December 30, 2012
It started with a heat beat sensor project I wanted to work on. Equipped with a pulse sensor for Arduino and a Beaglebone I’ve set out to create my very own heart rate monitor. I know what you’re thinking: a Beaglebone is not the same as an Arduino. But how hard can it be to convert a simple project designed for the Arduino to work on a Beaglebone? Very hard, it seems.
Before I explain, your probably wondering why I bought a Beaglebone instead of an Arduino, and why I like to make my life so hard. Well, a Beaglebone is cooler. It has all the analog/digital inputs that an Arduino has, but hey, it’s a full blown Linux server to boot. It think there’s something really awesome about having a self contained server that can be accessed through the Internet from anywhere. Plus on the Beaglebone you can code in Ruby, Node, C, Python – you name it. However, none of the code written for the Arduino works out-of-the-box on a Beaglebone. But for me it’s a great way (i.e. the “hard way”) to learn something.
With my “simple” project in mind I set out to learn everything I need to know to build it:
- Learn about the Beaglebone – the platform and hardware is different than the Arduino
- Learn Processing - Processing is used to graphically display your heart beat
- Learn about socket.io (to communicate between the Beaglebone server and Processing) – this is to communicate in realtime between the Beaglebone server and a web browser
- Throw in a little electronics, and I’m on my way
What am I going to do with a heart rate monitor anyway? I’m not quite sure. I could be the start of a massive opensource medical instrumentation company. Or perhaps just a hacker project.
It doesn’t matter really because I’m having a riot.
By the way, if you have any questions, suggestions or ideas please let me know.
December 20, 2012
Another year, a whole new batch of predictions. Once again we gathered around the virtual fireplace at the The Code Factory, enjoying cupcakes and port wine, wondering about what awaits us all in 2013. We had 3 straight years of pretty good predictions from the team. You can see here: 2010, 2011, 2012.
Predictions for 2013:
Chris – 1) Blackberry 10 will bring life to RIM. It won’t restore RIM to it’s former glory but it will resurrect the company’s smart phone business. Chris even predicts that BB10 will grab more market share than Windows 8. Prediction 2 – The number of Intellectual Property lawyers will double within the year.
Tri – The end of the world will not be tomorrow. If he’s wrong no one will know the difference.
Ian – the US will not go over the “fiscal cliff”. The US economy is too important. The Euro crisis is real however.
Moni – 1) The New York Stock Exchange was sold today. More mergers like this will occur. 2) More legislation of permits in the City of Ottawa.
Andrew – Windows 8 phones will gain the 3rd spot within 2 years. The rest of the group predicted Windows 8 would do “ok”. No consensus on what exactly “ok” means however.
Chris S. – 2013 will be the year of the “Internet of Things”. Sensors will will be everywhere monitoring almost every aspect of our lives.
JC – Commoditization and localization of manufacturing. Robotics and 3D printing will bring manufacturing back to North America.
We also lively discussions about startups, robot dragonflies, the resurgence of cupcakes (although we agreed muffins were more manly) and a great number of other fascinating topics. Will our predictions pan out? I guess we’ll have to check next Christmas!
Happy holidays to all and see you in 2013!
September 16, 2012
This post was partly inspired by an article by Seth Godin entitled Risk, Fear and Worry (and they’re not the same). I was having a particularly stressful week and getting into one of the “I don’t know where to start” moods. Reading Seth’s post made me realize that I was having troubles telling the difference between risk, fear and worry. As a result, I developed this simple approach that can be applied to anything: work, home, a new idea, a big project, starting a business, climbing Mt. Everest; whatever tickles your fancy.
Here’s how it works:
- Take blank page and divide it into three columns. At the top of the first column write “Worries”, on the second write “Fears” and on the third write “Risks”
- In the Worries column right down everything that’s keeping you up at night. Don’t worry about whether it’s rational or baseless. Just right it down. If it’s on your mind then it’s real and must be dealt with.
- In the Fears column write down what you are afraid of, i.e. what’s the worst thing that could happen if you don’t deal with those worries?
- For each item in the Fears column, in the third column write down the risk of it coming to fruition. How likely is the risk (high, medium or low) and over what time-frame (urgent, non-urgent).
You now have the basis of an action plan. Take all the high and medium risk items from the third column and add them to your ToDo list as either “today”, “up next” or “some day”. Make sure you are doing something to make progress on all of the high risk items. If something needs immediate attention, deal with it as soon as possible. If it’s a high or medium risk item, but over a longer term, break it into smaller bite-sized tasks and tackle it over time, before it becomes an urgent problem. For things that are non-urgent and low risk, forget about them! Go through this exercise at least once a month or at the beginning of a large project.
