Don’t quit your day job

I once had an opportunity in 1999 to share an elevator in a sprawling Menlo Park office complex with a luminary of the venture capital world. At the time, my employer, Webvan, was preparing to list on the Nasdaq as WBVN.

For one reason or another, I was in these offices on Sand Hill Rd., and got 30 seconds to ask him his best advice to a budding entrepreneur. I was 22 at the time, and had an idea for a company that would allow people to send postal messages directly from their computer to people who had not yet connected to the Internet. At the time, access was very costly, and most mobile phone plans did not include data. If they did, it was not reliable.

His advice to me was “Don’t quit your day job, kid!”

I thought it was derisive at first, but he had not yet had enough of an opportunity to really gauge me as a person, and I decided not to take it personally. It wasn’t until February of this year, at the ripe old age of 37, that I discovered what he really meant.

He could have just said “your best seed capital is your paycheck.”

All of the best entrepreneurs were either in school full time or working for someone else. It makes sense. You get paid a salary which keeps the lights on and the water running, and the rent or mortgage paid, and then with your free time, you can think of something amazing. In fact, having only 2-3 hours a day to work on something forces you to learn time management, and gives you definite time when you have to be productive. If you are doing it full time, you will actually take your free time for granted.

If you are working on something else, like a creative endeavor, it’s the same story. Keep your day job. A number of my friends are producers, directors, and actors, and they make a healthy living JavaScript-ing, XML-ing, and python-ing while they work on their submission to Sundance.

If someone is going to pay you to think, take the money, do what they ask of you, and with your free time, work on your dream until you don’t have to work for them any more. Then, you will have developed the time management skills and you’ll be even more productive and successful. And if it doesn’t work out, you still have your day job.

I Haz A Sad

The geek community lost someone truly special today.  Someone who touched a lot of lives and inspired a lot of people.  Someone who may not be fortunate enough to have a movie or book made about her life, but who inspired so many of us to do amazing things.

I am speaking of my old friend Melody Bliss.  Back in the 1990s, I knew her as Melody Yoon, and she lived across the street from me when I rented a small one-bedroom apartment in Mountain View in 1997.  Mel would regale all of us with her expert wisdom on all things UNIX, Texas, gun safety, and kittens.

I was really a beginner, a noob as they say, and Mel was one of those people who always made time to explain things.  I used to joke that she taught me how to spell ‘ls’, the first UNIX command I ever used.  It’s probably actually true.

Melody taught me how to set up dialup networking on my Sun Sparc IPX, running the Solaris operating system.  She made things look easy, because they were easy for her.  I remember being completely dumbfounded and baffled when she set up my computer to use PPP over the Metricom Ricochet wireless service.

We all knew her as _Melody_ on IRC (Internet Relay Chat), and I believe she probably added the underscores in her name because she was so popular that it made an extra few steps so that she would get fewer chat messages and things would be manageable.

Mel had persistent health issues and lost her battle today.  We all lost her battle.  She will be truly missed.  Whatever you are doing, and whatever your field of expertise is, take a moment to think about someone who helped you when you were a beginner, and thank them.

The Cloud is Older than Your Mom

Not really, but it sounds cool.  People like to talk about the cloud like it is something new that was newly created in recent history.  In fact, the concept of virtualization as a service has been around since the 1960s, with mainframe technology.

In the 1990s I worked at a company called Sun Microsystems.  We used this fantastic software from Platform Computing called LSF, or Load Sharing Facility.  In a sense, it was a “cloud” of servers that were used for important things like simulating microprocessor regression testing, and doing off-hours massively-parallel analytics on a contract basis for other companies.

Later on, the world discovered server farms — specialized collections of load-balanced equipment designed to run important internet luminaries like Yahoo and Alta Vista and MySpace.

In 2007, when I was  at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I started exploring a piece of software called QEMU.  QEMU was a virtual machine emulator, that was a software-based system for running x86 operating systems on non-x86 platforms like SPARC, PowerPC, or ARM.

Over the years, QEMU adapted into something called KVM, which is Kernel Virtual Machine, a hypervisor that allows the simultaneous running of multiple operating systems on Intel-based hardware.

Now, instead of painstakingly installing each server and running the OS on bare metal, we can instead virtualize everything into a disposable container that is created and destroyed as it is needed.

Clouds are just made up of nodes, like undifferentiated stem cells.  They are still server farms, and load sharing facilities, and massively parallel systems, but we call them something else now.  Welcome to the 1960s!

How the ThoughtWave Technologies Support Model is More Modern than Most

Our support model is more modern, and much simpler, than most support models.  In most cases, if you want telephone technical support from most places, you have to call a number, wait to speak to someone, and give them a contract number.  If you haven’t paid up, they aren’t going to help you, and you will be twisting in the wind.

How do we do things differently?  For starters, anyone who has a running instance in our cloud is eligible for support. This means if it’s a Saturday afternoon and you have booted an instance because you want to play FreeCiv or chat with your friends on IRC, you can talk to a human being on the phone.

Simply send a text message to (213) 984 1000 with one of your running instance IDs

For example:

7d5f68ad-45a9-633e-127b-89a2bc675a92

Our automatic support system will check the database of running instances, and if your instance ID is valid, the system will dial your phone number and connect you to our support center.  You’ll either be connected directly to someone who will be notified upon pickup that this is cloud-related, or you will be sent to a voice mail box that is checked very frequently, and someone will get back to you ASAP.

Try doing that with some of the other major cloud providers without spending an arm and a leg.

While we’re launching fireworks, let’s launch a website as well.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 4.33.47 PM

I’m pleased to announce the new ThoughtWave Technologies website at thoughtwave.com.  We have scaled down our service offerings by 70% to concentrate on our core capabilities — cloud computing and SPARC LDOMs.

We can’t compete in the voice services business and why should you colocate a server with us when there are cheaper places?  (If you want to colocate still, let me know, but it’s probably not worth your time.)

Now you can sign up, establish and account credit (still a manual process, and billing is manual as well), and get a  complete self-service environment, where you can provision your cloud instances, upload your own OS images, and begin working on your application today.

Have fun!

The Smartest City I know

To quote Johnny Cash, “I’ve been everywhere, man!”

I spent the first nineteen years of my life living in Michigan.  Southeastern Michigan is home to the automobile industry, the University of Michigan and some of the top pharmaceutical companies.  You probably don’t think of the Detroit area as an intellectual hotspot, but it is.  There are thousands of mechanical engineers and physicians and other intellectuals.  They are very good at what they do.

After that, I spent seven years in the Bay Area, starting out in San Jose and working my way up to the peninsula until I became a homeowner in 2000 in San Francisco.  I worked with people who had started companies at 19 and sold them by 22.  People with Stanford and Berkeley educations, and people with no formal education who were doing jobs that might be done by scientists in other areas.

In 2003, I moved down to Los Angeles.  From 2003 to 2013, I was married and did not get out much.  I only knew about the LA metro area from what I could see through my prism of suburbia and my interactions with parents of other young children, as I have two toddlers.

In 2013 I found myself living alone once again, eventually purchasing a three bedroom condo in Studio City just footsteps from Ventura Blvd.  Most of my neighbors work in “The Industry”, which is funny because that represents less than 2% of the LA metro area, or about 75,000 people.  Everyone else works in Aerospace, or Finance, or Education, or Defense, or Technology.

Say what you wish about LA — talk about the vapidity of celebrities and all of the people you hear about on TMZ, but I can tell you from my own experience that is a tiny tip of the iceberg that represents this amazing city.  Some of the smartest people are the writers that come up with things to entertain us, day after day.  There are hundreds of channels, many more than when we were kids and only three major networks to choose from.  Entertainment has pushed the envelope of intelligence.

In addition, all of the advanced media technology for digital streaming, and content delivery relies on software developers and enterprise architects — very smart people.

I did not feel this way when I first moved here, and I am more impressed with this place than anywhere else I have lived.  It is the Smartest City I know.

I have not yet lived in New York City, Washington DC,  or Boston so I may find myself revising this post in a few years.

Test as you Fly. Fly as you Test

I spent nine and a half years working for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.  One of the most amazing and shocking things that might surprise you is that none of the computing technology used to put things in space is at all what we might consider state-of-the-art.

In contrast to the bleed-edge github-inspired “dev ops” technology of today, most NASA hardware uses computing power that was developed in the early 21st century.  For those of you keeping score, we are now 1/7 of the way to the 22nd century and edging closer and closer to the Star Trek Epoch.

One of the mantras that was drilled into us over and over working for the Space Agency was that of “Test as you fly.  Fly as you test.”, which means treat every single integration cycle as if you were launching the spacecraft that day, and get all of the bugs out, even if it means you are delayed on something critical.  The last thing anyone in IT wants to be is the reason that a $2billion scientific instrument is sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

The way to accomplish this is by defining requirements, rather than specifications.  What does this mean?  It means figuring out what you want something to do before figuring out how you are going to do it.  Our brains are wired to look for solutions to things in general before we figure out the root cause.  If our brain tells us we are hungry, we often eat, when in reality it could be dehydration and food is just a convenient way to get water into our bodies.

The requirement is hydration.  The specification could be water, or an intravenous solution, or food, but you have to test each one according to your requirements and figure out heuristically which one works best.  Do all of that before you fly, be willing to scrub a few launches, and your application will never end up at the bottom of the Ocean.

Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station

ThoughtWave Technologies LLC now has a cloud.  Clouds are kind of boring — it’s just a fancy way of running virtual operating systems side-by-side on the same physical hardware, with a layer of deployment and authentication and customer automation that makes it more or less self service.

What makes this one different than the Amazon AWS? For starters, you get the kind of personal service with ThoughtWave that you aren’t going to get with Amazon.  Even with just one instance active, you’ll be able to dial the support number and get a live transfer to a support person at any time.

Also, if you need your own physical cloud, our data center partners can provide the hardware and we can provide the brainpower to get your cloud working today.

For more information, call +1 844 42LINUX or, if you are outside the US, +1 310 317 7900Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 11.17.18 PM