On Showbags

So my partner went to the Royal Easter Show last Saturday, and returned after dark, totally exhausted, and with a sore back and sore feet from hauling lots of heavy showbags over a kilometer from the showbag hall to the carpark. On Sunday she proceeded to lay the contents of each bag out in the middle of the living-room floor, in what can only be described as “an orgy of consumer crap”. See photo (this by the way is not everything) :

Of particular amusement to me was the 1 kilo of flour buried at the bottom of one of the bags. I have to salute the sheer evil genius of whoever came up with that idea.

To explain, I view showbags as kind of like carry-on lugguage for a flight, except it’s packed by someone else, and you only get to properly unpack it at its destination. You also have to buy this luggage, and your destination is home.

So, the ideal showbag is inexpensive, and contains a variety of interesting things that you will use, that you would not normally buy, and is light because of the distance you will have to carry it.

Examples of good things to get in a showbag: Sachets of sauces, samplers for new varieties of tea and coffee, small packets of unusual sweets, light magazines, useful vouchers. Examples of bad things to get in a showbag: Heavy bottles of liquid, heavy useless glossy magazines.

Flour, of course is diabolically brilliantly bad, because it’s readily available at any supermarket or corner store, it’s a commodity (so it can never be unusual or interesting), it’s heavy, it’s bulky, and it’s dirt cheap (e.g. around 85 cents per kilo for no-frills brands). It is however arguably useful.

It made me wonder: What’s the worst thing you could put in a showbag, and still get away with? I’m thinking maybe a gardening showbag, that contains a 1.5 kilo bag of sand at the bottom of the bag. Sand is very heavy, it’s readily available, it’s bulky, it’s even cheaper than flour, and it’s even less useful. However sand does have plausible deniability for gardening, which I think is important. (This for example is why putting a large rock in the bottom of a showbag would probably never work).

Has anyone got any ideas for something worse to get in a showbag than flour or sand?

Oh and my favourite product sample was this:


That’s right: underarm sweat liners. And if you’re wondering: yes, they do make a male version. I had assumed at first that you stuck these into your armpits, and had to rip them off like a bandaid (together with any hairs) at the end of the day. Disappointingly, you stick them to your clothes – but I think the manufacturers aren’t thinking outside-the-box enough with this. Having sat in small rooms that reeked of body odour with other sweating geeks at previous LCAs, I personally think that a version that you stuck to your underarm would be a socially useful addition to the swag bag, if only we could get everyone to wear them :-)

Firefox T-shirt shipping madness

So the Mozilla store has released new T-shirts for Firefox 3. I don’t particular like the new T-shirt logo, and I thought the old logo was better. What’s really insane though is the cost of international shipping.

Cost of one Firefox T-shirt: US$17 = AUS$17.80

Cost of one Firefox T-shirt with delivery to Australia: US$110.64 = AUS$115.65

My guess on the total number of resulting Firefox T-shirts sales shipped to Australia at those prices: approximately zero.

Proof of bot status

A few days ago, I saw this comic:

Bot Suspicions comic
…. and then today I tried to register for a forum, and got this:

… and clicking “Refresh Image” gave this:

… and of course I thought of the comic.

Sydney BarCamp 3, day 1 notes

My quick notes from the first day of Sydney BarCamp 3 – apologies if they are quite terse:

  • Making computing cool – Let’s make everything objects, and hide file systems and devices from applications, with an on object layer. Benefits in reducing all the glue everywhere when communicating data over the wire or between apps; Could also allow apps to be migrated from one machine to another; Could even have a login of standard apps that follows you everywhere via the cloud., including retained state from your last login, but without using something like Citrix.
  • Processing and the demo scene. Gave a background to the demos and the demoscene. Introduced processing, which is a Java-based tool, built by 2 guys who have been working on it for about 4 years. Artists are one of the target audiences. More info at http://processing.org.
  • Sydney free wireless project. Currently trying to work out what standard hardware to use for the city-wide mesh, now that there are concerns over Meraki becoming much less open and losing their way (who have introduced a more restrictive EULA and have made flashing the hardware much harder). Open mesh dashboard is an open fork from Meraki, but still need to sort out a reasonable cost for the hardware including shipping to Aus. Also want the mesh to interoperate with other meshes – e.g. want to be able to automatically connect this mesh and an OLPC mesh, if at all possible.
  • Spoke to someone using 3 mobile networking on their laptop – uses a PC card with HSDPA. Recommended it, $15 per month for 1 Gb, or $49 for 5 Gb, and the modem is ~$298, or free if you sign a 24 month contract. There is currently a price war going on between Vodafone, 3, etc. over mobile broadband, prices are improving.
  • Quotes: “The problem with Domain Specific Languages (DSLs) is that they are Domain Specific”. “The tipping point for data portability is the user expectation of having data-portability between web apps.”
  • Some lessons from a start-up biz:
  1. Advertising is useful. Measure it carefully.
  2. Tech roadmap is about PR – tells customers “what’s coming next” – you need one – not binding – “announce before you announce”.
  3. Take a punt on marketing. Hard work getting the word out about your product. You have 9 lives when marketing – one failure won’t kill you.
  4. Make mistakes properly. Failing is okay, but do it properly. Fail in spectacular fashion.
  5. Everything takes longer than you think. It’s true.
  6. Be unconventional.
  7. Q: What mistake cost the most time? A: Messing around with landing pages. Company wisdom is that you should make a lot of them and test to see what is most effective. Need a lot of volume to perform useful tests. A case of premature optimisation.
  8. Q: Do we need to talk a lot of lawyers and accountants at start-up? A: No, not when in the initial stages. However when you have worked out what your idea is, and have money coming in, then need to talk to both. But be aware of the risks.
  • grails – previously called “groovy on rails”. Person now working on getting http://memsavvy.com/ off the ground. Grails is based on Java. (Java, spring, hibernate and Apache app.) Grails currently has 63 plugins (one for adding search, one for web objects, etc.). Grails solves a technical problem. An out-of-the-box MVC system. Sky.com, using grails, serving 186m pages/month.
  • A business owner is 3 people: 1) Entrepreneur 2) Manager who keeps the biz afloat 3) Technician who built the product
  • “Start-up kitchen” is a start-up incubator. It provides a practical solution to continuous cash flows. Has an office in St Leonards. For start-up cash flows, you are hired in a part-time way (2 or 3 days a week) (work depends on the skill set that someone has; may be internal work; or external IT shop work for blue-chip clients), which gives you cash flow.
  • “Talking to rich guys”. (about what angel or VC people are looking for in a company). Investors want a biz capable of $100m of in 4 to 5 years. In the valley there are lots of VCs. In Australia, not so much – want to do late stage buyouts and make money charging fees to a company. There is plenty of money available; there are just not enough REAL businesses that can make good use of that money. As a rule, investors don’t like software, or web apps. To get in front of a dozen to 50 rich people, need to have a good story (need a business, a real business). Most Australian angel investors are retired or semi-retired engineers who love gadgets. For the first 100,000 units want to manufacture locally. “IM” is an information memorandum – like a prospectus, but a lower standard (because is not covered by regulations). Example: A company is looking for $1m. Angels want 35% ownership of the company, but will rarely get it. (Investment range of 200k to 500k is angels, and $1m + is small institutions). Watch out for fees – e.g. one guy wanted 250k in fees to raise 500k. Brains are the cheapest thing you can buy. E.g. “women on boards” who want a paid position on boards – e.g. 35k per annum, and for this they would have to go to 8 meetings per year, and are personally liable for the business if anything goes wrong. Women are much cheaper than blokes (there are institutionalised problems for women in business trying to get equal pay). Anything above this, pay cash-in-hand $100 per hour. To get money have to be able to give a good answer to “WIT FM?” for the investor – “What’s In It For Me?”
  • Good places to get stock photos for $1 or $2 a pop: istockphoto.com or luckyoliver.com
  • BarCamp Canberra is on in 2 weeks. (sat 19th April).
  • Sociability design. This is like usability design for applications – which is making the app as usable for your user as possible, so that it is pleasant and intuitive to use. Sociability design is making a socially useful system, such as social sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace. There are parallels between usability – especially Jacob Nielsen’s 10 main types of usability – and the basics of how you make a pleasing social user experience. Table of comparisons. The speaker’s blog. The language used to describe relationships needs to be richer, whilst still being diplomatic.
  • Open coffee – a coffee meeting for people starting up. Runs every second Thursday.
  • Twitter – got a quick intro to this. 140 character microblogging / updates. Max of 240 free SMSes per week in Australia.
  • The bar opened, and I played 3 rounds of the Werewolves + Seekers + Healers + Villagers game (rules are here or here, we played with a healer), which was a fun social game. There were between 11 and 15 people at the start of each round. It just confirmed what I always known – that I am a really bad at deception – I was found out fairly quickly when I was a werewolf!

