Monday, December 26, 2005

mac conversion #2

Checklist to get my Ruby and Rails apps up and running on the new mac:

  • Need Ruby 1.8.2. Done. ruby comes pre-installed on Mac OSX 10.4. There are some who recommend reloading from source, but for now I'm going with the installed version.
  • Install Rails. There is an installation package out there for Mac called Locomotive. This installs Rails, lighttpd with fastCGI, and SQLite. Locomotive is definitely a quickstart approach to getting rails going. Check out this blog entry for a broader explanation.
  • Install mysql and create local database. Load with initial data set.
  • Install the Mac Developer xcode package. This includes gcc, make, cvs, and a bunch of other stuff.
  • Need an editor environment. I have been using Arachno's Ruby IDE in windows (does better syntax hightlighting among other things than Eclipse) but doesn't currently have a Mac port. So after some research I decided to use TextMate . This has been highly recommended for developing in ruby for the Mac and is the defacto editor for the Locomotive env, so will try it out.
  • set up the VPN. To create a VPN connection go to applications - Internet Connect
  • Download existing code from cvs or subversion server
  • go to work!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

mac conversion #1

I just opened my new PowerBook G4 1.67 Ghz 1GB mem, 100GB HD, OSX ...

This is one righteous machine. From it's aluminum case to high res screen, the fit and finish on this product (as Mac zealots will attest) is second to none. I have been a Unix geek cloaked in Windows skin for many years now. Having recently become a Ruby convert and a conversation with Chad Fowler got me re-thinking about why I have been stuck in the Windows mud for so long.

After booting up and filling in the few screens of config information (I like the rotating entry form boxes, very cool), I was up and running in about 5 minutes, on my wireless network and downloading updates.

I am planning to document my conversion right here in the ol' blog, trials, successes, and foibles all.

First things I'm missing are:
  • No start bar. I'll have to get used to a new way of navigating and creating shortcuts to my favorite applications.
  • No right button. I like the pop-up menus available with the right mouse click. I use it often (for instance to pull the image link off the Apple site from above) and will have to figure out its analog on the Mac.
  • The rich edit field. Is missing in Safari, so am coding this up in html by hand. I will probably download Firefox because I miss my Firefox extensions as well.
Cool things:
  • The Dashboard. With a click I can pull up an assortment of tools, sticky notes, etc. Very useful.
  • The terminal. Yes! Thankfully, I'm back in unix land.
I haven't had time to explore much else given that it's Christmas Eve, but thank you Santa for saving me from the blue screen of death :)

happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

funny quote on web 2.0


"Not believe in Web 2.0! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire Tim O'Reilly to come over to your house and explain Web 2.0 to you, but even if Tim O'Reilly showed up and you didn't understand what the heck he was talking about, what would that prove? So what if nobody can actually explain Web 2.0 without using techno babble and business buzzwords? That is no sign that there is no Web 2.0. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see -- and that's why they develop buzzwords. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world."

-- Rex Hammock explains the mystery behind the elusive concept of Web 2.0 to a young reader

Sunday, December 18, 2005

the next round

We're currently raising another round of funding and have decided to pursue the angel route in order to keep dilution down. Once we get significant customer traction we will either raise a strategic or VC round of capital. In the meantime, I've put my car up for sale to contribute to this round. It's a sweet car, but I've got to do it...

Here's the link:

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Shared Nothing Architecture and Short Lived Processes

WARNNG - This post may offend fans of megalithic application servers

After having worked in the Java environment for the past several years and watching Enterprise Java Beans destroy whatever simplicity existed in the Java world, I was ready to explore new development environs with Collective Intellect. Further spurring this curiousity were the thoughts penned by Paul Graham in his enlightening book, Hackers and Painters. Paul is a big fan of Lisp and spends a few chapters talking about the elegance of the language and economy of expression required to implement powerful concepts. While Lisp is all of those things, it does seem to lack a large ecosystem of open source libraries ready made to bake into your current project. I ended up settling on Ruby and Ruby on Rails to implement our burgeoning ideas and business requirements. I will speak to the long and short comings of Ruby/Rails in a future post.

What I wanted to discuss on this post is Shared Nothing Architecture (SNA), coupled with Short Lived Processes (SLP). Shared Nothing Architecture is a concept made popular by the folks at google and is defined in Wikipedia as:

A shared nothing architecture is a distributed database architecture without a single point of failure. The term "shared nothing" is by imitation of other terms such as "shared disk", "shared network" and so on.

A typical shared nothing system would have duplicated disks, processors, power supplies, and networks. To make the system truly resilient, it should also have these systems split between different physical sites, and have multiple sources of electrical power and network connections to the outside world through physically diverse paths.

The advantage of SNA is that it greatly simplifies application construction as well as increasing the scalability and reliability of applications. I would argue that you don't even need to go so far as creating a distributed database and in some cases don't even require a database at all. Certainly having a distributed database creates a more resilient infrastructure, but if you don't have the time or resource pool to put a distributed database in place, you can still take advantage of SNA with a bit less resiliency at lower cost but still have a warm failover capability.

The implementation that we have at Collective Intellect uses a single mySQL database running on an industrial strength box with RAID 5. We have several other boxes that process information. They all point to this database box and file server to recover the context for the processing that they perform. One of these boxes also contains a hot nightly backup of all of the information in the database, so if the database box dies and the RAID file system completely fails, we can warm failover to the next box. We can do this because we also have an information architecture that will allow us to roll data forward (with a little pain) from the point at which the last backup was run.

This architecture allows us to write independent, specialized applications that each process a small chunk of our processing operation. This is a vast change from using a monolithic application server based architecture. Application server architectures require all applications to run inside of the architecture and manage state for all of those applications as part of that framework. One typical example of this is Enterprise Java Beans. These frameworks tend to carry a lot of baggage which results in two rather severe implications to your app.

