Running your own company

I've been working for myself for two and a half years. I've been fortunate enough to work on a bunch of different projects during that time, both independently, with partners, and with other companies. The structure of those projects has loosely taken the form of my own startups/ideas, investing in and advising other startups, consulting to established companies, and speaking at public and private events. During those engagements I've learned a few things that I'd like to share.

Head in the Sand

I just finished an interesting experiment. Based on Tim Ferris' concept of a low-information diet, I did not look at any news media for an entire week. No TV news, no radio, no newspapers, no internet news, no magazines, no current affairs blogs, no digg. Complete current affairs blackout. I couldn't even listen to my beloved Fresh Air on the way to work. Only non-fiction books and TV for the week.

Most of you know I'm an information fiend. I crave news and information. I need to know what's going on. I wake up in the morning and throw on the news, check the web for what happened in the 6 hours I was asleep, I read the newspaper cover to cover. I check the news sites throughout the day, I'm a digg addict and I have news ticker widgets on my desktop. I think it goes without saying that this was not going to be easy for me. So before I get into the results, let me explain why I did this. Well it was a couple of reasons. First and foremost, to see if I could. Secondly, it was an experiment to see what would happen to my life if I reduced the noise level dramatically. Would it reduce my stress? Would I sleep even better than I do now? Would I be able to concentrate better? Would I be able to cope not knowing what was going on? Would this sensory deprivation turn me into a social retard, unable to start or participate in conversations because I didn't know what was going on? Did I *need* to know everything that was going on? I was looking forward to finding out. But also scared shitless.

Well, I'm still alive so I deem the experiment a success. The first thing I should say is that it wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be. By reducing my information input from a fire hose to a squirt gun, I immediately found myself more relaxed and much more focused. By forbidding myself to check the BBC website every half an hour, browse digg, read the ticker, watch TV etc I found my productivity went through the roof. I had dramatically reduced my distractions and could stay on task without a bunch of background noise.

The second thing I noticed is that I *was* able to keep up to date with what was going on. No, I didn't cheat. But I managed to glean hours and hours of information and opinion in just a few seconds. I glanced at headlines as I walked past newsagents, I peeked over shoulders on the Tube to get a 3 second look at an article in Metro. I got everything I needed to know in a matter of seconds and moved on. Simple.

I also managed to get my editorial and opinion information as well. This was even easier AND it actually HELPED start conversations instead of the opposite. I just asked people at work or friends "Hey, what happened in the world today, I didn't get a chance to catch the news?" In less than a minute I'd have a world news digest AND 4 people's perspectives and opinions on the topics. Done. Simple.

I even got the results of two major primary elections without looking them up or asking anyone. My mom sent me a text message, assuming I saw the results, saying "What a bummer about Ohio and Texas! Think he can bounce back?" From that I knew that Hilary Clinton had won both states and that my mom was disappointed. I got my fact and my editorial in a 12 word digest.

I also felt less pissed off at the world. I never had an opportunity or need to go "Goddamn Fox News!! They make me so mad!" because I didn't let them get to me. No pundit on a news opinion show could rile me up with his or her viewpoint because I didn't hear it. I didn't need to hear it in the first place.

So no, I didn't feel out of touch or uninformed. In fact I felt more informed because I was given several layers of perspective to each piece of information I got and could then make up my own mind (or chose to discard the info) based on who told me what.

Since I finished this total immersion, I've slowly been allowing streams back into my life but only in a highly managed way. Still don't watch the news, still don't check the news sites more than once. I read the digg RSS feed once in a while but more because it always produces more funny and entertaining stories than hard hitting journalism. Plus it provides everything in short, digestible sound bites. I don't feel the need to click through.

We live in a total information age and I have been standing in front of the floodgates for a long time now. It was nice to step out of the deluge and take shelter for a little while.

Giving Birth

I thought my birthday would be a good time to finally post to my blog. There's a very good reason I've been quiet recently - there's been a lot going on.Last Thursday, I gave birth. Well me and about 30 other people. At 2am on Thursday, July 19th, was born. The site that I have been working on for the last year of my life finally saw the light of day. Despite a DDoS attack on the site's infrastructure, I'd like to think the site is a resounding success. I'm particularly proud of the VA Difference Section, an interactive flash microsite showcasing all that Virgin America has to offer. Anyway, take a look around the site, book some flights - we have great intro fares from SFO to LAX, JFK, IAD and LAS. Enjoy. VAweb1.jpg
VAweb2.jpg Also, Alex.jpg Taken at about 4am on the big day.

