RIP: Windows XP

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I was at COMDEX  in Las Vegas when Bill Gates strode purposefully onto the stage back in 1995 and did a demo of Windows 95. I still remember thinking that I saw beads of sweat on his brow when he was demoing that “brand spanking new Plug and Play technology” (which at the time Apple had already nailed). Bill plugged a drive into the computer and patiently waited for the icon to appear. In front of thousands of people. Just when I thought he was going to flip out from the stress of the moment, the icon appeared and you could see him visibly relax.

He also played a video of “what things were going to be like in 2005″ some of which was pretty prescient (like touch screen tablets) and other’s not so much (the video featured some people driving around in what they called “an old Oldsmobile Aurora” – guess Bill wasn’t prescient enough to realize that Oldsmobile would be gone by then).

Of course, even the touch screen tablet was a bit off, I think they had this in-car system but the screen was giant – kind of like having a 23 inch flat screen attached to your windshield. Yep, Microsoft had predicted something like the iPad, about 15 years early. I wonder if Steve Jobs was in that audience.

But I digress. That was ’95, XP was a different beast. XP was truly the first broad based consumer and business focused OS which wasn’t built on DOS. It really was its own thing, it was the first OS from Microsoft to use the Windows NT kernel (remember NT meant New Technology)

I’m actually surprised that Microsoft supported XP for as long as it did, but I can totally understand why it ended up everywhere – almost like a poor mans embedded system. That thing powers everything from gas pumps to cash registers to that little trolley thing that hospitals use to capture your information when you check in. I think I still have a netbook in the garage which runs XP, that thing was solid as a rock. I bet I can fire that up right now and it would still be a great experience. In many minds, still better than Windows 8. (Full disclosure, I have Windows 8.1, and a touchscreen, and I love it. Seriously. No, I do.)

Things in the tech world progress and change at a crazy rate. If you ask me Moore’s Law is nothing – we are seeing change at a much faster rate than ever before, especially in the software space – where there are really no physical limitations to what you can do. On the one hand, software keeps getting better and better (if you, ahem, forgive, asides like Vista) but on the other hand, for many enterprises, who have to think about huge changes from top to bottom when rolling out a new OS to the organization, its not an easy decision. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Well, it might not be broke now, but at some point, it WILL break. New hardware, new security threats, software companies don’t simply release new versions in order to help their bottom line, they do it to improve the product, release new features, and protect against new threats.

Case in point: the Heartbleed bug, which is making the news this week, exposed a serious vulnerability to OpenSSL, which drives a HUGE chunk of the internet. People everywhere are scrambling to patch for it. This is not something that is going to go away – if anything it gets worse.

So you will, at some point, even if your software manufacturer doesn’t decide to stop supporting your software, still need to upgrade. The whole question is when. Some wait until the last possible moment, others are more proactive, still others wait until something breaks. But in most cases, you can’t wait until something breaks – even though it might cost a lot to upgrade, it also costs a lot to support and maintain an old OS. Probably even more, as the skill set to maintain that OS starts to retire to Hawaii (or Florida). Try looking for someone to program an Altair 8800 nowadays.

So lets have a toast to XP, it was a great OS, and we’ll miss you. Don’t worry though, your spirit (and probably some bits of code) live on in Windows 7+, so even though you’re not around – we still feel your soul. :)

“THIS week sees the last batch of bug fixes and security patches that Microsoft will issue for Windows XP. After April 8th, computers using the 13-year-old operating system will continue to work just fine, but all technical support for XP—whether paid or otherwise—will cease. In a change of heart, Microsoft has at least agreed to continue issuing updates for its Security Essentials malware engine, which runs on XP, until July 2015. Apart from that, users who continue to rely on the thing will be on their own—at the mercy of mischief-makers everywhere.

via Difference Engine: End of the road for Windows XP | The Economist.”

Humanity Cannot Progress Without Heaps

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Bill Gates seems to be in the news a lot lately – just a few days ago he said that its OK if half of the startups which comes out of Silicon Valley are “silly”, and just yesterday he came out with a statement saying that its preposterous that there has been a “pause” in innovation – that innovation is slowing down.

