Archive for May, 2006

Whoever invented tonal languages needs to be fired.

To give an example, I'm a voracious tea drinker, but despite my best attempts I've never successfully ordered it in Thai. No matter how I try to pronounce it - cha, caa, tza, chaa, shaa - it just never works. I'll pantomime drinking from a hot cup, pouring from a pot - nothing ever works. Eventually I'll break down and say "hot tea" and they'll say "Ohh.. you want cha." We'll have a futile language lesson as I practice a dozen identical forms of pronunciation, and the experience repeats. The depth of my misery is so great that I've went out and bought a thermos, and carry around my own tea. Besides, their tea sucks anyway. But non-tonal languages suffer no such problem. Like, I write this from a sushi counter in Bankok, having just ordered from a Thai waitress in Japanese (a non-tonal language which is native to neither of us). Our conversation goes: [Me] "Um... hamachi, saba..." [Her] "Sashimi?" [Me] "No, nigiri. Maguro..." [Her] "No maguro." [Me] "Oh, hm... tekka maki?" [Her] "No, no maguro." (we laugh) [Me] "Ahh... sake.. tobiko.. you have salmon skin hand roll?" [Her] "Yes" [Me] "Good, that's it." (she turns to leave) [Me] "Oh, and hot tea." Somehow I can express a full sushi menu in Japanese without trouble -- to a non-native Japanese speaker, no less -- but a single syllable of Thai confounds me.

Last Night Discovery

After weeks of scraping together a routine of restaurants and coffeeshops in Krabi, we finally stumble upon nirvana on the last night:

A beautiful, air-conditioned, private library in a luxury resort, complete with cozy chairs, hot drinks on call, free hand massages. Free internet.

Granted, you had to sneak past security guards and wander nonchalant amongst $2000/night villas, but basic infiltration techniques are prerequisite for all Swoosh employees.

Live P2P Streaming: The Next Urban Myth?

How much of the TV you watch is truly "live"? Don't look at me funny, it's a serious question. What fraction of the TV you watch is only a few seconds old, straight from some camera to your TV without editing? Let's break it down: - Is anything on Must-See-TV live? No - How about Saturday morning cartoons? No - Leno?, Letterman? Nope - The Sopranos, Everybody Loves Raymond, Soaps, Opera Winfrey? Nada How about the national news? If you're on the east coast, maybe it's live, not on the west coast though. If you're watching a 24 hour news channel, the *vast* majority of play time is pre-recorded segments. How about 24? That clock doesn't make it so :) Now isn't the holy trinity of media distribution - broadcast, cable, satellite - perfectly designed and suited for live distribution of Television? Of course it is. So why isn't most of TV live? Here are a couple reasons: - Editing makes TV better. - For 95%+ of the TV people watch, live doesn't matter, NOBODY CARES Even the notion of linear programming seems to be dwindling in every direction I look. Comcast and their MSO brethren have launched and are aggressively expanding their on-demand offerings. 99% of what is distributed on the Net is non-live content (the 1% is made up of the few radio stations that still do live streams online - the most popular radio services are simply playing pre-recorded songs in a pre-set playlist). So, why the heck is everybody knocking down my door about live P2P streaming? Usually they're frenetic, intense and on a mission, like Indiana Jones about to get the holy graille or something. Cheap, live, high-performance video distribution online. Previously, only in the sci-fi books. Does it make me feel kind of special to be the guy, behind the guy, behind the guy, that can make their dreams come true? Of course it does, and I bask in their praise every chance I get. But then reality sets in: How much of Headline News is Live? I'm going to guess less than 10% How much of ESPN is Live? Less than 50% for sure. Now don't get me wrong, if you're going to want live, it's going to be in one of 3 categories: sports, news, events (like concerts). But even in these categories, sports is the only one where a majority of its viewed content is Live. Long-term customers probably range only at 15-20 max. My point isn't that Live doesn't exist or that there's no business there, but it's not even in the same order of magnitude as the big business of pre-recorded content delivery. So how come all the hub-ub, the frothy mouths, and the Venture Capitalists circling around like vultures? The REAL reason for this recent move toward live online P2P is licensing. Content owners are scared of losing ad revenues in an on-demand world (Tivo on the Net is worse than the Second Coming for these guys) especially one that's online. Cable companies are scared that the pipes they built to double up for Internet access will be used to get around their $80/month/subscriber cash cow. Content companies are scared that their cable deals will get screwed if they try to "go around" the cable companies by doing on-demand on the Net. Bottom line is that for the next couple years, on-demand, ad-supported TV licensing for the Net is a non-starter. And so with all those 100 million people on the Net but no way to get them on-demand programming online, some brilliant guy trying to make his numbers came up with a genius holding pattern: "Why don't we take pre-recorded TV content, and broadcast it Live over the Internet?" Don't even get me started on the technical lameness of the proposition, but this is the world we live in for a couple years, until online, on-demand licensing makes the world better for consumers everywhere. In the meantime, I'll bask in the temporal sunny rays of the Live P2P streaming spotlight. - chief swoosher

