … an understanding that is still rejected by so many … but that can make life so simple and easy:

The aphorism, “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he,” not only embraces the whole of a man’s being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.

You are what you think! Your thoughts cause your world. Your actions and behavior are driven by your thoughts. What you think and speak … is what has got you where you are.

Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself. He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace. By the right choice and true application of thought, man ascends to the Divine Perfection; by the abuse and wrong application of thought, he descends below the level of the beast. Between these two extremes are all the grades of character, and man is their maker and master.

The keys in this quote are that it is all your choice … in every moment of every day. Your choices of what thoughts to acknowledge and act on are what define your destiny. And the true application of thought … That is authentic application … with complete integrity … that allows those thoughts to cause and create.
I encourage anyone interested to read the works of James Allen … I was truly impressed, and glad to see yet another author who learned and saw the power that we all have to define how our life is going to go.

P.S. If you doubt that it is that easy … you are also right. Your own thoughts of doubt will drown out any thoughts of possibility … and your own ability to be open to consider that the world might actually work this way. It’s all your choice! 🙂

New forms of remote debugging … 2008!

Over the weekend, I had an interesting idea and implemented it.  It’s kinda funny … and kinda cool.  Some might even think kinda sick … but I like it.

I’m currently working on some PHP scripts that are processing mail.  Lots of mail.  As we are now entering into beta test, I’m having to update the scripts in two different ways … both to implement user preferences, and also to deal with all sorts of mail formats.  Oh … and I’m also having an interesting MySQL Database disconnect problem I’m looking into.  As I’m now into my third week of debugging, the scripts are getting hardened, and I’m having fewer problems, but there are still times when the script will crash.  I then have to investigate the issue, write code to deal with the exception, and then restart the scripts.

My issue is that I don’t want to just sit and watch my console … waiting for bugs.  So this weekend,  I started to do some remote debugging using my cell phone and SMS/Text messaging … and it worked! In my code I’ve put a variety of traps to catch exceptions when they occur, and I have the code send me a SMS/Text message as it crashes.  I get the error message, and know immediately that I have a problem.  I then have the choice of heading over to my computer to debug, or I can even connect remotely to my server via SSH – from my cell phone – connect to the screen session and look at the output from the script.  What is cool is that it’s working … I’ve got text messages and went over to my computer and, sure enough, found the crashed script … fixed the bug … and restarted things.

I haven’t yet been out of the house or office when the problems occurred … but I’m almost looking forward to when that occurs!  Just so that I can do the remote SSH debug … it’ll be fun to see …

XO Laptop Thoughts …

OLPC - OpenLast year I contributed to the One Laptop Per Child program, and bought an XO Laptop as a part of their Give One, Get One program. I wanted to let my son experience one of these laptops. (As a side note, I think that it is very funny that the OLPC folks are so concerned about children in other countries, but not providing them to children in our country … even if we are willing to pay for them, and the OLPC foundation is not making it’s numbers …)

Well, the laptop didn’t arrive on time, but did show up in mid-January, and I’ve spent some time on and off over the last month or so playing with the laptop. My initial thoughts – it’s pretty cool, and it’s not fully baked yet. I am intrigued enough that I did go out on eBay and bought a second one … just so that I could learn, test, and experiment with some of the peer-to-peer capabilities. So now my son Sam and I both have one. It’s pretty cool to see the built in peer-to-peer networking … when we both boot up, we both see an icon of the other person on our Neighborhood or Friends view.
When I said that the product is not fully baked yet, there are some specific areas that I’m having a lot of trouble getting it to work. But then … since it is Linux, and they do give you a terminal, I’ve been able to get to the command line and file system and work through some of the issues.

One of the first things that you are introduced to is Sugar … the XO Laptop Human Interface. The more that I have learned about it, Sugar is an interesting concept, and there is a very good read about the OLPC Human Interface Guidelines that is also worth reading. It’s actually important to read these, as you will learn that the creators are not interested in making the environment familiar to current computer users, but instead to introduce new models and paradigms to children all over the planet. Once I read through these documents, I began to realize they are pushing out thoughts and research that has gone on for years, but is unfamiliar to most existing computer users. If you use the XO for a while, you’ll see that “applications” are gone, and instead you have “Activities“.

