Archive for December, 2008

Lucas does a crazy solo dance

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Alexandopoly

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

Alexandopoly

Not alone

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Robert Scoble has just written a really nice article about Fluidinfo, calling us both “world-changing” and “unfundable”. Funnily, Tim O’Reilly said something similar when I talked to him at OATV. He said something like: “This could take over the world” and in the very same sentence “but I don’t see how we could fund you.” The two things an entrepreneur most and least wants to hear, all in one sentence. I’ll never forget it.

A few people have mailed me to say that the Scoble videos create the incorrect impression that I’m building FluidDB alone. So I wanted to clear that up. Others who are actively involved in Fluidinfo are:


Esteve Fernandez is doing the most difficult coding. Esteve and I are the only two employees of the company. We even have modest salaries. We spend most of our time apart, writing code, swapping email. Once or twice a week we meet in person to talk about architecture, current problems, or for him to gently explain to me how I could have written my code more elegantly and usefully. I usually try to stay out of his way, as he’s a force of nature and I just slow him down. He left a solid and secure job that he liked in Barcelona and then said no to Google to join Fluidinfo.

Esther Dyson invested in Fluidinfo just over a year ago. Esther is an incredible investor to have involved for a company like Fluidinfo. I wont try to summarize, except to say that without her support we probably wouldn’t be here today. After a year of trying to find investors, I’m more keenly aware than ever of how extraordinary Esther is.

Russell Manley is the other company director. It was Russell who pointed Delicious out to me a few years ago and got me back onto working on this project after I’d put it aside for 6 years. Russell is a finance guy with a ton of experience in operations and running companies. He’s an investment director at Land Securities in London, and sits on over 30 boards. He’s also a close friend, incredibly smart, and widely read. I hope one day we’ll be able to get him into Fluidinfo, though that will take some doing.

Nicholas Radcliffe is an old friend and advisor. He’s the founder and CEO of Stochastic Solutions. He was also a founder, CTO, and then CEO of Quadstone, raising tens of millions of pounds along the way. Quadstone was acquired a couple of years ago. He’s into algorithmic approaches to targeted direct marketing, and he’s very successful. He has a Ph.D. in physics, so you don’t want to mess with Nick. He’s also an advisor to Scottish Equity Partners. Nick is my harshest and most unrelenting critic.

That’s it for now. There are probably a dozen others who are peripherally involved, but not on a day-to-day basis. I’m very happy to have just two people on payroll right now. We’re pretty much recession proof. I went through the 2000-2004 as CTO of Eatoni in New York, and we survived by cutting every possible cost and keeping our headcount as low as possible. So operating on a shoestring comes pretty naturally. I feel we’re strong and small like a hard nut, and not really exposed to the economic downturn. It’s a great time to be tiny and to be focussed on building a product.

It would of course be nice to be properly funded. But I’ve always been confident that’s just a matter of time. The main thing, perhaps the only thing, is to get an alpha version of FluidDB released so people can start building things on it.

Twittendipity: a chance interview with Robert Scoble

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

On Monday Tim O’Reilly posted a Twitter tweet suggesting to Robert Scoble that he contact me while in Barcelona.

First off, Tim is very generous in doing this. He’s ultra connected and he spends a significant amount of his time in Twitter pointing things out, connecting people, and re-tweeting stuff he finds interesting. Re-tweeting is really important because when you tweet you only reach the people who are already following you. But when someone re-tweets you, you reach new people who likely have no idea of your existence. And when Tim does the re-tweeting there can be a big impact. 24 hours after his message to Robert I had 50 new followers. Tim explicitly tries to help people doing things he finds interesting, but who have just a small number of Twitter followers. He filters and amplifies information, broadcasting it out to his 16,000+ followers. Robert was in a hotel about 10 minutes’ walk from my place and I had no idea. A mutual friend in California noticed and took a minute to connect us. That’s really something, and it perfectly illustrates some of the value of Twitter.

I met Robert yesterday afternoon and we spent 6 hours together. It was great. You can see at once why he’s been so successful: he’s smart, he’s thoughtful, he’s sympathetic, and he’s a careful listener. I had no idea what to expect, and seeing as what we’re building can take some time to sink in, I wondered what sort of an audience he’d be.

After we’d climbed around up in the Sagrada Familia (official site, wikipedia), Robert came back to my place to see a demo of the things I’d been describing. We sat down and he pulled out his cell phone and asked if he could film me. I didn’t really think about it and said of course. It didn’t dawn on me that we were doing an informal interview, and I was totally unprepared – which is probably a good thing.