  1. Bringing up an entire application server infrastructure requires very large memory and load time overhead vs. a non application server based app.
  2. All applications reside inside the application server. This means they are long lived and have a fairly large chance of becoming more and more intertwined with either legacy code or code that is meant to support other apps (i.e. spaghetti)
In our shared nothing architecture our apps can be short lived and only carry the code required by the app. Freeing applications from the application server means that these apps can be short lived. We have a number of small specialized Ruby applications that automatically get launched when work exists for them to do. This allows all components of the system to do what they were designed to do.

  • The database stores data state used by the applications
  • The operating system controls the sharing of hardware resources (network, disk, cpu, memory) as opposed to the application server controlling the sharing of these resources as a proxy or replacement of the OS.
  • The application processes implement the specific features required by the business model

Saturday, December 10, 2005


In one of the recent episodes of the apprentice one of the candidates was heard bad mouthing the leader on the task to other team members. Donald rightly pointed out that this kind of behavior is destructive to the cohesion and productivity of the team. This kind of talk, even from someone who is ill respected on the team will undermine the leadership and cause decisions to be second guessed.

People are inherently positive or negative by nature. The positive person will most likely propose solutions instead of harping on problems. Hire the positive person and dispense with the problems that come with having negative people. Make it clear to everyone that you deeply value their opinions, encourage problem solving, and keep an open door policy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

intellectual property

In my experience IP protection is a necessary part of creating any non-commodity related business. Even though the patent may never be defended it is a check mark for customer, partners, and venture capitalists that is a sign that you've done your homework in bringing the product to market. That being said, the patent process can be an extremely frustrating excercise and is somewhat enigmatic.

As I said before, if you have a non-commodity company than you must have some special sauce that enables you to do something better or faster, or something that was not possible to do in the past. Identify that thing and do your homework regarding whether it is truly novel or whether someone has done something similar either in your space or in other markets in the past. Even if there is a similar invention in existence this does not mean your idea is unpatentable. What it means is that you have to discover what makes your idea unique. Now, you have to do this for the business anyway in order to build out your marketing collateral identifying your differentiating characteristics.

If you can afford one, the next step is to contact a patent attorney. You can file yourself, but a good patent attorney will make a big difference in following the patent through to issuance. An interim step that you can also pursue is to file for a provisional patent. The provisional patent is n't laid out into formal clams but does outline what your invention does. This puts a date stake in the ground that is documented and placed on file in the patent office. The provisional patent is not public information and will expire within 1 year if you do not file for a full patent. The provisional patent does let you claim patent pending and has a much lower cost of filing.

Once you have filed, you wait, and wait, and wait. The clerks in the patent office are buried in patent review work. There are not enough of these guys/gals to handle the number of patents coming in and they typically have broad but not deep experience. Therefore, once your patent reaches the top of the heap, the clerk assigned will need to learn enough about the area of your patent to make a determination whether to approve or reject the claims you have made.

Claims will be individually accepted or rejected. If a claim is rejected, the rejection must either be refuted or the claim take out altogether. You will typically write a number of claims in your patent application beginning with very general and moving to more specific. General claims are often rejected. The more general of a claim that you can get accepted the broader the patent's applicability will be. For the claims that are more specific and your company's IP hinges on you will want to refute the rejections (this is where a patent attorney comes in handy). I've copied a section out of a patent I'm currently working on and you can see what I mean...

The undersigned also questions the motivation to combine X and Y as the two systems solve different problems and propose incompatible methodologies for identifying ------- performance issues. For example, X attempts to identify a current problem in a -------- by comparing current data collected regarding a --------------- to its associated --------- whereas Y is focused on ------------ problem by way of evaluating company policy regarding maintenance procedures, the time required to complete maintenance work, performance criteria, observed changes in the ---------- and projected performance criterion. Consequently, the undersigned is not in agreement with the Examiner’s conclusion that “[o]ne of ordinary skill in the art … would have been motivated because it is desirable to have a ----------- system that detects problems or potential problems” (page 6 of the Office action).

In the overall scheme of things the success of the company will not come down to IP protection but market value of the product, sales, and execution. IP protection is a tactical component that will come into play in the early life as a company before it can be valued by ttm revenue.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Cramer Effect

Since beginning my new company I've done a fair bit of research on stock market sentiment and what moves it. If you haven't seen Jim Cramer's show, Mad Money, on CNBC, you should check it out. This guy seems to be a sentiment power house. He was also recently on the cover of Business Week magazine and has developed a significant brand in the area of stock picking. I believe BW said that he has around 400,000 daily viewers of the show now. Jim Cramer is a value stock picker but every mention of a stock by Cramer seems to cause the stock to gap up the next morning. Recent case in point was (CRM). They were Cramer's pick of the week and gapped up by almost 10% the next morning.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

sell what you've got

Early stage companies thrive on the speed of idea generation and prototyping. You start with a reasonably good idea, test the market, iterate on the idea to make it a great one, and deliver on the first stage of the product.

At this point you've got your first sellable merchandise. You also have another wheelbarrow full of additional ideas where you can take the product based on customer feedback and the natural evolution of the original idea. It is tempting to keep selling the dream. Unless the first incarnation of your product is ill received it is important to sell that concrete thing which you have just completed building. Now it may have a few warts and one of the arms isn't quite fully developed, that's OK. Sell what you have and co-opt your customers into helping you define the next stage of the product.