Activities are pretty cool, in that they are zipped up packages that can be easily downloaded and installed over the network. Users can share Activities with friends, and other users can then access and “join” an Activity. If you are a Python programmer, you can very easily create an Activity … there are several tutorials worth reading on the XO Laptop WikiCreating an activityDevelopers manual … this last link has some great documents and examples at the end of it.
There is also the “Journal” instead of access to the file system. This is also a very important read as it also defines how the student will interact with the laptop, and also how your Activities need to be written. I really liked the initial paragraph about the Journal on the wiki:

We believe that the traditional “open” and “save” model commonly used for files today will fade away, and with it the familiar floppy disk icon. The laptops do not have floppy drives, and the children who use them will probably never see one of these obsolete devices. Instead, a more general notion of what it means to “keep” things will prevail. Generally speaking, we keep things which offer value, allowing the rest to disappear over time. The Journal’s primary function as a time- based view of a child’s activities reinforces this concept.

Yes … the floppy disk is a thing of the past. What was interesting in reading about the Journal was that it reminded me of the research of David Gelernter at Yale called Lifestreams. The key is that you get a time-ordered list of Activities that you have worked on … with the ability to resume them, or open them with other Activities. Key to the Journal is the concept of a student “keeping” things … and the application providing hints on when they ought to kept. In addition, there is a concept of “Falloff” … where older, less used items in the Journal will “fall off” the Journal. This is a form of garbage collection designed to match the natural storage of memories in the human brain.

So what isn’t baked yet? Well … the XO Laptop can’t see any of the FIVE wireless access points at my house! Yes … I read the entire Start page on “connecting” … but that isn’t it. I can manually open a terminal, and use iwconfig and dhclient to get the networking working … but that is a hassle. I have taken the laptop elsewhere and it seems to detect the wireless APs of other places. I will admit that I have some unique SSIDs (that contain slashes) that might be screwing them up … so I might try to poke around the source code looking … 🙂

Other things are that they don’t currently support cut and paste in some places! I’ve been reading the wiki and getting instructions on how to do things … but then I can’t cut from the browser and paste into the terminal. Ugh!

The one thing that I will say is that Sam loves his new laptop. And we have downloaded a whole bunch of the activities, and he is already navigating through Sugar and playing with lots of them. I just got one that is a peer-to-peer game of Connect 4 … he and I haven’t played that one yet … but Andrea and I did … we each won one game. 🙂

I’ll be blogging more about my experiences … I also want to get flash and AIR working on the OLPC … maybe I’ll get that going tonight!

Apple iPod touch …

Yes … I touched one! When I was skiing on Sunday at Park City Resort I started down one of the runs and happened to see something laying on the slopes. At first I thought “Uh oh … someone lost their iPhone!”, but instead it was an Apple iPod touch.

Woohoo! Finders keepers? No … but it was my chance to take a look at an iPod touch. I have to say that I am very impressed with the UI. Amazing. It has the Jobs touch.

I dropped the iPod in my pocket and figured that I would notify lost and found when I was leaving. In my rush at the end of the day I got home and remembered that I had the iPod … so I figured that I would play with it and give the lost and found a call. The UI took me only a few minutes to learn, and it really was smooth, and operated like I would have expected … and beyond what I expected. The main menu provided access to the core features, and scrolling with my finger was simple. I really liked being able to ‘flick’ a long list of songs and see it scroll smoothly and quickly down the screen at the proportional speed. You could even attempt to scroll in the wrong direction and you see a strange, almost natural looking, “stretching” against some simulated elastic stop.

The unit that I found was an 8GB iPod … far too small for what I like to carry around with me. I’m still using my 80GB iPod video which is $50 less than the $299.00 price tag on the iPod touch 8GB. I do have to admit that the UI was truly impressive though … an amazing experience.

Well … I looked through the music collection, which was quite varied, and then hit the Settings button where I found the owners name. I then went to Contacts and found there was a record with the full details of the owner – cell phone, address, etc. I called her Sunday night and left her a message … one that I’m sure she never expected to get.

