Don’t act like you have scale

by Raj on March 23, 2010

I had a meeting with some smart guys today. I was talking about some of the mistakes I made with my first startup.

One of the biggest mistakes that I made was choosing to rely too heavily on outsourced developers to get my core product written. They weren’t employed by me directly, but they were dedicated to my company. But they were mercenaries nonetheless.

I was acting like my startup had scale. Startups by their very definition don’t have scale. Big companies with lots of resources and long release cycles have scale. They can afford to endure the latency associated with offshore product development, but a startup cannot.

The people that were working on my team were nice folks, but they really didn’t have my startups interests in mind because they were mercenaries. Hired guns have little emotion and very little skin in the game. They’re interested in doing a job and getting paid.

That’s not to say that using offshore labor selectively does not work. I continue to use and recommend a particular small shop with fantastic individuals and great talent.

But relying on core work to be accomplished that didn’t happen all within the same physical room much less 13,000 miles away was a mistake that cost me dearly.

I should have built a team locally and iterated quickly. Instead I was acting like I had scale.

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deck at night I

We visited India and the Maldives (wikipedia, flickr) over the 2009 winter holiday.

The idea was to visit family in India for a few days, relax in the Maldives for five days, and then return to India for a few days of last minute scurrying around before finally returning to the United States.

The first part of our trip started off as busy and delightful as could be expected. We flew into Bombay from the US, ran around town visiting family and shopping for a few days and then flew to South India to do more of the same.

Our plan was to leave from Chennai (in the South), connect in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and then carry onwards to Male, the capital of the Maldives. After reaching Male, we still needed to take a sea plane in order to reach the Noonu Atoll where our resort is located.

While attempting to clear the Immigrations section of the Chennai airport so that we could travel to the Maldives we were informed that there was a change in the rules that governs multiple entries into India:

Irrespective of foreign nationality or visa type, one is no longer allowed more than one entry into India within a two month period.

That means that we could not return to India after leaving for the Maldives. We were stunned. Our plans that were made many months in advance were on the verge of being ruined.

The change to the rules was made in November 2009 just a month before we arrived in India. I have been flying to India since I was 6 years old on multiple entry visas. There’s no way we would have known about the change by the Indian government — we would only learn of the change by surprise. What’s worse, as is typical of confident lacking bureaucratic governments, is that they retracted the rule for a week before reinstating it again.

We left considerable amounts of luggage with our hotel in Bombay. We still had purchases that needed to be retrieved. We had return tickets booked from Bombay back to the States. We have had hotels booked in the Maldives for months.

The only way to return to India would be to get the permission of the Indian High Commissioner in the Maldives. And then we would need to register with the FRRO. The FRRO is a place where historically only certain foreign nationals deemed potentially hostile to India need to register after arriving.

The rules changed thanks to David Headley. He is an American national with (partial) Pakistani descent accused of surveying targets in India for potential attacks. His surveillance in Bombay lead to the Indian Hotel and Railway attacks of November 27, 2008 where hundreds of people were killed and injured by Pakistani terrorists.

Headley was using a multiple entry Indian visa on a US passport. He apparently frequently left and returned to India under the guise of business that we was conducting.

So the Indian government, in a classic knee-jerk move, decided that all people with multiple entry visas were no longer able to enter India more than once within a two month period. It’s not going to keep the terrorists out — they’ll just find a workaround. All it will do is punish the honest folks who genuinely need to travel to India more than once within a two month period. And it will only serve to increase the bureaucratic nightmare that is the Indian system of writing everything down — found frequently throughout government institutions and elsewhere. Much of the country still operates using very manual processes.

To hell with it. We were going to try our luck. We deserved a vacation and damn it — we were going to carry on with our plans as originally intended.

We left Chennai to continue onward to the Maldives. We reached the Noonu Atoll and instantly began to worry. Here we were on one of the most beautiful places on earth and we were now worried about if we could leave.

We called the US Embassy in India about the matter as soon as we arrived. I explained that we were Americans and the situation was rather dire. The kind woman there was nothing she nor the US government could do for this is the policy of India.

The Indian High Commissioner in Male was closed that day because of an Indian holiday (of which there are many). We would have to wait until the next day to contact them.

We decided to engage the resort management, explain the situation, and solicit help to get the permission of the Indian High Commissioner in the Maldives. This certainly proved to be the right move in the end.

