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Georgia’s Amendment 1 – A Tale of Six Jobs #voteNoOn1

I’ve been concerned about the wording of the ballot initiative known as Amendment One since the first time I read it.  Political candidates aren’t allowed to campaign within hundreds of feet of polling places, but this wording campaigns for itself right there on the ballot.  Who wouldn’t want to “make Georgia more economically competitive”.  The situation smells fishy, and I want to highlight some of the fishiness through some of my recent experience.

I recently finished spending over 2 years as CTO of  Elf Island (and then Xeko after a merger).  We hired several key artists from a Rezilio, another local gaming company.  The company couldn’t pay its employees, but they hoped to turn the company around.  If they had enforceable non-compete agreements with these employees, they probably would have enforced them against us.  That’s not a judgement against Rezilio, just a logical move.  It’s much easier to turn a company around if the key employees haven’t been hired by someone else.  We would have spent much more time looking for excellent artists familiar with building flash games, and those employees would have waited for courts to sort out the non-competes or abandoned their game skills to start from scratch in another industry.

More recently, Xeko itself closed, leaving myself and several key employees without job or salary.  The company hopes to take on more funding and reopen the game.  While I also hope that happens, I have a family, a mortgage, and many other financial obligations.  Waiting around for funding was not an option.  Fortunately, we knew some people at Menue Americas, who were looking to add a development team to make a new Facebook game.  7 days after Xeko let us go, 6 of us had new jobs with competitive pay, great benefits, and exciting work.  We moved as a functioning team, which has allowed us to produce MUCH faster than a newly formed team could possibly have produced.

While I trust that Xeko’s founders would have treated us fairly, we had taken on several rounds of funding that could have left the decision of how to handle our employment agreements in the hands of investors.  The best interest of these investors is to ensure that key employees would be available to resume company operations in the event that new funding was secured.  I am fairly certain that folks like our team – CTOs, creative directors, art directors, lead developers, etc, are exactly the sort of people that Amendment 1 would seek to constrain under non-compete agreements.  If amendment 1 were in place, I have serious doubts that such a peaceful and quick transition could have been made.  Menue might have hesitated to hire us, fearing that Xeko’s investors would invoke their non-compete rights.  If they did hire us, they could have been tied up in legal disputes for months for the crime of hiring people who had lost their jobs.

Simply put, if you are an employee, or ever expect to be an employee, Amendment 1 is very bad for you in that it WILL limit your ability to use the expertise used in one job to find another job.  Critics suggest that employees should merely read and negotiate their employment agreements as they enter a job.  In the past decade, every single job I have taken has required a non-compete agreement which I have been told is non-negotiable.  This is with small companies – imagine trying to tell AT&T, UPS, Turner, etc. that you, as a staff employee, wish to negotiate your non-compete agreement.  They’ll tell you to go find another job, and the issue is that under Amendment 1, every company’s lawyers will tell them to construct the most restrictive employment agreements possible and let the courts sort it out.  Especially in a time of 10% unemployment (but really any time), people need jobs FAR more than the hiring firms need specific people for specific jobs.  There is an imbalance of negotiating power that current Georgia law addresses, while the proposed law leaves employees with very little power.

Consider the 6 of us who needed a job post-Xeko.  Imagine that we showed up for work on day 1 and had non-compete agreements thrust at us precluding us from working on games for 2 years after our employment with Menue (they did not, but note that the 1st day of work is typically when this sort of agreement is dumped on an employee).  We’re then faced with a choice – extend our period of zero income, or put a major constraint on our future job prospects – most would choose the former, and this does NOT “make Georgia more economically competitive”.  Are we to go home and tell our family that we quit the job on the first day because they threw a document at us that we didn’t like, that the next employer is equally likely to throw at us?  The lack of enforceable non-competes allowed 6 employees and 1 company to reach a mutually beneficial agreement quickly.

There are cases where the government needs to step in to address power imbalances in the free market.  Lawyers and their paranoid advice to companies create a power imbalance in employment that Georgia’s government has, to this point, addressed.  This misleading amendment throws employees to the wolves, where employees will not be able to accept most interesting jobs without compromising their future employability.  This amendment asks voters to vote themselves into handcuffs.  There is no evidence suggesting that Georgia’s economic competitiveness has been harmed.  Newell-Rubbermaid and NCR moved here quite recently, and there’s little evidence that our existing Fortune 500 companies are looking for an escape route because non-competes are harming their business.  There is plenty of research and obvious logical evidence that this will harm early-stage technology firms in Georgia.

Please strongly consider voting “No” on Georgia’s amendment 1.