My new found love for Offline Email

So when you’re at work, fat broadband pipe into your office, how many times do you click on SEND/RECEIVE button in Outlook, or check gmail for new stuff?

Once an hour. . . ? don’t lie. . .

Once every 15 minutes. . . maybe, but you probably do it more than that

Once every 5 minutes . . . only for the true ADD/OCD among us. . .

How many IMs do you get?
How many phone calls?

I went through my IM logs, email history, phone records and found it hard to believe how many interruptions I get in a SINGLE heavy activity day:

- Over 150 non-spam emails
- Up to 75 instant messages
- 30+ phone calls coming in
- Send/Receive button (assuming every 15 minutes) is hit another 48 times

That adds up to over 300 interruptions in a single day! If you consider that most interruptions happen during business hours, that’s one interruption every 2 minutes. It’s no wonder I get my best work done between 9PM and 2AM.

But then we start working from Thailand. The Internet for the whole peninsula we’re on goes through one satellite dish. This satellite dish is flaky and can go down for 15-20 minutes at a time. Developers don’t have a problem with that, but [gasp] business dudes can freak out [/gasp].

So we get on the Net for a few hours at a time, a couple times a day. This forced me to adapt. . .but how? I heard of guys doing email offline, and then syncing up a few times a day, but I thought that was for members of the AARP or something. Well, let me tell ya’, offline email is the holy graile of productivity.

I’m offline, no IMs, no Skype, no send/receive - send/receive, and I churn out 100 emails in less than 5 hours-and these aren’t short two-word emails, most of them thoughtful but to the point, usually a paragraph or two long with the occasional one-pager.

100 emails in 300 minutes is an email every 3 minutes sustained. You can’t do that with interruptions. Now going offline for that long can come with some downside, but I guarantee massive increase in productivity to any sales/bizdev. guy who does this 3-5 times a week. . . I don’t care what else he does.

Maybe I’m late to the party, but when I come back to the states, I’m turning wireless/LAN/EVDO card OFF for my special Thai-island productivity feasts.

- chief swoosher

Occupational Hazards

Does ant infestation violate your laptop warranty? How about monkey pee? When you move your office to the tropics, you open yourself to a wide new array of occupational hazards:

  • Chemical warfare. It’s not called “rainforest” for nothing. When it rains, it pours, and just being indoors isn’t enough to keep you and your thousands of dollars of computer hardware dry.
  • Arial bombardment. Remember when you switched from playing Doom to Quake, and for the first time you had to look “up” to fend off zombie attacks? Well, much the same thing here, but now they’re monkeys, and grenade launching takes on a whole new meaning.
  • Swarming attacks. Remember your first Zerg rush? Hordes of minions swarming over your meticulous defenses so fast you question whether you and your opponent started at the same time? Experience the same joy each night when the lights turn off and the myriad brands of insects - drawn to the brightest light in the room - become mesmerized by your laptop LCDs.
  • Minefields. Nothing better complements a sunburn than the sting of a jellyfish. From the deck of the Swoosh speedboat on a recent snorkeling adventure, we admired the aquamarine waters rushing beneath… as well as the high density of fluffy pink deathtraps (each bigger than a basketball) lurking just beneath the surface.
  • Electrocution. Just because you can plug it in doesn’t mean you should. There’s no quicker reminder that the world hasn’t standardized on 120V than a fried wifi router.
  • Civilians. Generally you don’t have confused (and often drunk) tourists walking through your office asking such brilliant questions as “is that a laptop?” Even after years of enduring the same idiocy at my favorite late-night SF wifi zone (the Matrix Fillmore), I’ve yet to determine the best reply.