In the end we filmed 4 segments: parts one, two, three, and four. There’s also been some discussion here on Robert’s FriendFeed page.

So if you’ve been wondering what we’re building in here, go watch the videos.

I had no idea all this was about to come down. The Fluidinfo web site (a generous word) was a single page with no contact information, no nuthin’. We simply haven’t needed a web site of any description yet. I went and added a box so you can sign up to receive news of the alpha launch.

And then there was this, posted on Twitter, and which I have absolutely no shame in reproducing (this is a blog, after all):

Wow, what @terrycojones showed me last night (a new kind of database that he’s been workng on for 11 years) blew me away. Uploading vids now

Now I have to put my head back down with Esteve to get the alpha out the door ASAP.

Airports to install giant security mood rings

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

In March 2004 I was in a silly mood (yes, a euphemism) and dreamed up the idea of airports installing giant mood rings as security devices. Prospective passengers would be made to walk through the mood ring. If it showed a happy and peaceful color, you could get on the flight. You could carry a gun or even a bomb, no problem. But if the mood ring indicated anger, you’d be denied entry or forced to fly in a special Angry Class. In Angry Class the service is shit. The airline knows the passengers are angry before they get on the plane, so why bother?

I started to write the news:

Today the US Department of Homeland Security announced that the US is insisting that countries install the new Passenger Mood Assessment Security Screening (PMASS) in all airports with direct or connecting flights to the US. The system, developed by Kellogg Brown & Root (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Halliburton, an oil-services company), is based on techniques borrowed from functional magnetic resonance imaging and, most controversially, the mood ring industry.

Ashcroft, Bush and Rumsfeld flanked Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge today as he announced the new measures. "People have no right to turn up at the airport with a bad attitude."

Halliburton wins a no-bid contract, shortly after moving to buy up all known mood ring manufacturers, mystifying investors (stock falls sharply, then rises sharply on news of contract). To fly people to the US, other countries are forced install giant mood rings and to hand over the mood data of all embarking passengers to US authorities.

You get the picture. I sent an outline of this to the folks at The Onion, but never heard back.

It’s a joke, of course. Couldn’t possibly happen. Right? Think again.

Serverpronto (Infolink) is a RIPOFF

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

I signed up for a dedicated server from Serverpronto in late 2006. At $30/month for a real Linux box the price seemed great. I recommended them to a friend who also signed up.

On July 29, 2007 we noticed that both our machines had been hacked into. We’re both very security conscious and we didn’t know how this had happened. Both machines had been broken into in the same way, from the same IP address, leaving behind the same evidence. It was pretty clearly a root kit.

I immediately contacted Serverpronto and asked for help. They offered to do a full system restore for $69 and were otherwise completely passive. I suggested that they might want to take a bit more interest as perhaps their other clients had also been hacked. After a couple of mails I got an email saying that they would make their best effort. But it was too late and I replied asking them to cancel service.

From terry Mon Jul 30 02:32:59 +0200 2007
Message-ID: <18093.12731.650708.403211@terry-jones-computer.local>
Date: Mon, 30 Jul 2007 02:32:59 +0200
From: Terry Jones <terry@XXX.es>
To: "SP1443" <support@serverpronto.com>
Subject: Re: [WYL-89853]: Machines broken into?
In-Reply-To: Your message at 18:34:08 on Sunday, 29 July 2007
References: <jlypcw.k87@serverpronto.infolink.com>

Thanks, but no. I would simply like to cancel service. What more
do I need to do?

Terry

====== Please reply above this line ======
Machines broken into?

Mr. Jones. I will transfer to the abuse team, and the Customer
Service your issue.

We will find the best solution.

They replied:

From support@serverpronto.com  Tue Jul 31 00:00:10 2007
Message-ID: <jlzkyj.p6l@serverpronto.infolink.com>
From: "SP1422" <upport@serverpronto.com>
Subject: [WYL-89853]: Machines broken into?
Date: Mon, 30 Jul 07 05:56:43 -0400
To: terry@jon.es

Machines broken into?

69.60.109.173 has been taken offline.
ServerPronto Support

Ticket Details
=========
Ticket ID: WYL-89853
Tracking URL: https://serverpronto.infolink.com/esupport/index.php?_a=tickets&_m=viewmain&emailre=terry@jon.es&ticketkeyre=dee55eec&_i=WYL-89853
Department: Technical Support
Created On: 29 Jul 2007 07:57 AM
Last Update: 29 Jul 2007 05:34 PM
Status: Closed

That’s it, right? End of story.

