Saturday, February 28, 2009
I was scanning a few websites today looking for some information on the proper design for a Facebook type newsfeed for Vyoo, which is what I'm putting on our site right now. I came across a few articles about Facebook Connect. I realized that after all hullabaloo over the release of Google's Friend Connect and Facebook Connect and how great they were going to be, we haven't heard a word about them since. Wanna know why? Because they don't do what we all thought they'd do. It's not a way to bring your friends with you all across the web, seamlessly. Or a way to bring your profile with you to other sites. It's a way for you to basically import your contacts - like you can currently do with your email programs. Sure Facebook Connect trumps Google because you don't always have your "friends" as email contacts, but it still isn't that sweet. Or it's a way to authenticate - which may actually be the one big benefit of these offerings. I, like many others, thought this was going to be a way to bring your profile with you around the web. At least Facebook Connect seems more interested in integrating your site with Facebook - allowing you to share feeds, stories, or whatever. Not a way to make the user's life of managing their content any easier.
I also ran across some great discussions about how bad the documentation and implementation of Facebook's technology and API's are. Terrible documentation, non-working code, missing wiki's, pain in the ass Facebook employees. Read all about it (here) - click on the story title at the top! There are some totally fun comments to read too on that page.
Friday, February 27, 2009
I've been sorta vague with what Vyoo is and does anyway. But since our alpha is live, our patents are filed, and our website says what we do, I might as well explain it.
I'm an avid traveler. It's really what I live for. It all started when I was younger and my parents dragged me to dude ranches in Wyoming, a jungle retreat in Costa Rica, and a whirlwind tour of Europe. I wasn't a fan at the time, but it certainly created a place in my heart that would later burn with a strong desire to continue traveling.
Traveling, for me, is really about the new experiences, people, and cultures that I'm exposed to. It's the exhilaration of waking up in Burma and wondering if I'll be able to order breakfast. Or heading to Guilin, China, wondering if I'm on the right bus and whether I'll be able to find a place to bed down for the night. Or in Korea, trying Sannakji, and hoping the tentacles don't stick to my throat on the way down, suffocating me. It's getting Cheese Fondue in the Swiss Alps, diving in Panama, visiting Auschwitz. It's relaxing on the beaches in Croatia, hiking in Cinque Terra. It's eating with a family in Bagan, with no electricity or running water for miles. For me... this is living!
Part of the difficulty with traveling is planning your trip. Sure, there are lots of guides out there to give you a hand. Lonely Planet, Frommers, Let's Go, Timeout, etc. But these guides suffer the same problems that most recommendations in life suffer (books, movies, hotel rooms, whatever). They're hard to trust. They're hard to determine if they fit what you really want. A lot of it is just settling. And boy do I hate to settle.
Guide books are great for giving overviews of cities. They're great for pointing out well known places or a variety of activities to choose from. But what about personalization? That's where they are lacking. And that's why finding a hotel from guidebooks is tough. Or a restaurant. Or finding which activities or tours you would find worthwhile. It requires fact checking. Cross-referencing.
I moved to Thailand before business school for about 6 months. When I left, I spent lots of time, too much time, trying to find a place to live - a service apartment, hotel, or hostel where I could spend a few months. In the end, I wasn't happy with anything - not knowing what part of town to stay in, what type of place to stay at, where I'd feel at home? I thought a lot about how to improve the process. I decided to start writing a travel guide for Thailand - that was much more focused on people like me. It would list the hotspots I frequented, the places I liked to stay, the destinations in Thailand I enjoyed. And what I did there.
I soon realized that this was a thankless job. Not only was it incredibly difficult for someone who wasn't a writer to write a guidebook, but I realized that it would be difficult to put me in a box and brand this book with a specific style and target audience. So I shelved it.
Fast forward to Las Vegas, 2007. I was sitting by the pool with my co-founder Rajiv during our Disorientation Week at Haas. We started talking about ways to improve travel services. And we started to work through it. And, I hit an epiphany, one night... why do we have to bucket people in groups - like adventure travelers or backpackers? Why not just match people together who share similar interests? But not interests like, "I like snowboarding". But the underlying traits that drive these interests? Thus...I began researching psychology, with the help of a good friend who is a psychologist. It turns out, psychology is a pretty good indicator for this type of stuff. And it works!
So that's what we've been working on. It's been a challenging process and I'm still not sure how the website will work... but I guess our users will tell us. For example, are we a destination site or do we just facilitate relationships? I'm not really sure.
There are a few more details that are under wraps. But that's essentially what we do.