If you are continually selling the dream (or the next generation of the product) your trial periods will extend indefinitely. This will result in much slower revenue (and revenue recognition) and effectively shorten your runway. So do not short change yourself. Sell what you have today, execute to over deliver what you've sold, and your happy customer will help you refine and pay for your ideas of tomorrow.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Is it possible to not be myself? A physical object in the universe, a man, a sentient being? What is life, but an aggregation of discrete moments, meaningful, connected by the vast slippery dark matter of meaningless moments in five dimensional space? Who are you but a reflection of my one true self, the summation of existence, my molecules mixing with your molecules?

To recognize that transience as simply transformation has power. It has power to guide the transformation as a regeneration of three dimensional space, the sameness of thought yet the evolution of thinking, leaving indelible marks as blips in the filmstrip of the universal record. What comes next is a self assured dream of what comes next.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

web 2.0

If any of you haven't caught up on the latest craze out there, it is web 2.0 (my appologies for the clarity of the Meme Map image. A better one can be found by the author at the previous link). Web 2.0 is service driven. It fulfills the needs of the long tail ( another link). It listens to the collective wisdom of information by collecting, transforming, analyzing, and summarizing. Web 2.0 encourages participation, knowing that it's strength grows with interactivity. Web 2.0 is more than a craze, it's the inevitable evolution of the web as it blends into our lives, making information more accessible and participatory.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

balancing act

Please permit me to reflect for a few moments on the use of time. Time is the most valuable currency we all have. We can choose to spend our time in many ways. There is constant tension in our lives with competing demands on our time. I believe these fall into four major buckets.

Our families require time in the form of attention, affection, and assistance (help on homework, help around the house, etc). This time remains fairly constant with the exception of periods of crisis (which may require most of our time).

Our jobs require time in the form of physical or mental labour to help produce something of value. This time requirement is most likely cyclical where it has some lower bound but ramps up around events or seasons. As companies grow larger these cycles tend to be more predictable as the business achieves it's natural rhythm (this is offset by periods of economic uncertainty where layoffs may place more of a time burden on the employees who remain). The smaller the company, the more chaotic are the demands that get placed on time capital.

Then there are hobbies and socializing. My hobbies are triathlon training and golf. I've also become addicted to the television series 24. Thanks Brad ;)

The last time bucket is sleep.

I haven't quite figured out the balancing act in my life as much as I feel I should by now. My current inclination goes in this order.

  1. Sleep is a necessity for me. I try to get around 7 hours of sleep per night. I can run on less for short periods of time but fairly soon (around a week) all of the other time suck activities start to run in slow motion (that is they take some multiplier of normal amounts of time for the activity) and they rarely run smoothly.
  2. Family - These are the most important people in my life. I try to give them the attention and affection they deserve, but often fall short. I have learned to recognize the warning signs and head off trouble early. If this area is not maintained properly it will affect all other areas of your life (sort of like not getting sleep but in much more painful ways). When I'm not traveling (which joyfully is the predominant case currently) I try to honor mornings before school and early evenings (6-9pm) as sacred.
  3. The working out part of hobbies - My triathlon training is necessary therapy for me. It relieves the day to day tension and forces me to have better eating and sleeping habits. I probably work out 1 to 1.5 hours per day. I don't let this interfere with work or family for the most part but occasionally sleep gets sacrificed.
  4. Job - My work is fairly flexible, which I admit has a great deal to do with maintaining the first 3 priorities. My schedule does fill up with meetings and as a startup, will go through rapid periods of lots of meetings and then transition into execution time. In periods where many meetings are not necessary (i.e. we're not fund raising or refocusing the business model) I will push back on extraneous meetings. I let execution time fill in the reasonable sized chunks in my day (1 hour or more). Most of my socialization time requirements are also met at work (My guess is that this is likely one of the most important things that gets taken away from Moms who've decided to stay home - and why play groups get created)
  5. Other hobbies - These I consider regenerative therapy (like right now). There are other things I could be doing currently than writing this blog entry, but doing so gives me a chance to reflect and helps me do those other things better. This could also be golf or snow boarding or something else that offers the other side of being reflective and forces you to live in the moment.
I would say I'm far from being well balanced, but I'm trying to understand, and perhaps one day it will all become clear (i.e. make enough money and the mandatory part of the job time sink goes away making lots more room for the other activities)

I appologize for double linking to Brad Feld, but do think he has some good insights into life balance that he published in a recent blog entry as well.

Any other thoughts or insights out there?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

status update

We're now five months in and the baby is doing fine. We've grown from 2 to 7 people, raised startup capital, validated our approach, and written code to automate the collection, transformation, and analysis of market sentiment data. Our group has gelled and is now functioning as a team (we also just finished climbing a 14'er together, an annual tradition I've fostered at the last two companies). We've delivered 7 development iterations and met approximately 100 advisors, investors, prospects, and potential employees. We've also added two new languages (i'll blog on these later) to our arsenal that I believe will substantially increase productivity.

Yes, we've had hiccups along the way. These have had mostly to do with lack of resources where we've had to make due with less (for instance, in the first 3 months we were running development off of one server that included source control, database, and production software). None of our mistakes have been mortal however and we've been able to learn from them and move on.

The next two months will be critical as we complete the research on our second proof point and alpha test with a handful of customers. As you can tell we're very much development focused at this point. Things will begin to shift sometime in the first quarter of next year as we begin to gain sales traction.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

on being agile

Strength, speed, and agility are the hallmarks of success in athletics. A startup requires versions of these qualities as well in order to compete with larger competitors. I would categorize strength as intelligence, speed as the ability to move quickly and unencumbered, and agility as the ability to quickly adapt the product and business to changing business conditions. I've already talked about speed in Terminal Velocity. Today I want to talk about agility.