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Who are Silicon Valley & San Francisco Startups Hiring?

I just returned from a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, and although it was mostly for vacation, I had enough interactions with the startup community there that I’d like to share some observations in the days ahead.

I wasn’t looking for a job out there, and don’t plan on joining Atlanta’s apparent westward migration, but I did have some interesting interactions with startups at all funding phases – seed funding, $1 million+ Series A rounds, and companies funded even better than that.  An interesting trend emerged – all of them had very similar hiring goals.

What was the common role that they were ALL hiring for?  Steve Ballmer knows:

Yes, developers, developers, developers.  One company was at 11 people, all developers, and still hiring for more.

This is VERY contrary to the pattern I’ve seen in my Atlanta startup experience.  The Atlanta norm seems to be starting with a developer or two, filling out the team at the seed or Series A stage, and then minimal developer hires after that.  I’ve seen several entire funding rounds dedicated to building out sales teams, marketing teams, biz dev, etc. with zero additional developer hires.  As a CTO/developer type myself, I’ve often felt like this is a stage where organizational vapor lock begins and progress toward the original, ambitious idea slows dramatically.  (Don’t get me wrong, I like revenue a LOT.)

So what’s the difference?  Of course I don’t KNOW, but I have some ideas.  First, I’d characterize Bay Area startups as somewhat more ambitious, risky ideas on average (more on this at a later date).  When your goal is bigger, you don’t have time to slow the organization down.  Any round of funding is an opportunity to get even further ahead of the competition, and you do that by building product.  Paul Graham has recently written about the importance of a hacker-centric culture – hiring more developers helps with that.  Mark Zuckerberg often hired developers for non-developer roles at Facebook – marketing and more.

I’m honestly a bit jealous, because I can imagine the sorts of awesome companies Atlanta could build if we could concentrate our entrepreneurial developer talent in some big ideas.

So you might ask how these startups set product direction?  I suspect they get great feedback from their users, board, advisors, and peers, and the founders remain heavily involved in setting the product direction.

What do you think?  Does Atlanta hire fewer developers at each stage of funding?  Why or why not?  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

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Apple and iPhone Developers – Caught in a Bad Romance

One of the great philosophers of our time, Lady Gaga, sings about being “caught in a bad romance”, and that’s exactly where iPhone developers find themselves today.

Today, while announcing a batch of nice updates coming in iPhone OS 4, Apple also snuck a nasty change into their Developer Agreement that prohibits the use of certain development toolkits including Flash, Unity 3D, and Appcelerator Titanium.  The developer community is crying foul with a bloody lip over this change, but will heal and probably forget about it again until the next time Apple punches them in the face.  As Ms. Gaga puts it, “I want your love and all your lovers’ revenge”.

It’s time to acknowledge that the Apple/iPhone developer is an abusive relationship.  You’ve probably heard of girls who love some guy, very controlling, that beats her up, but she ‘loves him so much she could never leave him’, and ‘deep down, he really loves me’.  Apple is that guy.  Or perhaps you knew some guy in college who dated some hot girl who was totally psycho?  She’d drag him through the dirt, but she was fun to show off at parties and the fringe benefits were nice.  Yeah, the App Store can keep you warm at night too, but at what cost?

Let’s look at a history of Apple’s psychosis:

  • “Duplicated” Features – VoiceCentral, and MailWrangler were both approved apps for sale in the App Store that Apple arbitrarily removed one fine day because they “duplicated features that the iPhone comes with” and “confused” users.  How hard do you want to work in building and maintaining an app, only to have Apple decide your app is now illegal?
  • Personal Vendettas – Apple regularly screws over developers and users to vindicate their own private feuds.  Google makes Android phones.  They also make iPhone apps, but Apple forced them to make both Latitude and Google Voice as web apps rather than native apps.  The developer is forced to make less powerful apps.  The user gets less powerful apps. It’s also widely suspected that Apple’s ongoing refusal to integrate the hugely popular Adobe Flash plugin into iPhones because of a standing feud between Apple and Adobe.  Apple willfully breaks most video and game sites on the iPhone because they have a grudge.  iPhone owners pay the price.
  • Private APIs – in typical bipolar Apple fashion, they approved tons of apps that used private APIs, then began automatically rejecting apps that use private APIs, and now is beginning to open up use of some private APIs again.  Ever been in a job or relationship where the ground rules change regularly and nobody tells you?  Yeah.  fun stuff.
  • Censorship – Apple has rejected apps for “providing access to vulgar words”“consuming too much bandwidth”, being “offensive”, and even “ridiculing public officials”.  Somehow, Apple has crowned itself some sort of moral authority, and it’s anybody’s guess what they will choose to find immoral.
  • “Sexy” Apps – in the theme of censorship, Apple recently pulled down a bunch of apps with “overt sexual content”, except they left the Playboy, Victoria’s Secret, and Sports Illustrated swimsuit apps up.  Who needs standards when you can have double standards?
  • Objective-C – I hear it’s a very nice language and all, but with numerous, more widely accepted programming languages out there, forcing developers to program in a language only used on Apple’s platforms reeks of an attempt to lock in apps and developers on their platform.

