Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How To Build Github or Git Gems on Windows

I couldn't find much information on this, so if you've stumbled across this post hoping to find out how to build a gem locally on Windows from a Github repository, you've come to the right place.

First you're going to need Git GUI. You can read the instructions and download the windows version here.

Once the Git GUI is installed you can download the source of the plugin or gem you want. You do this by clicking clone a repository on the Git GUI main window. Fill in the path to the git repo as well as your local directory where you want the files. This basically means you're copying a set of files from the git repository onto your own system.

Once you have cloned the git repository for the package you want, it's pretty simple to build the gem.

Just navigate to the directory where you cloned the git repo and type:

gem build xxxx.gemspec (there should be a file called xxxx.gemspec in the directory). That'll build the gem. Then you can just do a gem install whatever the gem name that was built - but make sure you run it locally or in the directory where the gem was built so it pulls the version you built. I had to do this for piston - since the piston gem in the gem repo isn't the latest version.

No Hay Nadie Aqui en Mexico - Global Economic Meltdown and Reaganomics

Ahhh, the life of an entrepreneur. Sitting on a beach in Mexico. Sure, I'm on my laptop, plugging away, but it sure beats sitting in an office. It's my mom's birthday, so the family has come to Cabo San Lucas. We're staying at a resort in San Jose del Cabo. It's beautiful, relaxing, and especially peaceful. How peaceful? The resort is at 15% occupancy. Generally, hotels like to hover around the 85% rate. And this is the high season. There are two other sets of people at the pool/beach right now. The restaurants are dead. Nightlife is non-existent. It's a ghost town. The only thing that doesn't seem to be affected is yearly migration of the whales. They've just settled in to town from their long migration - from Alaska. 1200 miles. There are more whales in town than people at this point.

I guess this is an affirmation of the reality of trickle down economics. It's one of the main pillars of "Reaganomics" as they like to call it. If people higher in the chain (wealthier) don't have money, they can't spend it. If they can't spend it, nobody gets it... all the way down the chain.

There are lots of arguments for the opposite, like trickle up economics. I don't think that works particularly well. If you think about it, you'd have to give poorer people a whole lot more money to get them to spend. And if you were giving them money just to spend, well, there wouldn't be any class mobility. They'd be supporting the rich, according to this theory, and they'd remain poor. Or if they saved more, well, they wouldn't be spending money, which means the economy would just sit still.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

GoGrid Sucks! If You Value Your Sanity - Do Not Use Them!

Yesterday was not a good day. We received a message from GoGrid that our server was about to be rebooted. When it came back up, the filesystem was corrupted. What's this mean? It means our server was a useless pile of transistors. But that really wasn't the beginning or the end of it.

A month ago when our server was rebooted, our filesystem had a few files missing. We filed a ticket and went back and forth with GoGrid support. They kept pushing the blame back at us. This was the final correspondence we had when they decided to close the case, even though, as you can see, we weren't prepared to close it. My comments are in red, GoGrid's in blue. I was pretty sure this wasn't our problem:

I was quite surprised when they admitted to me on the phone yesterday that they have had sporadic read only issues with their servers - thus, the problem we experienced back in November was their fault. Well that's nice. They took responsibility for their inaction. Would have been nice a month ago.

Today they again took fault for the corruption issue. But this is where it gets really out of hand. They knew that there were potential issues with their hardware. These issues had the potential to cause server corruption. Yet they decided not to notify their customers or to implement a backup strategy for their customers. Instead, as Raj (one of their VP's) explained to me on the phone today, they didn't reach their threshold of the number of customers who may have been impacted, so they didn't notify us. I chided him for that. What an utterly absurd notion. If there is ANY potential impact to ANY of your client's data, you have a responsibility to notify your customers. This isn't rocket science. It's damn common sense. Even their support staff told me they couldn't believe that management decided to withhold this information. Who the hell is running the show there?

What is the result of all of this? Well, I can't code right now because our SVN server was lost, so we have no code repo. I can't build our server because they're in the middle of upgrading hardware on our node that's "supposed" to fix this issue. And I don't quite have our strategy figured out because Fajar is probably sleeping somewhere in Jakarta. And I want to run everything through him - since he is our CTO.