Agile software development has been around for a few years now and has started to gain hold even in large companies. I have used the Extreme Programming version of agile development in my last two companies and am currently using (and am a big fan of) software from Rally Development to manage this process at my current company. The tenets of agile development are mostly common sense and extend beyond the boundaries of managing the development effort. Here are a few:

  • Keep in constant touch with the customer - make sure you are delivering a product with the highest value to your customer
  • Integrate Often - Don't wait til the end of a long development cycle to see if everything hangs together, instead, constantly integrate to ensure that modules don't drift apart.
  • Refactor - Is there a simpler and more elegant way you could have accomplished something? If so, change how it is done.
  • KISS - you all know what the acronym stands for. Find the simplest way to deliver what the customer needs. Refactor later if new requirements emerge.
  • Deliver often - At the end of each development iteration show the customer the product to get feedback as to whether you're on course or not.
  • Pair programming - Two heads are better than one. At least on critical components of the code.
All of these tenets can be applied to running the business as well. Agile development methodologies center around delivering high value to the customer. You do this by including the customer in the development cycle and testing with them to constantly course correct. This gives you the agility to tweak product direction rapidly.

Here are the tenets applied to business:

  • Keep in constant touch with the customer - developing a close relationship with the customer will: 1. keep them happy, 2. help you focus on what is important to the customer base, 3. build a good reference account that can be used for further pipeline development.
  • Integrate Often - keep your departments in sync with one another. Have a unified goal for the company and make sure all departments are striving towards this goal. Proximity does wonders. I remember speaking to the CEO of Freshwater Software a few years back (bought by Mercury Interactive in 2001). She mixed up the seating arrangement in the company so that people built personal relationships across departments. This fostered inter-department communication and helped keep the company on track.
  • Refactor - Is there a simpler and more elegant way you could have accomplished something? If so, change how it is done. This advice is good across the board. If licensing doesn't make sense for how your customers do business, change it.
  • KISS - you all know what the acronym stands for. Find the simplest way to deliver what the customer needs. Refactor later if new requirements emerge.
  • Deliver often - If something needs to change in the business, test market this with customers. This goes hand in hand with bullet one and further emphasizes a focus on customers. Remember, you're in business to deliver value to your customers.
  • Pair programming - Two heads are better than one. At least on critical decisions in the company.
The concept of agile development applied to the business may be a stretch, but I have applied the simple concept of focus on constant customer feedback to drive business decisions in the last two companies with a high degree of success. I bet you can too!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

So now you have money...

You've just raised a round of angel or venture capital. You're flush with cash, you can pay your staff and maybe even yourself. For one brief shining moment you are not asking anyone for money (assuming all checks have promptly arrived and have been deposited with your latest friend, the banker). This won't last long, so bask in the glory of the moment, crack open a bottle of mad dog 20/20 (the opus one comes later) and promptly get back to work.

You now want to focus 100% attention to operations and R&D. First review your budget in great detail. You will want to put together a couple of plans with different assumptions. The first assumption is that you take in no revenue and have no other source of capital than the money you now have in the bank. How long can you stretch the almighty dollars you have just painstakingly raised? This is known as your runway and will help give you a feel for when you should start raising your next round. This will also give you much needed parameters around prioritization of cash going out of the company and when you absolutely need to spend money. The second model you put together should have revenue assumptions. What is the earliest (realistic) date you could start bringing revenue into the company. Revenue both extends the runway of your company and leads to higher perceived value.

What are the stumbling blocks to realizing this second model? What is the most efficient expenditure of capital to get you there? i.e negotiate, but do not cut corners on expenses along your critical path to revenue. You must find the right balance on time to market with least amount of cash out. I like to think of it more in terms of "time to value" instead of time to market. To me, time to market implies sales and marketing teams. In an early stage company you should not have a sales and marketing team. These are called "founders." Try to drive to something of value that can be sold as quickly as possible, testing the market along the way with advisors and prospects.

When you've struck your hypothetical value proposition (or some other value prop you've found laying along the roadside) you'll know because you'll have a smiling customer on the other side of your handshake. Now is the time to take in that next venture round (or a strategic round from your smiling customer) and ramp sales, marketing, and of course, customer support.

... but we're getting way ahead of ourselves. Months before that you will need to start meeting with VCs, prospective customers, and building out that golden nugget of value

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Explanation of Marketing

I came across this in the Blogsphere. It explains all of the types of marketing as an anecdote of trying to marry a gorgeous woman. Very funny.

Angel Financing

We have just finished the painstaking process of raising seed money for the company. By the way, the company is named Collective Intellect. We've been full time at this venture for about 15 weeks now. We have 4 full time people, 1 part time , 1 temp, 1 dog, and 1 server. We're using advanced analytics to aggregate and summarize information into research analysis for consumption by institutional traders in the financial markets. I know, kind of vague, but more on that later ...

Since we were a seed stage company and the venture capitalists all but have gotten out of the venture side of early round financing, we decided to raise money from angels. This is sometimes referred to as "friends and family" money and to some degree it is. But unless Uncle Joe has very deep pockets and an undying love for you, you had best start networking.

Now there is a fairly wide quality gap in the angel community on four axis.