You will be surprised that many of your fears and worries really low risk or things that you are really powerless to change.
How it works
Risks that have not been identified, quantified, and when necessary, actioned, create debilitating fear, and debilitating fear will turn into obsessive worry. This a natural phenomena that all of us humans experience and it’s a normal physiological response mechanism.
This technique works because you start with the often irrational worries, which are easy to identify. Then you pinpoint the real risks that can be addressed in a sensible manner. Going the other way, i.e. starting by identifying risks fist, doesn’t work as well because you really have no sense of prioritization or weighting. It’s kind of like packing your bags before you know where you’re going.
The technique works particularly well for teams. When you’re first starting a challenging project everyone has worries, but not everyone will express their worries because they may feel it’s a sign of weakness. Getting everyone to express their worries and fears helps to identify and prioritize the real risks and put actions in place to mitigate those risks. The key is never to criticize anyone (including yourself) for expressing their worries; they are real and founded. They just need to be quantified and actioned appropriately.
From my observations, the most successful people and teams not only identify risks early on and do something about them, but they also have a sense for things that they really have no control over in the immediate sense and decide conscientiously not to deal with until truly necessary. They are able to separate important and likely risks from non-important and unlikely risks and better able to execute and tackle long term goals.
Great, but what does this have to do with doing the “impossible”?
This technique can literally be applied to anything. Fear of failure is the #1 reason people don’t start something new (and risky). Whether it’s improving an existing company, starting a new company, cycling across Canada, changing your career, or landing a robot on the surface of the moon. Until you rationalize your fears it will never happen.
What’s keeping you from starting something new (and risky)? What’s keeping you from pushing your boundaries? Are you worried you’re not skilled enough? Are you worried you don’t have time? Are you worried your idea is not good enough? Each of these worries are just that: worries. You can learn. You can find the time or join a team. You can validate your idea.
One thing for sure, no one ever gets anything done by worrying, right?
June 20, 2012
I returned from my cross-Canada cycling trip on Saturday, June 16th, in one piece, with all body parts still connected and no tire marks across my back. It was an astounding trip with two-thirds of the distance getting completed in the last half of the trip. You can read about it here.
I learned a lot of things about this great country, but there’s one that I want to share with you that specifically ties into the start-up world: you can’t begin any new project or enterprise with even the slightest expectation that you’re going to fail.
I’m not saying you foolishly go ahead with something as big as starting your own company without being prepared, or assessing the risks. What I’m saying is you start by envisioning what you want by assuming that you can’t possibly fail.
This isn’t something that’s easy to do. It’s been drilled into our heads since early school years that we must expect to fail. Every newspaper article or popular TV show is about people that fail. That’s what makes news afterall. It’s hard to find stories about people that were successful, and even when you find one, someone will be quick to point out why that couldn’t be you.
But for one moment, try this: you can do something and you will not fail. What comes to mind? For me, it was going on a 6 week cross-Canada cycling trip. It was something I has always wanted to do. Of course there were lots of challenges but in the end I did it.
Back to start-ups.
If you knew you could not fail at creating a start-up what would it look like? Would it be a “one-man” show or would you employ hundreds of people? Would if be a life-style business, one that would allow you to live anywhere in the world, take vacations when you want, perhaps supplement your current income or would it be an all out, go big or go home kind of venture? Maybe it’s the next Facebook? What kind of business would it be? One that requires you to interface with real people, selling door-to-door or one where there’s little interaction and everything is automated?
All of these are possible and neither is right or wrong. It depends on what you want and you need to figure that out beforehand. Maybe you really don’t want to start you own business. Maybe something else comes to mind, and that’s ok too.
Once you’ve envisioned what it is that you want, and it’s something that makes your heart beat a little faster and it’s something that gives you butterflies in your stomach, then it’s time to identify your fears. What are you afraid about that would keep you from attaining your goal? List them down. Then start thinking about how to overcome those fears.
Some of your fears will be unwarranted; they’re in your head and aren’t real. Some of your fears will be warranted, and that’s stuff you need to get to work at. Like making sure you have a good idea, one that has true value that customers would pay for. Do you have the time and the skills? If not, how do you get them? Make a plan and set a time limit. Of course, all of these things can be overcome, as they have for thousands of years by entrepreneurs just like yourself.
Everyone you know will tell you what you’re trying to do is going to be hard, if not impossible. Many will say it’s been tried before and they failed. People love to give advice, even if they have no personal experience. Thank everyone for their input and get back to your list of things you’re worried about, the valid ones that need to be addressed. And when people tell you to “fail fast” or “start with failure in mind” politely tell them to go to hell. No one ever accomplished anything worthwhile by starting with the notion they were going to fail.