It's putting us back a few days to say the least. As you can imagine, we are looking to alternative hosting services. They gave us a $400 credit. I asked for the next 6 months, at least, free. I'm not sure what it would take to feel confident in their service. But I do know, if I were you, I wouldn't put anything up in GoGrid's cloud. Beta my ass... this isn't close to a beta.

winsmss.exe - Trojan Virus Removal

I got a nasty virus today (winsmss.exe) and couldn't really find any useful information with a Google search, so thought I'd leave instructions on how I removed it. First of all, go to your registry, by typing REGEDIT at Start -> Run or at any command prompt (back up your registry of course), and do a search for winsmss. I had plenty of entries. Delete ALL of them!

Start your computer in safe mode (you can actually do this first, before the Windows registry cleaning, but I didn't). Press F8 a few times as you're booting up, before it begins to load windows. Select safe mode (with or without networking, it doesn't really matter).

Go to your Windows directory (C:\Windows or C:\WINNT) and find the system32 directory. Delete winsmss.exe.

Run your virus scanner. It'll probably make you run it from the command line - but AVG does it for you.

Reboot - and you should be good.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hyundai Assurance - A Company I Can Get Behind

I couldn't believe my ears yesterday. I was watching TV and a Hyundai commercial came on touting their auto buyback program, showing the faith Hyundai has in Americans. It's called Hyundai Assurance. The program allows you to lease or buy a new Hyundai, and return it if you lose your income within the next year. This is the same company that, 10 years ago, came out with America's Best Warranty. 10 years, 100,000 miles.

It's available to everyone, regardless of age, health, or job situation. It's available on all new Hyundai's and covers up to $7,500 in negative equity.

It covers you under all of these circumstances:
1) Involuntary unemployment
2) Physical disability
3) Loss of driver's license due to medical impairment
4) International job transfer
5) Self employed personal bankruptcy
6) Accidental death

This is coming from a car company that had it's first North American Car of the Year winner with the Hyundai Genesis this year.

In a time when American auto manufacturers are looking for handouts, Hyundai is an example of everything right in the auto industry.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My (and Nader Ghaffari's) Idea on How to Bailout The US: Startup America

The Obama transition team has setup a website:, to help distribute both news and ideas about the incoming president. They setup a "Citizen's Briefing Book" on the site, which has allowed people to submit ideas they think the incoming President should embrace. Ideas are voted on, Digg style, and they bubble to the top of the book. The idea is that the most voted on ideas will be looked at by the President and worked on as potential policies.

I brainstormed an idea with my good friend, Nader Ghaffari, and we came up with this submission which we think will ensure continued growth of the US economy as well as ensuring innovation remains an American invention.

Startup America: Bringing Innovation Back to America (A Government VC Fund)

I have been watching the government bailout with intrigue for several months, wondering why America is investing billions in industries mired in uncertainty, merely prolonging the inevitable. Therefore, I propose Startup America, an initiative for the government to invest $1B in venture capital financing to startup companies in a variety of different industries, with up to $1M per company. The fund would work in much the same way a typical seed stage investment company works, whereby there would be a board to review each idea on a variety of metrics, and upon submitting a term sheet, the government would receive equity for their investment. This would allow the government to recoup their investment and potentially more while providing a great financial resource for our citizens.

Startup America would ensure that innovatiion remains America's strongest asset. It would create jobs and industries for thousands, if not millions of people. It would certainly jumpstart the economy. It would create tremendous value for depressed areas all across the nation, providing people with resources to turn their dreams into reality. It could be the first step in solving our energy crisis, curing cancer, improving education, eradicating homelessness and malnutrition, improving foreign policy, increasing security, and vastly improving current technologies . The possibilities are endless. Our minds are our only limitation.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers - An Honest Book Review

Admittedly, I haven't even read the book. Nor will I. But that won't stop me from telling you that this book is another pile of Gladwell crap. Why? Well, like all his others, he takes something that seems so obvious and writes a book about it. And then fills it with interesting trivia (to keep people interested after the 20th page). Then a million people, who obviously aren't aware of the obvious, will tell you what a great book it is. If you like his books - I don't mean to offend. But seriously.