English: the bastard child of world languages

Here's another linguistic anomaly:Ambient and Ambiance. We had a discussion at the Mindles the other day about this one. I happened to say that candle light created a certain ambiance - I pronounced it ambience.gif (AM-be-ence). I was savaged for pronouncing it incorrectly, with my wife saying "What, have you become American now?!" I was informed that the correct pronunciation was ambience2.gif (AHM-be-ahnce). I was aware of this but I defended my pronunciation by saying that the word is derived from "ambient", which is pronounced ambient.gif (am-BE-ent) and therefore ambience.gif (AM-be-ence) should be a correct pronunciation. It was suggested that "ambient" could be pronounced ambience3.gif (ahm-be-AHNT). I hadn't heard it pronounced this way before. Of course, I then countered myself by saying well they both derive from the French "ambiant", so why shouldn't they both be pronounced with that "ah" sound, instead of the flat "a"? Well being the linguistic dork that I am, I had to research it. The results are actually rather interesting. Ambiance: There are two correct pronunciations for this word. ambience.gif (AM-be-ence) and ambience2.gif (AHM-be-ahnce) are both accepted pronunciations according to Collins and the American Heritage Dictionary. Here's why. There are two acceptable spellings! It can either be Ambience or Ambiance - who knew?! Ambient: There is only one correct pronunciation of this word - ambient.gif (am-BE-ent), again according to both Collins and the American Heritage Dictionary. But why? Because they have two different roots. I assumed that both words came from the French "ambiant" which means "surrounding" - I was wrong. Only "ambiance" comes from the French "ambiant", hence it's French pronunciation. "Ambient" comes from the LATIN "ambient" which is the present participle of "ambre" which means "to surround, as well as "ambi" which means "to go." Of course they both ORIGINALLY came from the Latin, so you might think that "ambient" is just the adjective of "ambience". That is how it was formed in the nineteenth century, but the two words have diverged enough that their associations and pronunciations are different. So with a little research, I managed to confuse myself even more, by dismissing my previously held notion that if two words have the same root, they must be pronounced the same. Not so. Wait........they DON'T have the same root, that's what I just spent the last hour researching. As Mike so aptly pointed out, "Language doesn't make any sense."

Choose Your Own Adventure Game


I heard a rumor today that Sierra, the software house that brought us Police Quest, Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry, is going out of business. This made me extremely sad as they produced many of the games that really kindled my interest in games and computers. Sure I may have started off on the good ol' Commodore 64, with such epic titles as Blue Max and Pitfall but it was the PC games that really define my childhood. When I was about 12, 13, 14 years old I really began to get into games - it also happened to be the same time when Sierra was hitting the top of it's game. I discovered the Police Quest franchise in about 1992, two years after the final Police Quest, "Police Quest 3: the Kindred" had come out. Sierra released a VGA version of the original Police Quest, "Police Quest 1: In Pursuit Of The Death Angel" in 1992 and that was the first version I played. I instantly became hooked on the Adventure genre (or "quest" games, as my brother and I used to call them.) They had a pseudo non-linear aspect to them which allowed you to explore the world, in this case the fictional town of Lytton, anyway you wanted. Of course you wouldn't be able to progress in the game unless you carried out certain tasks, but that didn't prevent you from taking the Police cruiser out for a spin, or strolling around the police station to your heart's content. I remember staying up for hours at a time in the study in our house in Hong Kong, trying to get past certain tasks in the games. It was a pleasant frustration though. You'd make a mistake, go back to where you had last saved your game and try it again, armed with the knowledge of your last attempt. Each successfully completed task was more satisfying than the previous. These were the games that defined MY childhood. Some people rant on about Pong and Frogger and PacMan - I was too young for that. Kids today talk the about Tony Hawk games, Final Fantasy 24, and Splinter Cell. For me, it was Sierra's "quest" games. Sierra weren't the only company producing great adventure games though. LucasArts were producing some fantastic adventure games at about the same time. Title like "Sam n' Max Hit the Road", Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and the incomparable "Day of the Tentacle". Indeed, Mike and I spent many an hour during my annual trips back to California, playing, discussing, dissecting the various offerings from the software companies of the day. In fact, recently I managed to find the Police Quest series, Day of the Tentacle, and Sam n' Max online - I couldn't get enough of it. I played them religiously until I had completed all of them. That's how good these games are. Sadly the Adventure genre is a dying one. There have been very few offerings lately; people are more interested in MMORPG and First Person Shooters. The demise of Sierra can only be the final nail in the coffin of what was to me, the best period in video game history.


