part three of the ever-exciting adventure

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Open source = fast moving

Google’s Chris di Bona on why they use open source throughout the company, and not just in their development stack:

It’s all about flexibility for us. The terrific thing about open-source software is that we don’t have to ask anyone’s permission before we make changes to our operating systems. We don’t have to ask anyone’s permission before we make changes to our databases. We don’t have to pay any per-client licence fees for these things. This is really important, not just from a cost savings point of view, but from a flexibility and speed point of view.

So the lesson? Open Source may be cheaper than proprietary alternatives, but having the freedom to do what you want when you want with your software is more important than saving a few bucks.


Lecture Notes

Brought to my attention by a reference in a ZDNet article I was reading this weekend was an event Oxford’s Saïd Business School hosted on Monday, curiously titled event called Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford. Chaired by the FT’s Enterprise Editor Jonathan Guthrie, the event gathered together a varied group of Valley experts to look at how innovation and entrepreneurship can be better fostered in the tech sector.

The article linked to a webcast of the evening panel session which featured a number of luminaries including Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, Matt Cohler from Facebook, Chris Sacca from Google and Allen Morgan from Mayfield. This is well worth a look for anyone interested in building Internet technologies, businesses or both.

Some interesting business-y points that came up:

  • As Matt Cohler pointed out, HE institutions need to find a compromise between pure theoretical research favoured at for instance Yale and Oxford and the more applied approach taken by Stanford (and drawing similarities myself, Warwick) in order to give people the right skills they’ll need as entrepreneurs.
  • Anecdotal evidence presented by the panel suggested that this year’s students have a lot more confidence and entrepreneurial energy than in previous years, but turning their ideas into a reality may be challenging. Most of the time it comes down to having the right contacts, which in turn relies on having the kind of culture that encourages that.
  • VC isn’t dead, but there’s a lot of “scar tissue” around, according to Morgan. People are still investing in start-ups, but they need to have a solid model behind them. Encouraging stuff, given that Alfresco is one of the companies that Mayfield have funded in the last year.
  • Guthrie came up with some interesting comparisons between the technology sector over the last ten years and investment in the railways and canal infrastructure in Britain in the 17-1800’s. Unlike the canals, the railways at least lasted longer than fifty years, but in both people lost a lot of money that they’d poured into flawed and ill-conceived projects in both. Sound familiar?
  • The failure of a business can be a positive thing in some cases, if you can spot when it’s going wrong before it’s too late.

And on technology:

  • Everyone talked of how social networks are increasingly important on the web and will become even more significant over the next few years. Most communities are based on users gaining some form of notoriety or reputation for themselves, such as on LinkedIn and MySpace. The best way to build a community is by giving it’s members something in return , i.e. there must be some form of self-interest.
  • Matt Cohler talked about how monetising a community online requires you to focus on a particular demographic, but while still making that target group as big as possible. Maximising value requires that you find the right balance between the generality and specificity of a service.
  • Chris Sacca looked at how users can be divided by either their generation or their age group and the distinction between the two. Services can be designed across these divides, and Google Talk was given as an example.
  • There was agreement that we’re still in the early days of the web and we need to develop more advanced systems of authentication and accountability in order to build trust between people. Morgan summed this up well when he said that “Anonymity doesn’t always bring out the best in people”.
  • As ZDNet discussed in their analysis, Sacca referred to the “gated communities” that currently exist on today’s wireless and mobile networks, comparing this with the net neutrality issue in the US. There was general speculation (mostly gloomy) on what will happen to the providers once IP finally becomes ubiquitous on mobile devices, with lots of analogies contributed about dams coming down and various techies in Silicon Valley trying to work out how to take them down faster.

Update: There’s also a webcast of the lunchtime panel sessoin available here.

One hundred per cent

It’s official: After years of dithering, Sun is releasing Java SE and Java ME under the GPLv2. Not their own CDDL, not the MPL, but the GNU General Public License itself with all of it’s copyleft provisions. ZDNet UK have a good initial article on their move, which as they point out in particularly interesting in light of Novell’s recent pact with the devil.

Which means that in addition to being 100% open source itself, Alfresco can now run on a completely open source stack: Linux, Java and your open source RMDBS of choice. Hopefully this will make the whole process of installing on Linux a lot easier and will open a lot more doors, particularly in the public sector where increasingly using open source and open standards is a requirement. Today is a good day.

Dear First Great Western

Thank you for taking the time to install four new shiny ticket machines at Ealing Broadway main line station last week. I had thought that you didn’t give two hoots about the plight of the unfortunate souls who like me have to queue up every morning at the single working machine in order to buy a ticket to get them to work – but although you never answered the nice letter I sent you on the topic back in August you obviously were listening after all.

Unfortunately, I missed the chaos that I imagine must have ensued whilst these works being carried out but I’m sure you will be glad that I did however witness the full-blown horror of humanity’s at best awkward interaction with touch-screen technology as I tried to get in to work this morning. No doubt you will be pleased to hear that that single long queue of people at the only working machine had gone, replaced instead by four huge queues going out the door, one from each machine. It really was fun watching the whole situation unfold in front of me as I stood in the fifth queue to buy my ticket off a real human being.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll try out this new-fangled technology myself. I’m not sure whether being stuck behind someone struggling to deal with the intricacies of Chip and PIN will be more or less fun than having someone who can’t understand why machine that won’t accept their twenty pound note in payment for a ticket costing less than ten pounds when it states quite clearly on the front of it that it doesn’t give more than ten pounds in change in front of you, but I look forward to finding out.

Don’t worry about writing back – it’s fine.

Warm regards,


Nice weather for ducks

Tate Modern, looking towards the slides

Things that have been good this weekend:

  • The slides! Although slightly short-lived. Next time we’ll book.
  • Sorting through paperwork and other random stuff from the last four years of my life
  • Wandering around Greenwich in the rain, and taking shelter in a small cafe called Pistachios, which turned out to be more gay than gay-friendly 🙂
  • And miscelleneous things: Chicken jalfrezi, Sunday lunch, white wine, Cointreau over ice and the O.C.

And generally being in London.

It’s like 1930


They had carrier bags in 1930, right?

Highlights of this weekend’s activities in Leam have included the following:

  • Picnics in Jephson Gardens
  • Home-made canelloni and classy cocktails in Bar 44
  • Falling out with a Tesco self-scan machine
  • Much hilarious retro picture taking

Certainly worth the hot, uncomfortable and crowded trains to get there and back (silly engineering work!). Now I’m off to cook some dinner.

Speed equals distance over time

Today, the training began in earnest for the Nike 10K in October – not that I enjoy copying people, I just don’t like to be left out. 🙂

Despite not wanting this to be a “look how fit I am!” blog entry, I’ll skip right to the figures, which I’m bound to forget within a couple of days if I don’t record them now. So –

Total Distance = 6.4 km

Total time = 37:17 = 0.621 hours

Average Speed = 6.4 / 0.621 = 10.3 km/h

This brings back nasty memories of GCSE exams. Speed equals distance over time. Indeed.

And here’s the map: