Getting to "yes" in a world of "no"…

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Removing unused COM ports in Windows

(1) Click on the Windows Start icon in the bottom left of the desktop

(2) In the [Search programs and files] area, type



…but don’t press Enter.

(3) Right click on the cmd icon that appears at the top of the list dynamically generated above it and select

Run as administrator


(4) Congratulations, you now have  command line with administrator privileges. Now, type the following two commands to launch Windows Device Manager in a way that allows you to view unused ports (note that some websites misspell the name of the environment variable in the first line as “devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices”, which doesn’t work, *sigh*):

set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1



(5) Congratulations, you are now running Device Manager with secret settings. From the menu bar, enable the following entry (and make sure it ends up ticked):

View -> Show hidden devices


(6) Now you should be able to click on the Ports (COM & LPT) icon to have a look at all your COM ports, both used and currently unused. Right click on the particular unused one you want to remove (I had 40 of these before I found out this trick), and from the context menu select:



(7) Confirm that you genuinely want to uninstall it: and there you go.

Syria, IS, and conflict minerals…

As far as I can see, the self-declared “Islamic State” Caliphate is formed of two major components:-

  • A whole load of weaponed-up fundamentalists (many of whom are just kids); but who are obviously being funded by…
  • Some seriously well-connected chancers who are siphoning off extraordinary amounts of oil from Syrian oilfields and selling them to third-party chancers with passing oil tankers.

Really? Yes.

Why does the world not treat Syrian oil as a conflict mineral, and find a way of putting some tracer element into the source oil that can be easily detected downstream, but would survive the oil refining process?

Never mind having “a tiger in your tank”, lots of people around the world now have a Caliphate in their tank.

Do you think it’s nice having diesel under a pound a litre? No, not if it’s conflict diesel, it certainly isn’t.

All the while people focus on tackling the fundamentalists, they’re missing the whole funding issue.

In short, “Islamic State” is nothing more complex than a high-growth startup with a novel funding model. But we need to make their access to funding more difficult.

Infographic suckage…

I’m sorry, but even for the purposes of satire I couldn’t bring myself to click on the [add patronizing rows of little jelly-baby men] button. Really, nothing highlights the suckage, banality, and information underloadedness of most infographics better than infographics themselves…


Unfortunate sign at Clapham Junction…

I found this very unfortunate spelling mistake on my mobile phone, thought I ought to share!


Tech Note: how to fix MT9P031 low-light banding streaks…

A quick note to Aptina and to any developers experiencing odd-looking “streaks” in very low light with the Aptina MT9P031.

It turns out that these are caused (I’m pretty sure) by the analog offset sampling underflowing: if any of the four offset registers (R0x060, R0x061, R0x063, and R0x064) end up getting set to the minimum value (0x101, i.e. -255), then you get these odd-looking streaks. If you then disable the analog calibration (by setting bit 1 of R0x062), the streaks disappear: but unfortunately you also get a huge colour flash whenevr you do (bizarrely, this can look like a pink tartan pattern overlaying the sensor image), so this isn’t apparently a register you can practically change in real time.

After a couple of days of determined register poking, the least-worst fix to ameliorate (if not exactly ‘fix’) these low light streaks therefore seems to me to be to permanently disable both fast sample mode (by setting bit 15 of R0x062) and binary search mode (by setting bit 11 of R0x062). OK, it doesn’t make the problem go away completely, but it does seem to help a lot. Something Linux driver writers might want to know about! 😉

Incidentally, I presume this holds true for the MT9P001 as well because all its black level conditioning registers seem to be identical. So, Nick’s top tip for understanding the MT9P031 is to read the MT9P001 datasheet as well, basically for the bits Aptina left out. 🙂

PS: my next stop is trying out the same thing for the MT9M131 (which appears to have an earlier, slightly less sophisticated version of the same IP block), either by disabling the “rapid sweep” mode [by setting bit 15 of R0x060] or forcing the rapid step size to 1 [by setting bit 4 of R0x060]. Fingers crossed that will help…

Minimum Buyable Products and economic agency…

First off, a great big thank you! to all the people who came along to my entrepreneur guest lecture at UCL last week. Apparently one attendee was spotted IMing something along the lines of “came here expecting to be cynical, but this guy’s more than cynical enough already“. Well… bruised: yes, cynical: not really. And a special thank you to Johnathan Agnes, who managed to round off the evening with some hugely supportive comments from the back. Well worth the pint I bought him afterwards (though I’d have bought him it anyway). 🙂

The thing I recommended at the end – but failed to put in the slides – was my (definitely non-cynical) Startup Handbook, so here’s a link to it in case you haven’t already found it. What’s relevant here is that since I posted it, I’ve been thinking a bit more deeply about what it’s actually all about: really, what exactly am I proposing with the Minimum Buyable Product concept? Am I saying we should all emulate Alan Sugar and sell reconditioned car aerials in Romford Market?

The answer is: sort of, but not really. For once, economics has a diffuse term which usefully touches on this issue – the “economic agent“. Roughly speaking, this is an abstraction of embodied human behaviour embedded within an overall economic system: you model a system of people as a set of economic agents, each doing his/her thing. However, whereas many economics papers (particularly in behavioural economics) obsess about the countless ways how economic agents differ from real people, what I’ve been thinking about is the degree to which many entrepreneurs apparently try to avoid displaying economic agency.

What I’m saying is that if you invest all your efforts on specifically non-economic behaviours (e.g. planning, modelling, forecasting, graphing, pitching, presenting, meeting), that you’re largely avoiding the burden of economic agency has to be a valid criticism. I’d say this is largely a byproduct of MBA careerist thinking, where you try to promote yourself beyond the niggly twistiness of actual transactions and actual data to the point that you need only think about optimizing an entire process that’s already working. Really, an entrepreneur wearing an MBA hat circa 2011 could easily look quite foolish.

Similarly, I would say that Eric Ries’ whole Lean Startup model (proper book review to come soon) is built upon a model of pure microeconomic agency, in that unless your business is able to do continual B2C microeconomic experiments, I don’t think it can properly be run as the kind of lean startup he envisages.

Hence with the Lean Startup people espousing pure economic agency, and the MBA people espousing zero economic agency, it seems that the two groups have us surrounded, though not in an entirely useful way. I think what startups need to develop is limited economic agency, somewhere in the vast practical gulf yawning between the two extrema: which is where my concept of Minimum Buyable Product comes in, to be used as a developmental focus for something that gives your startup a moderate amount of self-determination within an external market. Selling stuff, however small that stuff happens to be.

This division may well highlight the biggest difference between the UK and US angel funding ecosystems: a complete lack of economic agency seem to be no handicap when it comes to getting funding in the US, whereas in the UK it seems as though only startups with full economic agency get even a sniff of interest from angels. Something to think about, eh?

A Brief History of Alan Sugar…

How can anyone possibly sum up Baron Sugar’s countless career highs in just a few words? Easy – just use his own:-

  • The 1970s:- “Build me my f**king hifi now, or you’re f**king fired.”
  • The 1980s:- “Build me my f**king word processor now, or you’re f**king fired.”
  • The 1990s:- “Build me my f**king crappy electronic gadgets now, or you’re f**king fired.”
  • The 2000s:- “Find some mug to buy my f**king company now, or you’re f**king fired.”
  • The 2010s:- “Powder my f**king nose now, or you’re f**king fired.”

Enjoy! 😉