Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Do something already, whydontcha?

Well, ok, then. Today, I finally put up the site for Deep Focus Technologies, which is my company that is currently building iPhone software. The first app is nearly complete, simple as it is, and you'll know first if you keep track of what's going on over at deepfocustech.com.

Beyond building applications, I offer a range of software and technology consulting services and I'd be happy to help you with your technology plans.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Save the Earth, or save money?

At the homestead, we're decorating for the holidays, and I finally ran out of red light bulbs. So, I head to the corner hardware store, which is a great hardware store. It is the kind of hardware store where you go when you need to fix something and expect to find parts.

At the hardware store, I'm confronted with a choice: Lightbulbs or a new string of lights? Lightbulbs are $1.10 for four bulbs. A string of 25 Christmas lights is $6.20. Doing the math, 25 replacement bulbs cost about $6.88 on a per-bulb basis and 25 new bulbs with sockets attached to copper wire costs $6.20. The cost of bulbs is actually higher, you have to buy 28 bulbs at a cost of $7.70 to get 25 bulbs.

There's a problem here, and it goes deeper than simply setting price points on goods. It is rational for a human to simply go to the lowest cost provider of the goods. Sometimes it's the local hardware store vs. Home Depot, the corner drug vs. Wal-Mart. Sometimes, it's assembled strings vs. bulbs.

There are plenty of reasons this kind of pricing exists, and valid explanations could range from sophistication to ineptitude, but let me suggest this: it is the moral duty of manufacturers, retailers and consumers to optimize dollar and environmental costs of products as best they can. The environmental costs are hard to calculate and are often situational and counter-intuitive. Paper cups, styrofoam or ceramic mug? It depends.

Without a framework to understand the true cost of goods, we simply can't understand what it is we're purchasing, except in cases, like Christmas light strings and light bulbs where, even if we can't clearly calculate the cost, we can assign a positive cost to the copper wire or the sockets, or the human or robot time to screw the light bulbs in.

Now that I've purchased my bulbs, it's time to visit the auto-parts store. My window isn't clear during rainstorms. I need to fix it.

What is that I'm replacing? At the auto-parts store, I'm encouraged to change my wiper blades annually. This should, of course, be done for safety, correct? Not really. While the most modern form of wiper blade is a completely disposable unit, most new and old vehicles still have a wiper blade and wiper insert system.

The insert is the rubber squeegee. The blade is the metal frame which holds the insert. Now that you've been needlessly educated on wiper parts, you should know that good quality wiper blades, like the kind that came on your car, should last the lifetime of the vehicle.

Twenty years ago, wiper refills outnumbered wiper blades on store shelves by a significant margin. Today, the ratio of products has flipped. At the local branch of our national chain auto parts store, there was one brand of wiper refill and probably seven or eight wiper blade products. Of course, you can command a higher profit margin on two wiper blades, but the environmental cost of those blades in the landfill versus a little piece of rubber is high.

I always assumed that it was the chain auto parts store that was causing the problem, but upon returning home to replace my wiper inserts, I found something curious.

Instead of a mechanical latching device on the insert to keep it in the blade, I found the wiper blade crimped onto the wiper insert, rendering the wiper blade to effectively be a single-use product. I hope there was debate at the manufacturer when this decision was made. Again, this is an ethical decision that involves products, profits, customers and the environment.

The only way to ensure you have product choices that make economic sense is to vote for them. Vote with your wallet, your feet and your voice to ensure that sensible products without abnormally high environmental costs are available to the consumer.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

la rentrée

Re-entry. I read an article the other day about the general malaise that France is experiencing this year as they return from vacation and get back to work. At one time, this would have seemed a foreign concept, perhaps there's something mystically French or European about this.

I would say it is the typical unknown of returning to a job after an extended break combined with the uncertainty of the current times. I know how they feel. After 6 months break, going back is a difficult, but necessary thing.

The stages of this break have been interesting. The first month was harried, move quick, do projects, work out. Mentally, I would go between relaxation and feeling like I threw something great away. I struck out with plans of networking, writing business plans and as I was getting these all fired up, it hit.

The need to actually slow down. So I did, and we went on an extended vacation. As I reached relaxation I started to have the feeling that when I do go back to work, it will be good. Satisfying, enjoyable work something useful, interesting and not weighed down with bureaucracy. I'll have a manager, team and company at large that is engaged and excited as well as exciting. Or, perhaps better, I'll be working on something that simply doesn't exist yet. The future is unclear, but exciting.