One of the downfalls of incorporating is having to actually follow all the tax codes and IRS guidelines. Fortunately, with no revenue, we get to file a few less forms. But since we paid contractors this year, we had to file some additional forms from last year. So I guess it all balances out.
Since I'm not really detail oriented. This menial task takes me quite a while. Getting social security numbers, addresses, federal tax ID's, etc. from all of your contractors takes time. I recommend doing this well in advance of the deadline (which passed a few weeks ago). It's also a pain in the butt to figure out what you actually have to file. I'm still not entirely sure! And you get dinged for late files... up to $100,000 if you're a small business. Nice.
The best way to accomplish this task is to efile. Find a good provider and fill out the forms online. One such provider that has been a pleasure to work with, is PayCycle. The 1099's were a breeze (for paying contractors). They cost about 39.00 for up to 50 forms...along with efiling. They also have a host of payroll services. But we have no use for that yet.
Other forms to note are 940's (annual unemployment tax return), 941's (quarterly federal tax return), and 944's (annual federal tax return). If you're e-filing, you need to also submit an 8453c form (income tax declaration for e-filing) with your 1120 (US Corp. income tax return - for corporations). If you have payroll, there are more forms - like W2's. These probably aren't all of them...but it should give you a good start.
If I get dinged for missing forms, I'll be sure to let you know.
UPDATE: I just spoke to a colleague who reminded me that for missing things like commas, you can get fined. They'll fine you for anything. So my recommendation is to file online! The error handling takes care fo that stuff.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
I love when Google silently updates my products, making them better. The nice thing about web applications is that they can be seamlessly updated without forcing users to download software patches. In the last few days, Google rolled out a status bar indicator when uploading files for GMail. This was sorely lacking, because GMail would just sit there, with a "Working" sign... or a "Still working..." sign if you had attached files it began taking a long time to upload. But you never really knew if there was any progress being made. Now we can rest assured that there is progress. Nice work.
Hope you like these short posts today.
So, as those who've signed up for our service have noticed, our UI right now is a bit bland. But that's all going to change. Our full color UI is set to be delivered on Sunday. Then we'll have to implement all of the changes (CSS/html, etc) - which will hopefully be done next week. This will be a big step. I've already noticed, a nice UI adds tremendous value to the final product. It makes the usability so much better. We are also stressing simple design. I can't stand clutter personally. Just smooth, easy, intuitive design. That's our goal.
I finally got around to recycling my old television. Actually, it's not an old television. It was a relatively new Samsung DLP (model: HLN4365W) model, about 4 years old. But it was broken. And I just can't spend the money to get it fixed. And nobody wanted to buy it from Craigslist. So...
The brief history of the tv - and by the way, it never looked as good as the picture above! I bought it refurbished online. It arrived dead. The manufacturer had to repair it, so they finally came out and fixed the lamp and ballast. Pretty much most of the innards of the television. It worked for about a year. Then problems started happening again. But it was out of warranty. And I was moving out of town. So I stored it. When I took it out of storage a few months later, it was naturally still broken. I called Samsung and they said someone would have to look at it and the minimum charge was going to be around $250, not including parts. A lamp would be around $100. And a new ballast, color wheel, or whatnot would be several hundred. So I was looking at at around $500 to get this piece of crap working again. A television I had already spent $1200 on to purchase. And the picture was pretty crappy to begin with. And who knows if this thing would have kicked again in a few months. That seemed to be the pattern. Sure I bitched to them. But they weren't budging. And I was sick of the piece of crap tv anyway. I guess that's what I get for buying a tv with millions of moving parts or, as Texas Instruments likes to say, millions of tiny mirrors.
Maybe it was my fault for jumping on the DLP bandwagon early. I'm sure Samsung makes some better televisions these days. But it seems that plasma and LCD are the way to go now anyway. I just wish they hadn't used me as a guinea pig for testing their televisions. At my expense.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I just received an IM from a girl I haven't spoken to in ages. She works at Google, so I thought it a bit odd that she'd be the cause of a virus. Or really spam. But a few other online friends also received the same IM from her. After that global GMail outage this morning, I'm hoping things aren't about to run amok over there.
The IM was simple, it just said, "lol check this out" and on the next line http://tinyurl.com/dy73t7. Pretty lame. Apparently it goes to Viddyho.com. I made another friend test the link. Which he did. Thoughtful, huh? Anyway, don't fall for it.
Last week, Fred Wilson, a VC, wrote an article about why VC's don't need a stimulus plan (here). After reading his article, I agree with it wholeheartedly. But I still stand by my stimulus for entrepreneurs - or really, a stimulus plan for Venture Capital, not for Venture Capitalist's. And here's why.