Try this little exercise. It doesn’t hurt a bit. What possibilities do you envision? How will you make your dream a reality?
May 1, 2012
Update: I now have a blog for my cycling trip: CyclingAcrossCanada.org.
This Saturday, May 5th, I’m taking a 1-way flight to Vancouver, returning home by bicycle. It’s going to take me 6 weeks to get to Toronto where my employer, Allstream, is located.
This is a life long dream for me, one I was beginning to give up hope on. My love, Vicki, convinced me that there’s no better time then the present. She has supported me all the way: giving me the time to train, helping me to plan the trip, and giving that extra push whenever I start having second thoughts (6 weeks is along time to be alone and away from home). Now here I am, just 5 days away, packed and ready to go. I still can’t believe it. It is a dream come true.
I’m very excited about re-starting TeamCamp when I get back. When I’m on my bike my mind flourishes with new ideas and new approaches. I’m looking forward to doing some fun and interested things things with our small but energetic TeamCamp group when I get back.
For, your information, the next general TeamCamp meeting will be on June 21st. RSVP on Meetup here. I don’t have a theme for our next meeting yet but I have a feeling we’ll have a lot to talk about.
Thank you all, for supporting TeamCamp over the years. I look forward to seeing you on my return.
February 24, 2012
I love the video Viafoura has created for pitching their idea. They use a classic approach that you can use for your own pitches:
- The problem - What problem does your service solve from your customer’s perspective? (Digital publishers premium content is been used to build social media communities on someone else’s platform)
- The solution – How does your service solve this problem? (Viafoura helps digital publishers create the same sense of community that users find compelling on social media platforms)
- Features - What are the technology attributes of your solution that solve this problem? (Conversation widgets, curation widgets and reward mechanics)
- Benefits - What are the benefits of using your service? (Increased customer loyalty – more page views, longer tome spent on the site, more return visits – leading to more revenue)
You can use this same methodology to pitch your idea:
“Our customer’s _______ (problem) will be solved by our ______ (solution) because of our _____________ (technology attributes) which leads to ___________ (benefits)” (fill in the blanks)”
Digital publishers premium content is been used to build social media communities on someone else’s platform. Viafoura helps digital publishes create the same sense of community that users find so compelling on social media platforms through the use of conversation widgets, curation widgets and reward mechanics. The use of our Viafoura will increase customer loyalty: more page views, longer time spent on your site, and more return visits leading to increased revenue.
Get this pitch right and it should lead to more questions, like, what the heck is “reward mechanics”. But that’s what you want: more questions.
If you want you embellish your pitch even more, consider how you could add “proof points”, i.e. examples of how your solution (or maybe someone else’s solution in a similar context) actually produced the benefits described in your pitch.
Got an idea? Try to express it in the format above. The process will help you to flesh out your idea.
Next up: taking this one step further by structuring a hypothesis for your lean start-up.
February 20, 2012
Some people know the answer to this question without even thinking about it. For others, it’s not so easy.
Being an entrepreneur is awesome! You’re your own boss. You’re in the drivers seat. You pick what you want to do rather then someone else. There’s an opportunity for great success.
Being an entrepreneur sucks! You’re your own boss: if you screw up there’s no one to blame but yourself. You have decide what to do every step of the way; no one’s going to help you (other than advice, of which over half will be bad anyway). There’s the chance of great failure: financial disaster, marital problems, stress.
Being an employee is awesome! If you screw up, the company will likely survive, and you’ll probably get a second chance. You get to contribute, perhaps in a big way, but someone else is taking all the big risks. Do your job well and you’ll continue to get paid. If the company is in trouble, you can always work somewhere else.
Being an employee sucks! No matter how great your ideas are, someone else is making the decisions. You do what you’re told; there’s little room for creativity. If the company is in trouble, you could loose your job, and you may have trouble finding another one.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
January 12, 2012
I was starting to get a little discouraged about the new apps being launched lately. They all seem to be so “me too” and narrowly focused. That is until lately.
I’ve recently been hacking around with a couple of applications, or platforms if you will, that look really interesting and got my creative juices flowing: Twilio and Trello (and yes, they sound a lot alike but that’s just a coincidence).
Twilio provides infrastructure APIs for developers to build scalable voice and text messaging apps. Think of Twilio as cloud-based telephony. They’ve built a very easy to use and flexible platform for developers to dream up all sorts of applications. It took me a while to “get it”, but here’s how I see it: Twilio approaches telephony from the perspective of what a user wants to do. It’s not really for making simple telephone calls – although it can do that – it’s more for building integrated and interactive apps that use telephony as a feature. I see this user-driven approach as refreshing from the traditional telecommunications company.