Well, Mr. Gates, I beg to differ. If you ask me, not only has innovation slowed down, in some areas, its been completely immobilized. And its not the technology which has slowed us down – if you ask me, that rocks on even better than ever. No, what’s changed is our appetite for innovation. We’ve lost the fire in the belly.

By now you’re probably saying, Chris, what are you talking about? Things are moving faster than they have ever moved before – the power of electronic devices has doubled and quadrupled every year or so, and we could never have predicted that we now hold in our hands and pockets roughly the same amount of computing horsepower as supercomputers of old. Even something a piece of electronics as minute as the camera on a smartphone has virtually rendered actual cameras obsolete – even digital ones. When you can get better resolution from a $500 smartphone than a $1500 Nikon, why wouldn’t you?

But I digress. Sure, those things have progressed. But what are we doing with all that firepower in our hands? We’re playing flappy bird, and sending snapshots to our friends that disappear in a few seconds. Whoa, that’s innovation!

Back in the olden days, say around before the turn of the last century, can you believe that we didn’t know how to fly? That we couldn’t travel enormous distances around the globe in a few hours? That we depended on real horses – yep, a one or two horsepower carriage, to get around? Around that time there was such a huge spurt of innovation that within a few short decades, we invented the car and the airplane and the jet engine. That’s when innovation was truly ripping through the world. It all sort of petered out by the end of the sixties, though.

Since then, innovation in many things slowed to a crawl. It wasn’t because the technology didn’t get better and better.

It was because we stopped taking risks. We got cautious. We got careful. We went all “bubble wrap mommy” on innovation.

I think that, even though we had gone all cautious in most ways and many areas already, I think the big final defining moment was the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. It blew up 73 seconds into the flight and took with it seven souls, one of which was a teacher. In that moment, the space program was over, even though it had sort of lost its way after the moon landing anyways.

Prior to this time, humans took huge risks, hoping for huge rewards. Inventors were perfectly willing to die in order to discover some new thing. From the Renaissance to oh, around 1970, humankind was in this massive explosion of exploration and discovery, and damn the torpedoes. We grew and learnt so much as a species during that period that the mind is dazzled by all we did.

But since then, all we’ve ever done is been incremental. We’ve improved things, but have we really come out with anything new? Even the internet was born near the end of that period, maybe the last really massive innovation.

So what happened? Who knows. Maybe we got all fat and happy. Maybe we decided that it wasn’t worth being killed or maimed in the name of science.

But this is exactly why innovation has slowed, and in some ways stopped. We are holding ourselves back. We are being too careful, too cautious. and as a result, we even passed hundreds of laws to force others to also be careful and cautious. God forbid you take any risks which may injure someone, or the environment, even if it means curing cancer or discovering the secret to living to a 1000.

Some people might argue that this is better – that we should always look before we leap. But some of the most amazing discoveries of the human race were made by those who purposely didn’t look before they leapt, thus unknowingly discovered some incredible innovation we are still using today.

But I say, if we want to return to the days of incredibly rapid discovery, we need to loosen the apron strings a bit. We need to take more risks, we need to stop holding ourselves back – we need to say damn the torpedoes more often.

  • How do we know if we can clone replacement body parts if we don’t try?
  • How do we know if we can cure cancer or AIDS if we can’t genetically manipulate cells?
  • How many people die waiting for drugs due a decades long review process?

We need to stop ourselves from asking “should we”. We should just do.

One of my favorite quotes from Futurama was from Professor Farnsworth in the episode The Prisoner Of Benda. Here is the dialog between Amy and the Professor:

Amy: Good, I’m sick of cleaning up those heaps of dead monkeys. But why would you want your mind in a new body?
Farnsworth: Well, as a man enters his 18th decade, he thinks back on the mistakes he’s made in life.
Amy: Like the heaps of dead monkeys?
Farnsworth: Science cannot move forward without heaps! No, what I regret is the youth I wasted playing it safe.

“Science cannot move forward without heaps” – its a joke for sure, but it has the ring of truth. We are so worried about ending up on that heap, that we don’t even try – we don’t even take the risk.