So today is the first anniversary of my blog, believe it or not. To be honest, I didn't think I would keep it going for more than a few months, let alone an entire year. It's been fun though. It's also turned into a valuable way from my family overseas to see how I'm doing.For posterity, here's the first ever entry. Some mildly interesting facts about my blog: Total number of entries: 93 Total number of comments: 266 Total number of blocked spam messages: 248 Total number of hits: 13367 Interestingly, my sideblog (Further Random Reading) has become rather popular in the blogosphere, at least compared to my proper blog. People seem to like random bits of information. So here's to another year of mindless drivel. Thanks for visiting.

No more blog spam!

At last, I have found a solution to the blog spam problem. Aside from upgrading to the latest version of movabletype, I stumbled across a plugin called MT-Blacklist that someone mentioned over on Mike Pusateri's site.MT-Blacklist is a powerful filtering tool that works off a huge list of known spammers. However instead of trying to focus on moving or mutable targets (e.g. IP addresss, keywords, SMTP relays, etc), MT-Blacklist works because it focuses on one that is far more difficult to change and is in fact, the most important part of the spam: the spamvertised URL. That coupled with a centralized database that is constantly updated, and you have a solid defense against spam, both in comments and in trackbacks. It's CAKE to install. I had it up and running in about five minutes. Take a look at some of the features:

  • Content-based comment/trackback spam blocking.
  • Search & De-spam mode provides one-step de-spamming of all of your blogs.
  • Extremely easy installation and upgrades. Works right out of the "box" with No modifications to your templates or the MT source code.
  • Web interface for all plugin administration functions
  • Protection is configurable on a weblog-by-weblog basis
  • Default blacklist contains over 450 known spam strings for immediate protection on install.
  • Uses MT's native user permission model for administrative functions
  • MT Activity log record of configuration and blacklist changes as well as optional logging of denied comments/trackbacks
  • Optional automatic web publishing of blacklist
  • Blacklist importing supported
  • Seamless support for Perl regular expressions in blacklist
  • Individual annotations supported for each blacklist entry

So I'm hoping this is the end of my spam problem. In the meantime, I encourage you to check it out, and let me know how it works for you. Tricia, Deanne, and Andrew, your blogs should now be spam free!

Behold my domain!

Woo hoo! I finally got!That domain has been taken for the longest time - so long, in fact, that I had pretty much given up all hope ever getting a domain that beared any resemblance to my name. See, is taken by another person called Alex Hunter. Now this I don't mind. But the only problem is...he's an "exotic photographer." So anyone from my past (or present for that matter) who decides to google me, is going to be greeted with photos of ladies in their altogether. Oh and links to the Jon Benet Ramsay case, because the District Attorney that presided over that case for several years was called Alex Hunter, too. So with out of the question, I looked at the more generic - nope, that was registered by Browning Hunting equipment several years ago. As Mike said, it's hard when your surname is an integral part of the English language. But, finally I have triumphed. I now own and I can do with it whatever I please. Right now it just points at my blog but I think I will make it my primary domain for this site. Heck, I may even start a new site with it! Who knows?! I'm just pleased to have my intellectual property back ;)