Trello is a very flexible, multi-purpose collaboration tool. Two things really impress me about Trello: first the incredibly responsive and dynamic interface. The developers, Fog Creek Software, have deployed the latest bleeding edge technologies to build Trello: node.js, Coffeescript, WebSockets, MongoDB, HTML5 and CSS3. I can make a change on the screen of my laptop and see the change propagate to my iPad in less than a second. No need to save and update. Trello gets me dreaming about the whole new generation of web apps that these technologies could spawn.
The other thing that’s impressive about Trello is its multi-purpose functionality; you could use it for anything from keeping a personal todo list to managing a complex business process to building a house to designing a new product. Trello is working on an API and I could envision integrating Trello with other business applications.
Hopefully you’ll share my excitement.
What new platforms have you looked at lately? I’d love to hear from you.
December 15, 2011
We had a great turnout tonight with lots of new faces.
For the 3rd year in a row, here are the TeamCamp predictions for 2012:
Brad – Responsive websites that respond to either mobile or desktop applications. This will create more work for developers but will save companies money overall. Prediction 2: The Facebook IPO will make it one of the most over valued companies.
Sylvain – Prediction 1: we’ll finally see the emergence of software as a service (SAS), i.e. people will buy terminals rather than computers and run apps on the cloud. Prediction 2: Within the next 15 years there will be a total collapse of the economy worldwide and currency as we know it will cease to exist. I guess we’ll need to wait a few years to see if this will happen.
Ian – The global meltdown comes to Ottawa next year and there will be across the board cuts in the federal government (merry Christmas to you too Ian!). Ian cites cuts in DND and the elimination of the Wheat Board as leading indicators. Other indicators: the economy in general is suffering and housing pricing is 3 times higher than in the US. However, as a result of all of this there will be a rise in entrepreneurship (ok, we feel better now, I think).
JC - The current multiplication of social networks significantly increases the signal to noise ratio which makes them, at best not as useful as they could be and at worst, very distracting. We’ll see the emergence of independent “social filters”, as opposed to the ones (built by and for the benefit of the major players) that currently dictate what gets into our news feed. This will hopefully bring better ways of reducing the social clutter while keeping it meaningful and human. Also, Apple TV with integrated screen etc. will be launched and will be Siri enabled.
Zeeshan – Web apps will continue to proliferate despite the popularity of mobile apps. Prediction 2: Windows will launch an app store but it will not be successful.
Alain – TeamCamp will explode into a massive enterprise pumping out 100s, no 1000s, no 10,000s of new startups all over the world. And, as a result, The Code Factory will need more space. Now, the real prediction: The automobile industry will finally get with it and introduce truly innovative (and useful) technology in vehicles. Prediction 3: someone will invent a technology to make your voice sound like anyone else’s voice, an actor for example. (It sounds like you better patent that one Alain)
Chris – I’m going out on a limb this year: Microsoft will start to make a comeback (gulp!).
All of our predictions started to get a little off the wall at that point. So, I guess we’ll have to see what happens next year.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!
November 21, 2011
You have a startup idea. Great! Is there a market for it? Let’s find out! A promo page is a great way to find out if your idea resonates with someone in the market.
On Thursday, Dec 1st, Pascal Laliberté (@pascallaliberte) will show you how to gauge the market for a startup idea using analytics tools and a promo page.
Pascal is a Business Analyst at the University of Ottawa and maintains a blog at pascallaliberte.info. The is the second time Pascal will be presenting at TeamCamp. You’ll love his enthusiasm and his passion for usability.
In this session, you’ll learn how to use analytics tools to help you widdle down to a killer promo page. You’ll learn how to track clicks to gauge user interest, how to discover your audience by learning how they got to your page and how to know which version of your promo page creates the best response.
Part 1 : Analytics tools and how to use them
We’ll look at approaches for analytics, some definitions, a round up of a few tools you can use like Google Analytics, Clicktale, Google Website Optimizer and Adwords. We’ll also get technical with a few examples of click tracking code and A/B testing tricks.
Part 2 : Group exercise
By working with one or two of your examples, we’ll figure out together the steps to get to a testable promo page. This will be a group exercise, so bring your ideas!
When: Thursday, Dec 1st, 6pm – networking, 6:15 – start
Where: The Code Factory, 234 Queen St., Ottawa, 2nd floor (ring the buzzer to take the elevator)