Posted by: danielharan | August 2, 2007

Moving the blog

This blog is now on my own domain, danielharan.com

Posted by: danielharan | July 31, 2007

VC capital in Montreal

Daniel Drouet just posted another article in his series on VC capital in Montreal. I like where he’s going with this. There is good talent in Montreal, and VCs and Angels aren’t nearly as active as they could be. He finishes by asking “In a city with limited angel activity, how should entrepreneurs proceed? What should local VCs be doing?

Here’s my take: invest amounts of $50-$250k, with answers for applicants given in 1 week after the first meeting. I know a few people that could build a good product and be ready for an A round or buy-out with $250,000 – and could get a prototype for $50k. Well, less if he wants to hire students that will eat ramen for 3 months.

He refers to a Union Square Ventures post claiming they’re not staffed to do as many small deals as Charles River Ventures. That sounds like nonsense to me. CRV needs fewer partners to OK a seed investment; they didn’t double their staffing to double the deal flow; they’re putting less work into vetting each opportunity. This is normal, since the risk is inherently spread.

One thing I would change about CRV’s standard QuickStart terms is a clause in the case of a sale. The VC should have an upside if the company gets bought out by Google after an angel investment, so incentives are aligned.

To pull this strategy off, a VC would have to be able to assess the technical chops of hackers as well as the market potential of their idea. It would only take one of those to make Montreal a magnet for new startups, so I hope Montreal Start Up succeeds!

Posted by: danielharan | July 31, 2007

Non-profit marketing on Facebook

I got asked by a friend what I thought of the potential of Facebook to help non-profit and advocacy groups.

Facebook can seem scary. Spammers and spying came up as concerns. Spamming simply isn’t a concern unless your profile is there for everyone to see. However, it would be difficult to design a better intelligence gathering tool to spy on specific activists or map networks. (It would of course produce far too many leads and false positives, although CSIS would probably try to use it for that.)

Canadian law enforcement spies on many innocuous progressive groups. Before the APEC summit, the Raging Grannies and other groups were under surveillance by the RCMP. Don’t trust those flowery dresses, those grannies are commies! Amnesty International are terrorists! The Anglican Church are hell bent on destruction!

So you see, those crazy anarchists that go to logging protests and anti-globalization marches are likely to have pretty thick files. If you think that’s paranoid ranting, read this book: Whose National Security? Those activists probably shouldn’t use facebook for organizing – although they should assume they are being spied on anyways. If a strategy requires secrecy, it’s almost certainly a bad one.

The concerns I have with facebook are that it’s a closed garden, and that all that is written there belongs to a corporation. It is however a very good organizing tool for spreading the word – politically savvy groups should use it while keeping an eye out for more open alternatives. That should include blogs and more usable websites, something most advocacy groups still haven’t clued in to.

Posted by: danielharan | July 28, 2007

Carbon offset prices – Gold Standard

After reading about carbon offsets on davidsuzuki.org, I decided to check the prices for the “Gold Standard” vendors they listed*:

planetair.ca – $38, CAD $43.30 with taxes (site includes emission calculators for air travel, road travel and home)

myclimate.org – SFr. 40.00, about $35 CAD.

sustainabletravelinternational.org – $16.12

climatefriendly.com – $19.93

atmosfair.de –  $29.31

Not all carbon offsets are created equal, but these are the best in the world. Clearly, these organizations are still learning to find cheaper ways to finance green projects. This is both expected, and a good thing; it’s the whole point of creating a trade mechanism for these credits.

(*) Not all websites give you a straight price per ton. PlanetAir, MyClimate and ClimateFriendly were all easy to use. The other two required using their calculator to get a price per ton:

  • For Sustainable Travel, I picked calculated a package of 4.2098 tons of emissions for $64.20, or $16.12 CAD per ton (today’s exchange rate).
  • For Atmosfair, I picked a flight that resulted in 4.1 tons of emissions for 83 Euros, CAD $29.31 per ton.
Posted by: danielharan | July 26, 2007

Why the best web hackers hate Microsoft

The best web developer have the most reasons to hate IE and Microsoft. They pay the highest productivity tax.

For scaling, it’s been pointed out that it’s normal for the database to be the bottleneck after you add a cluster of web servers. If you take out the bottleneck of model and controllers, you end up spending most of your development time in the view.

So the most productive programmers end up spending a higher percentage of their time dealing with view issues. And that, inevitably, means having to deal with cross-browser compatibility issues. Although there are standards for how certain code is supposed to display on a browser, there is no reliable way to ensure it works asides from actually trying it in each one.

When things don’t look good in all browsers, it’s usually Internet Explorer that is not behaving properly. We try something, test it again in all browsers. Rinse and repeat.

This is what I call the Microsoft productivity tax. The faster you are at writing web apps, and the more unusual the project, the higher the tax.

So, a word to all my tech friends that work on non-web projects: Piss Off. My hatred of Microsoft isn’t some knee-jerk commie thing. Think about how you would feel if for a couple weeks a year you wasted time on cross-browser issues, mainly working around MSIE inadequacies.