The Hilton Maldives management mobilized a small team of people to get the right forms and documents from Male. All this needed to be sent via sea plane back to the island where the hotel was located.

The High Commissioner in the Maldives initially told us that they would not be able to give permission for re-entry to India in time based on our return trip. We literally might be stuck in the most beautiful place on earth. Well, we would be stuck there until we bought return tickets to the US. But the former assertion was certainly more dramatic.

We got the right forms from Male. The hotel staff, on a remote atoll somewhere out in the Indian ocean, managed to get 5 sets of passport photos each made on an island where there were no cars to be found. This was all sent back to Male via sea plane to the High Commissioner along with our passports. They would try to get us permission to return to India. And if they did, a hotel employee in Male would hand all of this including our passports back to us after we arrived Male to return to India.

High drama. Again, there was total uncertainty of whether we would get permission or not. Until that morning before we left the Noonu Atoll when a senior member of the Hilton staff informed us that all was well. Our permission papers and passports were waiting for us back in Male. So it was okay. But our entire trip to the Maldives was spent worrying as to whether or not we could even leave to return to India.

We returned to India and immediately began the process of registering with the FRRO office in Bombay. Thankfully it was open on New Year’s Day. Certainly it would not have been opened on a Saturday, the evening that we were leaving to return to the US. The FRRO office was located in South Bombay — quite a distance from where we were staying in Juhu.

When we asked our driver to take us there he questioned what our nationalities were — asking where we were from and why we had to register there. Typically only Pakistanis, Afghanis, Iraqis, and other such nationals have to register with the FRRO in India. Americans have never been under any such mandate to register under normal circumstances.

Bright and early in the morning, we were now in the FRRO office in Bombay along with other compatriots caught in the same illogical rules. A group of Indian Americans had visited Bali using India as a base. Some Canadians were visiting the Seychelles and were also flying in and out of India — almost certainly to see family just as we had planned. But then there were also Pakistanis and others deemed potentially hostile to India waiting to register because of the nature of their nationality, etc.

A few hours after of registering and then waiting at the FRRO, we were instructed to leave and return after 2:00PM. Incidentally, the FRRO office is not far from The Taj hotel, one of the sites that was held at siege by Pakistani militants. While we were in the area we decided to visit the hotel. And in a way, I was able pay respect to the people who lost their lives there. It felt very strange walking the exact same halls that the militants walked.

We returned to the FRRO office, sat for some questioning individually, more forms were filled out manually, documents were authorized with by multiple signature from seemingly different levels of management. And we were free to go.

Lesson learned for travelers: don’t plan on visiting India more than one time within a two month period. If you need to do so have specific permission from the Indian embassy where you live.

Lesson learned for countries: knee-jerk reactions won’t stop terrorism. And terrorists certainly won’t take the time to register with the FRRO.

And thanks really goes to the Hilton Maldives staff that rescued us. Actually, it was on particular employee, Dean, that really helped drive this forward to completion for us. I have had hotels give me great service on some occasions, but never have I had a hotel prevent me from being detained in a foreign country.

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Pakistan: Failed State (continued)

by Raj on April 22, 2009

It’s happening. Pakistan is on the brink of failure. It’s losing control over more territory again. But this time, the Taliban are less than 100 miles away from the capital, Islamabad.

That’s doesn’t necessarily make it possible for the Taliban to roll right into the capital and take over, but it positions them for continued insurgent and suicide attacks. That’s enough to eventually cause the already flailing government to disintegrate.

A totally destabilized Pakistan is not in anyone’s best interest. The balance of power in the region will not only have been completely shifted, but it would leave the region and the world in a precarious position.

The next 30 days determine the future of South Asia. Intervention by the US will be likely. Expect India to step in where necessary.

And it couldn’t come at a worse time for America considering the other war we’re fighting in Afghanistan and the war in Pakistan being fought from Florida by remote control. Oh, and then there’s Iraq — that other little thing we’re still trying to extricate ourselves from a little further West.

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OS X On The Dell Mini 9

by Raj on April 12, 2009

I have been looking at the Dell Mini 9 for quite a while. We needed a very portable, but full featured, laptop for a host of reasons.

