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

cmd

 

…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

devmgmt.msc

 

(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:

Uninstall

 

(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…

infographic-suckage

Unfortunate sign at Clapham Junction…

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

Severly_Delayed

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! 😉

Dragons or dinosaurs…?

Should startups be afraid of industry incumbents? Are they dragons or dinosaurs? How defensive should you be?

A quick story: when I started Nanodome, everyone I asked – and I do mean everyone – told me:-

  • Security buyers buy on brand, so however funky my technology I’d need to have a brand attached to it to sell any at all.
  • Licensing (and specifically to one or more major players) was the only possible business model that would work for a small hardware startup
  • I should be terrified of incumbents such as Pelco (who had then only just been acquired by Schneider Electric), Bosch, Siemens, Panasonic, Samsung, etc

However, what quickly became apparent to me was that none of this was particularly true. In Nanodome’s corner of the industry, buyers have long bought high-end branded product in the hope that these would have been (over)engineered for reliability – yet even in 2007 it was clear from talking to customers that this ‘brandness’ was breaking down. Licensing, too, doesn’t work how most people think – basically, ‘good ideas’ only tend to get licensed after they’ve started to eat into potential licensees’ market shares.

Yet the generic supply-side problems incumbents tend to have are (a) that they’ve got top-heavy divisional management mouths to feed based on a cash cow that’s rapidly going dog-like, and (b) that their products have already been incrementally optimized to within a few thou of their production sweet spot. Corporates tend to be reasonably good at optimization – that’s basically why they hire MBAs. 🙂

The security industry is perhaps a bit of an extreme example of all this, in that most of its manufacturers grew large and fat on the long security boom – margins were wide, quantities were decent, & there was room for pretty much everyone to make money. But since 2006/2007, competition from multiple fixed camera setups has heightened, market prices have dropped, and everyone can tell that there’s inevitably a commoditization phase for PTZs coming up (even if nobody can quite see how this is going to work).

What you need to think through as a startup manager is how incumbents are able to react when (as has clearly happened over the last few years) all the certainties of their business context change. Imagining the view from their managerial chair, to avoid having to close down an entire division, how do you think they should go about forming a new plan? Honestly, could they really reinvent their business?

This is the stage where academic business theorists like to talk about how you should ignore all your sunk costs when making decisions – basically, how decision-makers should strip any proposition down to the CapEx, overheads, margins and volumes going forward. However, the perhaps surprising thing is that most corporates aren’t nearly as cold-blooded as their detractors like to claim – in fact, many (if not most) have real problems “Reengineering the Corporation” (whatever Hammer and Champy claim), because this often involves awkward and unpopular activities – closing factories, laying people off, offshoring in unexpected and hard-to-manage ways, etc. No matter how bad the situation and how necessary the upheaval, senior managers will also have to invest a lot of political effort and board-level lobbying to put those changes into action – and this will almost always distract attention from the rest of their thousand daily tasks.

So this points to the real reason why startups exist – it is because corporates are often unable to make radical internal changes to their business except through after-the-event M&A. Startups get the opportunity to change the world not because corporations are technically unable to do the same thing, but because they are usually politically unable to follow such a demanding path. It is not the inhumanity of corporates that stops them, but their humanity.

From where I’m sitting, then, industry incumbents seem to be neither dinosaurs nor dragons. Rather, they are like elephants – big and powerful, with huge appetites, but with poor eyesight and all too often crashing around with their trunk tied in a knot. If you’re nimble and alert, they should be little danger to you!