Over the end of the summer, the inevitable end quickened the pace. Colin and I set out on a guys trip to Yellowstone. What an incredible opportunity and experience to be able to spend quality time with my son while he still thinks I'm OK.

Which puts me here, I can feel it. It's time to return. I'm actually a bit anxious to return for a variety of reasons. But it can't happen too quickly. I need to find the right thing to do, and I need to be picky about who I work for and with. I'm hiring my next boss and I need to promise myself to look for and obey the red flags and run when appropriate.

Life is the most precious commodity you and I possess and it isn't meant for toiling for the man, it's meant for enjoyment, so a job should be no less than enjoyable, something that begs you to invest your time in it and provides rewards in satisfaction and occasionally even money.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


A quiet mind can be one of the best respites from the stresses of life. Of course finding a way to quiet one's mind is difficult.

Some practice meditation, but I've never been able to stop long enough to try to meditate for relaxation purposes. Maybe that's the curse of television, or perhaps that's what the pace of my career has trained me for.

In flow, the noise drops back and the focus becomes central and can override everything else. Prior to management, I could flow when I was programming. I could stay up all night, or just work on one more thing. Soon enough, I'd be late for dinner, a meeting or missing lunch, and consumed by solving some problem.

I've always sought activities outside of work where I find flow. Performance driving, skiing, mountain biking and most recently, I'm trying to learn to surf. When I do those things, there is little else on my mind. It's me, my body, physics and intense focus.

Interestingly, I just returned from a long road trip. My family and I travelled south along Eastern Oregon, Nevada and California to Carmel and back north along the Coastlines of California and Oregon. It was a rewarding trip, particularly in one unexpected way.

Unlike parking yourself on beach at some resort, being catered to and doing nothing relaxing, there's very little that is physically restful about driving 3000 miles on a roadtrip, camping 3/4 of the nights you spend on the trip. It's a lot of work, and can be very tiring.

On the 24th night of the trip, I was thinking about getting home and the end of the trip. My thoughts drifted to the question of what my next career step should be, and from there it was off to the races. My mind became very noisy, almost randomly firing concerns, questions about the future and just about everything else that had been deferred during our travels.

After finally falling asleep and waking up the next morning, I realized that the trip had ended, and at the same time that something kind of special had happened on this trip. I experienced flow for a very long time on the trip. The trip had been physically challenging and clearly draining, but at the same time my mind had been experiencing a focus and a rest that might have been unattainable in any other situation.

I'd been flowing for at least a couple of weeks. The focus was on the trip, what we were doing and where we were going. Little else

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Blackberry and Mac: a match made in Tukwila

Let me start out by saying, if you've got a Mac, you should consider your options for a smart phone very carefully. I've only got one phone, and I've been frustrated with my Blackberry ever since I gave up my work BES connection. If you've got a phone connected to a some sort of a data plan, how could you accept anything less than fully-connected, fully-synchronized? I know I can't.

The options:

Probably the best, most complete option is BES on a full corporate-style mail server. You could go procure a copy of Exchange and BES (only $500 for 5 used BES licenses) and let 'er rip. Of course, if that's too complex, rich or bandwidth-hogging or all three for your tastes, you could try a hosted Exchange solution with BES. This will probably run you about $25-$35 per month for the server side. Your carrier, if it is like mine, will want to ding you about $15/month over the personal Blackberry plan to connect to a BES server that you're paying for. So, you're in $40 to $50. That's pretty steep when coupled with your probably $65 phone bill for voice, data and Blackberry Internet Service (BIS).

Which brings me to BIS. BIS should be a full-featured BES replacement for those of us outside of an enterprise, right? Wrong. With GMail or Google Apps, it doesn't seem to get the state right between the device and the IMAP connection I use for my desktop mail. It doesn't even purge deleted items. GMail may have a hand in that one, but you can't tell anything about what BIS and GMail are doing because BIS provides very few visible configuration options for much of anything, other than to import an Outlook or Outlook Express email profile which does me very little good on my Mac. But it gets the job done, sort of. I have a hard time believing I pay for this service. It's all TCP/IP and data, right?

Open source is often right where you need it, and in solving this problem, it's very close. Funambol has most of the pieces you need -- SyncML servers to hold your data, free and hosted at MyFunambol.com and ScheduleWorld.com, an open-source client for Blackberry to push your data to the SyncML server, and early client for iPhone and Mac which will sync your contacts with a SyncML server. Maybe on a good day, but I was unsuccessful. Even after busting out the debugger to see what was happening on the client, I still got server failures with both services as I was trying to get my data up to the server. Next stop on that road would have been running the server locally, debugging the issues and fixing the code. I can't fault this group for having a not-quite-working system, but I'm looking for something that works now, rather than a project.