All told, offshoring isn’t for everyone, and certainly not for the feint of heart. But if you’ve got the fortitude, you might find your abilities to navigate the urban jungle helped by a few weeks navigating the real thing. The opportunity to step outside your life and look back with a critical eye doesn’t come often, and not without serious effort on your part. But there’s a reason the Temple of Doom wasn’t buried in SOMA. Indiana went to the ends of the earth to find his treasure; how can you justify doing less?

Offshoring Yourself: Ground Rules

Traveling to work in such a far-off destination as Krabi, Thailand comes with its own risks. Among the most disasterous is the potential for your offshoring exercise to become an excuse for a paid holiday.

Now, Swoosh has some pretty phenomenal employees. . .check their profiles here. . but before making the decision to come out here, I made sure to get buy-in from all Swoosh employees on a couple of fundamental ground rules:

Ground Rule #1 - Be more productive

- More hours and smarter hours - each team member tracks his hours, we have daily 10AM meetings to discuss what we accomplished yesterday and what we plan on accomplishing today.

- No more daily grind - no commute, no lunch meetings, no hanging with friends at the bar, or going out and picking up on the fairer sex. .all of our time is hanging with each other, talking shop and getting work done.

- Limit distractions - My hours have been smarter as I don’t have nearly the distractions around me (phone, meetings, IMs, etc.). . . I’ve limited myself to calls with existing customers, and advanced sales prospects ONLY with 5 calls a night at 11PM here, 9AM Pacific time, and 5 more calls at 7AM here, 5PM Pacific time.

- Laser focus - I’m laser-focused on accomplishing the goals we’ve set out for the trip. . . getting our new site up, making sure the guys are on their game writing a next gen version of our P2P delivery platform and putting RS in the best position to turn the corner on its relaunch.

Ground Rule #2 - Spend less

- We’re between office leases, moving up to SF from San Mateo, and so we have no office rent until we get back. You’ll find us in the city (SF, South Park) starting in June.

- Everybody bought their own tickets ($740 round-trip), for a couple guys totally funded by sub-leasing their apartments while they’re here.

- Hotels and lodging are ranging between $2-$6/night/person (it’s ultra-cheap out here)

- RS contributes large portion of office rent savings to various expenses, lodging, team dinners, tech equipment, etc.

This has been one hell of a change from business as usual and has provided some hi-octane fuel and motivation as we go through a major software overhaul and a complete revamp of product marketing. At the least, we’ll make sure we’ve worked at least the same amount as we do in SF. On the upside, we’ll have a successful re-launch, a sparkling new generation of our grid software platform, and additionally a powerful self-service portal that generates real activity and converts real business.

-chief swoosher

Six-Million-Dollar Re-write

So us techies are doing our part for Swoosh by throwing down a major code rewrite here in Thailand.

It’s a tough call to do a re-write. Customers always want new features yesterday, and that means Travis is on our butts to get things out. But what happens when features on top of features on top of features make for crazy-serious complexity? Eventually it takes longer to keep adding features on-demand than to re-write a next-gen platform. But then the rewrite means feature-freeze until we get the new client out.

The wager: Our existing client and server software does what it needs to do now, and does it well (can you name a better P2P content delivery system out there?). But the bet is that it will be a lot faster, easier, and cleaner to introduce the sophisticated and powerful new features needed over the next few years on the new architecture than on the current architecture. How about live-event streaming, ultra-high performance delivery speed that blows away our current 50% advantage over web-servers, and hitting high peer-efficiencies on super-rare content for starters.

The Bottom-line: Dive deep into coding and prepare an environment that will produce high quality code with even higher quality testing in a short period of time. Can’t get into the secret sauce here, but so far so good.

I’ve been part of Swoosh since February this year, but I only just physically joined the team yesterday, flying in to be part of this zany Thailand adventure. It’s been fun so far, and I know it’s going to get a whole heap more intense, and thus a whole heap more fun. And I know I just won’t be able to get that Six Million Dollar Man quote out of my head the whole time:

“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. […] Better than he was before. Better… stronger… faster.”

Tom - code dude