Fred talks about how VC's are flush with cash and how returns just haven't been worth it in the last 15 or so years. So people are starting to get out. As he notes, the top 10-20% of VC's earn 80% of the returns. And these companies wouldn't take a bailout anyway.
While he's responding to Tom Friedman's Op-Ed in the Times, I think there's a point both of these guys are missing. The people who need help are the entrepreneurs. The problem is access to capital for people who are innovating. And I assure you, VC's aren't the innovators. I don't know why we have to give money to VC's to give it to entrepreneurs. Let's cut out the middle man. Setup a government task force with an investment czar. And fund very early stage companies. Oh, and that's another thing. VC's don't invest in early stage companies. I don't care what any of them say!
Monday, February 23, 2009
Fajar is our CTO and my good friend from my days at the Gap. He was the smart one and quit first. But, I followed shortly thereafter. He decided to head back to Indonesia and has since settled down with a wife and a new baby daughter. He also started a consulting firm, SkyEight Consulting, that I'll write about at a later point. They've been hard at work on a software product themselves and they went beta last week. All it took was one day and they made the news in Indo.
Their website is Koprol.com. It means somersault in Dutch. And they're a bit like Dodgeball, in that they do location based social networking.
They've been getting quite a bit of press after that news report and are set to do another round of interviews in the near future. Fajar is incredibly excited. He was just telling me it was the first time he's ever been excited to see his servers crash! Now he's got two startups nearing launch. Hopefully we'll have similar problems.
By the way, the interview is in Bahasa - the Indonesian language, so you won't get it. But that's Fajar at the end - you'll see his name on screen.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Hi. I'm Vista. And I totally suck. Even though I'm supposed to be the most robust operating system Microsoft has ever developed, I have more problems than our economy. One such absolutely beyond annoying problem is the black screen of doom (death). Whenever I boot up, I hang at a black screen, seemingly inoperable. You can sometimes press CTRL-ALT-Del to get the login screen to come up. Or you can start typing and at times parts of the screen start to illuminate. While this generally happens at bootup, it can happen anytime. And sometimes it leads people to believe their computer crashed.
Well, there's a way to solve this problem. And it's really easy! Download autoruns (link here).
1) Run autoruns as an administrator (right click and select run as Administrator). This will list everything that runs on your computer...
2) Make sure the "everything" tab is selected
3) Scroll down through the programs looking for any entry in the "Image Path" column that says: "File not found: xxxxx" where xxxxx is some file path.
4) Deselect the checkbox on the right side of the screen next to any entry where the Image Path has a File not found message.
5) Exit, reboot...and voila.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
I've always loved flying on Asian carriers. Their services are unmatched by any airline in the United States. They really let you feel like they care about your business. I remember the first time I flew JAL and I passed out for a few hours. I awoke with a note on my seat telling me that I missed dinner, and if I was hungry, to just ring the call button. They promptly brought a warm meal. Imagine United doing that? JAL also served drinks and snacks non-stop. One of the stewardesses even sat down next to me for an hour to tell me all of the can't miss places in Tokyo. I think this is probably when I started becoming critical of US airlines. There is a better way!
So it was no surprise last week when I saw this CBS News video about the CEO of JAL. He rides the bus to work. He buys his suits at a discount shop. He has taken a pay cut in tough times. He treats his employees as colleagues and not employees. It's really an inspiration.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
I was going to write about Steve Forbes today. I started receiving a free subscription to Forbes magazine and I'm a huge fan of this guy. Instead, I saw something slightly cooler. It turns out that a study has been conducted which shows that beta-blockers can help erase bad memories from traumatic experiences. They tested a group of about 60 people and retested them after the drugs were out of their systems. The intensity of the memories was reduced. So while they were still there, they bothered the patients less.
Since I hate to fly...from a traumatic childhood experience, I think this could do wonders. While it can erase some good memories too, I think I'd be willing to take my chances. Of course there are people complaining about the ethical implications of taking such a medication, but the way I see it, I should be able to do what I want. I'd like to give some of these critics my bad memories. And then I'll see what they think. They'd probably be whimpering in a corner. Hopefully there will be a drug one day that can do this. Or a disk or something where I can transfer my memories. Hmmm... maybe I should patent that.
I guess the real question is whether these erase all bad memories. Or just dampen memories in general. I may not be willing to take a drug that can't target specific memories.
BBC News story (here)
Monday, February 16, 2009
I'm sure this new TOS will incite quite a riot online over the next few days. I can't imagine the blogosphere will let this slide. Here's the part of the TOS they removed (from the Consumerist):
"You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content."