True innovation requires risk. And almost everything that we do today attempts to iron the risk out of everything – from cars, to food, to education. We are all trying to play it as safe as possible – to not end up on the heap. But then nothing progresses. Nothing moves forward. No innovation occurs.

By now, we should have flying cars, tiny nuclear reactors powering that supercomputer in your pocket, a just-in-time education system which teaches humans exactly what they need to know, exactly when they need it, food enough for the population of the world many times over, and the end of tyranny through fully open communications between any human on the planet and every other human on the planet.

So here is my call to action: we need to take risks. We need to do new things. Even if they are uncomfortable. Even if people are hurt, figuratively or literally.

If you ask me – the human race cannot progress without heaps.

Gates also disagreed forcefully with economists and analysts who say the pace of technological innovation is slowing, and no longer driving productivity and economic growth. “I think the idea that innovation is slowing down is one of the stupidest things anybody ever said,” he said. “Innovation is moving at a scarily fast pace.”"I want to meet this guy who sees a pause in innovation and ask them where have they been.”"Take the potential of how we generate energy, the potential of how we design materials, the potential of how we create medicines, the potential of how we educate people, the way we use virtual reality to make it so you don’t have to travel as much or you get fun experiences,” he noted. Innovation doesn’t always work the way we think it might, he pointed out. For example, when innovation is happening fast enough, it sometimes shrinks GDP by disrupting industries e.g. the damage the Internet has had on the newspaper industry or increasing costs e.g. the proliferation of medical technology.”I want to meet this guy who sees a pause in innovation and ask them where have they been,” he said.

via Bill Gates: ‘The Idea That Innovation Is Slowing Down Is … Stupid’ – Uri Friedman – The Atlantic.

A Week Of Ultra Productivity

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Time Keeps On Slipping, Slipping, Slipping Into The Future

Recently I’ve read a number of articles on productivity, success and tracking – probably triggered by my new years resolution to pack more into each day. To that end – I’m going to attempt an “experiment in ultraproductivity” – over the next week – starting now I will:

  1. track every waking moment – using Timesheet, a time tracking app on my Galaxy S4
  2. spend time at the end of each day assessing the day and tracking wasted time
  3. develop a plan to refine the next day’s activities
  4. continue to refine the process over the week

Kind of like applying an Agile process to my life. Instead of a daily standup at the start of the day, its more of a daily lie down at the end of the day…

Some of the things I’m going to try:

  1. Getting up early – I’m going to shoot for 5am, which is tough for me as I’m a real night owl
  2. Exercise first thing – I have a FitBit on the Ultivator, so I need to hit my step goals otherwise I’m going to get penalized, so I need to hit that
  3. Write some fiction for at least one hour – I’ve got Precog in the Kindle store and on its way in paperback, so I need to start on the 2nd book in the series, Telekin.
  4. Write a blog post – like this one
  5. Fill up my Buffer every day with new stuff
  6. Spend time connecting with people via social networks – Facebook, LinkedIn etc…

All before breakfast.

Part of this was inspired by Ramit Sethi, a guy who alternatively annoys me and gets me motivated. He is currently selling a package of “productivity hacks” for some dumb amount of money, supposedly collecting a number of these productivity tips into one package. More power to him, but I’m cheap and I figure I’ve got enough experience to come up with my own set of hacks. I’ve applied all of this in varying ways over time – but this time I’m going to apply them all at once – and with any luck, by the end of the week, have a finely honed and ultraproductive process in place. Then maybe I’ll sell it for big bucks too.

Oh, BTW, I noticed that all of those folks who get up early never tell you when they go to bed. Do you imagine that High Powered Executive Who Gets Up At 4am To Conquer The World is in his jammies and under the covers by 9pm in order to get a good nights sleep? What is he, a kid?

Let me know if you have any “productivity hacks” that you personally use to pack more into each day below – would love to hear from you…

To CES, Or Not To CES…

Soon To Be Common Practice, Meeting Yourself At A Trade Show

Coming Soon: Meeting Yourself At A Trade Show

That is the question – to suffer the slings and arrows of being involved in a overwhelming sea of new products with a zillion others, or to just say no and attempt to build your audience in other ways.

