The Idea Dude


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The networked organization

I'm reminded with this picture about diversity in a company. Too few leaders or managers recognize or promote diversity. We fail to see that culture, skills, personalities all play in the mix and sometimes we are too eager to herd everyone in the same direction and expect everyone to behave the same way. The winding path of the pebbles is what the responsible leader must do, weaving his way through the layers of the organization. Another arrangement would be to have the leadership at the center and all the other layers as concentric circles but this is better because it demands the leader to walk the floor to, to meet the people on their terms and to intertwining them into the fabric of the company.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Another window to this soul

Another first for theIdeaDude blog. Putting an image on this site has been tough for the last 4 months. I've fought the idea, a) I didn't want the exercise to be gratuitous and b) it takes effort to find the right image to match the blog unless you have no qualms in putting photos of fellow colleagues who were perpetrators of dark software deeds that have been described at length here.

However, I rationalized that what I see and appreciate is as much about me as what I read or experience in this journey. So here goes the first one. And the homage is paid to Flickr from where this image originates. Flickr was an idea a couple of friends and I had in the late 90's but never saw the light of day because too many people told us it wouldn't make money. It is hard to say what would have happened if Yahoo had not bought them. However, the point is moot, it is one of the greatest social exercises of our time and a fitting partipant in the next-generation web. It is also a testament to the impact of the digital camera. Remember how we thought the 35mm format would not die and using 800 ASA was a sin. People gave up quality and elitism for convenience and size. The latter has won the battle as evidence by the number of traditional camera makers that are slowly becoming dinosaurs. Who is Ricoh, Minolta, Konica etc our children will ask one day.

Flicker has shown the world, like the bloggers and the social-networks, it's about people and the content that help bring relationships and emotions together...

Saturday, April 22, 2006

How much is that dream worth to you?

Businessweek has an article about some notable CEOs who are refusing bonuses or giving back some of their pay to their employees. It's probably a trend won't catch on in a hurry. Most of these actions are window dressing or a pang of conscience that helps them sleep at night. If you pull back the covers, these CEOs are either already worth millions or already earning more money than they can spend.

If you want to admire the real entrepreneurs, spare a thought to those who have taken significant pay cuts, changed their lifestyles and work out of basements to follow their dream. When you wake up every morning wondering how to feed your own and what you can liquidate to keep your business alive, and how to say no to your loved ones, and wondering if you can take that summer vacation...these are the people who are the true entrepreneurs that demand our respect. The nobility is in starving so others can eat, not giving away what you don't need. Mother Theresa understood that...perhaps that's why saints are far and few between.

Whose idea is it anyway?

I read with interest Kane Kramer's lament of being the world's biggest failure because he lost his right to a patent that was supposedly everything the iPod became. If you follow the RIM patent infringement debacle, there's a similar thread there. My take is that the patent system should be there to support the inventor to ensure that he or she had a fair opportunity to make money off an idea and not be steam-rollered by big companies who can simply do it better and faster because of better resources and access to markets. I'm especially against folks who cry wolf after the fact and demand billions of dollars from others made legitimately through hard work. In the early days of fax, there were some who demanded retribution because they had a patent that described the transfer of information across two electrical wires. The rule should be if you had a patent and are in the business of using the patent in your business you have a legitimate right to protection from the justice system. Somehow, the patent law like the 5th amendment has been abused in ways that are despicable to decent folk.

What the Internet and the startup business has taught me is that if you think you have a great idea and it is really a good one, chances are there are at least 20 other people around the world who have thought of or are thinking of the same thing. That was one of the great takeaways I remember from a Guy Kawasaki talk in the late 90's. Most VC's stopped signing NDAs because of that fact. If I got a million dollars for every idea that came to pass couple years later, I could fund a small country. That doesn't stop me from lamenting the fact but it doesn't drive me to feel like I should patent my ideas in the hopes I can make money off others at a later date. Lawyers who buy up patents or create patent portfolios should be reclassified as organized crime because they are simply making money off the backs of others.

The move to put patents in creative commons for use in open source is applauded because it means that the innovation is a contribution to the advancement of mankind. We are free to use it as part of our business model. Don't get me started on why people are allowed to patent business models either.

Small entrepreneurs should not start their companies in the fear they may get sued for infringement or have to pony up thousands of dollars to create patents that are obscure and dripping in legal jargon as an insurance policy. We should be focusing our energies in being the most innovative and intelligent organisms on the planet.

So Mr Kane, you were not the world's biggest loser because you lost your rights to a patent, you should console yourself that you never had a benefactor called Steve Jobs and should be proud that you had thought of an idea that was way before its time.

If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is there, did it make a noise?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The answer to the billion dollar question!