What does this mean? It means that no matter what, you grant Facebook irrevocable rights to all of the stuff you put up there. Even if you delete your account. While Facebook claims they'll only use it in connection to Facebook or the promotion of Facebook - even that seems a bit dubious. I guess you have to take them on their word. And since it's Facebook, I wouldn't just do that. Especially after their Beacon debacle. Plus, why should they be able to use anything of mine anyway... even if it's for promotion?
I think this brings a far bigger issue to light. How do you maintain the rights of your content while distributing it online? It seems that people are trying to apply what are now antiquated copyright laws to the online world. I think we really need to reevaluate those laws to determine best practices for the web. I don't mind sharing my content between different services as long as they're all trusted services. But I don't understand why you need to grant anyone a license reuse your content. If you're granting someone access to your account (like a friend), then that should include the ability for that service to share your content with and only with that person. If you enable a third party service to access your account, that third party service should abide by the same terms of service that the original content provider maintains. And they should have to agree to that in order to be a third party application.
You can read Facebook's response on the same Consumerist article (here). None of it makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Just seems like FB is trying hard to own as much as they can. Would you trust a company run by ex-CIA people to be open and honest? While that's just a rumor, I don't trust them nonetheless. I don't really care that much though because I've never uploaded anything to FB that I've been worried about leaving my hands. And neither should you.
As an aide...that image up there, I'm using without permission. Though I'm not using it to make money, which allows me to use it. Or so I think. If I put it on a t-shirt and sold it. Well, that's a different story. All of this is very vague in the online world.
Update - here is the largest FB group protesting the new TOS.
"People Against the new Terms of Service (TOS)"
We turned the site on this past Sunday, but haven't really publicized much. We're doing small scale testing. You can come to the site and sign up and we'll invite you as we open up registration. We're keeping the next few weeks fairly limited, but once we launch the new UI, we'll open things up quite a bit more. Thanks for being patient. While I'm trying to downplay this launch, it's a milestone I am quite happy with. To be honest, I never thought I'd make it this far with all of the hurdles we've had to overcome! Thanks for all of your support over the last year and a half.
The Vyoo alpha site, here.
As an aside...the site definitely needs some work, so please feel free to provide feedback for us.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Ok, so we've had a private alpha going on for quite some time now. Since it's been real private, we wanted to open it up to some more people and get it to the point where we can show off our technology to potential investors and partners.
There are a few caveats for Monday. The first is that it's going to be a small alpha - basically friends and family. The second, is that the UI is not complete. We were just handed off the UI today, so now we have to cut it up, implement the CSS, and lay it on the site. That's going to take a little time, so we're going to roll that stuff out as it's finished. There is a UI in place, it's just that it's black and white.
The matching algorithm was handed off to me on Wednesday. It was a bit late, but it arrived intact. We still need to perform testing on it. That said, we do have what we like to call the Quick and Dirty (Q&D) method online, up, and working right now. It's called the Q&D because it's a very straightforward implementation of a matching algorithm. While it works, it's not as precise as what we were handed off on Wednesday.
So I'm setting expectations for what's coming. The sites ready so we can show potential investors what things look like. It's been a long road to get here, but I want to temper my excitement and yours, because there's still so much work ahead!
I went to get a haircut today. It's Valentine's Day, so I thought I should look presentable to the world. I asked for the usual. "Clean it up please, but don't take too much off". And it got me thinking about the last several hundred times I've said those words. "Just a little please". Or something to that effect. Fortunately, today the barber was great. She took just a little off. And I had to prod her to take a little bit more off.
But that's the exception, not the rule. Normally, you say, "take a little off", and the next thing you know you're practically bald! Now hair always grows back, so it's not a huge issue. But I just don't understand how those 4 words can mean something so drastically different to different people. I didn't say, "cut my hair down to my scalp!", did I?
But it's not just haircuts, and this one is a bit more bothersome to me. Whenever I order a sandwich, from wherever I happen to go, this fact remains the same. I always ask for light on the mayo. And then I back it up with "just a little bit of mayo" so they can't get confused with whether I want normal mayo or light mayo or just a little bit of regular mayo or lots of light mayo.
9 out of 10 times they lather the mayo on. And they'll put it on both sides before I can get them to stop. If that's a light serving of mayo, I'd hate to see their normal serving. Sure we all have our different measurements for what we think is light or heavy, but damn, if someone asks me for a little bit, I'm giving them a little bit. And I'm not smearing it on both sides. And I'm certainly not putting so much on that when you hold the bread between your hands, mayo oozes out the sides.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
I've been a bit slack in writing postings. There's been a lot on my plate and not a lot I've been inspired to write about. But today, there are a few things that caught my attention and wanted to share.