If you ask me – CES has really morphed into the “one tech show to rule them all” – in the absence of Comdex (which if you ask me, used to be the one show when it came to products like this) – if you can classify an “app” as “electronics”. Which apparently, you can.

Its funny – I was always under the impression that with things moving the way they are on the internet, that trade shows would just be a thing of the past. With the vast array of communications technologies that we have, do we really need to ever meet face to face? Ah, but there is nothing like real face to face contact – we have yet to figure that out – until of course we have life size android versions of ourselves which can mimic every aspect and nuance of our body language and are mostly pre-programmed to act like us and shun other androids of people we don’t like. But until then, there is nothing like the face to face contact.

I use business cards from moo.com, you know those little thin cards? I have a pic of my eyes on one side and on the other side my contact information. Every time I give out one of those cards I get a great reaction – like “Cool card!” and “I have to get me one of those too!”. The other day I was at a networking event and I gave out the cards and got the same reaction. but I also got one more. He said: “How are those working for you? Are they getting you any more business?”

Of course I’d never thought of that. Outside the “cool” factor – I’m guessing that they were memorable – I’m not sure they actually translate to more business in and of themselves. The more business just comes out of following up. You can make that initial contact with a plain old card – that’s not what brings you more business. The business comes out of that continuing contact. But if you make that contact in the first place, whether with a cool card or not, then it wont matter at all. So yes, CES if you can.

Mark it down for next year if you didn’t go this year. But, Chris, you say, what if I don’t have anything I can talk about there then? A year could be 3-4 startups from now! Trust me, you will.

As I said before, the road to success requires luck, the only thing you can do about it is to expose yourself and your ideas to as many people as you can. You never know who will pick it up or when your idea will take flight. 

It might be a depressing thought – but when it comes to success, and dating, and business – its a numbers game – you have to communicate your message to as many people as you can afford to – both time and money – and see who picks up. And always, ALWAYS, follow up. With everyone.

Latest Weekend Project: The Ultivator : No Pain, No Gain

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Happy 2014 all!

Both my wife and I love our Fitbit trackers, but both of us find them a bit wanting in the motivational department.

A few weeks ago we were talking about the reasons most people don’t stick with an exercise program is usually due to the lack of real and proper, serious motivation. People just won’t make changes to their lives unless they receive a huge positive OR negative stimulus. For example, an obese person could visit the doctor yearly and be told that he needs to lose weight but never actually does it. Only if he survives a near fatal heart attack might he actually make the lifestyle changes in order to live longer.

Since a huge negative stimulus (having a heart attack) has been proven to get more people off their butts than a positive stimulus (wearing nicer clothes, being noticed by the opposite sex etc) we came up with the Ultimate Motivator – aka the Ultivator.

The idea is simple: You set a goal. If you meet that goal, you don’t get penalized. If you don’t meet that goal, then you do. I whipped it together in a weekend in Rails and Bootstrap. It might not look too good, but I think it suffices as a great example of MVP.

Right now it supports only Fitbit trackers, but I will be adding more trackers as well as more goals as I get feedback. The process is simple, you provide:

  1. The goal you wish to hit: we WERE going to make these extra hard, but we figured that people have all different levels that they’d like to reach and so we left this open. A step goal for the month.
  2. The charity you’d like your “penalty” to go to. We give the brunt of the charge to a charity of your choice, so even if you don’t make your goal, at least someone you like benefits
  3. The amount you’d like to contribute, pro-rated to how well you do: for example, let’s say you pledge $500 and make it half way to your goal, we only charge you $250. Make it all the way you pay a tiny admin fee.

The site sends an email with the users status daily so that they can keep abreast of their progress – it looks like this:

email

Let me know what you all think. Over the next little while, I’ll come back to the Ultivator and talk a bit about some of the other inspiration I had for this project – a little thing a few folks ripped out in 20 minutes called http://producthunt.co

This is pure MVP IMHO, there are a lot more things I’d like to add, such as the ability to track other things other than steps, but this is a good start.