  1. knowledge of investing in seed stage companies - you will find through your networking many angels who have invested multiple times in startup companies and several who have run startup companies. These people are smart money. They know what challenges you face, they understand risk, and most likely they will allocate additional investment for when you need it later (known in the business as "dry powder"). These people can help you tremendously. There are others who have not invested much before and are trying it out, or are family members who believe in you but don't necessarily understand the risk. These people will also help you because they can fill in a round (help get you to the total capital you need). Be careful to explain the risks to this second group of investors, walk them through the model, etc. DO NOT TAKE MONEY from anyone in the second group who wishes to be actively involved with your company. That is a recipe for disaster.
  2. knowledge of your space - Try to find at least one or two angels who are familiar with the market you're going after. They can give you sage advice, help test your hypothesis, and connect you with people who can help move the business along (like prospects :)
  3. reputation - Getting angels to invest is the same as selling product. In this case the product is most likely you if it is a seed stage deal. You have to generate demand. One way to do this is convince someone well respected in the angel investing community to invest. If they see value then others will see value by association. This will help you close the angel round and will later benefit in helping to close a VC round.
  4. cash - This is somewhat tied to number 1 but with the caveat of available liquid resources. Some people just have more money than others. Hopefully the people you find with the fat wallets are also the knowledgable investors. Having an unknowledgable investor in with a lot of cash will lead you down the disasterous route at the end of point 1. They will likely want to get involved with your company. Trust me, it will not end well.
So, as in all things business, network, network, network. Get some people to commit, constantly assess their quality and ability to contribute using the four criteria above. Also, due dilligence is not just for the investor. Ask potential investors for references from people they've invested in before and find out how it went.

Nobody said it was going to be easy. But capital is paramount to success. One way or another you will always be raising capital, be it from investors or customers. Have fun with it, build relationships with people who can help get it done, and go conquor the world!

Monday, May 30, 2005


I'm in Paris. The weather could be a bit better. It's drizzling and mid 60s. The culture is alive and well and seemingly oblivious to any threat of terrorism. I have seen no additional police and getting through customs at the airport could not have been easier. I believe the voters have just said no to the European Union constitution, apparently as a vote of no confidence for Chirac and the current economy (especially the high unemployment numbers). Ironically, the reasoning goes that the constitution was a bit too free market oriented and didn't offer enough worker protection. Ah well, Europe will be Europe. What a beautiful place to visit! We climbed the Eiffel Tower today with my daughter. She is enchanted by the home of little Madeline :) We were helped by a woman on the subway to find our correct connecting train, and I was informed that I was in the wrong line at the grocer which was reserved for the elderly (some of my annoying friends might add, "what was the problem", ha ha, you see I am still well preserved).

So things are right with the world. Contrary to legend, the French people have been quite friendly. They even care for their elderly more dearly than we by allocating special lines at the market. They are still very socialist which would seem to prevent them from playing a more powerful role (except as spoiler) on the global political map, and tomorrow promises to be a beautiful day where I hope to enjoy a grand tennis match between Henin-Hardine and Sharapovo. Viva La Difference!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

What is Art?

I started down a path to determine what the state of the art is with regards to computer generation of art. And while I found much material on the subject the real message the research brought home is the extent to which art is an inherently human experience.

There is something nearly magical that seems to occur in the human neo cortex and tied to our emotions that fuels both aesthetic appreciation and creativity. All computer art today goes through human guided transformational stages, similar to physically oriented art, only the tools are much different. Many of the tools are mathematical functions that fuzzify, change tone and brightness, fractalize, etc. All methods start with an image and go from there. Even using genetic algorithms to more rapidly produce combinatorial art relies upon human fitness scoring (the aesthetic function). The more abstract pieces will generate initial random patterns and colors, while less abstract methods start with a digital photo.

What has the computer brought to art? It has opened the horizons of possibility. There are more tools and techniques at the artist's disposal than ever before. The world of art is broadening to accept this new medium and new techniques. Art may become more dynamic using a collage of images temporally spaced (slideshow) or evolving over time. The great part is that art is made more accessible to more people allowing wider expression of our being and touching that which makes us human.

Is art out of reach of the computer? I don't think so and perhaps the meaning of art will be different to a computer possessing intelligence. Art purely generated by a computer just seems soul-less to me. Until computers can experience, can feel, can make intuitive leaps on a near human basis, the art will feel empty. I think this is because part of the aesthetic appreciation of art is experiencing empathy for the artist. Because while art is created by transforming one image to another, art is also transformational to the artist and projects this transformation onto its audience.

Timing is everything

I Know, it's been a while. I've been busy, so get off my back :) I'm on vacation in Europe currently, so I'll have a little time to kick back and reflect on a few things.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Team Dynamic

As promised, I wanted to talk a bit about team dynamics.

VC Criteria
Many VC's will talk about the importance of team, market, and idea in that order. In the team category they would like to see entrepeneurs with a proven track record. Proven track record does not necessarily equate to successful track record but it's heavily weighted that way. Those without successful track records but have proven themselves to be strong, trustworthy, and brave certainly have a shot. Predominantly what the VCs want is entrepeneurial wisdom, market experience, and technological smarts. They are also looking for a set of founders and management team that they have chemistry with.

Company Criteria
For the company, it really starts off with a solid foundation and good chemistry. After all, these are the people you will be in the trenches with day in and day out come hell or high water for the next several years. As a founder of a few companies I can with confidence say that it's best to have a partner going in. I think the way Guy Kawasaki put it in his excellent book, The Art of the Start, you need a business soul mate (see books I've read for the link). The best case, imho, is to pair a technology guy who understands enough about business to be dangerous with a business guy who understands enough about technology to be dangerous. The crux is too have a healthy respect for one another while being confident enough to question the other's opinions. Aside from these two you need people who can flat out get a lot done. One of my friends put it to me this way recently, "You want the person that you talk to the idea about in the afternoon, just to bounce it off of them, and they come back the next day with a solution." These are the people who are smart and hungry, ready to conquor the world. And it's imperative in the beginning to have great chemistry. A big organization cannot afford that luxury because they'd never fill all the positions they need to fill. Instead they have process. A small organization is made on that luxury because it is the grease that reduces the drag coefficient.