My blog has finally been able to contribute something material to the technical world rather than a philosophical meandering through life in the startup lane. For all those poor people with hosts files that don't work, here is the answer...but first you'll have to excuse the lengthy discourse of how I got there. It is relevant because it is a comprehensive collection of remedies suggested by well-meaning techies that will lead you to nowhere.

We created an internal staging server for our web application. Because it was using an internal IP and we weren't running a DNS server of our own, adding local IPs to the hosts file was the best solution for us. Behold, the entries did nothing for me on my machine. Here's the long arduous route I took over two days and one sleepless night before I found the solution.
  • Checked on my partner's machine, it worked fine...on my machine, it was as if the hosts file didn't exist.
  • Thought it was the lmhost caching that had precedence or somehow bypassed the hosts file. After much reading, the lmhosts file is there to map names to IPs for Netbios. It is the last resort if the DNS server/client caching, hosts file doesn't resolve the name. It became the proverbial redherring because putting the names into the lmhosts file work for some names and not others. Turns out that only the first 15 characters (Microsoft uses the 16th one) are relevant so names shorter than 15 chars worked and others didn't. Bottom line, the lmhosts file could mitigate your problem but doesn't solve it especially if you have urls longer than 15 characters. Back to square one. (btw: use nbtstat to clear and display the lmhost cache)
  • Someone posted a workaround. Stop the DNS client service, yup, hosts file worked. Ping works. Basically meant there was nothing wrong with the hosts file (or was there? see later). When you stop the DNS client, DNS entries don't get cached and applications instead of querying the cache read the host file separately. While it would work, it meant all queries would hit the DNS server, not ideal so the search goes on.
  • Found out how to flush the DNS client cache using ipconfig/flushdns and ipconfig/displaydns. While I've been able to edit hosts files on other machines with immediate results, I tried the brute force approach and flushed the cache which usually reloads the hosts file. No dice...
  • Went back to the dude principle and googled the world...while most posts were about how to use the hosts file to block ads, there were quite a number of people with the same problem over the last 4 years. No solution, just lots of suggestions.
  • Just to be sure I wasn't being stupid, checked the hosts file had no extension like txt. Compared registry and network settings with a machine on which hosts file worked. Checked the syntax was correct and the order was right, ip first and then name. Made sure there was only one hosts file on my entire drive (Remember, hosts file worked if DNS client is turned off? so it couldn't be that could it?)
  • Made sure there wasn't something hijacking the hosts file, there's a registry setting under tcp-ip settings that points the drivers\etc subdirectory where the hosts file resides. Nope, destination was secure.
  • Reset the tcp-ip settings as per another support article on the Microsoft site. That didn't work. Stopped short of fixing my winsock dll 'cos that didn't make sense.
  • Went to bed, woke up in the middle of night thinking maybe it was the environment variables that need to include the path to the etc directory i.e. the DNS client couldn't find the hosts file. Added that to the path. Nice try but no cigar. This was one tough hombre.
  • Checked to see if I had a rogue DNS client, dnsrslvr had the same size and date as other machines. In desperation...back to reading more posts in dismay to see some of these posts date back to 2002.
  • Someone suggested the file maybe readonly (duh?) or could be permissions. I'm logged on as the administrator on my machine. Shouldn't be the problem. But wait...someone said that they moved the contents to another file that didn't have ctrl-z (end of file) and it worked. Go back and check the file properties...all my files in the etc directory were dated 1 January 1980, hmmm....

Ta da! renamed the hosts file, created another file in notepad (fresh new file), cut the contents from the old hosts file and paste it to the new file and saved it. Works! All is calm in the world of theideadude. Actually, not calm but the gnashing of teeth is now replaced by the whoops of euphoria. Apparently the ctrl-z had been sufficient to throw the DNS client out even though the other utilities like ping worked fine. It is unclear to me why my files were dated 1980 (creation date not modification). They weren't the culprit as I subsequent found out. Note: copying the file doesn't work because it keeps the ctrl-z. I have no clue how the date was 1980 or maybe it was the Unix admin who was let loose on my machine a year ago...that would remain a mystery for the ages.

So this rather lengthy explanation is to ensure that some poor soul does not wait 4 years like some I found on the web or spend the last 24 hours like I did trying to solve this mystery.

The most apt way to end this post is to echo an advertisement I saw once (with a bit of my creative embellishment)...Technology is like tabasco sauce (and love), it can hurt so much but it always makes you come back for more....

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Of mice and of men

Red Herring has an article about how stressful environments of startups can lead to serious medical problems. They injected mice with cortisol, a stress hormone into mice and monitored their behavior. The results were mice who had high levels of the stress hormone were more anxious and fearful. They were also less likely leave their surroundings to explore open spaces. I guess that would explain a lot about my behavior or lackof! The last count was around 14 companies in the last 12 case you wondered if I had a chronic case of attention deficit disorder, landing at least 2 thirds of the companies were via acquisitions not by personal choice.