I didn’t buy one previously because of operating system support. I refused to use Windows — that was a complete non-starter for me. Ubuntu lacks adequate mobile wireless (EVDO) support — it’s a hacky endeavor and ridden with slow performance. Otherwise, I love Ubuntu and use it extensively.

I didn’t want to use a hacked version of OS X that could readily be downloaded from various torrent sites. Pirated, closed source software could be full of malicious exploits. And the OEM install disks just won’t work. Plus, I wanted to buy it. The Mac Box Set with iWork and iLife work well for me.

The notion of the user experience of OS X on a highly portable laptop using legit software (even though it violates Apple EULA) was appealing to me.

I bought the base model with 512MB of RAM and a 4GB solid state drive that came with Ubuntu pre-installed. Then I immediately upgraded to 2GB RAM with a 64 GB Runcore SSD. The upgrade itself took no more than 5 minutes — it’s a few screws and a cover. There are many options for SSD upgrades, but apparently the Runcore drives are the fastest — they’re also on backorder unless you want to pay an ebay premium.

Here are some pros and cons of using OS X on the Dell Mini 9:

Pros:

Boot up speed
OS X boots up really, really fast. There’s no spinning disk to slow this thing down, so it’s quite snappy on boot-up.

Portability
This thing is tiny — it’s not meant to be your primary laptop. It easily fits into a messenger bag or my wife’s pocketbook. It’s very lightweight, surprisingly so considering how versatile it is.


Easy install

Installing OS X was relatively easy. If you’re comfortable with software, it should be a breeze. I started off using an external DVD drive, but that method didn’t work well, so I adapted to the two USB drive method. A smaller USB drive is used to bootstrap the OS X installer located on the larger USB drive. Sounds complicated, but not that bad.

Most things work
Most things seem to work well. The built-in camera, wifi and ethernet, USB, keyboard shortcuts and video work as expected.

No hacking of OS
No hacky and potentially dangerous OS downloads from Piratebay.

OS X!
The user experience from OS X! Nuff said.

Great for bedtime/couch
Makes for a great bedtime reader.

Cons:

No sleep (till Brooklyn)
OS X doesn’t sleep properly on this netbook. I think that’s generally a problem with most Hackintosh style implementations. Not a show stopper, but you can’t just close the lid and expect it to wake up properly. Actually, I just realized that I needed to disable USB Legacy Support in the BIOS. Now sleep works just fine.

Keyboard small
The keyboard is tiny, frustratingly so at first. I grew accustomed to it over the period of a few days. Now it’s not a problem. I can type just a fast on this as I can with a larger keyboard.

Video gets hot
On a positive note, the Dell Mini 9 can use our 52″ Sony Bravia rather well as a dual display (but mirroring seems to be an issue). But watching a standard length movie using the TV seems to be a rather big problem — it gets really, really hot. Ubuntu seemed to do the same thing, so it’s not OS X specific from my experience.

Time machine backup slow
Backing up using Time Machine seemed 20x slower than it should be. Not sure performance was so poor. Need to investigate further.

Monitor mirroring doesn’t work
Though it worked as dual display for my Sony TV, it worked neither as a dual display or with mirroring for my Dell monitor.

Touchpad hokeyness while typing
There’s some touchpad hokeyness with both OS X and Ubuntu. With OS X, the Clicking option under Trackpad Gestures needs to be disabled. Otherwise, well, hokey things will happen while typing. With Ubuntu, syndaemon needs to be setup.

Overall

I’m really happy with OS X on the Dell Mini 9. If you’re even remotely thinking about doing this — you should. It’s worth it.

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Pakistan: Failed State

by Raj on February 17, 2009

Pakistan is a failed state. They don’t have control of their territory or it’s inhabitants. We should have admitted that to ourselves before 9/11 when they supported the Taliban. We should have recognized that fact over the years since 9/11 when it became obvious that the government was unwilling or unable to stop their Western territories from being used as safe havens for insurgents fighting in the Afghan conflict. It should have been clear after AQ Khan, father of the Pakistani nuclear program, was caught selling turnkey systems for uranium enrichment to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. He might not have been acting with the full support of the Pakistani government, but therein lies the problem: he was acting at his own will.