Posted by: danielharan | July 26, 2007

DemoCampMontreal3: Defensio, Vinismo and the web as platform

DemoCampMontreal3 already has great wrap-ups by Marc-André and Heri, so I won’t re-hash things here. What struck me was the change in the type of applications shown. Of 4 applications, one was fairly simple (Workcruncher). All the rest were either mash-ups or mashable.

  • Vinismo is a semantic wiki with a creative commons license, and an RDF API.
  • Defensio‘s spam filter is delivered through an API.
  • Jerome Paradis‘ Allo Stop for jet planes uses a google map to display information that was extracted from various sources, including a mailing list.

Good APIs and data licenses are good first steps for business cooperation. The more startups like Vinismo and Defensio, the more niche plays like jet-sharing become easy to implement. We need more mashable startups, and I hope these are a sign of more to come.

Today’s O’Reilly Radar has a blog post about Wesabe, Making the web into a banking platform (whether they like it or not). It has some provocative insights, go read it.

I’m looking forward to the next democamp. Jonathan and I should have url_pipe ready by then, tackling another way to loosely couple data providers and consumers.

Posted by: danielharan | July 23, 2007

RIP: CIBC student loan

My student loan is no more. From $30,000 nearly 10 years ago, it got paid in lump sums as I settled with collection agencies.

They could have waited for me to get out of school before asking payment. They could have let me pay it off in monthly installments. Some bureaucratic barf-up ensured I never would have the benefit of such sensible policies.

After some phone calls from a collection agency, I would wonder if the banks really didn’t do this on purpose. They could point to default rates to justify the need for more money, as well as justification for more market-oriented policies towards students

I’m not likely to go into debt for schooling ever again. No one should have to leave school with $30,000 in debts.

Next time I hear about students striking against tuition increases, I’ll be cheering.

Friday nights at Cat’s Corner start with a 1 hour lesson. Dancers rotate, so you get to meet plenty of people. A half hour into this lesson I get paired with a woman that screams with delight: “A man! You’re the first one I’ve had tonight!”.

That very instant, online dating sites start to feel absurd, even quaint. I’ve met half a dozen women in 20 minutes, some of them cool, others flirtatious. 10 guys were missing to even out the gender balance. On dating sites, the balance is horrible, with guys competing for attention and women overwhelmed. Why are guys paying for dating sites, and not going to dance classes?

Alain, one of the instructors, encourages me to take both the swing and Lindy hop classes starting Monday because they are missing leads. I take a few minutes to go to the bank machine to get money for the classes.

On my way back, I see 5 drunk chumps hollering at the sales guy in front of a nude dance bar on St-Catherine. “What’s the cover?” He crosses the street to convince them, gets their attention. He’ll surely rope them in. They’ll exit more intoxicated, more frustrated, but having bonded.

I walk another block, up 3 flights of stairs into a crowded room of dancers having fun. It’s a safe and fun place to meet people, like the social dances I remember going to in France: all ages, everyone dancing with everyone. My parents met over tango and waltzes. Countless aunts and uncles did the same. Maybe rock and roll really did screw things up for everyone?

The very geeky idea of starting an online dating site keeps bubbling up. I know it can make a lot of money. Unfortunately, I keep seeing better ways for people to meet than through computer-mediated communications.

Digg

Posted by: danielharan | July 17, 2007

I’m a Ruby Guru!

Ben and Fred at Standoutjobs got me to move from Quebec to Montreal to become a Ruby Guru. I will be guru #2 after the very talented Marc-André Cournoyer. Like him, I now have a standard-issue MacBook Pro with a second screen.

I was very reluctant to leave beautiful Quebec city. I had a great apartment downtown on St-Jean street and was looking forward to a summer chilling on terraces.

They have a convincing pitch, and the project is ambitious. Ben, Fred and Austin have all had previous business success. With such a track record, and by recruiting people like Marc-André, they are very likely to succeed. This should be fun, and a great learning opportunity.

Posted by: danielharan | July 15, 2007

Net addiction?

My whole life is managed through the internet. It’s my phone, yellow pages, maps. I use it to connect with friends and make plans to meet ‘in real life’.

The wireless connection here has been pretty unreliable. My landlord has been putting off hiring someone to repair the system. There’s a router on each of the 10 floors of the building, and a company has quoted $10,000 to configure it. 10 grand… some people are obviously making lots of cash on this wireless thing.

If I had a key to the room that has the router, I could simply power cycle it, but I have to go through layers of bureaucracy in my apartment building to get someone to do it. Last night, that took an hour, two before the connection came back.

Some might call this a case of addiction. 15 minutes without net and I’m starting to fidget. I don’t mind going for hours without an email when I know the connection is there when I want it.

People would probably freak out just like I did if their cell phone died. It’s a social connector and being out of the social loop is a scary thing for us social animals. For nerds, that connector is your net.

Feel free to comment anonymously if you think I’m addicted though 🙂

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