Time for a change

Well, I am now in the closing hours of my last day of work at my current job. It’s been a challenging role and I have learnt a huge amount about the finance industry.

Looking forward to the future fills me with a huge amount of excitement mixed with a little bit of nervousness. It’s not every day you give up a well paying job, pack up your life and move country. I have no doubt that the next year will be full of challenges, but I am really looking forward to it all. I can’t wait to build my business into New Zealands best shopping comparison site.

But first, before anything else, I think it’s time for a holiday!

Amazons DRM free MP3s

A couple of nights ago I finally found some time to check out Amazon’s new MP3 service and so far I’m pretty impressed.


My interest in the Amazon MP3 service was piqued when I discovered all their tracks are DRM free (unlike some other crippled offerings). The songs are encoded at 256 kbps which is a pretty respectable bit rate.

Linux support!

I got even more excited when I went to the getting started page and in the “Buy and Download” section they mention they have a Linux version of their Amazon MP3 Downloader application. And they haven’t gone for some budget “one size fits all” Linux solution, but they have binaries for most of the major distros.

It’s really encouraging to see this sort of first class support for Linux by companies like Amazon.

What if I’m running 64 bit linux?

If like me you are running the amd64 build of your distro you will need to convince Amazons MP3 Downloader to run against 32 bit libraries. If you use Ubuntu then I suggest the excellent getlibs tool for installing your 32 bit dependencies. After you’ve downloaded the Ubuntu deb file, install it using:

sudo dpkg -i –force-all amazon*.deb

Then install the 32 bit dependencies with getlibs:

getlibs /usr/bin/amazonmp3

It’s dangerously easy to use

Amazon certainly seem to have a great range of music on offer. To test things out I purchased

var country_code = geoip_country_code();if (country_code != “GB”){ document.getElementById(‘ukShaka’).style.display = ‘none’;}else{document.getElementById(‘usShaka’).style.display = ‘none’;} by Kruder & Dorfmeister using 1-click. The 3 track EP cost me £2.37, you can get full albums for around £6-7 (or $9-11 US). The Amazon MP3 Downloader is a simple but effective app downloading Shakatakadoodub to my machine in a matter of seconds. From there it was a simple job to import into Banshee. One mouse click was all it took to purchase and download a DRM free EP!

I’m a happy camper

Overall I’m really impressed with this offering and can’t understand why it hasn’t had more press. It amazes me that people stick with crippled solutions like the iTunes store when you have a DRM free alternative like this available. I know where I’ll be buy my music from now…

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We’re typists first… really?

I read Coding Horror on a semi regular basis, and generally Jeff has a pretty engaging writing style and his posts are fairly interesting. I was really surprised when I read this one though.

Jeff ascertains that “We are typists first, and programmers second”.

Well, I vehemently disagree. While typing ability is obviously important in the job and a necessary skill, saying that we are typists first places very little value on the technical skills required of programmers to do their job well (not to mention the years at university most of us have spent earning our Computer Science degrees, Masters and in some cases PhD’s!).

Personally I don’t even like the label “Programmer”. I feel it undervalues the skills I have. Software Engineer is far more accurate description of the job most of us do. Writing a non-trivial application these days requires an understanding of many challenging concepts.

Todays Software Engineers need to consider concurrency issues, network theory, efficient persistence mechanisms, efficient search algorithms (the volume of data we are dealing with is growing exponentially), but to name a few.

Let’s not sell ourselves short by calling ourselves programmers.

Returning to Jeffs’ typists first allegation though, one comment on his post summed it up nicely for me:

I’ve always really liked your blog Jeff, but this is a BS post


The Big Bang Theory, the best thing on TV right now?

If you haven’t yet seen The Big Bang Theory you should make an effort to rectify the situation immediately. It really is an excellent show based around intelligent witty humor rather than cheap laughs and tremendously funny.

The story focuses around two ubergeeks, Leonard and Sheldon and how their life changes when they meet Penny their new “normal” (and very pretty) neighbor. I love the fact that the show celebrates the geeky, ultra intelligent side of their characters and although most of the laughs come from their lack of ability to deal with normal every day social situations, the writers do it in such a way that is funny without making Leonard and Sheldon the butt of every joke.

The Big Bang Theory manages to mix in enough scientific content and references to keep us geeks happy while still being incredibly watchable and entertaining for those with less of a penchant for things science.

Check out a few snippets from the first show of season one:

If you haven’t seen season one it’s already out on DVD, grab your copy now, you won’t be disappointed!

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Why new website startups fail?

I’ve been under an enormous amount of self induced stress lately due to the fact that my startup business still isn’t online. This is due to a number of contributing factors of course, but it got me thinking about some of the reasons why it’s taken so long.

Manage Scope: Trying to do to much too soon

It would be my guess that a large number of failed business (particularly online ventures) are guilty of this one. If nothing else this experience has taught me that you need ensure your initial offering constitutes a realistic amount of work. You can then build on that by making small incremental improvements adding features and new offerings to your business over time with much less effort than trying to do it all in one go.

By all means, have a grand all encompassing vision, in fact I’d almost consider this a prerequisite, but break it down into realistic bite size deliverables. To make a software analogy; you want to take a rapid iterative development approach rather than attempt a huge waterfall model project.

It doesn’t have to be perfect

There is always a tendency with geeks (myself included) to try and engineer the best, most flexible, and high performance solution first time round. Unfortunately this flies in the face of getting a new business off the ground. As a new start up you have limited time and money and you can’t afford to waste either trying to come up with the “ultimate solution”.

Any coder worth their salt is going to try and anticipate performance bottle necks and design and develop their software to avoid potential pitfalls. However you’ve got to keep your focus on the goal of delivery at all times and not get trapped in refining and improving your product without delivering. It doesn’t matter if you have the best website in the world if no-one can use it because it isn’t online yet!

Don’t forget the business

Project planning, it’s not fun and certainly not something most geeks enjoy. Unfortunately it is absolutely necessary to make your new business a success. You need to have a clear idea of what your deliverables and deadlines are, and what your outstanding tasks are at all times. There isn’t much point getting to the end of development, having built an outstanding best of breed product and suddenly realising you don’t have a company set up, bank accounts, tax registration, contracts, lawyers, accountants and all the other mundane things that are prerequisites to running a business.

Are you trying to get a tech startup off the ground? Do you have any advice for other would be entrepreneurs?

Starting your own business is hard

No one said it would be easy

Along the way you will encounter all sorts of barriers, obstacles and challenges and you are going to have to dig deep to find the drive to carry on.

So when your server blows up, someone you were planning to partner with vanishes of the face of the Internet without warning, a new competitor beats you market, you’re working ridiculous hours, and everything looks like it’s going pear shaped – remember why you are doing it.

Why are you doing it?

That is a really important question. Be honest with yourself before you start, if your only motivation is money then you probably going to struggle. There are all sorts of reasons people have for wanting to start their own business, change of lifestyle, want to prove they can, the desire to share a really good idea.

I’m still on the journey, but if all I had to pull me through was the desire to make a buck I’d probably have given up by now.

Still, I plan on making plenty of bucks!

Who wouldn’t want to be Iron Man?

Or more specifically Tony Stark, I mean come on – the guy has everything a geek could dream of!

I saw the movie last night and although the super hero story and the wow factor of the suit definitely captured my imagination, my slightly geekier side couldn’t help but be almost equally impressed by stuff that would have slipped into the background for most of the audience.

Take Tony’s bachelor pad for example, how cool is that bedroom? Wake up in the morning and as you step out of bed, your room senses that you’re getting up and throws up the news, weather, your daily calendar on transparent screens built into massive windows while simultaneously filling you in verbally on the really important stuff – that’s cool. In fact, I thought it was so cool I did a little research thinking maybe there’s a fun project there, but alas it seems that transparent display technology is still a few years away yet.

But wait, what about that workshop? It was rammed full of enough hi-tech toys to make any geek wet their pants. A robotic arm that you can give verbal commands to – awesome. A holographic 3d modelling tool – yikes!

The really neat thing is that some of this stuff really isn’t that far off at all. Of course we are going to be waiting a wee while before we have a fully integrated AI in our homes…

A fun weekend.

Well another work week has begun but I had quite a fun weekend so am OK about getting stuck back into it at work. On Friday night Bruce and I watched Alien and Aliens back to back. These are possibly two of the greatest Sci-fi movies ever made. We did Aliens 3 on Saturday night, but didn’t quite manage to complete the set. Well, I guess there’s always next weekend for the Resurrection!

On Sunday afternoon Anthea and I visited the London Zoo. Now I’m a firm believer that Zoo’s not only have their place but are absolutely essential to the continued existence of so many of the wonderful creatures on this planet. It was great to see the breding programmes are having a positive impact and are literally bring a number of the species that I saw back from the very edge of extinction. Hopefully one day those species will thrive in the wild again, but for that to happen their natural habitats must first be protected from deforestation and poaching. I took a few photos although I didn’t have time to look at any of them last night. I might post a couple here if any of them turned out OK.