They said it couldn't be done

Dscn1196.jpgI have reached hitherto unreached levels of dorkdom. Last night, at around 11:30pm, I was tinkering (I've always wanted to use that word) in my office. I had a 10.4" LCD monitor left over from the x-dash and a broken desk lamp. I had "you know what would be cool..." moment and decided to combine the two in a sor of 1980's sci-fi movie set kind of way. The monitor doesn't have a bezel - it never did, we didn't need it for the x-dash so it's current uses are somewhat limited as it doesn't stand upright without considerable propping up. The lamp was jerry rigged as it was, having failed to retain all of its pieces during our move from Livermore two years ago. I lost the clamp which attaches it to the desk so I drilled a hole in my desk and simply anchored the lamp thusly. It worked up until recently when the switch completely died. You couldn't turn it on at all. So I took off the shade and the bulb housing and the socket, and removed the power wire. Then I attached the monitor to the arm of the lamp using a small nut and bolt (yes, singular.) The weight of the monitor kept dragging the whole apparatus down so I ziptied the two upper arms together, preventing them from drooping. Behold the result! A completely useless, semi-articulating monitor stand! This is of course a temporary solution as for what to with the monitor but it means I can make use of it for the time being. HA! Take that Will Wheaton! P.S. I just noticed...yes, Mike that is your blog on my laptop screen :) threemons.jpg

The art of diplomacy

Marriage is all about compromise, or so I'm told. So when the subject of a new car came up, there was the need for compromise....or negotiations.A little backstory: my car, that I thought was the greatest piece of mechanical ingenuity ever conceived, is a pile. OK, that's a little harsh. It's frustratingly buggy. I have owned it for about 6 months (one of which I didn't drive it because I was overseas) and it's already had some irritating not starting in the morning. I NEED reliability in a car. I guess I was spoiled with the Honda. Then the blinkers crapped out. Not crapped out like stopped working altogether, crapped out like they had Tourette's syndrome. Sometimes they will work, sometimes they won't, sometimes they will blink so arthymically and spastically that it's embarassing to even use them. I posted my problem to one of the passat message boards and the prognosis that came back was faulty hazard relay. I vented my frustration about this and the response I got was "What do you expect, you drive a Volkswagen." That irked me no end. So I began to discuss the possibility of getting rid of the Passat while we still had the upper hand on the equity. Deanne and I talked about it and in the end we just didn't see eye to eye on a replacement that we'd both be happy with. However I proposed a compromise. I said I would keep the Passat IF she let me put a navigation system in it. She didn't even have to think twice about it. It actually makes more sense to be honest. The Passat over all is not a bad car. It's fast, looks good, and is pretty comfortable. My friend Brian, who is a Volkswagen mechanic says they're just over-engineered. That's absolutely right. There's no point in ditching it just to get into another car that might have the same problems. So I keep the Passat but I get to put a navigation unit in it. I got a taste of navigation when I had the x-dash in the CRV. It was so useful, I used it all the time. Now my car is littered with mapquest printouts. But the PC based GPS software never quite got it right. It took forever to get a satellite lock, the interface was designed to be used with a mouse, not fat fingers while you're driving, the destination was not contextual (i.e. it didn't know where you were) and it was a pain to use sometimes. But not the units MADE for cars. The few times I've driven Ken's car, I was impressed by the navigation. When you entered a destination, it knew where you were and would filter out the possible destinations on the fly. Not only that you can ask it directions while you're driving and it will calculate your route from where you are. Impressive. Even though I had the blessing from the missus, I didn't want to spend a lot of money. There's nav systems out there which are $3000 but I just can't justify spending that kind of money unless it actually drives the car. So I did some research and found out that it would make sense to get a Pioneer screen for the nav because I have a Pioneer XM unit which means I could remove the XM controller I currently have and control it through the screen. I consulted with Ken some more and he said that even though I could use an another companies (potentially cheaper) nav unit with a Pioneer screen, I would lose some functionality, plus the Pioneer nav unit is the best on the market. So I went from trying to avoid Pioneer on a cost basis to making the entire system Pioneer based. You with me so far? Ok good. So I looked online at the prices....ouch. Ok, I am so not paying that. Ahh my old friend ebay, what can you offer me? Treasures galore! I opted for a screen that has recently been discontinued by Pioneer and as such the price has dropped signficantly. I had the chance to play with the newer model and I have to say it was amazing. The most noticeable feature was the addition of a touchscreen interface. But even after playing with it, I decided to stay with the older model for two reasons; price and also I've been told by several sources that the folding mechanism on touchscreen monitors tends to crap out after a while because of constant "jabbing" by fat fingers. Now, I've settled on a screen....what about a nav unit. This one was much easier. Pioneer's newest nav unit is incredible. It's DVD based so it can store the entire US and Canada data including 2 million points of interest, and the DVD-ROM doubles as a standard DVD player if I get bored. You can view your route from 5 different angles. It also accepts voice commands, e.g. you can tell it