Now to the issue at hand.  Flash, Unity 3D, Appcelerator Titanium, and the numerous other toolkits that Apple effectively banned today have one thing in common – they make it easier to write applications that run on both iPhones and other phones.  Apparently Apple can’t stand the idea of actual competition, and is willing to harm these companies that were following all of their prior rules verbatim. If Apple is truly committed to this course of action, they may well destroy companies that are betting on supporting multiple mobile platforms but don’t have the resources to build separate, native applications for iPhone, Android, Palm, Blackberry, etc.  Nobody saw this coming.  Apple made this compulsive, drastic move that affects hundreds if not thousands of companies that support them in the name of defending Apple’s profit margins.

Committing significant resources to developing for iPhone and iPad is now very much like adopting a pet tiger.  It’s cool and it’s fun, but it’s only a matter of time before Apple mauls you in your sleep.  If you had a girlfriend who you found really attractive, except she made you speak Latin, told you what you could and couldn’t think, changed the ground rules of the relationship on a daily basis, insisted you believe her definition of “sexy”, randomly attacked your friends, and freaked out the moment you thought about going out to dinner with your friends, I’d hope you would get out of that relationship. I hope iPhone developers will see that Apple is just using them for their apps and will turn on them compulsively and without notice.

In the 90’s, technophiles railed against Microsoft for having a semi-closed platform with apps that used undocumented APIs to gain a competitive advantage against their competition, which was any app a user chose to install.  Now, we have a more closed platform that chooses what apps a user can install, rejects apps that compete with its own or attempt to use undocumented APIs, actively opposes a plugin architecture that can spur innovation, prohibits users from installing apps that they want, and developers defend this system because it’s pretty and runs on nice hardware?  Wake up.  It’s time for a break up.

And now, the musical entertainment:

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Jimmy Fallon crashed Twitter (Twitter is mainstream)

I’ve been using Twitter as @rkischuk for the past 16 months.  Twitter is growing.  Fast.

@jimmyfallon has taken the late night show slot on NBC formerly occupied by Conan O’Brien, with moderate viewer ratings thus far.  Interestingly, this evening, Jimmy and guests @kevinrose (Digg.com), @alexalbrecht (Digg.com), and @rustyrockets (Russell Brand, Forgetting Sarah Marshall funny guy) asked their Twitter followers and TV viewers to follow @bryanbrinkman, with the goal of unseating @BarackObama as the most followed person in Twitter.  Bryan’s a New York City based creative dude focused on video and animation.  He started today with 7 followers on Twitter.  For the uninitiated, Twitter is a “micro-blogging” service where users can post what they’re doing in 140 characters or less. Unlike Facebook or MySpace, you don’t have to be “friends” with someone.  I can follow your status updates even if you don’t care what I’m doing, and vice-versa.

I started following Bryan on Twitter earlier on Wednesday, after Jimmy twittered about it, but before the show aired – his follower count was still 4 digits at the time.  When he appeared on the show on the East coast, Bryan had over 11,000 followers due only to the “tweets” (twitter updates) of Jimmy and his guests.  As of the time I’m submitting this post, Bryan has over 18,600 followers, and this is even before Jimmy’s show airs on the Twitter-heavy West coast. In doing so, he passes the Wall Street Journal and Fast Company Magazine to become one of the 10 most popular Twitter users in New York City and in the Top 300 out of 1.3+ million twitter users.  Tuesday, Ellen DeGeneres created Twitter account @TheEllenShow, after guest @iamdiddy (P Diddy) demonstrated Twitter to her, and already has almost 50,000 followers in just 2 days, placing her among the 200 most popular twitterers.  Twitter has also been heavily talked about on the major news networks – it is everywhere.

As I was updating stats for this post, Twitter showed me a fail whale several times, as it does then they’re getting more traffic than they can handle.  Twitter Search‘s trending topics at the time were Jimmy Fallon, Google Voice, Bryan Brinkman, #SxSW, Late Night, South Park, Watchmen, Russell Brand, #melo, and GrandCentral – with 4 of these 9 topics related to Fallon’s gag, I have to believe that the fail whale was caused by Jimmy Fallon sending a ton of curious viewers to Twitter in a burst.