Yesterday I met the owner of the iPod touch up in Park City and returned it to her. It was fun to see her happy to get it back. She gave Andrea and I a little gift, and a card with the following paragraph:

Karma:  usually understood as a sum of all that an individual has done, is currently doing, or will do.  The effects of all deeds actively create past, present, and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one’s own life, and the pain and joy it brings to them and others.

It got me thinking about another post that I’m going to write.  It was fun getting to play with the iPod touch … nice experience.  It was more fun surprising the owner who had lost it!

Fry’s Electronics in Utah!

I wish! With the closure of CompUSA retail stores(as lame and expensive as they were) I am really beginning to worry about where I can go and pick up electronic and tech items here in Utah. I’m actually shocked that with the large tech community here we don’t have any better store for picking up tech gadgets and components.

When Incredible Universe went under years ago, I had really hoped that Fry’s Electronics, the owners/operators of Outpost.com, would take over the location as they did in several other states. I know there have to be hundreds, if not thousands, of Utahns who have been to a Fry’s Electronics store someplace … in California, Las Vegas, Arizona, Oregon … they are an amazing electronics outlet with everything from appliances to books, to TVs, to software, to computer components … and much more. On top of that, the prices are very competitive.

I’m not sure if it would do us any good … but I want to start a mail campaign to send them e-mails requesting that they consider opening a Fry’s Electronics here in Utah! I mean … we even have Ikea moving here … why not Fry’s?

If you want to participate, I am proposing that we send them *lots* of e-mails asking them to consider a store in Utah! I’ve built a specific link below that is a mailto link to automatically generate the e-mail for you … and allow you to customize it before sending. I want to keep the subject line consistent, so that they see the same thing each time a new mail comes in. Here is the message:

To: feedback@frys.com; service@outpost.com; press@outpost.com
Subject: Open a Fry’s Electronics in Utah …
Body: I am writing to you to request that you consider opening a Fry’s Electronic store here in Utah. I am part of a large and growing community of people who can appreciate the value that your store could bring to our state. With the closure of CompUSA, we are now left with no real source for electronic and technology products. The Utah population is continuing to grow, and many large retailers – like Ikea – are moving into the state. Please consider our state as a great location for the next Fry’s Electronics store that you open, and feel free to contact me if there is anything I can do to support your efforts to open here.

When you click the link below, your e-mail client ought to open up a new message containing this text … feel free to customize it and then send it on its way. Forward this post to all of your friends … send it to neighbors … get the word out and lets see if we can get them to do something.

Click here for the Fry’s Electronics in Utah e-mail message!

As a tech worker in the state of Utah, I would love to have a Fry’s Electronics in Utah!

UPDATE: I actually received the following response from Fry’s/Outpost.com … so the e-mails are getting through!

Dear Scott,

Thank you for taking the time to let us know how you feel. That’s quite an endorsement! We work very hard to please our customers and it’s great to receive such a compliment. Your email has been forwarded to management.

Thank you for contacting Frys.com.

1-877-688-7678 – Toll Free
1-408-487-4700 FAX

Our Government Bookstore

Once again I come across something that I wasn’t aware about our government … we have an on-line bookstore!  Yes … you can now go and buy the latest publications from the US Government at the US Government Printing Office!  It was interesting to see the breadth of books, magazines, posters, and even DVDs that you can buy from our goverment.  There is a a current GPO Best Sellers list (check out the Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, V. 1 … what a read!

Actually, there are some amazing publications on anything from health to terrorism, aeronautics to agriculture, government art to incident reports.  Lots of educational content … fact books.  It’s fascinating to look through the catalog … I’m not sure that I’ll order anything soon but there are a few tempting tomes …

Cynergy Labs and Project Maestro

There are several news articles out today linking to a very cool YouTube video of a demonstration by Cynergy Labs.  They are using a variety of Microsoft technologies, coupled with what appears to be a Wii remote, or some sort of remote control/sensor, to create a “Minority Report” like user experience.

Watch the Project Maestro video and you’ll see the speaker manipulate objects on the screen in front of him without having to touch the screen, but instead using some custom infra-red gloves.  This is a very impressive demonstration of what is possible with off the shelf technology!