In my opinion, you don't need well defined roles. You need smart, motivated, agile, and adaptable people. You certainly don't need marketing to start out (unless you're a marketing company). In our company, one of our five amazing people's amazing artist/designer wife is working on the logos, the website, the powerpoint templates. We have a part time contract controller who comes in a couple hours every couple weeks and does the books, payroll, etc. We all contribute to marketing lit and powerpoints. 80% of us code. We get things done and keep the ball moving, and if we need outside help, we go get it and ask for a discount to conserve cash.

another quote from my good friend Jim Lejeal (see blogs I read on the right) goes something like, "you may walk away and say he's full of shit, and that's ok, that's just the way I see it"


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Sanity in the Chaos

I'd like to post on the merits of keeping lists. Now I'm not ordinarily a list keeper and I'm not one of those people who derive great satisfaction from crossing things off. But in the midst of startup land where chaos rules due to the sheer number of things that need to be accomplished and are being worked on daily, lists are mandatory. We currently have 3 people working full time and 2 people part time remote. We've been having one team meeting per week and develop milestones for the next week. While we don't always accomplish all milestones and some of these milestones shift, even in the mid-week time frame, it's incredibly helpful to write them down somewhere (we use Groove) for all to see.

As the Franklin-Covey guys say, "woosh!"

Startup Velocity

I had forgotten how fast you can move in a startup organization. Nix that. I had forgotten the feeling of how fast you do move in a startup. My new company, Collective Intellect has only been around for 4 weeks now. The idea is around providing a new set of indicators and analysis into the financial service industry. This idea has been brewing for some time but the accelerating force of leaving a paying job and working on it whole heartedly is incredible. It's like you've reached some terminal velocity and all of a sudden a magic wand is waved and drag drops to near zero.

In the space of these four weeks with a very small team we've made incredible progress.
  • incorporated
  • opened bank accounts
  • spoken with numerous pundits in the financial industry
  • validated the idea
  • put together "the pitch"
  • signed on industry expert advisors
  • had several meetings with prospects
  • spoken with about half a dozen venture capitalists
  • spoken with about two dozen "angels"
  • built out an entire subsystem for the product
  • midway through a fairly intensive research effort
  • mocked up the gui
  • designed logos
Terminal Velocity? Who needs it? :)

Friday, April 29, 2005

Maze 2

Silent Moving, Straight through
And I watch
I'm an immigrant thought animal
though the person does not rise
it feeds
on an angle
Where sound goes straight through
but returns not alone
Alone where I left you?
On the stairway where?
In the contrast of steps
I turn and I listen
Craving the past
and the echo of angles
as removal looms close
I crouch in the shadows
as the wolf moves on by
and I'm scared less concealed
in the openness of meadows
in the innocence of sanctuary
and in's not the same
and out's not the way OUT.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

entrepeneurial bipolarity

"You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first... first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. Mm-hmm. You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell. You shall see a... a cow... on the roof of a cotton house, ha. And, oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation." --Blind Seer from Oh Brother Where Art Thou

The road of entrepeneurship is indeed fraught with peril and there will be great lows and great highs. In the space of one week we've had one set of potential investors so excited about our idea that they've begun to move quickly to cement the relationship. Another set of potential investors who made 5x on a prior deal with me seem somewhat reticent.

One day you're up and the next day you're down. Keep your vision, your wits about you, and your sheer belief in the idea, team, and market, and *nothing* will keep you from your goal.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Startup - The first week

With week 1 now complete, I look forward to doubling the longevity of my new company next week. Week 1 begins with a set of lists intent on creating massive acceleration in multiple directions. Akin to the big bang, this release of energy sets the foundation for the weeks to come and creates the formative elements of the enterprise.

  1. where to live
  2. incorporation
  3. domain registration
  4. development milestones
  5. communication - phone, email, and file sharing
  6. set up payroll
  7. banking
  8. the value proposition

1. where to live. Don (my partner) and I went through several iterations of meetings with our former employer about whether to stay on with that company or leave and form our next venture. Mobius was kind enough to allow us to use conference rooms during this period and it just became very easy for us to set up temporary shop there during the conception of the company. Startup space is not ordinarily this posh however. What is important is to find a place conducive to gestation. Necessities are: desk space, whiteboard, fax machine, laptops, broadband connection, ability to be undisturbed and to not disturb others, and fairly central location. I started my last company in my unfinished basement with costco tables for desks, a 4x8 sheet of Solid White Tileboard from Home Depot (cost $18), costco fax machine, and laptops we purchased from Dell on 1 year same as cash financing.

2. incorporation. Met with our attorney, Mike Platt at Cooley. They are an excellent full service firm, used to dealing with the intricacies of venture backed companies, and Mike was the lawyer for my last company. Cementing (as my friend Jim Lejeal puts it) the ownership structure early on is a very good idea, as it formally creates an entity with owners, shares, vesting terms, etc that can now take in investment, pay employees. We decided to incorporate as a Deleware C corp largely because it is the ideal incorporation type for taking in investment (perhaps Jim or Mike could write more on this). Knowledge required going in to this meeting: company name, company address, founders names, ownership split, number of shares, and vesting terms.

3. Domain registration. Perhaps this should be first due to the dearth of domain names available and the impact of domain name selection on company name. After settling on a set of names, we just went through a number of queries on yahoo's domain hosting site until we found a couple that we liked and I registered them.

4. Development Milestones. Being of the CTO persuasion, I believe it is important to get going on a development path fairly rapidly. There are usually a number of small to large research projects that need to be undertaken and if left unplanned will absolutely kill you later. I like to walk into meetings with VC's, advisors, and potential customers with a huge amount of confidence regarding what we can do and when we can do it. I think it's also important to establish the IP as early as possible. It sets you up for the unique way in which you can deliver on the value proposition.