Same story with the Mumbai attacks of November 26, 2008 or 26/11 as commonly referred to in India. Pakistan claims that “stateless actors” were to blame for the attacks that killed 170 people. Pakistan is finally coming to terms with the fact that the attackers were natives of, trained in, and alighted from their country. But the Pakistani government continues to distance themselves with the rogue actors assertion. Even if the attackers were acting outside of the direct or indirect support of any government body, it actually exposes a larger problem: they were acting at their own will.

Billions of American dollars in support for Pakistan have resulted in little progress and are probably working against us completely. The fundamental flaw in American support for the Pakistani government is that some of those funds are channeled from the pockets of American citizens, to US Government coiffures, to the Pakistani Government, to the Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI), and then to insurgents on the Western frontier fighting against US forces and our immediate interests in the region.

Pervez Musharraf, with all of his flaws, was the enemy that we knew. A dictator, an enemy of India, and a former open supporter of the Taliban —- lots of mistakes were made on his watch that the world will pay for in human lives. We knew the depth of Musharraf’s incompetence well, but the current regime of Asif Zardari is far more dangerous because they are beyond incompetence alone — they’re naive and inexperienced. Look no further than Zardari lying about his academic history, his flirtatious comments when meeting with Sarah Palin less than a year after his wife was assassinated,

And it’s not schadenfreude that causes me to believe this — it’s fear.

A completely destabilized Pakistan, even more than it is now, is not just calamitous for her neighbors, but for the entire world.

And since the world did not recognize that Pakistan was a failed state before, it should certainly consider it now. The Government of Pakistan is ceding legal control over the Swat Valley to the Taliban. Why did they relinquish control? Because they couldn’t control the area effectively anyway and decided a cease-fire would be better.

The Taliban are winning.

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Downgraded Ubuntu

by Raj on November 4, 2008

I suffered from being an early adopter this week. I upgraded to Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex (8.10) on our media center machine and quickly found out that various things are broken, some components removed, and more things broken as a result.

I downgraded to Ubuntu Hardy Heron (8.04), but not without much heartache. You see, I am a huge fan of Ubuntu, open source, and Linux in general. But I can’t do with having a machine without working sound.

And then there was a small issue of having a bad backup. Yup, looks like I lost some data because I thought I had a good, working backup set. I learned the hard way that sbackup, the “Simple Backup Config” and “Simple Backup Restore” available to Ubuntu, really sorta stinks in more ways than one.

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I was asked to put together a group of interesting folks to discuss issues related to, the oft abused moniker, Web 2.0 for the TiECon East event held in Waltham, MA on May 30.

I picked people that I thought were the most interesting and capable of having a conversation about the future of the Web and business models related to it. Thanks to the following folks bringing their insight to the panel:

Fred Wilson – A VC from NYC is a thought leader in this space with a wicked (we saw that word here in Boston) sense of humor to boot.
Don Dodge – The man with the coolest name in Tech is in BD with Microsoft’s Emerging Business Team. He always has insights given his vast operating experience.
Brian Balfour – Founder of Viximo, based in Cambridge, MA, is leading the charge with new ways to monetize social networks with digital goods.
Nabeel Hyatt – Nabeel runs Conduit Labs, a social gaming platform. You can find him sipping lattes at Open Coffee Boston and talking entrepreneurship.

And David Cancel, Lookery CTO and Founder, asked the interesting questions and steered the panel.

There’s insight into Twitter’s rumored recent $15M venture round. Apparently, it hasn’t closed and anything you read in the blogs was pure conjecture.

The conversation is great. But the video quality sorta sucks. Oh, and the sound needs to be fully jacked-up. But if you work in this space, this video should be of interest to you.

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FakeOnion Twitter Bot

by Raj on May 3, 2008

I love The Onion, but I sometimes only need to read the headlines to get a good laugh. I can make up the rest of the story in my head. The irreverent headlines are typically my favorite.

I enjoy reading the Lyric Of The Day Twitter statuses because, well, I love music too.

I stopped in the middle of washing dishes this morning and decided to modify Whitney‘s Twitter bot code to create one for Fake Onion headlines.

Create and post some irreverent humor. Here’s how:

1. Sign-up for Twitter here.
2. Follow this user: FakeOnion
3. Make up something funny, perhaps Onion-headline like, and post them in your Twitter status using @fakeonion

Here’s an example Tweet

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PictureProject Download

by Raj on April 30, 2008

Nikon has taken PictureProject links off of their site, likely to sell copies of something else.