The concept of balance is a theoretical one for most serial entrepreneurs. If you really look at the most successful people, their passage through time and their wins are characterized by maniacal focus and stubborness. The number of people who can spend equal time in all aspects of their lives that lead to a balanced life must be pretty low. Most who do are financial secure enough to do it. Four decades of existence, I still struggle with maintaining balance. The best way to do it other than self discipline is to find people you have lots of fun with in each of the balance quadrants. They draw you to that neglected part of your life whenever things get hectic. Losing weight, looking after your teeth are neglected because generally they are not fun things to do.

Someone once said you are either exiting a problem, in the middle of one or entering a new one. Get used to it...

Monday, April 17, 2006

The shoemaker has new shoes

I've finally made time to upgrade the blog look and feel. It really didn't look or feel anything unique and perhaps I wasn't sure how long I would keep up with this blogging fad so just as it is easy to choose vanilla at the ice cream parlour, I went with one of the blogger defaults. Well after 40+ blogs since December, maybe it has become an addiction. After learning all about CSS and browser incompatibilities in the last 6 weeks, it was time to put all the knowledge to personal use. Armed with GIMP, notepad 2 and a little help from the CSS garden, I breathed a little zen into the site. Hope you like it. I did want to have the blogs to scroll horizontally instead of vertically but that would require a little more experimentation...this will suffice for now.

Today I found myself sounding like my son. My investor friend asked me whether the system was ready to which I replied, 'pretty much' which wasn't what he wanted to hear because it was hardly a definitive answer. 'Is it? or isn't it?'...well, metaphorically, the car is built, been on a test run but I wouldn't put my mother in it just yet...maybe that would have been a better answer...Reality is we're facing the 80/20 rule. It was pretty quick to get the first 80% which was encouraging but the 20% of minor details seem to drag like chasing the elusive bug or dissecting someone else's code and looking for appropriate disclaimer agreements.

I often forget to come up for air and the fierce focus when developing software is my strength and my weakness. Strength because the bulldog mentality will always get the job done, the weakness is it leaves me little time to play the optics game with investors and shareholders. Yes, I know there is a business model, and I have to go do sales calls and build a sales pipeline but my integrity is like a brick wall because I can't or won't sell vapourware. So there. Hopefully they don't see that as a sign of incompetance. Tom Peters in his earlier books talks about those who hack in the jungle to beat a path to the mountain while others must climb above the tree tops to figure out where the mountain is. Pretty hard to weld a machete and a pair of binoculars at the same time. Sooner or later I know I must give up one or the other...

I do wonder with a visually new website (btw, it's really neat with the fixed images in Firefox), whether the message will be delivered better or is it just a case of the emperor's new clothes....

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Infolust - the 8th deadly sin

Trendwatch coins the phrase in their latest briefing...infolust. A great way to describe our thirst or perhaps appetite for information. We want to know where we can buy the cheapest or whether we have the best or who is wearing what and where is our favorite celebrity. The more we get, the more we want and the web obliges, pouring technology like fuel on the fire. Blogs, mashing, social networks, RSS feeds, mobile messaging all contribute to keep us connected or at least make us feel connected to the rest of the world. A brave new world...quite unlike the one we were used to a mere decade ago.

Spoke to an interesting young person today. He graduated in biotechnology but works with Internet companies today. Asked why the jump from biotechnology to the Internet, his reply was academic books don't make money. His parents wanted him to get a degree. He offered the opinion that the traditional approach of getting a degree, going to work for a respected company and working your way up to the top is old thinking. The new breed of savy young entrepreneurs want to start companies in their twenties, make their millions three years later and retire at 30. I've learnt never to judge another man's opinion or be skeptical of the most outlandish idea. His argument that the Internet has broken barriers of race, background, culture and age and anyone can potentially make money given a bit of brains, luck and money is hard to argue...since we seen a couple of stellar examples. Sounded like me talking 20 years ago...the scary thing is I still think the same way.

The most interesting dilemma that I was left with to ponder on my own, is how should I influence the future of my own children. Should I take the traditional approach and put them through college and some kind of degree or should I teach them CSS and PHP. Incidently, both of them, not quite in their teens, have blogs, write rudimentary HTML and have dabbled with Photoshop. My son has created and posted his multimedia game video online while I was away last year. I remember asking him where he had downloaded the clip when I first saw it. I later learnt he spent a couple of weeks using a free framegrabber, Windows Moviemaker and stitched together a pretty slick production complete with soundtrack, multiple scenes and credits. None of their skills were a result of their dad being a geek, neither can I ascribe it to some genetic transfer. Simply kids learning new survival skills in the modern age. As parents, we have to be careful to pass on what is relevant from our own upbringing and not impose outdated thinking and prejudices. I wonder how many parents stop to think that way. What's your filter?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Dying from a thousand cuts

I had a posting about letting a thousand flowers bloom, the past week has been about dying from a thousand cuts from getting our site launch ready, tax time, dance competitions, the list goes on...I woke up and it was Monday.