5. Communication. I've found the earliest stages of communication can be set up simply using a Yahoo! group. From there you can post messages that will get emailed to the group, set up a calendar to keep track of meetings and events, post links and documents, that are relevent to research and the formation of the company, etc. You can use Groove as well. I just find Yahoo! groups easier to set up and maintain. Post that, it's good to get at least email forwarding up and running. Simply find someone with a sendmail server, set up your mx record to point there, and they can forward to your individual email accounts. There's plenty of time to get Exchange or something like it set up later. Everyone should have cell phones from day 1. In my opinion, it's imperative to have a lot of communication with the entire team early on. Communication helps build momentum early.

6. Payroll and benefits. Not something you will need early on, but it is good to know how much it will cost the company to plan for a timely introduction. I would say 3-4 full time employees is probably critical mass for introducing these types of benefits.

7. Banking. After incorporation you will get a tax id that enables you to set up a corporate bank account. We are using Silicon Valley Bank because they were with us on the last company and have a wealth of contacts in the startup community. Wells Fargo would do however. Things to think about here are whether the bank will give you a line of credit (will likely need to put up collateral unless you open with a substantial amount), and interest you get on the account. Interest may not be that important with the initial amount you open with, but it will be if you get a substantial investment in the company.

8. The Value Proposition. Equally as important as getting the development effort on a good trajectory is establishing the problem you are solving and how you solve it. We've spent a good deal of time working on this and will continue to work on it with advisors and potential customers. It is the most important non-logistical task you can get started on very early because it enables you to talk about what you do with coherence.

One week of organized chaos under our belts, we're now ready to double the longevity of our fledgling company. Look out! Here comes week two!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Startup Formation Series

Ok, enough joking around. Now it's time to roll up the shirt sleeves and get to work. I recently left my cushy corporate job and started a new company. I'm not going to tell you about the new company (yet) though. What I want to talk about is company formation; all of the bits and pieces that go into creating a company and getting it off the ground. My proposed list of topics includes:

  • The Team
  • Logistics - from incorporation to payroll
  • The Idea
  • Funding
  • Forming a board
  • Cooking the business
That should be a good start, but feel free to ping me on other topic ideas.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Top Ten indicators you've just founded a startup company

  1. Your spouse's ulcer has started up again
  2. Your average night's sleep is about 4 hours
  3. You keep a notebook beside your bed to jot down all of those ideas that are keeping you up at night
  4. All of your breakfasts and lunches are taken up with "networking"
  5. When someone asks you a question that isn't about your new company, you respond with, "huh?"
  6. You begin to scrutinize *every* work expense to keep "burn" down
  7. You begin to categorize *every* personal expense as luxury or necessity
  8. A cap table is not a place to put your hat
  9. Friends and family with money begin avoiding you (j/k)
  10. You feel incredibly alive!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Free your mind

One of the most useful tools I use day to day is an open source mind mapping tool named FreeMind. Mind mapping is a fairly simple concept that organizes your thoughts hierarchically. Once you get beyond seven or eight thoughts on a subject the mind needs to organize into levels of abstraction. FreeMind allows you to put some thoughts down and then start categorizing. You can easily move thoughts from one category to another, link them, and highlight them with icons. I highly recommend it. Download at the freemind sourceforge site and start mind mapping today!

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Ignorance, intent strangely both begin singing
Raise hope owing not insistence only
Hanging gardens plight form grooves
Impact one actor, silenced, militant
Entranced plagued elegant here
Light filters agnostic nothing itself
An affection lost pining accepted

Back here fearing every admonishment
Bones moan echoing egregious fate
Come ascertain hastily penned boarish
Earth addled, absolute penetration a curse
Faraway magic begins family theme
Finished braggery helps itinerant bystanders
Inebriated allegory wizard zeitgeist nears

Atavistic heroine errs strangely zen
Peloton skullduggery daringly initiates laughter
Departments condone ample whispering patience
Raindrop descends abruptly rupturing striking snakelike
Virgin hipster personifies gallant convulsive recidivism
Moonlight tumbles sonata-like peculiar
Immaculate arrangement fetters heart


To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
('Auguries of Innocence')

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Blink #1

Malcom Gladwell points out in his book Blink that we are constantly making snap decisions about complex situations and that most of the time these decisions are right on. We don't know how we do it, but our subconcious mind quickly picks out the essence of a pattern that fits the given situation and we "sense" the right thing to do. These intuitions seem to work best when we have a limited amount of information. Mr. Gladwell gives the example of emergency room cardiac arrest diagnosis. In most hospitals, if you arrive complaining about pain in your chest, and especially if you're older and have been a smoker they will check you into the cardiac unit and run a barrage of tests. This is a classic case of too much information. The chairman of the department of medicine at Cook County Hospital in Chicago ran a little experiment. Given this information on 20 past patients, he asked his staff of doctors to make an assessment and recommend treatment for each. "The answers were all over the map." A cardiologist named Lee Goldman discovered through statistical analysis that there are only about 3 really important leading indicators. If you limit the doctors to this set of information for initial analysis their accuracy improves dramatically.

"Overloading the decision makers with information, he proves, makes picking up that signature harder, not easier. To be a successfull decision maker, we have to edit."

Now this may not be a groundbreaking discovery but what it does point out is an incredibly large problem that technology has foisted upon us. While dramatically improving our lives in many ways(including lengthening) technology has also created an information glut. This makes it harder and harder for us to make good decisions.

Can technology solve problems imposed by technology? Stay tuned. I'll write more about this in the future.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Boycott Starbucks!!