I find it remotely useful for certain things and needed it again recently.

It’s still up in several forms though it might not last for long:

http://www.nikonusa.com/software/P2/PP175WinEN.zip

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Dear GrandCentral,

by Raj on April 17, 2008

Dear GrandCentral,

I would like to leave Vonage and port my number to GrandCentral, but sadly I cannot. I would gladly pay for such a service and I think others would as well.

Best,

Raj

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Elastic I/O and What I Want From Amazon

by Raj on March 27, 2008

Here’s a quick list of things I want from Amazon’s EC2 Web Services offering:

1. Better I/O performance for machine instances because it’s currently less than desirable. Most applications are disk I/O bound not CPU bound. Being able to scale processing resources is great and it’s a wonderful thing to boast, but that doesn’t help make basic, practical services like MySQL any faster without a ton non-trivial application engineering. Restoring a large amount of MySQL data took 5 to 8 times longer on EC2 than it did on similarly equipped physical hardware.

2. I need to be able to call and speak to a human when things start acting up. I recently used the official Amazon 64bit Fedora Core image for some large scale processing that I needed. I restored a database with hundreds of millions of records and configured it appropriately. Apparently, the Linux kernel was leaking memory like a sieve (for no obvious reason) and Amazon told me to go pound sand when I posted to their message board. Kill the instance and start anew. In other words, scrap your work and start over again because we’re not going to help you. A good web host would have taken responsibility for their hardware and fixed the problem. Amazon let me down in a big way. P.S. Providing primary support via a message board is lame, lame, lame.

3. Graphical tools to manage instances. Don’t get me wrong — I like text console foreplay like the rest of the world, but give me web-based tools to manage AWS please. And don’t point me to some 3rd party service that wants to charge for this — it should come free with usage of Amazon Web Services. Seriously.

4. Dynamically allocate more storage to instances without some kludge FUSE based spaghetti-strapped hack. Seriously, it’s weak on too many levels to complain about. It’s almost embarrassing.

5. The ability to suspend an instance without killing it entirely. I need to put a configured instance to sleep without destroying it. There are times when I need to suspend an instance for some interval and then start it again —- I need a state between instance reboot and ec2kill.

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Tibet: Precedence Setting Events

by Raj on March 25, 2008

I’m gravely concerned with the recent uprising and resulting squashing of the Tibetans in Lhasa by the Chinese. The Chinese govt is simply inching their way up the punishment ladder to determine what the West can stomach.

The Chinese would like us to believe that “Tibetan culture is repugnant, full of superstition, cruelty, and that it’s an inalienable part of China.” Apparent double-think, but enough for them to wage cultural genocide on the Tibetan people unscathed.

If we let them get away with killing Buddhist monks who protest inhumane treatment, there will be no end in sight to their rampage. There are already plans in place to censor activities in Tiananmen Square from the Chinese TV watching audience. There are bound to be protests (rightfully so) and demonstrators pointing out the laundry list of human rights abuses in China.

I’m saddened that we even have China as a trading partner given their support for other dastardly regimes such as in Sudan. The Chinese (and Indians for that matter) are largely interested in African energy resources — everything else is secondary including human life.

I’m generally disinterested in Olympic sports because the West tends to dominate in most every category — so is it really a competition at all? Those with better resources are better trained and probably fed better to boot. Within a margin of error, we likely already know who will win given past performance data. But the Chinese Games should be protested on more moral grounds: dictatorial and repressive regimes should not be rewarded for their valor in killing innocent people. Or else we can’t fight the next battles as effectively. Boycott China and the Beijing Games.

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New Zealand is For Lovers

by Raj on January 28, 2008

So far, New Zealand might be one of my favorite places that I have ever been. I have traveled all over, but our first night here is awesome so far.

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Train Rides and Music

by Raj on January 22, 2008

I love listening to music on long train rides in foreign places. The combined audio/visual makes for great living music videos of sorts. Right now, Old Fools from the Magnetic Fields “Distortion” record is an obsession and fits the visual well. We’re on the train from Sydney to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains — can’t wait to get there.

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Google Maps, I Love You

by Raj on January 22, 2008

The fact that the Blackberry version of Google Maps works so well in Australia is probably reflective of the Aussie team that wrote the thing, but no matter — it works here, but Yahoo Go! does not. I love you Google Maps.

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