Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Achieve-IT!: Fun and Easy How to Guide to Binding Your Own Paperback Books At Home...FAST

Achieve-IT!: Fun and Easy How to Guide to Binding Your Own Paperback Books At Home...FAST:

I love this idea and am putting it up here so I can find it later when I need it. I'm a huge fan of printing ebooks, and usually go with the "heavy duty spring-slip" approach. That works well for maybe 40-100 pages, but if you get much beyond that, it's no good.

Then again, if I ever get off my butt and start putting together an ebook (or several) maybe I'll be taking the author up on his suggestion to go into the self-publishing business?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Regularly Scheduled Self-Kick

I have an idea for a business that revolves around generating materials for school teachers to cut back on the expense of textbooks. I spoke to a school teacher in person about this over the weekend. I confirmed a few things:

* Textbooks are very expensive -- double what I originally thought. Although they also have a much longer lifetime, sometimes upwards of 15 years or more.

* Most of the text gets skipped anyway, as the teacher customizes their lesson plans based on experience and their own individual classes.

* No matter how many cool interactive games and exercises are available on the net, there will always be a place for traditional books that can be carried to class, scribbled in, referenced back to, etc..

...and learned a few things:

* The typical textbook publisher offers many downloadable lesson plans, quizzes, activities, etc... already. I thought teachers were on their own to go hunt this stuff down, but it appears to be regular practice now that they get to pick and choose from a wide selection.

* Kids, in general, have access to a computer even if they have to go to the local library. So the concept of making a file available and telling them to go download and print it is not out of the question. I'd been thinking that this would be too much of a burden and the teacher would be responsible for printing and handing them out.

* Teachers already have too much work to do, even with a standard lesson plan. The idea of custom tailoring quizzes and reading material to suit individual students is scary because of the amount of work that it would involve. Plus, those students would end up hurting in the long run, since without a standard, it would be very hard to progress through several years of a subject without having a foundation to build on from year to year. (I pointed out that I'm talking about "Start with a big standard thing and customize it" and not "Build up your own textbook from scratch out of little pieces", and she seemed happier with that.)

In general, nothing too insurmountable. Basically she said, "This is a good idea that would have value to teachers." So why am I not coding my brains out right now?

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Friday, March 17, 2006

FreeMacWare.com : I Use Freeware

Having come from a Linux world, I'm all about the open source. It's one thing for a full blown application that has direct business uses, like an office suite or something, but what about all those little utilities that you never really thought of until somebody showed you their existence and you say, "Hey, that's pretty cool, I want that"? If you had to pay $20 for each one of them, you'd shrug and say "Nah."

But that's not the way it is. There's freeware, and I'm pleased to see after switching to the Mac that there's free Mac ware, too. Here's just a few of the apps I've found specifically from their site that are running on my powerbook right now:

  • Delibar - Puts all your del.icio.us bookmarks into a dropdown on your taskbar, organized by category/tag. Very handy. (I wish it allowed me to create bookmarks that way, too...)
  • Spirited away - Love this app. After you've left a window inactive for a given period of time (customizable), this app hides it. Doesn't close it, just takes it off the desktop. You can get it back easy enough by tabbing into it. But it gets out of your way. Nice, clean desktop.
  • Tinkertool is for the geeky crowd who don't mind mucking with hidden / advanced options of their operating system. But I mean, come on, the ability to quite out of the Finder alone is worth getting this one.
  • TextWrangler - As a Linux geek, I still loves my Emacs. But that's a shell application, and you can't easily launch Emacs when double clicking a text file download, for instance. (I do not love Aquamacs, which is an attempt at a native Mac port). TextWrangler is probably the best of the free text editors out there.
  • Adium - When I got the Powerbook, one of the first things I did was to go hunting for an Instant Messenger client. One coworker, already a convert, looked at another and says, "Is there anything better than Adium?" "Nope," says the other. So off I went to find Adium. They were right.

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UNIX : Cat every nth (third, fourth, fifth ...) line of a text file using AWK

I was surprised to discover that there's no standard utility in Unix to get every N-th line of a file. Or, rather, I was surprised to fail to find it, if there is such a thing. Many people don't realize that "tac" is the way to list out a file in reverse ("cat" spelled backwards, get it?) but it's there.

