Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Invoices and Cash Flow

I have been back from the US for two weeks now. I am flying back out in another two weeks. In theory I was supposed to work with the UK/Maltese company I had been talking to but they changed their mind so I found myself at a loose end. I am not chasing them because we agreed that their reason for not doing work with me now was sensible so it’s not worth me wasting my time on this. They know where I am anyway so if they need me they can contact me.

Instead, I spent the first week back home concentrating on getting the invoicing process sorted. The first invoice I sent to my American customer last month was very straightforward as it was a fixed price item. The one this month is much more complicated as it is based on time and material. So it involves getting timesheets and expenses right. This is extremely important for the business to work properly: if I can’t invoice customers, I won’t get paid; if I don’t get paid, it doesn’t work. I’ve got that sorted now so it was time well spent.

Last week and this week, I’ve been doing some work with a London based company I know from my previous job. This particular assignment is paid less than I would normaly want but it is interesting, it can lead onto a lot more and I am confident those guys will be fast in settling invoices. I am discovering that how fast your customers pay you is extremely important at the very beginning of a business, more than how much they pay you. When you start, you need to kickstart your cash flow by getting some money in the bank. If you end up waiting 3 months for a big paycheck, it can be the death of the business, before it’s even started.

To summarise, the lessons of the past two weeks are:

  • Don’t chase customers you’re very unlikely to do business with, even if the possibilities are potentially fantastic, concentrate on customers who want to do business now;
  • Assess how quickly your potential customers are likely to pay your invoices and concentrate on those that pay quickly, even if they offer less money.

Of course, once you have your cash flow sorted, money coming in regularly and a few months worth of earnings stashed away in the bank, you can disregard those rules to net a big contract. I am not there yet but I think I’m on the right track.

Monday, 27 February 2006

Back to Atlanta

I just booked my flight to go back to Atlanta mid-March for another 3 week stint out there. I added a 3 day week-end at the end to go somewhere sunny, possibly Florida.

No Uncle Bruno

It didn't go as well as we were all expecting. When my sister saw the doctor last week, she learnt that the foetus had stopped evolving 2 weeks earlier, at 4 weeks. I was told that this sort of things happen more often than you'd think, especially during first pregnancies. It was very traumatic for her on the day but luckily she's got great friends and a great husband and she's now in good spirits, wanting to try again but not at the same time as a house move.

Sunday, 12 February 2006

16 hours

I guess I was tired after my flight back from the US. I slept 16 hours last night. Hopefully, that's my jetlag taken care of.

Uncle Bruno

I had my sister on the phone yesterday. If everything goes well, I should be an uncle in September! Now, where's the champagne?

Friday, 10 February 2006

A History of M$

For those who love to hate Microsoft, here's a hilarious video on its history. Some people have talent!

Fatal Attraction

Magnets are fun, as long as they are kept well away from computers and magnetic storage media. If you need some, United Nuclear have some seriously powerful ones. I love the MagnaView Fluid and the Magnetic Sculpture Kits!

Geek Toys

What happens when, in Gmail, you open an email that contains the word UFO? Google AdSense kicks in and offers you sponsored links to cool geek toys:

Hats off to Google: they are the only ones who can convince me to click on advert links because the adverts they display are actually related to what I'm reading.

Thursday, 9 February 2006

Who Needs a Mouse?

Since we invented computers, we've tried to find the best way to interact with them. First came the keyboard. Then the Xerox PARC invented the mouse. And the average consumer has been stuck there for a long time. We have touch screens that are more intuitive but require large control areas. Apple Macs have speech recognition that enables us to talk to the computer but, even though it works, the recognition engine needs training and is not perfect. There are also things for which speech is not the most efficient way to communicate with a machine. PDAs and Tablet PCs tried to re-invent the touch screen by giving us a stylus so that we could point to a precise area of the screen. We added more buttons and scroll wheels to the mouse. Apple even added a squeeze to its Mighty Mouse! All in an attempt to make our interaction with the computer more intuitive.

But the problem with the technology so far is that the input is always sequential: you type one letter at a time, click on one icon at a time, speak one word at a time, etc. Compare this to the way we, as human beings, interact with our world: we can manipulate several objects at the same time such as turn up the volume of the stereo while browsing for the next CD to play. We can't do that with our computer. Or rather, we couldn't until now.