Enter BusySync. BusySync is a calendar publish/subscribe facility subscribe to your main Google Calendar and publish an iCal calendar to Google calendars, as well as provide ad-hoc calendar sharing. BusySync works smoothly, effortlessly and is perfect if all you need is to synchronize your calendar to a Google calendar. Unfortunately, for reasons that I won't explain here, you can't sync the Entourage calendar with Google calendar in a way that you get two-way syncing through Google to a Blackberry. If you use iCal, this scenario works great.

If you want to use Entourage and have it sync to your primary Google calendar, there is another Mac to Google synchronization option available. It's called Spanning Sync and it works similarly to BusySync, but it allows you to map the calendars you want to synchronize. With Spanning Sync, I can synchronize my Entourage calendar, or the iCal version of my Entourage calendar, with my primary Google calendar. Google calendar sync picks up that calendar and synchronizes it with my Blackberry and the calendar problem is solved!

For the moment, I'll put up with cabling up to sync my contacts...until I decide that I want a single, cohesive solution that I can host, and I'll either pony up the cash for BES or pony up the code for funambol.

I think I'll go the funambol route.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Passion, Drive and Management

I've read a couple of books lately that really spoke to me. It isn't so much that they educated me or really made me see things in a new way, but they better articulated things I'd been thinking about and hadn't necessarily put words to yet.

The first was Michael Lopp's Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager. This work took form from Lopp's Rands in Repose blog and his career. In this book he tells fabricated tales based on his experiences in the software industry. The experiences don't fall too far from my experiences, but the value of this book lies in creating terminology, and providing some tips, tricks and suggestions for given situations. For anyone who works with or in a high-functioning team, this book will provide insight into the people and systems involved.

The second is Randy Komisar's The Monk and the Riddle : The Education of a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur. In this book Komisar warns against the deferred life plan (if I only do this now, I can do that other thing later), and unfalteringly recommends what to some might describe as work-life balance. What he's really describing is pursuing your career and your life, and making what you are passionate about your life's work. This has certainly been the key recipe for my motivation in the past.

This is a timely message for me as I've just stepped out of my job. It gives me insight and again provides voice to some of the thoughts I had as I made my decision to leave and at the same time gives me courage to be selective of my new role and only go for things that I'm passionate about.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

NAFTA Road Trip 2008

Philosophers have said that the path is the destination.

The path is unknown, the destination is unknown, what we do know is this:

Sometime in the next few months, we will embark on a road trip of monumental proportions. Two adults, a kid and a dog will go on a road-trip. We'll be camping. Our path, or our destination, is to travel the West coast from Canada to Mexico.

No specific route, no plans other than a few destinations we want to visit and whatever strikes our fancy along the way.

If you have a suggested stop, We'd love to hear it -- comment or contact me.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

SuperSync: favorite software of the week

Apple clearly got it right when they built the iPod.  Unfortunately, iTunes has some pretty serious flaws in situations where people want to legally share their music collection.  iTunes is simply a menace on a Windows system using fast user switching.  If one person leaves it running in one session, no one else on the computer can run it.  Sometimes your iPod will connect to someone else's iTunes.

SuperSync fills part of that hole by providing synchronization of libraries between iTunes installations, across whatever network connection you have, including the Internet.  Providing a remote player, and two-way synchronization is a band-aid on the iTunes problem.  It is a good utility at a low price and it gets the job done -- my iTunes library is now seamlessly replicated to my laptop.

But, is that what you really want?  I mean, my wife now wants to sync her iPod from her laptop, and she doesn't quite have the storage for the entire library.  Now what?  New hard drive?  And my son... It hardly seems efficient to have a local copy of the library for everyone.

On the other hand, we've gone the server route and that doesn't work either.  The wireless access is simply too slow to run iTunes using storage on a server.  What's the answer?  I'm not exactly sure, but it is pretty clear that for the basic use case iTunes is sufficient, but for situations other than the one person/one library/one computer model, there is some definite room for improvement.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Irony, TSA-Style

Air travel never ceases to amaze me.  In San Diego this afternoon, I'm getting ready to get on a plane going through all of the usual preflight rituals.  As I'm participating in this, the one thing that seems to consistently work in the air travel world, there are two things that get my mind cranking.
The lady checking our IDs and boarding passes has a name tag that says Sarin.  I'm sure that's her name, but I've got to confess it is a bit unnerving to look at the name tag of someone who is supposed to be protecting your security and read "Sarin."