See, here are his last few books. The Tipping Point. What was this book about? Well, if things get bad enough, eventually people will be pushed over the their tipping point. And how little things can grow into bigger things, reaching a point where the situation changes. Really? Damn, never would have known that. Then there was Blink. And how people can make decisions, in the blink of an eye, without thinking about it. And they can be right or manipulated. Isn't it obvious that people react given a situation. What the hell else would we do? And those reactions are based on past experiences. Hmmm.... earth shattering.

So what is Outliers about? Basically, it's about how it takes more than skill or intelligence to achieve success. It takes luck. Cultural factors. And some other things.

I read some reviews on Amazon. There was the usual litany of those who love Gladwell. And then there were the dissenters. Those people felt like this wasn't really a book, but rather a compilation of facts from online resources. Resources that may or may not be 100% valid (Wikipedia). But really, do people not think that some people succeed because of things other than skill? Of course it takes luck. It takes a lot of things.

Read at your own discretion. But don't say I didn't warn you. And at least wait for the paperback.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This Blew Me Away - My Grandfather Uses a Wii

Disclaimer: That's not my grandpa above. He's much better looking.

I was talking to my aunt today. She had just returned from a visit with my grandfather. The same man who gave me a lifetime of stories when I went to see him last month. Well, I didn't think anything could top his stories of single-handedly winning WWII, but I think this did just that.

He was born in 1919. He's almost ninety years old. And he's in a Wii bowling tournament in his assisted living center. And the winners move on to face the winners from the sister assisted living center. I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone.

I had to call him tonight to confirm this. He's been practicing with the system at the center, but he's not content with his game. So he went out a few days ago to get his very own Wii. I don't even have one! Well, they were sold out. And the clerk told him that they'd be getting more in when "the Japanese decide to make more". He chuckled, agreeing that customer service these days is missing a step.

He can't wait to get the tennis game too, so he can beat the crap out of his friend who lives down the hall. His friend had back surgery and can barely walk. But he's fired up for a game. He's also been burning CD's and swapping collections with his friends. I'm sure the RIAA would probably sue his ass if they knew. But my god! To top that off, he's been practicing his drumming. Said he always wanted to learn how and decided it's never too late. He already knew about Rock Band... but said that Benny Goodman was more his pace. "Drummer's these days hold their drumsticks like an axe". So he's going to stick to the tambourine he bought as a drum pad instead of his Wii.

He's living like he's 25. It's amazing! And yet again, he's proving to be quite an inspiration man. He plays Wii... did I mention that?!

Orrick Total Access - Angel Investing. More On How To Raise Cash

I've become quite fond of the Orrick Total Access events. Yea, they're a law firm, but they firmly believe in reaching outside of their core competencies to further integrate into the startup community. These events are generally worthwhile. At least for a little while. I left after an hour today - because, well, I got as much as I thought I'd get out of it. And work was waiting.

Today's discussion was about raising money from Angels and it included several members from various angel groups, such as Sand Hill Angels and Band of Angels.

There were two important points to note about the Angels of today. And keep in mind, this refers to the Angels in Silicon Valley. Those outside are probably a bit less like this.

1) Angels are becoming more like institutional investors. They are doing more due diligence, making sure your company has customers and revenue, and participating much more in the evolution of your product.

Why? Well, we can blame the last downturn for causing this. Too many Angels lost too much money. So what's this mean will happen after this downturn? I don't think too much. They'll move a bit closer to becoming full fledged institutional investors - but it appears they're already like that. They're VC's that invest less money and are more accessible.

2) Angels are reserving cash for deals that are done. This means there will be fewer deals. But the fewer deals can expect more money over the life of the investment... because they'll reserve cash to increase the runway of their existing portfolio. You can see the cycle.


Look for Angels outside of the Valley. They tend to be more like the Angels of old. And there are definitely plenty of them who want to develop connections with the Valley.

How do I get in touch with Angels?

Get an introduction - it's infinitely more powerful than submitting your application online. How can you do that? Find a mentor. Look on the board of your competitors. Reach out to them. If they are in your space, they'll undoubtedly want to know what else is going on in the same space. If you can get one of them excited, you're on your way to getting a potentially great mentor. How else? Start building an advisory board... This can be the most successful component of raising money early on. The advisory board will help you build your product, develop your roadmap, write your business plan, and perfect your pitch. Among a great many other things. As an aside, generally an advisory board member will get between 1/4 and 1/2 percent. And, according to Jorge Fernandes, get as many as possible. He's had 30 on some of his companies.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Downturn Has Hit The Valley!