Some smart people at New York University are currently working on something that could transform the way we interact with computers. They call it Multi-Touch Interaction (the page is long to load as it has en embedded video). Take the time to watch the video or at least look at the images taken out of it. This thing is a tactile screen on steroids: not only can it detect contact but it can simultaneously and independently detect contact from multiple fingers, including multiple users, and act accordingly. Have a look in particular at the demo applications with the map and the image gallery. Now, this is a much nicer way to interact with the machine: stretch, move, rotate, flip in the same way you would do with pieces of paper.

The number of applications for that sort of interface could be huge: everything that uses a mouse today would benefit from being able to just directly touch what you are interacting with and interact with several objects at the same time. The immediate application that comes to mind is software design: UML would be fun again! Now, this is a scary thought.

Anyway, I want one of those!

Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Colombian Truck Tires

Browsing through the Solio site after writing my previous post, it appears they also sell nifty rubber cases for their gadget that are handmade from recycled Colombian truck tires I didn't know there existed a market for recycled Colombian truck tires. But why Colombian? Why not Venezuelan or Peruvian? Are Colombian truck tires of higher quality?

Plug Into The Sun

No need to pack a collection of chargers and adapters in your holiday luggage anymore, just take Solio, the Portable Solar Powered Charger with you and you'll be able to recharge your mobie phone, camera, iPod and all other essential gadgets while in the middle of nowhere or on the beach.

Via SimpleBits.

Moving Targets


One of the good things about being in Atlanta at the moment is that I am working and going out with people who are as passionate about photography as I am and from whom I can learn. So the past few days have been quite busy, as I took 800 shots. Yes, eight hundred. There is a lot of garbage in all this but it is garbage I can learn from and that I can delete by pressing a button. This is the beauty of digital photography: you can keep shooting as long as you have room on the media card, it doesn’t cost you anything and you can throw away the bad stuff afterwards.

But still: 800! Why? Because I was shooting moving targets. The best way to explain is to go over the week-end’s activities:

Friday evening: we went to a basketball game at Wesleyan high school. We were cheering the home team. I learnt quite a few things:

  • Basketball is a very fast game. I didn’t realise how fast until I saw it and tried to photograph it. It is impossible to get a good action shot by just waiting for it because whatever is interesting is usually finished before you have the time to even think about pressing the shutter release. The only way is to shoot continually while following whoever is in possession of the ball. Out of a burst of 10 pictures, one might be good and the rest can be deleted. There is a lot of garbage but you would not be able to take that good one if you weren’t taking the other 9 bad ones.
  • The better you understand the game, the better you will be able to predict where the action happens.
  • When shooting with a Canon EOS 5D in continuous shooting mode, with AI Servo focusing, keep your subject in the centre of the frame so that the centre focusing point is used. This is the most sensitive focusing point and will be the one favoured by the camera in AI Servo, because it has no time to really use the other ones. It might mean the composition of the shot is boring but you can always crop later and anyway you have no way to think about composition when shooting basketball.
  • When using the panning technique with an image stabilised lens, don’t forget to switch the lens to one way stabilisation so that it doesn’t try to counter the panning movement.

Saturday: we went to Callaway Gardens, where we saw a bird of prey show and the exotic butterfly greenhouse. There I learnt:

  • When shooting big birds, make sure you have your camera on a high ISO setting, even if you are immobile and even have a tripod. You need a very high shutter speed, not because of your own movement but because of the bird’s movement: an eagle can flap its wings and accelerate much faster than you think so if you want to freeze the bird’s movement, you camera has to be even faster.
  • When shooting butterflies, a long telephoto lens can do as good a job as a macro lens. A macro lens is great to enable you go get very close to your subject and photograph small insects. However, butterflies are extremely fast and will disappear before you can focus on them. A good telephoto lens with fast focusing will enable you to take the shot from further away so that you don’t frighten the butterfly or you can take the picture before it flies off.
  • Don’t even think of trying to follow a flying butterfly with your camera and take continuous pictures, the same way you’d do with a basketball player. Butterflies are much less predictable and much faster, even though you might think the opposite when at a basketball game.