America's favorite latte' location doesn't get it. While most independent coffee shops provide free wireless access to their loyal customers Starbucks charges for their airwaves (or rather encourages T-Mobile to do so). While pumping that glorious coffee aroma into the neighborhood, the wireless transmissions that share the same airspace are restricted. Free wireless access would increase loyalty (or in Starbucks case, decrease attrition of the loyal base). I for one, will not support Starbucks any longer until they free their airwaves!! Starbucks, lift your head from the sand!

To find free hotspots in your area you can go to:

Here's a listing of free spots in the Boulder, CO area. My favorite spot is Cafe Sole in Superior. Great coffee, free wireless!

  • Boulder Public Library - 1000 Canyon Blvd. - (303) 441-3100
  • Buchanan's Coffee Pub - 1301 Pennsylvania Ave. - 303-440-0222
  • Cafe Bravo - 2425 Canyon Blvd # B
  • Cafe Sienna - 1 Boulder Plaza, 1801 13th St - 303-417-0168
  • Caffè Sole - South Boulder - 637R South Broadway - 303-499-2985
  • Camille's Sidewalk Café - 1710 Pearl St. - 303-440-9727
  • Conor O'Neill's Traditional Irish Pub - 1922 13th Street
  • Jet's Espressoria - 2116 B Pearl St
  • Pearl Street Mall - between Broadway and 13th Street along the mall
  • Pekoe Sip House - 1225 Alpine Avenue - 303-444-5953
  • Penny Lane Coffehouse - 1795 Pearl Street - (303)443-9516
  • RedFish restaurant / Jamaica Joe coffeeshop - 2027 13th St.
  • Tea Spot - 1801 13th St. Ste 170 - (303) 442-4TEA
  • The Painted Bean - 2500 30th St. - 303.444.4207
  • Traveller's Juice N Java - 1932 14th St.
  • Trident coffee and café - 940 Pearl St
  • Vic's coffee - 2680 Broadway St

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Our Time

quiet animals watch
dew turning to frost
green and now gone
still and yet still
all ending as one

in their midst lay the dancer
negation of charms
still and yet still
rotations begun

breath reaching outward
once spinning, once spun
still and yet still
first full and now none

minister's mystery
peace will come from
still and yet still
all ending as one

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Feeder herds

Chuck Palahniuk's Lullaby is a cautionary tale that excoriatingly explores american pop culture and even deeper the misguided use of power in human history. One of the stories a character in the book (Oyster) describes is about mariners who would leave a pair of pigs or goats on deserted islands(in Adam/Eve fashion). The introduction of the goats to this pristine wonderland has a devastating effect. With no natural predators the goats are able to multiply unhindered and eventually denude the entire landscape. The upside was that when the sailors returned in the direction from whence they came, they could stop at this island knowing they had fresh meat for their return journey. Oyster ponders when the gods might return to Earth with a whole lot of barbecue sauce...

Monday, February 28, 2005

The Reality of Red State Fascism

Lew Rockwell writes a fairly compelling deconstruction of the republican political machine, one which has taken on a life of it's own and devours the people who so ardently support it.

"The vigor and determination of the Bush administration has brought about a profound cultural change, so that the very people who once proclaimed hated of government now advocate its use against dissidents of all sorts, especially against those who would dare call for curbs in the totalitarian bureaucracy of the military, or suggest that Bush is something less than infallible in his foreign-policy decisions. The lesson here is that it is always a mistake to advocate government action, for there is no way you can fully anticipate how government will be used. Nor can you ever count on a slice of the population to be moral in its advocacy of the uses of the police power. "

Full Article Here

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Freemotion machine not good for head!

Posted by Hello
Beware! I was working out with this Freemotion Cable Cross machine when one of the rotating arms failed and struck me directly on the top of my head. This resulted in a large gash (11 stitches) and a concussion. I had 150 lbs on it and was doing tricep pull downs and had done a full set of 15 reps. When I got to the 3rd rep of my second set, the arm failed and like a giant tomahawk swung down with full force splitting my head open like a ripe melon. I really feel fortunate to be alive.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Wall of Separation

I recently received an email from a someone claiming their rights have been violated because prayer in public schools, football games, and other public events is not allowed. Let's contemplate that for a moment. The "wall of separation" as Jefferson called it, is a fundamental element of our constitution. The separation of church and state actually gives everyone the freedom to practice the religion of their choice. The absence of that wall is what led to the first European settlements on this continent, so that they were able to practice as they chose. I would say not praying in a particular faith at a public event is small payment for the freedom we all enjoy as a result.

As Jefferson so elequently stated, "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. "

The entire text of Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Assocation may be found here.

Friday, January 28, 2005


My daughter who is in Kindergarten just completed her first science project, "How Do Worms Dig?" Doesn't it seem so much more fun reliving the learning experience second hand through the senses and thoughts of your child than it was the first time? BTW, she concluded that, "The worm wiggles around until it finds a mushy spot with its head and then stretches and scrunches it's body to push itself downwards into the dirt." She took honorable mention, I might add :). I must say, this is much the same with new ideas in the marketplace. We discover an idea whose opportunity seems most likely to take hold and then expand our thoughts to push deeper down, and contract as we execute on them.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Where to begin

Good Morning. It has been 470 days since my Colorado-based technology company, Dante Software, was acquired by a much larger company out of Virginia. That experience, of starting a company in my basement, subsiding for months with no income, growing the company, raising venture capital, and ultimately selling the company has been a life shaping experience. Looking ahead, I see tremendous opportunities in technology and personal growth as I further define who I am through exploration of these possibilities, raising a family, and participating in the social fabric of my world as we spin through space together. Hopefully I gain many new insights and with some bravery of fingertip forward them here...

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