Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Code Monkey

Having met up with other Kellogg students over the summer, I have decided that I definitively have had a very atypical summer. I guess that was a given after deciding not to do a standard MBA summer internship. But I am very happy with my summer and am excited with how things are going. Let me give you a breakdown of my typical day:

10-11am: Wake up at 10-11am and eat some breakfast in my boxers.
12pm: Check my email and look at where I left off coding from yesterday (still in my boxers). Figure out what I am going to do today.
1pm: Make some lunch and watch SportsCenter (boxers).
2pm: Head over to Cafe Ambrosia (no longer in boxers...but usually in a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals). Order a medium iced mocha. Plop down and start my daily code marathon. I prefer to sit facing the window, which gives my eyes something to look at while I figure out how I want to code something.
9pm: Cafe Ambrosia closes. Pick up some take out and head back to apartment.
10pm: Watch something recorded on my DVR (Man vs. Wild has been my recent obsession).
12am: Return to code monkey state.
4-5am: Get tired. Read a chapter from a book (currently reading Founders at Work). Sleep.

Rinse and repeat.

Mix in some meetings, gym time, and errands, and that's pretty much been my life every day this summer, including weekends. I definitely don't think it is the life for everyone. But I wake up every morning pretty excited to get something done. I have little idea how things will turn out, but I am optimistic there is an opportunity. I also am pretty damn scared. Every morning, one of the first thoughts in my head is, "Crap! I only have x weeks of summer left! I need to have something to show or else people will think I just sat on my ass all summer." Of course I have pretty much sat on my ass all summer, but I was coding at the same time.

Nerd Alert below...do not cross unless a geek.

During the first part of the summer, I focused on learning Ruby on Rails, which is a new web development language created by the guys at 37signals in Chicago. It is probably the best web development language I have used...from the developer's perspective. I now know why people love using it. But the biggest concern for me is scaling. I have done a lot of research on scaling systems that were built on Rails, and people have made a lot of progress with it. Obviously the guys at Twitter have been able to work around its limitations, but not before they hit their own well-published obstacles. I choose to use Rails because I needed a rapid development environment. The initial version of the site is a proof of concept that hopefully will gain traction. If scaling becomes an issue, then that is a problem I'd rather have than a ghost town of a website. Nonetheless, I am keeping the issue in the back of my mind and will definitely be watching for bottlenecks after rollout.

To get to know Rails a little better, I actually began my summer coding a project website, BSchoolCool (http://www.bschoolcool.com). Nothing fancy, but just a way to test out what Rails could and could not do. I am going to soon post the source code for the website on SourceForge and hopefully have others help build out features for it. I guess the end goal will be to create an open-source version of eVite that any organization could use. Thus I will make my second contribution to the open source community...the first being the initial version of ShuttleTrack (http://shuttletrack.mit.edu), which was a low-cost system I developed to track vehicles over the web. Definitely not the prettiest website, but it worked (at least when the drivers didn't tamper with the CPDP modems so that people didn't know they were actually making a 10-minute pit stop at Dunkin' Donuts). It ended up being fairly successful, where a large percentage of the MIT student body used it and relied on it to let them know if and when the shuttle would arrive at their stop. It was written about in several publications like CNET. The lesson I learned from that project was that you have to solve a need to make any technology successful. Pretty obvious, but there are so many projects out there which are just about being technically cool; but with those projects, the user potential is pretty much limited to other tech geeks (i.e. very small).

Anyhow, I'd like to end this post saying that the tech community is very cool. That's not to say it is not geeky, but more that it is geek chic. Haha...if that term has any validity. The community is a microcosm of the greater capitalistic economy and society. You have your open-source developers who you can liken to people that like to bake for others. They do it for free because it's hobby. Then you have the mom-and-pop bakeries that try to make do (early start ups), the franchised stores that try to appear like mom-and-pop-bakeries like Panera and Cosi (Facebook), and the mega food companies like Nabisco (Microsoft and IBM).

Yet it is a bizzaro microcosm because the winds change so fast and the small guys can have a huge impact on the big guys. A company like Google is what Microsoft was 10 years ago, which is what IBM was 20 years ago. Facebook is looking like the next Google. It is where Google was 5 years go. If you think back 5 years to 2002, Google was at a crossroads. It was well known among the tech community, but still a relative unknown among mainstream America. Google was projected to pass Yahoo! as the #1 search engine soon, but search engines such as AltaVista and Teoma were big looming threats. It was pre-IPO and many questioned whether or not Google had a sustainable business model. But that same year, Google launched its PPC (pay per click) advertising model and signed an agreement with Yahoo! to serve as its primary search engine. Facebook is closing in on MySpace as the #1 social network, is pre-IPO, and most analysts question if Facebook can generate a sustainable business model. I believe the people behind Facebook are smart enough to figure out how to make Facebook a successful public company. But the only question in my mind is how successful. IBM, Microsoft, and Google all serviced a basic computing need: IBM (hardware), Microsoft (operating system), Google (information retrieval). Facebook is in a different situation where at its core, it is not solving a computing need, but a social need. We are all getting busier and busier. Our family and friends are scattered around the country and around the world. How are going to have the time to stay in touch with everyone? Facebook aims to simplify all your social interactions and responsibilities. Why call your friends to know what they are doing? You can just read their News Feed. You don't need to join a gossip circle to know who is dating whom. I am certain Facebook will soon add an IM component, as that is the big missing piece in their website. Thus, my question is actually, "Is there a big enough social need?" Or is this something people just grow out of?