I have a very large file, upwards of millions of lines. I need to sample it, which means that depending on the size of the file (which might also be tens of thousands of lines), the N will change - I might take every 10th, or every 100th.

Awk handles this quite nicely, actually:

awk '{if (count++%3==0) print $0;}' filename

Does the trick! Where '3' is your N, of course. If you dropped this into a shell script or something you could get creative and pass it in as a parameter. But it's short enough for my purposes that I don't mind writing it out.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Startup Names (Paul Graham)

Startup Names (Paul Graham): Paul Graham makes a good case for why it's the new cool thing to give your startup a funky name. Domain name squatters, he argues, have taken so many names that if you do end up with a name that was obviously bought back from one of them, it gives the impression that you have more money than brains. Not a good way for a startup to appear. Nothing could be less cool, at this point, than calling a startup "cool.com." A company with a name like that could not have arisen organically. "Cool.com" smells of a media conglomerate trying to create a web spinoff.

He provides a rough list of the sort of names to look for, in rough order:

  • Cool words that refer to what the company does, ala Writely.
  • Just plain cool words. Del.icio.us.
  • Mediocre but not actively repulsive, because if you make something good, its name will start to seem pleasing. He gives Reddit as an example because you can say, "I read it on reddit."
  • Can be used as a verb. Textpayme being a good example.

He likes Infogami, from which the article comes, but does not like Wufoo (although he likes the idea and the founders, just not the name). Since both of these seem to fit the "just plain cool words" rule, there's obviously room for personal interpretation.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

How to Save the World

How to Save the World: Ten Reasons Young People Are Afraid to Start Their Own Business

This article gets a link because it's from a source I'd never seen before speaking about entrepreneurship. The Natural Enterprise concept is a bit of a new spin beyond all the typical Web2.0 hype that I tend to see in my regular readings, which lean mostly toward "software startup".

I am disappointed, though, that "Can't take the risk" or something similar is not on there. The closest is "Couldn't handle the failure" but the logic is "I'd be crushed, and feel like a failure in life." Eh? I never really thought of it like that at all. I tend to think, "If I do this, and fail, then I will have a problem paying the bills and might lose the house." I care about the mortgage lots more than I care about whether my idea didn't fly in the business world.

My biggest anti-motivator is thinking myself out of the idea, rather than not having ideas. I've done it again, just last night. I've had an idea rolling around in my head for months now about a software product that doesn't exist. I've found a market, and I've laid out the design and the basic features in my head. Gotten my research together for how it will all work. Then last night I thought of a feature that I think would be crucial, and my design does not support it. So I'm on the verge of throwing the whole idea away unless I can figure out how to reconcile the situation. :-/

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Zooomr : Flickr on Steroids

I go back and forth between loving and hating stories like this one about Kristopher Tate. Kristopher has built "Flickr on Steroids", according to Mike Arrington.
That's cool. That's exactly what the Web2.0 world is all about. Take ideas, mash them up, make them better. (I don't love that it has three o's in the name because I will always forget and write only 2, but perhaps there was a good reason for that.)o

Kris is also 17, and only worked on the project part time, for 3 months.

Dang, that makes me feel so old and lazy I can't see straight. :-/ Here's where I use the "he's 17" excuse to say "Ah, yes - he doesn't have 2 kids that take up all of his time, energy and attention! That must be it!"

Ahhhhhh, now I feel better.


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Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Five Buck Idea

Random Noise Blog brings us the Five Buck Idea which reads like a garage startup howto guide.

Don’t have a business plan. Don’t figure out how to make money. Don’t care about your competitors. Just give your users the simplest, purest, uncut, and unfiltered version of your five buck idea. And give it to them now. You want users. You want a community. You want to make it hard for people to not use it. This will not happen overnight.

The post is much, much longer. And definitely worth reading. It takes the firm "idea/technology over business" approach, which probably flies in the face of somebody like a Guy Kawasaki, but hey, whatever works. There seem to be two widely different schools of thought:

1) Got an idea? Make a business plan. Shop it around to get financing, and then you're in business.

2) Got an idea? Build something. Then keep making it better until you get noticed. The money will come.

Obviously #1 is not a bad system, as it's pretty much how things were done up until, oh, 2003 or so. #2 is pretty recent, except for a few exceptions. Even most of the dotcoms were really little more than shell companies shopping around their business plans with no real product, hoping to land some bigtime VC money.