Monday evening: we went to another basketball game at Norcross high school. We were cheering the visiting team. I learnt:

  • There exists a game faster than basketball: basketball played by a winning team that are getting increasingly nervous at seeing their opponents come back on the score board and are trying to score as many points as possible in the shortest amount of time to rebuild their safety margin.
  • If you are shooting using the panning technique with an image stabilised lens, do switch it to one way stabilisation. Really, I mean it.
  • When using AI Servo focusing, start with a full battery or have a spare one. AI Servo does consume a lot of battery power as the camera is constantly re-focusing.

I’ve had a lot of fun during this week-end and have learnt a lot about taking pictures of fast moving targets like sports or animals. I think it has made me a better photographer but there is certainly room for improvement.

Friday, 3 February 2006

Dove Promises Message

I had my first Dove Promises dark chocolate today. The message in the wrapper reads:

Write a letter, not an email.

Good thing I recently registered on postcrossing then.

Thursday, 2 February 2006

Beer and Liquor

Is the saying Beer before liquor, never sicker, liquor before beer, never fear physiologically accurate?. Here's the answer from Yahoo!

Broccoli Is Evil

Ah the joys of gmail targetted advertising! Sometimes you really find gems like Green Squirrel Shirts. My favourite one is the Broccoli Is Evil one.

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Anti Climax

Being interested in the Optimus keyboard, I subscribed to Art. Lebedev's mailing list so that I would be informed of when and how this product is available on the market. For the past few weeks, the home page of the site had a message hinting at the fact that news would be made public on February 1st. We are now on February 1st and I got the following in my mailbox:

Ladies and gentlemen,

A while ago you signed up for newsletters about the Optimus keyboard. I'm delighted to inform you that we are rolling out the Optimus mini three keyboard.

Details with images are available at http://www.artlebedev.com/portfolio/Optimus-mini/.

It's a three-key keyboard with big color OLED screens. The price of the keyboard is $100 until April 2, 2006. We are looking forward to receiving a fresh lot of the keyboards ready for shipment on May 15. We are planning to give you the opportunity to pre-order the keyboard at our online store this week.

P. S. As regards the full-fledged Optimus keyboard, we still expect to obtain its samples by the end of this year. Production is slated for next year. But before that, we are planning to make another model, of which you will be immediately notified.

My first reaction when reading this email was one of disappointment. I can understand that Art. Lebedev want to start with something small to test drive the technology but a 3-button extension keyboard is one of the most useless peripherals I can think of. Even the examples on the web site don't convince me that there would be any good reason for me to buy one, especially at $100 a shot!

But more important for me than what the email says about the Optimus Three Mini, as they call it, is what they say, or don't say, about the full-fledged Optimus.

First, what they say: they should have the first working prototypes by the end of the year and the first production models early next year. This means we'll have to wait until 2007 to get our hands on one of those. Disappointing as that may be, with all the hype and interest there has been around this keyboard, Art. Lebedev might very well discover that, by this time next year, someone else will have come out with something similar before them. Big guys like Microsoft or Logitech could surely find the resources they need to produce an OLED based keyboard before Art. Lebedev does, should they wish to do so.

Then, what they don't say: the Optimus Three Mini will retail at $100 until April. From the wording of the email, I suspect this price is an introductory price and will go up after that. $100 would be expensive for a full-fledged keyboard, let alone a 3-button one. The obvious question in light of this is: how much will the full-fledged Optimus keyboard cost? $500? $1000? Probably significantly more than most people can afford or are willing to pay for a keyboard. At the end of the day, however cool or revolutionary it will be, this is a keyboard we're talking about, and not even a wireless or ergonomic one at that.

Let's wait and see but, for now, I am slightly disappointed.

Rudeness Competition

A friend was telling me recently that she found people in London rude. I was arguing that people in Paris were worse. As she was going to Paris, she decided to compare and, today, I got the following message in my mailbox:

You won! The score English 3: French 0. Was calculated on the following basis: I was offered help 3 times with my suitcase (and shopping bags from Paris) by the men in London on my way from LHR to my house! Needless to say that the offers were accepted each time with a gratitude and a charming smile. N.B I was walking in high heeled stiletto shoes, so this might explain the high number of volunteers.

I rest my case.