Again, and I can't make this kind of thing up, there's a song playing somewhat loudly from the PA. It's about 1PM, and I'm pretty sure Muzak is running the "wake me up from my giant lunch" playlist, so we've got something peppy.  Hmm... 80s.   Funk/Disco.  Gap Band, yeah, definitely Gap Band.  I start tracking the lyrics... "you dropped a bomb on me...baby...you dropped a bomb on me." The only thing dropping in that TSA line was my jaw.

I truly hope this was someone's well-planned joke.  It was funny -- right in line with my sense of humor.  I needed the laugh this time as my bag was disassembled and given a good swabbing by a congenial TSA agent, whose name might have been Steve.

Guerilla marketers take note: you may want to pay TSA agents to pump your technology as they take apart peoples bags.  "Hey, how do you like the new iPod Nano?  I had one, really liked it, but got super-sick of iTunes.  I love my new Zune...check it out!  Next time you come through, I'll share a tune with you wirelessly.  Looks good, you can put your stuff back now."

Sunday, February 24, 2008


The ship arrived this morning before any of us awoke. Breakfast, final packing, cleaning up and getting out of the cabin was followed by an uneventful disembarkment.
Cruising is truly a state of mind.  Personally, I am an explorer.  I perfer to arrive somewhere, spend my time learning about and visiting places in that area.   Cruising doesn't lend itself to that.

First, you get your shore time in about 8-hour bursts.  There's a big push to go on an organized trip and without pre-planning (I didn't) it's pretty difficult to get much done, other than go on a tour or walk around the closest local area you can find.

Choose your poison -- organized tour or plan ahead.  In Cabo, we probably did it right.  A snorkeling tour (the water was about 65 degrees...I wear a wetsuit surfing in 62 degree water) which also ended up being a tour of Land's End, Lover's Beach and 15 minutes watching a humpback mother and calf.  Dos Equis, margaritas and nachos with cheese from a can that must have been labeled "7-11 surplus" made this a truly Mexican experience.  It was fun, and in the moment, I was able to fit in with that style of tourist just fine.

So, am I a cruising person?  Probably in the same sense that sometimes I'm a sit my butt on a beach chair at a resort person.  In the end, its just another type of vacation activity.  If you get your head in the right place, a Margarita in your right hand and a book in your left, you and the cruise will get along just fine. 

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What else is in a name...

Say your name. Say it quick. Say it slow. Say it over and over. Pronounce things you might not think to pronounce.

Spotted Friday night: A brand new van owned by the framing company A-N-S Brothers. Is that A 'n' S like Guns 'n' Roses? Maybe it rhymes with 'fans.' Maybe its just me.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Day 0

Well, yesterday I was finally allowed to tell more people about my plans to leave Expedia.

I have the opportunity to take a break, study, learn new technology and ultimately perhaps develop a business idea and work on it.  If nothing else, a mid-career break and recharge can't be a bad thing. I'd better drop the "mid-career" thing now, or I'll be spending my break buying a Porsche.

A colleague of mine followed his dreams a couple of years ago. He wanted to make films. I admired him for taking a risk to do what he wanted to do. Since many dream of having a similar opportunity, I need to make the most of my time and opportunity.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

You're buying a what?

I'm shedding my PC heritage and buying a Mac.

It probably isn't appropriate to refer to a 'PC heritage.' I've been developing on PCs with DOS, OS/2 or Windows my entire professional career. When I worked with mobile devices, it was on Windows CE. but my heritage is System V and free software. It started with a the heaviest computer I've ever owned.

The Motorola VME/10 was a $10,000 workstation running System V on a Motorola VME bus architecture powered by the stunning 68010. Virtual Memory? Oh yeah!

I was lucky to have picked up two of these boat anchors for $800 or $900 from a guy who scored them from the ashes of a startup he was part of. They might have been his last paycheck. I'm sure they didn't fit in his wallet. For a guy at a University, having a UNIX workstation in your apartment...if that wasn't cool, I'm not sure what was. I'm pretty sure my wife didn't get what cool was, because she never really saw the point. Thanks Pete, I'm in your debt for having the coolest computer in school!