Check it out here: ultivator.com

Occam’s Razor Sharp Code Or Nothing

Razor-BladeA while back, I had to step into a project which had been going on for a while which needed saving – the code was spaghetti, so convoluted and rife with dependencies and weird things. The developer went over the top, adding layer after layer of complexity to what should have been a simple thing, using a crazy amount of plug-ins, add-ons, multiple libraries and so on and so forth.

Just going through the code and attempting to understand it was hard enough. The code was barely documented, and even though the guy who wrote the original code was still on the team, he we very reluctant to give up any information as to how or why he did what he did: even requests to provide a full and detailed description of the flow of the app were met with silence. The only thing he did do was give out just enough information to proceed to the next step of analysis, after which we’d have to ask him for more detail.

He also played a trick which I’d seen the mom on Everybody Loves Raymond did (my wife and I have been marathoning the series at the time) she gave up her family recipe for something to her daughter-in-law, but since she didn’t really want her daughter-in-law’s cooking to surpass hers, she changed a key ingredient in order for her daughter-in-law’s version of the dish to fail. This developer did the same thing – leaving out critical bits of information, forcing us to keep going back to him for it – or giving us the wrong information.

It was a nightmare. In the end, we had to basically re-write the whole thing from scratch. As it turned out, only about 10% of the code actually did something – the rest was extraneous crap that didn’t even need to be there.

I’m an Occam’s Razor kind of guy. The simplest solution is always the best. The minimum product that you can launch is the one with the least amount of features which delivers the experience you want to deliver. And code should be written in the simplest possible way in order the deliver that product.

Too often, developers look to some future proposed end or later state of the software, and attempt to build the framework for that later state, resulting in a crap-ton of extra stuff in the code you just really don’t need now – and may never need, if the requirements change and you have to pivot.

No, the key is – write fast, write simple, and explain what you are doing every step of the way. And write for the product you are shipping today, not tomorrow.

Survival Tools For The Connected Hiker

treeringI love hiking. About every other weekend my kids and I pick a different hiking trail around here in the Bay Area. We’ve been off on short hikes for about an hour long with others about three hours long would never do anything super-long. Until last weekend of course, when I stupidly, did not pick up a paper map at the trail head before we left, and about three quarters the way into the hike proceeded to get lost.

Luckily, we were able to get to a space with phone signal and I was able to download a copy of the PDF map onto my smart phone and realized we had to backtrack almost all the way back the last trial we took to get back to the car. We ended up adding another 5 miles to the hike in doubling the length. Luckily, and also been smart enough to charge my phone prior to going out. If I hadn’t done that we would totally have been screwed.

There have been plenty of times when I’ve been without charge. All of these new cell phones really use a lot of power nowadays. My Samsung Galaxy S4 isn’t too bad, but I know a lot of iPhone users who have a real problem with battery life.There’s been times when I’ve had meetings and conference calls and one battery charge just isn’t enough to take me through the day. Since I live in a sunny Bay Area, solar charger is just a smart idea.

Unfortunately, most of the solar chargers that I have seen, even though they’re pretty cheap, they also suck. Poor construction, terrible solar cells, they just don’t last very long and don’t charge very well. Now I don’t spend a lot of time in the woods but if I did I probably want something more along the lines of the sCharger-5 or the sCharger-12. These bad boys may be expensive, but when you talk about something that could help you in a jam, like the jam I was in last week you’d almost pay any price. If I was out of juice as well as out of signal I’d really have been out of luck. And there weren’t many other hikers on that trail that day either.

So if you find yourself hiking on the backwoods and the charging your phone does his last launch you should pick up one of these things.

Or at least be smart enough to pick up a paper map at the trail head.

This was a sponsored post for Suntactics

I Have The Need For SPEED

I’ve been using Gmail for a while, having chucked Yahoo! Mail for it as I was getting a little sick and tired of the tons of ads and slower speed (I may actually go back and take another look at Yahoo! Mail as I heard that its getting better) – my main reason for switching was SPEED.

I like SPEED. I hate waiting. I want everything YESTERDAY. I work pretty fast, as anyone who knows me can attest to. And when I have to wait for my devices in any way shape or form, I get a bit pissed off. It shouldn’t take 5 seconds to download a web page, even with a fancy loading gif. It shouldn’t take forever for me to login and see my new mail. And lately, Gmail has been getting slower and slower. WTF, I say.