Just last week I wrote a post discussing my opposition to the fact that the Valley is dead. That was in terms of intellectual capital.

Today, I'm writing to let you know that the financial downturn has officially hit the Valley. This has no bearing on the last post - because it's really two different things. But this is something I've been seeing for the past several months. It always hits us last. Well, that is, unless we're the cause of it (.com bubble).

I was in Florida in November. And I noticed how quiet the restaurant and nightlife scene was. It's usually bustling. That was the first sign that the economy was really taking a hit at all levels. A few months later I'm starting to see the same thing around the Bay. Restaurants that are usually crowded and bustling have empty tables. Food prices at Safeway, a place that loves to overcharge, are down. Roads are less crowded. Yup, the traffic ain't as bad. That's the one relief.

Now the layoffs are in full effect (many more here).

Dell - cutting 1,900 jobs
Lenovo - cutting 2,500 (11%)
EMC - cutting 2,400 (7%)
Borland - cutting 130 (15%)
Logitech - cutting 15%
Microsoft - planning big layoffs this month
AMD - cutting 600
Laird - cutting 50%
Alcatel-Lucent - cutting 6,000
EA - cutting 10%
SGI - cutting 15%
Sony - cutting 16,000
Yahoo - cutting 1,520
AT&T - cutting 12,400
Adobe - cutting 600
Viacom - cutting 7%
Technorati - cutting 12%
TiVO - cutting 7%
Fring - cutting 20%

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Solvate - Friend of a Friend

I got a nice email from a good friend this morning. He forwarded along one of his friend's companies. A startup. Since he thought it was a perfect fit for my needs. The company is named Solvate. And here's what they're all about:

"Solvate is a service that solves irritating and time-consuming problems for you. We deal with labyrinth phone trees, customer service agents, exceptions to the rule and anything else that stands between you and a solution to your problem."

What couldn't be better? Someone else dealing with BS from a no good company (something I'm far too familiar with)? Now, he also hit on an important point in his email. He said I may be masochistic, and enjoy venting with CS reps. As I thought about it, he may actually be right. When I get screwed over by a company, I'm not sure how I'd feel about someone else taking care of it? While it frustrates me to no end, I like to let 'em have it. And part of that process alleviates some of my frustration. Unless, of course, I get considerably more frustrated by their inadequate and unhelpful customer service.

They remind me a bit of another startup here in the Bay. JustAnswer. While they aren't an intermediary for your problems, they do help you solve them by connecting you to a network of professionals who are rated based on their topical knowledge. For example, they'll have auto mechanics who can answer your questions concerning a noise you're hearing in your car. I used them to help me figure out what to do with my two year old DLP television that's now a $1400 paperweight. While they confirmed that it is, indeed a new paperweight, at least it was an educated answer that cost $8 instead of the $250 that Samsung wanted to come out and look at it.

I think these companies are interesting. With a big caveat. Scalability will become an issue. Justanswer is profitable already, at last check. But to grow, I advised them to approach companies like Ford, and offer to outsource their customer service. They told me that large companies like that typically decline, because they have their own network of support. Dealerships. And why would they want to undermine their overpriced dealerships and let customers solve their problems much more easily? Yea, no idea.

I'll be giving Solvate a try though with my next problem. How could I not at least try?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I Love Rails - Rails Caching Even On Windows!

I escaped a $999 Mac purchase last week. I thought I'd need it for development. While I should have one, that's not a purchase that's at all likely. Instead, I'm pushing code to our dev server and testing there. At least for the code that requires workling and starling. And I'm glad. Because I'm not entirely sure I'm ready for a Mac. It's a commitment.

Sorry for the digression. Today I started implementing Rails caching as well as memcache. And I gotta say, I love it! Rails comes with 4 flavors of caching, page caching, action caching, fragment caching, and ActiveRecord query caching (on by default).