Browsers - what a great word

I have finally been convinced to try a new browser out. I have been using CrazyBrowser for quite a while now and I liked it for several reasons:- tabbed windows - built in popup blocker - groups of favorites - P3P privacy policy and zone-based security assignments Crazy Browser is not IE plug-in or add-on, it just uses the IE API to render pages. However the guy that develops it has not released an update for it in well over a year. My colleague Dan has been touting the virtues of Avant Browser for ages and I have been duly ignoring him. Well today his nagging finally won me over and I installed Avant Browser. I'm now a convert. It has some great features: - Built-in Pop-up Stopper - Flash Animation Filter - Multi-Window Browsing - Blocks AD banners/buttons - Records Cleaner - Mouse Gestures Very impressive. Fast, clean interface - I like it. Now, to address those who might want to know why I don't use Mozilla or Firebird, the open source browsers. Well, I do. Sometimes. The thing is, I'm a webmaster and I have to design sites that are compatible with the standard web experience, and, like it or not, that experience is overwhelmingly driven by IE. Therefore, when we build a page or site, we have to test it in IE to ensure that the ~80% of users that use IE are going to see the site the way we intended. That said, we as an organization, support IE AND Netscape so we must test it on both. Do I extol the virtues of IE? No, no I don't. That's why I don't use the browser, I use an extension thereof. And that "extension" cures many of the ills once associated with IE. Not all...many. Anyway, for my day to day browsing needs, I think I'll be using a combination of Avant Browser and Firebird (Mozilla is waaaaay to slow to be considered for casual browsing.) As for the browser war? Microsoft have got to get their shit together if they want to keep up with the tide of better browsers that are appearing. For further reading, check out Mike's take on the recent IE phishing problems, he has some good points about Microsoft's reluctance to address potential security problems in a timely manner.

Come fly with me

I've rediscovered Flight Simulator. I used to play it religiously but stopped about three years ago for lack of time and processing power. But I picked up a copy of Flight Simulator 2004 in Hong Kong (legitimate, of course) and finally got around to installing it a couple of weeks ago. Now the last version of Flight Simulator I had played with was 2000, I missed 2002 altogether. Apparently 2002 was the real groundbreaker because 2004 is mindblowing. The graphics are unbelievable as always, the flight dynamics are true to life but the additions/enhancements that really blew me away were the ATC and AI traffic.The ATC is amazingly intelligent. You file an IFR flight plan and you have to get clearance from the tower, they know exactly where you're going, then they hand you to ground who tells you where to taxi to, you tell them when your there and they clear you for takeoff or hold you short, depending on traffic (more on that later.) Once you've taken off, you're handed off to the appropriate departure frequency and the handoffs continue with proper routing (turn left heading 260) and altitude management (descend and maintain flight level 250.) They even get you set up for an ILS approach and hand you off to the tower for landing clearance. Amazing. Coupled with this is the truly amazing AI traffic. Instead of flying around empty skies, you now fly through jam packed skies into jam packed airports. Not only are the planes truly autonomous, taxiing, taking off, flying, landing and parking, they also interact with ATC just as much as you have to . You can enhance this already great feature by downloading real aircraft and schedules from sites like These guys have spent days collecting real world airline schedules and putting them into Flight Simulator with the appropriate aircraft. So now when you go to, say, San Francisco, the place is teeming with aircraft that would be there at that time of day. When it comes round to their scheduled departure time, they get the appropriate clearances and they're on their way. It's great to be able to pull in to SFO about midnight and see the Cathay plane sitting on the tarmac! Not only is there an abundance of commercial traffic but also a ton of civilan traffic. Fly into Livermore and you'll see a whole host of other recreational pilots flying in the pattern or coming and going. It's fantastic. The addition of real time weather etc make it a very impressive experience. Even for the non-aviation enthusiast, it's definitely worth taking a look at. My evenings just got booked solid.