Anyway, when I got those machines, the first question was, what am I going to do with them? I had a K&R C compiler and, uh, well, did I mention the C compiler? I shouldn't forget vi, either. The first task was to get file transfer software. I pulled the Kermit sources from the internet by downloading them to one of the school machines and doing line capture until I had the entire set of sources. I then compiled and hunted errors until I had kermit.

After that, it was all go...JOVE, a spreadsheet, bison, flex, zmodem...all of the utilities so I could do my school work. I even had to generate a termcap for the display so I could dial into the university and use the workstation as a dumb terminal.

Effectively, the system was a blank slate, and I would tie up the phone line every night downloading source code and spend my afternoons and evenings studying and trying to figure out how to configure and compile the next thing I wanted. It was truly CS student heaven.

ANSI C was all the rage, and I couldn't turn my assignments in using K&R C, I went for the big thing. I started porting GCC 1.6. GCC 1.6 was my big challenge. The GCC code generator emitted the assembly in a different format than my assembler used. So, I hacked the output tables in hopes of generating assembly language my assembler could grok. After a few things that wouldn't compile, I did it... hello.o! Linked and loaded, my computer told me 'hello world!' and I rejoiced.

Now to build the assembler, rebuild the first stage compiler with the default 68010 tables, then build the optimized compiler, gdb and then...graduation.

PCs were the standard for commerce and shrink-wrapped software was king. System V took a back seat, and despite many tries, I never again was able to drive EMACS the way I did at the University. I shed my true heritage for the thing that would put food on the table.

Fast-forward to 2007. I'm running Ubuntu on my laptop and loving it. Ubuntu is so close to being something a consumer could use. It is litterally *this* close. I spend a bunch of time getting it working, and work it does on my old P3 Mobile. It works way better than Windows ever did, doing 3D desktop graphics and animations just like Vista might...if it could run on this hardware. Sadly, the laptop is old, the battery is dying and I need something with some kick.

The geek in me is loving having to do some of the stuff that no sane PC user would ever really want to do, for instance building drivers for my "rare" (read not valuable) net card. Get a free DB schema designer running, you know, all of the stuff that you could spend all of your time on but probably shouldn't.

To get a truly great laptop experience, you need the hardware vendors to want to spend time and money on drivers.

After looking at laptops that can run Windows and Linux, I realize that it costs $100 more for a Mac of similar class to the Lenovo I'm considering. Having a supported, battery-optimized FreeBSD OS with a very solid UI, plus the ability to run Ubuntu and Windows? In VMs? Macs can now run anything and the PC isn't quite everything anymore.

A new day has come, and I'm using the hardware from a company I thought was cool as a kid, but was never something I thought I'd want.

If all goes well, Monday is delivery day. I hope I find a right trackpad button in the bottom of the box!

Photo provided under Creative Commons License by Flickr user SeenyaRita

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What's in a (domain) name?

Part my current process is figuring out some sort of moniker. Something to call what I'm doing. Personally, I'm not a name-generation wizard. If left to my own devices, I'd try 'Pantium' or pantalones.com, maybe even something as silly as boopboop.org.

Truth be told, boopboop.org is my current personal/family domain name. For those who don't know, it has more to do with syrup dropping on pancakes (boop-boop-boop). Tapatio hot sauce is 'man boopboop', Cholula is 'girl boopboop'. It has nothing to do with Betty Boop. I guess that's what you get when you let a 3 year-old pick your domain name. It stuck and I'm not giving it up.

So, what do you get when an adult picks the domain name? It isn't much better. woodward-inv.com, woodwardinvestment.com, woodwardinvestments.com? All boring, but a bit more grown up and representative of a legitimate business that I currently have that holds some investment property. It's the closest thing to a business that I have going now. OK, it is a business.

Photograph provided under Creative Commons license by Flickr user Eric in SF.

Perkins Coie Investment Panel Discussion

I attended a panel discussion on how to select investors for your startup the other day. I think I'm still a bit before that phase. Probably the most interesting thing about the morning is that the VCs are genuinely interested in hearing from you right away. I suppose I should have a good idea first.

It seemed like the key to beginning a relationship with the VC community is to use that opportunity to build a track record of success. Effectively state your next steps, your goals and metrics and demonstrate that you can meet the goals you set -- even if you're not asking for money.

What you get from your investors, other than money, is important too -- don't just sell yourself, check up on your investors and groups they've invested in in the past. You've got to live with the people you choose, and chances are at some point you'll be working in difficult circumstances with them. Pick people you can work with who add value to your company.

As if I'm some kind of expert...maybe some day?