They're sort of self explanatory. Page caching caches pages. This is really useful for stuff that doesn't change much. While the point of serving static pages by Rails at all is debatable, what's not debatable is how easy it is to cache them. No more going to the controller. With the cache, it'll be stored in a local .html file and served by your little Mongrel. Then there's action caching. You can cache specific actions, which will cause your filters to run, enabling login/authentication, etc. But the actions themselves are cached. Good for static or mostly static pages that are beyond a login. Next is fragment caching, which enables caching for fragments of your code... like a view fragment that loads up countries or something like that.

Then I implemented memcache, because I wanted to do some model caching - caching that would extend beyond the four cases I just listed. In other words, I want to store objects in the cache - and memcache is perfect for that.

In any event, the process is simple:
For Rails caching of my static pages, all I do is add this: caches_page :about (this is the name of the method that I want cached)

For memcache, I create a class method: Rails.cache.fetch("Model.#{type_id}") { Model.find(type_id)}

The fetch fetches the hash value listed in the parentheses. If it's not there, it runs the block following. Dead simple.

The State of the Valley

There are lots of stories detailing how Silicon Valley is dead. Dream on. What's dead is the risk that VC's used to take. Not the VC's themselves. They're around. And they'll remain here. So stop dreaming about the days when you won't be dealing with them.

People are still standing on their soap boxes, pronouncing how cheap it is to start a company. Well, just throw a Rails app together and voila. You have a company. Sure. If your company is a T-shirt company. Or if your app is like Twitter.

What about those other companies, that actually require a time investment in conducting research? That want to change the world? That want to change the way people do things? Let's look a little at Vyoo. We spent about 6-8 months conducting psychological research. Since I wasn't a psychologist, we had to engage those people. And they aren't free. Especially if you want psychologists who conduct rigorous research. Then how about developing and designing our algorithm, which, to be fair, I really didn't know where to start. Well, we had to engage a psychometrician. They aren't free either. Now the rest of the team is volunteer. But there are a few problems with that. The first is that hiring people who are friends or who believe in your idea is all well and good. But when they have other jobs or other things going on in their lives, it tends to take a back seat. This results in extended amounts of time to get work completed. What would shorten this? Money. But how can you get money when VC's want you to have a product already live with users?

Or how about a service that relies on building partnerships with other companies in order to develop content. That's something we're certainly going to have problems with. How do you prove to these companies that what your doing is really going to change their world? All while paying me (nothing), paying for our servers, and the others who we've contracted to help us. Sure, you can do it on the cheap. But it still costs money.

I'll tell you what. Screw people who say starting a company is cheap. I'm sick and tired of hearing that. Go try to start one yourself. And not a Facebook app.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Why We Embrace Mediocrity? - Thanks Om Malik (from GigaOm)

This morning I read a brilliant post that certainly touched a nerve. It's a nerve that was overactive in 2008. I hope 2009 is better, or else I may begin to suffer some serious Neurapraxia.

Why were companies complacent with their performance and with their products and services? Why is mediocrity just ok? And did this maybe, just maybe, contribute to our global economic crisis? Ok, I actually won't say maybe. I'll say definitely.

I've talked plenty about deteriorating customer support, crappy products, and even crappier management. And at times I wondered if I was too much of a cynic. Now that the world is collapsing, people are beginning to look back at this. Why are people so damn greedy and stupid? Madoff is just the tip of an iceberg filled with moral depravity and stupid decision making. Did he really think he was going to get away with this? Sure, there are loads of companies who can function and operate like this, in good times. But in bad times, these companies will face certain death. That is, unless management continues to take advantage of people or our government continues to print money. The steel and newspaper industries are now looking for handouts (here). When is that going to stop? Who's next?

Just a little excerpt from the GigaOm post (here):

"Whether or not the bailouts were needed remains up for debate. I will let others scream and holler in outrage about the immorality of the actions taken by our completely biased politicians. I will let those who are suffering tell their tragic stories on national media. All I am going to say is this: In 2008, U.S. society — from the very top (our political leaders) to the very bottom (our bankers) — came to embrace mediocrity.

In offering money to bailout failed bankers who couldn’t bank, car makers who couldn’t make good cars and chipmakers who have seemingly no business acumen, we stood on the top of the roofs and said: Mediocrity is OK. In the meantime, not one person has been held accountable for bringing fiscal, moral and social Armageddon to our doorstep."