For all the Web 2.0 wannabees, here's the caveat, you may fail because of your success. Eweek had a fascinating article on the technology challenges faced by In Sept. 2003, they could have run the entire site on one Dell server/desktop. 3 years, 65 million users and 4.5 million transactions per minute later, the technology hurdles are phenomenal. It is not unlike the growth spurt experienced by eBay. Today, myplace adds 250,000 new users per day, with 1.5 million new images uploaded each day. Here's the kicker...2,682 Web servers, 90 cache server with 16GB RAM each, 450 Dart servers, 60 database servers, 150 media processing servers, 1,000 disks in SAN, 3 data centers and 17GB per second bandwidth throughput! That's some serious social network. Now you should believe!

There's an interesting blog in the BusinessWeek tech beat blog that supports another blogger rant about the use of the term 'user-generated content'. Calling a rose by any other name will smell as sweet as Shakespeare will say. If my memory serves me right (the Iron Dude!), it's like Minsky who tried to create a different number system during the early AI days only to conclude he succeeded only creating new labels for a fundamental and immutable paradigm. Call it what you will, the power of mass participation and collaboration should not be underestimated. Mass political rallies have been organized in a heartbeat powered by SMS messages. But in case you thought this user-generated content is a new 'thang', I should remind you the biggest manifestation of that concept on the Internet has been around for over a's called email...which is still in my mind, Internet's biggest killer app of the last century. It continues to persist in the plain vanilla text form (for the most part) because it is simple, fast and relevant...maybe a lesson for Web 2.0 newbies to learn...putting the 'I' back into the Internet.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Fusion of confusion

It's a lyrical line from Chicken Little...even Disney can teach me a thing or too. That's the only way to describe some of the development lately. I bear testament to the saying 'do as I say not do as I do'. Lately, I found myself at the end of each day trying too many things to solve a particular problem rather than stepping away and taking time to breathe...ergo...lots of energy and activity and not the corresponding productivity I expected. How the morning light the day after seems to bring unparalleled clarity...highlighting the stupidity that had gone before.

I made my partner promise to do me serious bodily harm if I did not adhere to the following principles.
  • If the road seems murky, step away from the problem. Breath or choke on one's own confusion. Respect the need for noodle time.
  • If I have a problem, chances are someone else has had it before. Google first, code later.
  • Honor the principle of continuous simplication. I'm too old to handle complexity.
  • One step at a time...
Like the chicken says..''s a fusion of confusion with a few confounding things...' but I am encouraged that the sky has not fallen yet and we actually reached our 30 day milestone on time.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Infectious greed

I'm going to borrow Paul Kedrosky's trademark for my blog item today. How else would you describe a company with little revenue but a lot of eyeballs/subscribers turning down $750 million dollars. I'm referring to Facebook, the social networking startup with a niche market of students. Apparently, they are asking for $2 billion. They should take a page from MyPlace's book who didn't let greed go to their heads and let it go for $350 million. Love the concept of a student network, but not at $2 billion or at $750 million for that matter. This smacks more like the emperor's new clothes. Those with longer memories will recall Pointcast rejecting $450 from News Corp and went out with a reportedly $10 million dollar or there about whimper. Friendster who rejected Google for $40 million in 2003 is said to be worth less that $5 million today. Greed is definitely one of the 7 deadly sins if not the deadliest.

On an unrelated topic but worth commenting, Fast Company has an interesting article on obsessive branding disorder. Make no mistake, branding is important because it is a reinforcement of your presence. But spending millions on branding is like putting lipstick on a pig. You are defined by what you are not what you wear. I liked what they said. Branding is a result not a tactic. 'In a brilliant twist, the experts have bottled an end and sold it as a means'. How profound is that? So brand is about awareness and if your product or service sucks, having a great brand will only let everyone know how bad you really are...your business success or lack of will ultimately decide which label is able to persist...

To close here's a couple of delicious humour from the musical Wicked that ties the above two thoughts so well together...

I never asked for this, or planned it in advance
I was merely blown here, by the winds of chance
I never saw myself as a Solomon or Socrates
I knew who I was: one of your dime a dozen mediocrities

Then suddenly I'm here, respected - worshipped, even
Just because the folks in Oz needed someone to believe in...

...Wonderful, they called me "Wonderful",
So I said "Wonderful" - if you insist,
I will be "Wonderful", And they said "Wonderful"
Believe me, it's hard to resist
'Cause it feels wonderful
They think I'm wonderful....

ELPHABA: So you lied to them

WIZARD: ...where I'm from, we believe in all sorts of things that aren't true. We call it - "History"