I love reading the Economist. I feel like it makes you smarter just to have the magazine lying around. The January 31st issue had an article ("Can I server you now?") about stem cell research and how, after years of Bush prohibiting the collection of new embryonic stem cells, everything may soon change under Obama. America may be back on the road to compete in advanced stem cell research, with countries that have leaped ahead.
Geron, a local firm in Menlo Park, California, was recently granted permission by the FDA for a clinical trial for their new therapy. They skirted the ban because they're a privately funded company. Where it gets really cool though is what this new therapy is. Check it. Geron has figured out how to turn embryonic stem cells into other cells, called oligodendrocytes. These cells are the building blocks of the myelin sheath, which insulates your neurons, and protect the signals that are passed through your nervous system. Tests in rats have shown that the myelin sheath can be repaired and nerve cells can begin to communicate again - to help with such problems as spinal injuries.
The trial will begin testing in humans to see if the same results occur. The fact that we've reached a point where we can potentially reverse paralysis is really unbelievable.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The patents are officially filed! It felt good seeing the acknowledgment with my name in there as an inventor. I always wanted a patent. So now we're officially patent pending. While our title is fairly vague, the application itself is concise enough to explain exactly what we're doing.
We now will have protection for the next 12 months. This allowed us to delay the filing of the full fledged patent app, where we'll have to be even more detailed, draw even more pictures, and ensure that our claims are all covered. That's what patent lawyers will be for.
We launch Monday with an alpha/beta launch. We have been privately alpha testing but this release will be a bit bigger, including friends and family. We're excited. The economy isn't cooperating. I'll be happy to share with you what it's like looking for money in times like these!
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Wow. This was a pain in the ass! Today I finished our provisional patent applications for two patents we're hoping to secure. I'll spare you the details. We've been looking to get this up for about a year. And fortunately we held off. Why? Because provisional patent applications only protect the invention for a year before you need to file a full patent application. Those are of the $10,000 variety. With a provisional patent app, you're protected, for just a few hundred dollar filing fee. So, had we filed last year, we'd be up for a fill application filing now. And no, we don't have the $20K necessary!
Part of the reason it took so long was having to figure out how to write the application. Sure, you can look at some online, through the US Patent Office or from Google (here). Google lets you lookup about 7 million patents, which is quite a bit. They only go back to the 70's I believe, but for software technology, this should generally suffice. But it doesn't really explain everything. And yea, you can hire an attorney. But then there are their fees.
The real help here was a book I recently read. Or at least browsed, because it's thick. And wordy. And boring. But it's quite clear on how you can write your own patent application. So it's great for what it does. But a novel it isn't. The book is called Patent It Yourself by patent attorney David Pressman. I'll try to find some time to detail how to go about doing it, without the need for hiring a lawyer. But if you don't want to wait for a day that may never arrive, you can purchase it here.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Looking back at the bailout, I called it a stupid idea when it was first brought up (here). I'm still calling it stupid. And now I'm going to call people in Washington stupid for only now realizing it's stupid. But what's even more ridiculous are members of Congress or The House who are trying to play up $1T dollars in creative measures to show how much money it really is. No shit it's a lot of money. But here's the most stupid explanation:
"One trillion $1 bills stacked one on top of the other would reach nearly 68,000 miles (about 109,400 kilometers) into the sky, or about a third of the way from the Earth to the moon." - Thanks CNN
What the hell does that mean? What if the bills were half the size or double the size. Then they'd only reach 38,000 miles or 136,000 miles. I still don't see the point of that relationship. I've been reading these ridiculous definitions all week. Senator Thune, in the video above, we can thank for starting all of this.
Yes, it would help to have a stimulus plan. A reasonable, coherent, and intelligent stimulus plan that stimulates the economy WITH longevity - not that just throws money at the problem. With programs like the one I mentioned last week about funding startups. But apparently that ain't happening, so instead we need a stimulus that calls for idiotic things like:
* $83 billion for the earned income credit for people who don't pay income tax.
* $54 billion will go to federal programs that the Office of Management and Budget or the Government Accountability Office have already criticized as "ineffective" or unable to pass basic financial audits.
* $462 Million for Equipment, Construction, and Renovation of Facilities at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (Page 137)
* $150 Million for Repairs to Smithsonian Institution Facilities (Page 128)
* $44 million to the Agricultural Research Service (Page 135)
* $227 million for oversight of the pork barrel spending in the stimulus (Page 11)
* $1 Billion for The Follow-Up To The 2010 Census (Page 49)
These are just a few. Sounds like business as usual. And we're surprised we're in this mess?