The downside to #1 is you have to put lots of research time up front to be taken seriously. Who are your competitors? How much money can you expect to make, and when? I find those two incredibly hard questions to ask of a software feature where you might not even know what it does until you build the stupid thing. There's no freedom of creativity in this plan, you can't get a brainstorm halfway through and try new things. Well, you can, as long as you do those in addition to what you promise the investors you'd do.

The downside to #2, though, is that you never know if the money will come. Every day you'll face that "How much work should I put into this before I expect it to make me a profit?" question. "Profit" means different things, though -- sometimes the experience is a big deal. And the writer of the Five Buck Idea even says not to discount the fact that you'll have left your mark on the Internet landscape.

I think I like #2 better, because it's actually more conservative. It doesn't cost you as much. If people don't use your idea, fine, it's a $5 idea. Chuck it and wait for the next one to come. With #1 it's almost like you're betting the farm on your ability to predict your own success. If an investor comes along and gives you money based on your belief that you can make a million dollars in 10 years, then I dunno about you, but that would sure be hanging over my head every waking moment.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

What's Your EQ (entrepreneurial quotient)?

Bona tempora volvantur--by Guy Kawasaki: What's Your EQ (entrepreneurial quotient)?:

Guy Kawasaki has an "entrpreneurial quotient" test up. I love taking stuff like this, if for nothing else than the time killer. I'm pleased that I got a "70-89%" which I guess makes me average or maybe a little better? Still, there's a huge gap between knowing the correct answers and being willing to step off the cliff and take the risk!

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

How to Motivate Yourself Right Out of the Game

Whenever I go to the supermarket, I swing by the magazine rack and check out Home Office Magazine and Entrepreneur and others. "Research," I tell myself, picking them up when they look like something might be of interest. Every morning and every night I read my RSS feeds. I'd say a good 25% of them are all about entrepreneurship, startup companies, running a business, and generally advice and motivation.

I also have to kids, another on the way, and maybe if I'm lucky I have about 10 hours a week to myself where I could actually turn my ideas into products. Every minute I spend reading is a minute spent not producing anything.

There's a time to do research, and there's a time to admit that all you're really doing is stalling because you don't want to tackle the hard stuff.

Even by writing this post, all I'm really doing is stalling. What is it they say, the first step is admitting the problem? :) Maybe the next time you see me I'll have a prototype working.

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Simon Willison's A (Re)-Introduction to JavaScript slideshow on Flickr

I really need to get back into the Javascript game. It's where all the cool development is happening now as people begin to push more for higher quality client-side interface development. It's actually in a funny spot right now that gives you a clue about how the market works -- if you advertise for a programmer and say that you want somebody with Javascript experience, the software engineers will think "Eh, probably all GUI front end webmastery stuff. Not for me." But if you advertise for someone with Ajax experience, then all the bleeding edge web2.0 geek wannabes will come out of the woodwork. (Don't get me wrong -- I want to be one of those web2.0 bleeding edge geeks, too. I'm just observing that if I saw a job offer that focused Javascript experience required I'd probably pass right by it.)

Simon Willison's A (Re)-Introduction to JavaScript slideshow on Flickr

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Alan Kay lecture

Alan Kay is one of the demigods of computer science (and the "demi" is debatable). I won't even begin to iterate over his accomplishments - go check out Wikipedia for more. One of the best things about listening to the man speak is that he works at such a different level than all the trivialities we deal in every day. He's one of the ones that's interested in changing the world with ideas, and not necessarily fighting about whether it has the right name, or who got the right credit for it. The $100 laptop from MIT is big right now, and this guy basically had the plan for it 50 years ago.

So whenever I find an Alan Kay lecture, I'm linking to it. Stop reading me and go read it.

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The Future Of Web Apps Podcasts

I'm very happy to have found Ajaxian, which in turn pointed me to Carson Workshops and their Future of Web Apps summit. You can download good sized (40minutes on average) talks by some of the big players in the Web2.0 space, including Flickr, Google, Yahoo, Mint, Delicious, and 37 Signals.

They say the links are to podcasts but I only find individual MP3s, which is a bit of a pain - I'd rather subscribe once, preferably with one-click, then go to 20 links and do "Right click, save as" then go to iTunes and have to import them and identify them as podcasts so they show up in my smart playlist.

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