Unfortunately not. First of all, my friend could not get Serverpronto to stop billing after he also canceled his contract. They just kept billing. After many phone calls and emails, they eventually had to get rid of Serverpronto via getting the credit card company to refuse all charges.

I thought I had gotten off their books. But I got a phone call from Deutsche Bank a couple of months ago telling me that a company called Serverpronto was trying repeatedly to charge my now-expired credit card. I was completely surprised and told them that I had nothing to do with Serverpronto and that I had canceled service with them. I had been receiving mail from Serverpronto telling me that my credit card expiry date was coming up. I mailed them to tell them there was a mistake and that I was no longer a customer, and they promised to look into it.

And now, today, I get a statement from my bank showing that they have approved two charges for a total of $356.30 from Serverpronto!!!! That means those evil assholes have somehow called Deutsche Bank and managed to charge me for a whole year of costs on an account that was closed, for a server that was not up, and on a credit card that had expired.

I am assured by my friend that I will never see a cent of that money again.

Deutsche Bank are about to hear from me.

DON’T USE SERVERPRONTO.

Go search Google for things like Serverpronto billing cancel ripoff. You’ll get tons of hits. I should have done more homework before I signed up. They actually had good support. But the people running the billing department deserve a slow painful death. This is obviously a deliberate policy designed to extract the maximum out of their trying-to-depart customers.

To whom do I complain?

Amazon SimpleDB a complete flop?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Today Amazon slashed the price on storage in SimpleDB from $1.50 per Gb per month to just $0.25 per Gb per month.

Note that you can buy a 1TB hard drive these days for $75. That’s 7.5 cents per Gb for as long as the drive lasts. So Amazon were charging 200 times the price of retail hard disk storage per month. Yes, the AWS storage is replicated, and you don’t need a data center or employees, but a 200X markup (per month) seemed a bit excessive. Until last night, that $1.50 figure was the first price in the pricing section of the SimpleDB page – not a smart move (sticker shock). The storage price is now the last thing in the pricing section.

I spend a bunch of time talking to folks working at other startups. I hear about EC2 and S3 usage all the time, but I’ve never heard of anyone using SimpleDB. I hadn’t really thought about it too much. I had noticed that the price for storage in SimpleDB is (was) 10 times higher than for storage in S3, and thought that created an opportunity for Fluidinfo. But that huge difference is now gone – in fact SimpleDB is now free for everyone for the first 6 months following the public beta.

I found myself asking “What’s going on?” It’s not like Amazon to suddenly offer their services for free. The free offer coming with the service entering beta seemed pretty thin. If anything it should get more expensive, or stay the same, not suddenly transition to free.

Then I began to explicitly wonder just how many people are actually using SimpleDB. So I just ran some sample Google queries to get an idea. The results are amazing:

Query # Hits
“using amazon simpleDB” 68
“using simpleDB” 1010
“simpleDB sucks” 3
“love simpleDB” 1
“hate simpleDB” 0
“recommend simpleDB” 0
“we are using simpleDB” 0
“we are using amazon simpleDB” 0
“we use amazon simpleDB” 1
“we use simpleDB” 4

Note that all queries are entered into Google in quotes.

Given just these results, and knowledge that SimpleDB was launched a year ago, I think you’d have to conclude that SimpleDB is a complete flop. Either that or Google is playing evil tricks due to their own appEngine offering. That would seem unlikely. Plus, the numbers for the obviously popular S3 and EC2 are much much higher: If you try these queries with S3 or EC2 instead of SimpleDB, you’ll see 5K, 10K, 15K results.

I find the above numbers astounding. I’m deadly curious to know what’s going on here. Was SimpleDB just too expensive to consider using? Is its model too awkward? If it sucked, people would say so. But there’s virtually nothing out there. It’s as though developers took one look and completely ignored it. That would be my guess (in fact it’s what I did, so I’m probably biased in my explanation of what others may have done).

At least we can say that more people love SimpleDB than hate it :-)

It’s not my intention to bash Amazon or AWS. I love and use S3 and EC2 every single day. They’ve changed the world, and this is only the beginning. But I have no use at all for SimpleDB. I’d always assumed it was a big success too, but it looks like that may be wrong.

Comments very welcome. Do you know anyone using SimpleDB?