I even tried using a desktop client to download my mail, but that keeps crapping out with “CAPTCHA required” errors, even though I’ve cleared the CAPTCHA oh maybe 100 times on Google…

We have super powerful laptops, tablets and mobile phones. We have 25M download speeds and 6M uploads speeds, but it still takes seemingly forever for things to refresh and load. We are sacrificing speed for bells and whistles, and I don’t like it one bit.

Lately, Gmail has been annoying me with CAPTCHAs as well. It seems like I have to login past a CAPTCHA every five minutes. Have no idea why. I wonder if I pissed them off in some way.

Either way, I’m getting really tired of waiting. Are you?

Applied vs Theoretical Innovation

Innovation (1)Recently, I got to thinking that there are really are two kinds of innovation, and these two types of innovation were very apparent in the kind of programs I would run for companies. Borrowing a term from physics, I like to call these two types of innovation “theoretical” and “applied” just like theoretical and applied physics.

Theoretical innovation is something you simply just cannot do today. There are factors which keep you from actually implementing the envisioned product or service right now. These can be something as simple as the right kind of technology, say size of storage space or wireless bandwidth or as complex as the right geo-political infrastructures. A good example of this is streaming HD virtual reality to wireless phones. Sure, it can be done: but the network is simply not up to the task of allowing it to happen.

Tech factors, strangely enough, are not usually the ones holding back the innovation: it’s more likely the human factor, factions within companies taking credit or laying blame, cultural and political reasons etc. However, the biggest indicator of something being “theoretical innovation” in my view is ability to monetize. If there is no way to make any money off it, even if all barriers were lowered, then it remains in that realm since most no one, save some independently wealthy, or governments, will step up to take it on. It’s this type of innovation which is ideally suited to go into a patent application process.

Applied Innovation, on the other hand, is leading edge work that not only pushes the envelope, it also has a clear path to monetization. If you ask me, this is pretty easy to come up with: is it a product or service that I would use and pay for? Applied innovation takes what is out there today, and rebuilds or mashes it up to create something new, useful and valuable. Applied innovation is the kind of thing that can be taken from idea to launch in days or weeks with a few guys in a garage. And its applied innovation which is probably what most people think about, at least in the business world, as innovation.

Thats not to say that theoretical innovation doesn’t have its place, and many ideas began in the theoretical innovation space, but as these ideas have much longer paths, or in some cases no path to monetization at all, now may not be the best time to pursue theoretical innovation. In boom times, with the wind at our backs, of course, but today, in this climate, a focus on applied innovation is essential.

Cash Flow Is King

cash-flow-is-king

In the land of the lean startup, cash flow is king.

The key is to get only as much money as you need (even if you have to use cash advances from credit cards, loans from friends and family, or even home equity loans to start your business), and stretch whatever you get as far as you possibly can (that means using the cloud as much as you can – buying inexpensive equipment – leveraging as much as you can which is free and cheap out there) until you get some kind of traction or funding. To that end, anything that can save you some money when setting up your startup is very helpful.

I’ve registered a ton of domain names over the years, moving from domain registrar to domain registrar. Once I discovered GoDaddy, I pretty much moved all of my business to them – you can’t beat the price, and a short, descriptive domain name is key. And for around ten bucks (its gone up since then) you can snap up domain names as you come up with the ideas, then worry about creating the startup around it later.

I’ve recently been introduced to CouponSwift.com, which at first I thought was just any coupon site. What’s different is that they mostly cover stuff that’s useful to startups and other internet players: web hosting, domain names and email marketing. Of course, I’d just renewed a bunch of domains over at GoDaddy just prior to finding out about it – which means that i’ll have to wait until my next batch of domains are renewed before I can use the coupons on there. But trust me, I will.

CouponSwift basically is a repo for coupon codes – you go there – find a service that you want to use, click on the code which will reveal the code and drive you to the site to use it. There are crowdsourced reviews, and if you’ve got a code, it looks like you can share it with others as well.

Every penny helps when you’re trying to stretch out your cash flow until you see those revenues coming in.

This has been a sponsored post for CouponSwift