Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days

I enjoyed reading Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days by Jessica Livingston. I was drawn to this book after reading Jeremy Zawodny’s dust jacket quote, “Entertaining, inspirational, and human-a must-read for anyone interested in how some of the most important technology companies came to be.” The collection of stories is well put together and engaging. My favorite stories were Apple Computer, Gmail, Viaweb, del.icio.us, Flickr, 37signals, ArsDigita, Fog Creek software, TripAdvisor and Firefox. Of course, I may be biased as I am a customer of most of these companies and their products are as enjoyable as their stories. The theme of all these startups was an unflinching persistence and dedication even when there was a desire to quit.

Exciting Discovery

Lets rewind a second and reminisce how I acquired schemer.com. My friend, Josh Woodward recommended that I use schemer.com for my personal website. He thought it was perfect as I am always scheming. I liked the name and purchased it. I used it as my personal website for several years.

I had several parties that contacted me with offers to purchase schemer.com over the last few years. I didn’t seriously consider selling the domain name at first but eventually I received offers that were large enough for me to think about it. I was not trying to sell schemer.com but at the same time I knew I wasn’t using it to its full potential. I never really branded my website as schemer and I didn’t even rank in Google for the word schemer.

I negotiated with Jonathan Nelson (co-founder of Meevine) but we weren’t able to come to a price point that his start-up could afford and I would be happy with. He had a good idea for the domain but I wasn’t looking for a tidy sum of cash plus potential value via equity in his company. He wasn’t interested in renting the domain name from me. I wanted enough to walk away or a nice steady stream of income over time. Another serious suitor came along. I had no idea who the company was but their offer revealed they had much deeper pockets. We haggled for a few weeks and reached an agreement. The deal was handled seamlessly via an escrow service. When the money appeared in my bank account it all felt unbelievable.

It has been a few months since the sale and it wasn’t until today that I learned the identify of who bought schemer.com. Drum roll please!!!   It was… Google, which was the last company that I would have expected.  I guess I should have also negotiated for a 100 shares of Google stock.  ;-)

schemer.com

Related stories:

What is Schemer.com by Google? [Fusible]

What’s Google Scheming Over At Schemer.com? [Tech Crunch]

Welcome Home!

This is the home of my new blog!  I unexpectedly sold schemer.com since I received an offer I couldn’t refuse.   I am working on getting this site configured and the dust will settle soon.  If you linked schemer.com please update your links to this website.

SSD Goodness

My personal computer’s operating system hard drive died recently. The hard drive was a Western Digital less than two years old. I have previously had excellent luck with Western Digital products and this was my first failure. I contacted them and since I purchased the drive with a computer they provided no warranty for it.

I decided to replace my operating system drive with a lightning fast solid state-drive (SSD). I researched SSDs and found that the OCZ Technology 60 GB Agility 2 Series SATA II (OCZSSD2-2AGTE60G) was the best value for the features I wanted. The most important feature is to get a SSD that supports TRIM to avoid performance degradation over time.

I determined it was time to move up to 64 bit Windows 7 and retire 32 bit Windows XP. I purchased Windows 7 Home Premium as it offered all the features I needed. I tried to install Windows 7 and it failed quickly with the following error:

Setup was unable to create a new system partition or locate an existing system partition. See the setup log files for more information.

The solution was to disconnect all hard drives except the SSD and reboot. Then I installed Windows 7 on the raw drive without any partitions. It wouldn’t work if I created a partition via the setup process.

I made the mistake of installing Windows 7 in SATA IDE mode in the BIOS. I changed the SATA mode to RAID to get ACHI support. I re-installed Windows 7 a second time after I updated the BIOS. I could not believe how fast the install was and afterward how quick reboots completed.

Everything was going well until I decided to plug in my other SATA drive. The SATA mode setting change in the BIOS caused my other SATA drive to be converted from being a basic disk to a dynamic disk. Windows doesn’t recognize dynamic disks and Microsoft’s recommended solution would have resulted in total data loss.

Luckily I found a slick way to convert the dynamic disk back to a basic disk. I put the drive in an external enclosure and used Mandy’s XP machine to run the raw disk editor described in the instructions (as it didn’t work on a 64 bit platform). The approach I linked is simple and used freeware to quickly performed the change without any data loss.

I am installing my applications now and enjoying the speed of SSD!

Using Migratr to download Flickr photos and video

I found a much better way to Back Up Flickr Photos, Videos & Associated MetaData. I no longer use Migratr which is described below.

The Migratr application does a nice job of backing up Flickr photos. I was checking my backups and I discovered that Migratr downloaded all my movie files with a .jpg file extension on them. I read the Flickr help on downloading videos:

You can only download original versions of your videos . To download a video click “embed” above the video and you will see a download link near the bottom of the page. Others may embed your video in other web pages, provided they have permission, but can’t “download” them.

I discovered that my videos were really mov files. I renamed the video files with a .mov extension and they play perfectly. I am posting this solution in case anyone else runs into the same issue. All my original video files stored on Flickr were mov files, this is the format my digital camera originally captured the videos in. Just use the Flickr help above to download one video file manually, check the extension and then you will know how to rename your file to play the video successfully.

One item to note is if you rename the file Migratr will download it again with a .jpg extension. I just rename the extension when I want to play a particular video file.

Dropbox + Cron

Dropbox allows you to simply and easily share files across multiple computers. It doesn’t matter if you have a Windows, Linux or Mac computer or even an iPhone. It just seamlessly works! Shared directories and files appear within a Dropbox folder and are accessible like any other local file folder. Shared directories and files are also accessible via a web browser using dropbox.com.