Friday, July 27, 2007

More Da Vinci craziness

So this doesn't really have to do with entrepreneurship, but I was reading the news and came across the below story.


New "Last Supper" theory crashes Leonardo Web sites
Fri Jul 27, 2007 1:58PM EDT

MILAN (Reuters) - A new theory that Leonardo's "Last Supper" might hide within it a depiction of Christ blessing the bread and wine has triggered so much interest that Web sites connected to the picture have crashed.

The famous fresco is already the focus of mythical speculation after author Dan Brown based his "The Da Vinci Code" book around the painting, arguing in the novel that Jesus married his follower, Mary Magdelene, and fathered a child.

Now Slavisa Pesci, an information technologist and amateur scholar, says superimposing the "Last Supper" with its mirror-image throws up another picture containing a figure who looks like a Templar knight and another holding a small baby.

"I came across it by accident, from some of the details you can infer that we are not talking about chance but about a precise calculation," Pesci told journalists when he unveiled the theory earlier this week.

Websites www.leonardodavinci.tv, www.codicedavinci.tv, www.cenacolo.biz and www.leonardo2007.com had 15 million hits on Thursday morning alone, organizers said, adding they were trying to provide a more powerful server for the sites.

In the superimposed version, a figure on Christ's left appears to be cradling a baby in its arms, Pesci said, but he made no suggestion this could be Christ's child.

Judas, whose imminent betrayal of Christ is the force breaking the right-hand line of the original fresco, appears in an empty space on the left in the reverse image version.

And Pesci also suggests that the superimposed version shows a goblet before Christ and illustrates when Christ blessed bread and wine at a supper with his disciples for the first Eucharist.

The original Da Vinci depicts Christ when he predicts that one among them will betray him.

Since all the linked sites were down, I decided to try and make these mirrored images myself. I used a few versions of The Last Supper that I could find using Google Image Search. They all showed pretty much the same patterns with different levels of clarity. Below is the one I think came out the best. The original image is here, which is from a website titled The Truth Decoded. Kind of ironic that I am using their hosted picture, as the website's mission is to arm Catholics with information to dissuade believers in any theories presented in The Da Vinci Code. Anyhow. the top picture is the original image and below it is the overlayed mirror image. Now the real question is...is there something really there?

Click for a larger image

I thought I'd add a little help for those of you who are looking for the images described in the article.

1. goblet
2. person cradling a baby
3. Templar knight

Click for a larger image

Thursday, July 5, 2007

We are the Fortunate...

A couple months ago, I came across an interesting website called Kiva (www.kiva.org). Kiva is an organization that allows anyone in the world to loan money to needy entrepreneurs in less developed areas around the world. As a striving entrepreneur, I felt Kiva's mission definitely struck a chord with me. Furthermore, I really respect that Kiva is trying to use capitalism (albeit in a roundabout way) to stimulate growth. Money given to Kiva is not a donation. It is loaned money that most likely would be repaid. Using the revolutionary microfinance model, for which Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Prize, Kiva enables microloans to these entrepreneurs that they are obligated to repay. Even better than that, Kiva uses the power of the web to connect all these people!

It is pretty amazing what growing up in a certain situation affords people in terms of opportunities. In the US, we take for granted how readily available money is. We could be knee-deep in credit card debt and most likely still be able to convince yet another credit card company to give us a new card. Then I think about what it would take to get someone to loan me the money to start a company in an underdeveloped country, and it becomes virtually impossible.

Today I returned to Kiva's website just to check it out again. I was obviously skeptical about where my money would actually go, if I were to loan it, so I did some research. Although I couldn't fly out to places like Cambodia and Azerbaijan, Nicholas Kristof with the New York Times did just that and reported back (http://video.on.nytimes.com/?fr_story=FEEDROOM186917).

I decided that I would loan a small amount ($25) and see where it goes. In retrospect, the path I chose in picking which entrepreneur to support was pretty ridiculous. I like to eat, so I filtered the list of entrepreneurs to those who are trying to grow a food-related enterprise. Then I clicked through about 20 of their profiles and picked the one that had the most amusing picture. This is who I decided on:

Jeoffery Ogbvo who runs Jeoffery's Provision Store in Asaba, Nigeria.

"I have a business that is presently worth about US$ 1500 (Nigerian Naira 200, 000)," says Mr. Jeoffery Ogbvo, "and I hope to expand my inventory with a Kiva loan." Jeoffery is 53 years old and father of six children. He is requesting a loan of $625.
(Click on the picture or here for more information or to loan to Jeoffery.)

I really liked Jeoffery's picture for some reason. I can't tell if he is confused, frightened, or pissed off. For some reason his expression makes me chuckle and thus we became friends...business friends. I also liked the fact that his store was named a provision store. It sounds old school. I think one of the most absurd things I did was to Google for "Jeoffrey's Provision Store Asaba Nigeria" in hopes of determining some legitimacy of his enterprise. 0 hits.

Well I encourage you all to take a look at Kiva and make a microloan. I even more strongly encourage you to support my friend, Jeoffery. Do your own research and hopefully you'll come to the same conclusion as me.