Freshness Guaranteed

Update: Thanks to Mike's excellent suggestion, you can now pick up and post the postit note anywhere you want on the site. Good call, Mike! (Sorry, IE only)I've decided to update the look and theme of my blog slightly. I wasn't entirely comfortable with the whole "mediocre" thing; just didn't fit my personalty, I don't think. So last night I was playing around with some ideas and in the back of my mind was how little I was looking forward to going to work in the morning...DING! Inspiration! The "Notes from..." part is an homage to travel writer and linguist Bill Bryson whose books "Notes from a Small Island" and "Notes from a Big Country" I have enjoyed very much. The postit note was an afterthought; when I told Deanne I was "rebranding" (God I hate that word) my blog she was disappointed, saying that people knew about "Adventures in Mediocrity" and they wouldn't know it was the same blog. So I decided to use an old CSS trick and made the postit note appear to be on top of the rest of the page, as if it had been stuck there. It's really easy to do, you just create a layer using div tags and then specify the exact pixel values of where you want the image to appear. Here's my code: <div id="Layer1" style="position:absolute; left:580px; top:145px; width:230px; height:125px; z-index:1; visibility:visible"> <img src="" name="b" border=0> </div> The z-index gives the layer top priority so it is displayed on top of everything else. Anyway, let me know what you think of the new design.

Two Linux tidbits

tux.jpgA lot of people I know are your archetypal Slashdot posting, Microsoft hating "Linux" users. Then I also know some practical, reasonable open source supporters who use Linux - like my friend Mike. He's able to see through all the hype and BS and slashdot flaming to make very cogent points about the pros and cons of open source and Linux in particular. I found some interesting tidbits today regarding Linux and the Open Source movement that I thought I should post before they're skewed out of context by the first type of person I described: The first is the discovery of a "major" security flaw in the 2.4 Linux Kernel -"The flaw allows users on a Linux machine to gain unlimited access privileges, according to a security advisory posted by developers of the noncommercial Debian Linux distribution." Ouch. More here... The second is a comment by co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Bill Joy when asked what his thoughts on Open Source are: "Open source is fine, but it doesn't take a worldwide community to create a great operating system. Look at Ken Thompson creating Unix, Stephen Wolfram writing Mathematica in a summer, James Gosling in his office making Java. Now, there's nothing wrong with letting other people help, but open source doesn't assist the initial creative act. What we need now are great things. I don't need to see the source code. I just want a system that works." I couldn't agree more. I don't claim to know much at all about Open Source and Linux but from what I've read, I tend to lean toward Mr. Joy's way of thinking. Some interesting tidbits to least for me anyway.


There's been a lot of times where I come across an interesting website or news tidbit that doesn't really warrant a full blog entry but I still wanted to share it with the four people that read this blog.SO, I did some MoveableType crafting and set up another blog which you can see to your right under the "Further Random Reading" header under the calendar. I'll add things as often as I discover them, which is usually several times a day. The link will take you directly to the site mentioned so beware! If you want to know how I did this, email me.


So I should have written about this a while ago but I've been swamped.I now host two new blogs on my site! I've been trying to convince Deanne that she should have a blog but she always said that she wouldn't have time to work on it. But a couple of weeks ago we bought her a laptop, so things have changed. So her blog is now up and running and she seems to be enjoying having a forum to express her odd but entertaining thoughts. Then Tricia (aka "Deanne's sexy friend from L.A." as my brother calls her) was having problems with her blog and asked me what software I used. At that point I figured it would be easier having hers on my server too, having figured out how easy it was to create multiple blogs using MoveableType. I spent a while teaching both of them how to change the templates and styles to their liking but they have really picked it up quickly. That's the great thing about MoveableType, it's easy enough for beginners but powerful enough for someone who wants to really customize it. So check out their respective efforts: Deanne: Tricia:

Art of the Saber

Stumbled upon this over at Slashdot. It's a Star Wars fan film that's actually very well done. Art of the Saber is 'a light saber fight sequence with the flavor of a Hong Kong martial arts action movie.' Well worth watching.I was impressed with the editing work and just the martial arts themselves. The films are pretty big (around 40MB) so beware. artofsaber.jpg