Twitter is everywhere on TV now, so much that I am inclined to call it mainstream.  I see not just technophiles on Twitter now – I see people I know from all disciplines – PhD chemists, real estate agents, entertainers, churches, you name it – joining Twitter.  Twitter’s been pretty stable lately, but with 33% growth in just the past month, and the ability of a single mainstream media hit to induce fail-whale’s, I think we’re in for a whole new era of growth as Twitter is embraced by a mainstream audience, and a whole new era of odd Twitter behavior as a flood of new users enters faster than the existing users can educate them about Twitter’s social norms.

Technology, Uncategorized

Create TinyURL like URLs in Ruby

Some Ruby on Rails side-project hacking I’ve been doing led me to need to generate shortened URLs.  The ShortURL gem is fine if you want to use TinyURL, Snurl, or some other external service to generate and manage your URLs, but in my case, I need to host the URLs so I can track usage statistics and redirect to a URL determined at request-time.

I wanted to avoid generating curse words, or any words for that matter, so I opted not to use vowels rather than try and figure out something more clever.  I also had no requirement to obfuscate the sequential nature of the generated value.  The result essentially converts a number to a base 54 string suitable for use as a URL parameter.

URL_CHARS = ('0'..'9').to_a + %w(b c d f g h j k l m n p q r s t v w x y z) + %w(B C D F G H J K L M N P Q R S T V W X Y Z - _)
URL_BASE = URL_CHARS.size

def generateUrl idNumber
localCount = idNumber
result = ”;
while localCount != 0
rem = localCount % URL_BASE
localCount = (localCount – rem) / URL_BASE
result = URL_CHARS[rem] + result
end
return result
end

My usage will be to convert the numeric primary key of my model objects to this hash, so that Person #1174229 could be referenced as the short url http://app.com/p?i=7sH_

Obviously, the straightforward business of inserting this value into your table, performing lookups on it, etc is omitted and should be fairly straightforward to a seasoned developer.  The function can fit almost a half-billion values into 5 characters, and doesn’t experience the stack overflow issues of some recursive implementations I found, so I think it’s pretty useful.  (7 characters give you 1.3 trillion possibilities… nice!)

I can see a pretty cool plugin being built to solve this problem… maybe I’ll get around to writing short_url_fu one of these days.

Uncategorized, WeTheCitizens

Amazon Content Delivery Network Web Service?

Content Delivery Networks (CDN) such as Akamai and Atlanta’s own Internap handle the problem of delivering content (especially large content), handling all of the scalability and geographical delivery optimization. This market has become fairly commoditized, and since it requires huge investment in hardware in many locations and software to glue it together, new competition in this market would seem unlikely.

Amazon Web Services just announced the innocuously named Elastic IP Addresses and EC2 Availability Zones.  Elastic IP lets you associate a static IP address with an individual EC2 instance – slick.  “Availability Zones” effectively let you deploy your apps into different “zones” (probably different physical data centers) to protect against outages in a single “zone” or the internet around that “zone”.  This feature also supports regions, currently only us-east is available.

Where this gets interesting is when they add some more regions.  Amazon promises faster performance between servers in the same zone, so it seems necessary that at some point,  they’ll ensure that you can load your S3 content from the same zone your server’s in.  So now you have a geographically distributed network of servers that can delivery large amounts of content and handle any spikes in server or bandwidth demand.  Hmm… sounds like a CDN.  You can imagine someone building an entirely new CDN based entirely on Amazon Web Services (or should we call it SkyNet?).  Or is this the beginning of Amazon exposing the internal plumbing they’re putting in place to make S3 itself behave more like a CDN?

SkyNet (AWS) just keeps getting more interesting.  At least until it becomes sentient and sends an army of giant robot dogs after us.

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SoCon08 – 5 Events That Changed Our Lives Since SoCon07

Jeff Haynie is kicking off the day at SoCon08 with a quick hit talk on the mega events that have transpired since the last SoCon