Venture Capitalists have a valuation for the Wikipedia

So in the course of a conversation last week, I heard second-hand that VCs apparently have a valuation for the Wikipedia: Your favourite encyclopedia, condensed down into a single dollar figure. I suspect it was a valuation for just the English Wikipedia, but I’m not sure. And the dollar amount? Drum-roll please: Four billion US dollars.

Now, when I heard this, the following thoughts went through my mind:

  • Amusement: Are you serious? VCs have assigned a dollar value to it? Why would they do that? What kind of warped world-view needs to reduce every single thing in existence down to a dollar value?
  • Bafflement: How did you arrive at that specific figure? Did someone indicate that they were willing to pay 3.5 billion for it, but you reckoned you push them a little bit higher? Or did you estimate the total hours that people have put into it, and then estimate the cost of paying people to reproduce it? Or some other method? Enquiring minds want to know!
  • Economic rationalist: Something is only worth what someone else will pay for it. If nobody will pay 4 billion, then as simple statement of fact, it is not worth 4 billion. So who would pay four billion for it?
  • Entrepreneurial: 4 billion? Tell you what, if there are any buyers out there desperately wanting to purchase the Wikipedia, I’ll sell you a Wikipedia clone for only 2 billion, with 10% payable up-front as a deposit. You save 2 billion: it’s a bargain, at half the price! And to set up the clone, I’d simply approach the techs who set up the original Wikipedia, set up a partnership company to divide all profits equally between all the participants, and set up a well-resourced wiki farm, on nice servers, in some nice data centres on a number of continents, load up the most recent dump of the Wikipedia, and purchase a live Wikipedia feed from the WMF to make sure it was completely up-to-date, and call it something like “encyclopedia 3.0”. I’m sure most of the techs would be happy with this (who doesn’t have a student loan to repay, or credit cards bills due, or want to take a holiday, or buy a bigger home, or a newer car, or want to buy some new gadget: whatever it is, everyone has something, and millions of dollars would buy a lot of it), and if there are purchasers, they should be happy too at the great price: so everybody wins!

So this guy broke into our home, whilst we were there…

My girlfriend and I were making toasted sandwiches for lunch, in the kitchen of our apartment. And there was this strange clicking sound: “click, click, click, click”. I thought it was nearby, but thought it was coming from the outside, as the block we’re in gets a gardener to come in once a month to mow the communal lawn, trims plants, and so forth, and I just assumed it was something to do with that. Then we heard it again, and it sounded much closer: “click, click, click, click, click, click, click” … and as we looked at each other, I said: “What the hell IS that?” It seemed to be coming from towards the front door, so we both walked towards it … and we found this 40-year-old 6-foot-tall complete stranger standing inside our apartment, having just picked open the deadlock on our front door.

  • Us: “Are you right?” (If that’s an Australianism, it’s roughly the equivalent of saying “Can I help you?”, in a sharp and sarcastic tone).
  • Him: “Oh, you weren’t supposed to be here. I’m here to change the locks.” (At this point we notice he’s wearing a shirt with the name of some locksmith company on it)
  • Us: “Umm …. why? We haven’t contacted any locksmiths.”
  • Him: “Err… Is this <such-and-such-address>?”
  • Us: “No. It’s <such-and-such-address>” (which is similar to the address he gave, but definitely different)
  • Him: “Oh! That explains why the key they gave me didn’t work. Right.” This was promptly followed by a very long and profuse apology.

After this, as he left, I watched where he went (ready to call the police in case he was a well-prepared thief, with a plausible-sounding back-story ready to go), and he did go to the correct address, and I saw him changing the locks there later in the day.

Of course, the real worry would have been if we weren’t there, and he had changed all the locks, and left. Can you imagine, standing at your front door, trying to get in: “I’m sure this is my home. And I’m sure this is my key. Why doesn’t it work? What’s going on? Help!”

So, points to remember:

  • A clicking sound coming from your front door is a bad sign.
  • No matter how expensive your locks are (and this lock was from a reputable brand, and was not cheap), someone who knows what they’re doing can pick it in about 30 seconds.
  • If you’re a locksmith, you really need to check that you’ve got the right address before breaking in.
Posted in WTF