I use cron under Ubuntu to schedule shell commands to run periodically. Setup crontab file to be synchronized and backed up via Dropbox.

1) Move crontab file and dependencies to ~/Dropbox/schedule folder

2) I created ~/schedule/backup_dropbox file to backup Dropbox locally
#!/bin/sh
date=`date -I`
tar -czvf ~/backup/dropbox-$date.tgz ~/Dropbox

3) Add Dropbox backup to ~/Dropbox/schedule/crontab
05 16 * * * ~/Dropbox/schedule/backup_dropbox

4) Add Dropbox backup clean up (for all files older than 10 days)
20 16 * * * find ~/backup -type f -daystart -ctime +10 -exec rm -f {} \;

5) Remember to reload crontab file to schedule latest changes
crontab ~/Dropbox/schedule/crontab

6) Verify schedule
crontab -l

Autohotkey

AutoHotkey is a handy tool to automate keystrokes and mouse clicks. I have been using it for several months to reduce unproductive movements off the keyboard to the mouse. I think of AutoHotkey as wrapping Windows with the key binding customizations possible within Emacs without resorting to writing Emacs Lisp. AutoHotkey is incredibly powerful but can be difficult to manage over several computers.

I decided to use Dropbox to keep my AutoHotkey configuration synchronized across computers. It works great and I documented the setup below.

1) Install AutoHotkey to a windows machine using Dropbox path/apps
2) Create AutoHotkey.ahk within Dropbox path
3) Delete AutoHotkey.exe from All Programs > Startup
4) Create a shortcut to “Dropbox path\apps\AutoHotkey\AutoHotkey.exe” “Dropbox path\AutoHotkey.ahk”
5) Install new shortcut to All Programs > Startup to trigger AutoHotkey program and configuration stored in Dropbox to launch upon computer boot up
6) To install upon additional machines just perform steps 4 and 5

Dropbox Rocks!

I decided to take Dropbox for a spin and I was blown away. Dropbox allows you to simply and easily share files across multiple computers. It doesn’t matter if you have a Windows, Linux or Mac computer or even an iPhone. It just seamlessly works! Shared directories and files appear within a Dropbox folder and are accessible like any other local file folder. Shared directories and files are also accessible via a web browser using dropbox.com.

I delayed checking out Dropbox since I have been an avid Google Docs user and I didn’t understand the advantage of Dropbox. Lets start off with an example. I tried using Google Docs to manage the master copy of my master encrypted password file. I update the password file from multiple computers so the process became download the latest copy from Google Docs, update it and re-upload to Google Docs. This was a laborious process and occasionally I would forget to start with the most update-to-date copy and lose changes.

I decided to use Dropbox to simplify maintaining my master encrypted password file. I installed Dropbox and set up a Dropbox folder. I pointed my password software to the encrypted master password file stored in my Dropbox folder. I now make changes as needed without worry. All computers are kept up-to-date without any manual intervention.

The next scenario I used Dropbox to simplify was the storage of my .emacs file along with all the required dependency files.

Ubuntu 9.10 Installation

1) sudo emacs /etc/apt/sources.list and add the following lines
deb http://linux.getdropbox.com/ubuntu karmic main
deb-src http://linux.getdropbox.com/ubuntu karmic main
2) gpg –keyserver pgp.mit.edu –recv-keys 3565780E
3) sudo apt-get update
4) sudo apt-get install nautilus-dropbox
Dropbox installation successfully completed! Please log out and log back in to complete the integration with your desktop. You can start Dropbox from your applications menu.
5) Logout, login and open Applications > Internet > Dropbox
6) Complete a few steps (using the defaults) to configure Dropbox
7) ~/Dropbox is ready to go

Configure .emacs file and dependencies to use ~/Dropbox folder

1) Move .emacs file and dependencies to ~/Dropbox folder
mv -r ~/.emacs* ~/Dropbox/
2) Symbolic link .emacs file to version stored in ~/Dropbox folder
ln -s ~/Dropbox/.emacs ~/.emacs
3) Symbolic link dependencies stored in .emacs.d folder
ln -s ~/Dropbox/.emacs.d/ ~/.emacs.d
4) Emacs now uses Dropbox master for configuration across computers

Backup Your Dropbox Data

1) Create ~/backup_dropbox file
#!/bin/sh
date=`date -I`
tar -czvf dropbox-$date.tgz ~/Dropbox
2) Make file executable
chmod a+x ~/backup_dropbox
3) Run backup via
~/backup_dropbox
4) Automate backup (for 4:05 pm) by adding the following to cron via crontab -e
05 16 * * * ~/backup_dropbox
5) Automate clean up of old backups to avoid running out of disk space.

XBox 360 / NetFlix

The recent XBox 360 update drastically improved the on demand Netflix experience. You can now modify your instant play queue directly from the XBox itself. The Netflix user experience on the XBox is simple and user friendly although not as comprehensive as the website experience.

You can browse the top 50 films in a variety of categories. A couple of the categories are driven by movies you previously enjoyed and additional movies like that particular movie are listed. Kudos go to the Netflix team for a great job making Netflix even better. One additional feature I would like in the future would be the ability to search by title name or browse alphabetically. I am glad Netflix isn’t a bloated hard to use product and I realize each feature has trade offs in terms of ease of use and simplicity. I trust the Netflix team to continue improving the movie experience without over complicating the user interface.
I heard that in November Netflix will offer HD streaming of 300 movies and TV shows further improving their stellar platform. I just need to upgrade to a HDTV.