  • Facebook Platform  – the critical mass on Facebook and the explosion of apps on the Facebook platform have changed the internet dramatically.  As I mentioned before, I think this is more interesting as an idea than as a direct advantage for Facebook.  Facebook will struggle with democratization of social applications across the web, someone else will embrace this and out-innovate Facebook on the distributed social app and platform front.
  •  iPhone – The iPhone has taken the lead in the smartphone market at a remarkable pace.  I don’t fully understand the phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean I can’t observe it.  Much like the iPod, there are tons of pre-existing competing products that had a superior installed base last year, but the iPhone, like the iPod before it, has been the rock star that can attract peripherals and applications at a rate other, more “open” (install an app vs. Jailbreak), platforms have not.
  • Radiohead – released their album digitally on a “name your price” basis.  Thisis a potential tracer bullet in the modernization of the music industry.
  • Guitar Hero – Guitar Hero III was the largest game product launch ever.  The game industry is growing, the definition of who is a gamer is growing.  Wii is probably a big factor, possibly a bigger factor than Guitar Hero.  But Jeff’s folks play Guitar Hero on a Wii on Fridays anyhow, so it’s easy to mention both in the same breath.
  • MySQL – Sun bought MySQL for $1 billion.  To me, this is an ongoing validation of the open source business model.  The valuation is the big game-changer here.

A decent rundown, recognizing that not everyone in the room is neck-deep in technology every day.

Leonard Witt is following up with things he has learned in the passed year:

  • Pay attention to the frivolous – things like Twitter seem silly at first, but once they find their place, they can be tremendously powerful.  Given my recent adoption of Twitter, I totally understand this point.  So what’s frivolous right now?
  • “Free Revealing” – Give your ideas away. Len mentions that he blogged an idea he didn’t have time or money to pursue, and someone pursued him to give $50k to make the idea happen.

I’ll cut it off here – we’re about to get into some crowd-driven conversation about “what will be your big event for 2008”, and how far we’ve come from 2007?  I don’t think my blog fu will be able to keep up.

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Fearless Presidential Predictions

With the Iowa Caucuses concluding tonight, Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Barack Obama securing their respective parties’ convention votes for the presidency, it seems to be as good a time as any to give my own prognostication on how all of this is going to shake out.

On the Republican side, I see it coming down to the wire between Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani.  Huckabee is the candidate the religious right has been looking for.  He’s the candidate some people hoped they were getting in Fred Thompson, but Fred is reputedly either lazy or health-hampered.  Most of Fred’s supporters will defect to Huckabee after Super Tuesday, if not sooner.  Romney was the early frontrunner to carry the banner of social conservatives in this race, and it is only a matter of awareness that keeps many of them from defecting to Huckabee.  If being Catholic was a large challenge for JFK, being Mormon is a gargantuan challenge for Mitt.  Once the social conservatives leave his camp, Mitt ceases to be viable numbers-wise, and much of his New England and business-minded support would probably fall to Rudy.  John McCain polled acceptably in Iowa, but he is damaged goods.  It’s very hard to imagine a scenario where he regains the broad support he had 8 years ago, and easier to imagine that he drops out before February 5th with dwindling numbers in the next few states.  Giuliani is the politically spiritual successor to George W. Bush, and as much as that may alienate some, it appeals to a large portion of the GOP base and his perceived electability in a general election makes him a favorite for Republicans most concerned with retaining the presidency.  Although I personally appreciate the ideas and person of Ron Paul, the GOP seems more concerned with legislating morality at the national level than the constitutionally federalist approach to fiscal and social policy which Paul espouses.

On the Democrat side, the quick answer is not-Edwards.  I continue to find Hillary Clinton’s wide support to be fairly inexplicable in that I have yet to meet a staunch Hillary supporter, much less one that can provide a logical explanation of why she is appealing as a prospective President.  I suspect her key supporters are the establishment-minded members of the Democratic Party and people who believe strongly that we need to elect a female president.  Obama is the rock-star candidate of the party, and throws around big yet vague ideas and speaks about hope.  Most non-political-establishment people I encounter who are left-leaning seem to favor Obama.  If ever there was a time where we could elect a President based on style rather than substance, it is now, and this has the potential to benefit Obama greatly.  Obama has the better shot at becoming President.  Hillary has horrendously high negative numbers in a general election – the GOP would have a field day getting the vote out to vote against her.  If Obama is willing to bring on some serious advisors to turn his audacity of hope/hype into detailed policy that he can articulately describe, the presidency is his for the taking.  Without this, he risks annihilation in the general election because his current policy initiatives are high on hyperbole and low on detail.

Guess at the final outcome?  Giuliani over Clinton in the general.  Huckabee over Obama is also easily imaginable.

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April Fools Curmudgeon

I’m an April Fools curmudgeon.  I’d rather the day didn’t exist at all.  Not that I don’t mind a good joke, and not that I tend to get fooled by anything – I just don’t like spending March 31st through April 2nd debating whether any of the news I’m reading has ANY basis in reality.  I thrive on new information, new and interesting happenings, and so having to ignore blogs, social news sites, and pretty much anything involving the internet for these days is information withdrawal.  Bah humbug.