Day trip to Bowen Island

After months of hesitation and procrastination we finally moved to Vancouver. It wasn’t easy to pick everything up, say goodbye to good friends in London and just leave. However, it was time for our new life to start – new place, new job, new continent.

I often repeat this to myself: “There ain’t stopping us going but the leaving of it all”

We have now been in Vancouver for one month. Almost settled in and as the summer approaches and the weather turns we took our first day trip. Bowen Island for a day trekking in Crippen Regional Park as suggested by my new favourite book. This was also the perfect excuse to pick up my camera again, my flickr account has been inactive for way too long!

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We took the 10am ferry from Horseshoe bay and arrived at Bowen Island bright and early. From Snug Cove we first walked the Dorman Point Trail as we were promised a stunning view over Snug Cove – disappointingly the view was obscured by trees. Nevertheless it was a great way to start the day as the walk was short and at times steep, makes for a great warm up.

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After resting for a bit at Dorman Point we came back down and had lunch at Doc Morgan’s, a nice local pub just next to the Union Steamship Company Store. The pub offers a great view on the cove from the patio but the food wasn’t anything to write home about.

After lunch we picked up the Killarney Lake Trail. This is a beautiful, easy walk. It can easily take up to a couple of hours to complete the entire loop from Snug cove and the panoramas are great.

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We will definitely go back and perhaps bring our bicycles for a more complete tour of the island.

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MotoGP is back!

Rossi Wallpaper

The doctor in action

I can’t wait for the MotoGP season to start again. It is pretty much the only sport I wach on television and actually follow. My occasional forays into F1 are simply a palliative for the lack of motorbike action.

This should be a cracking season with Rossi back at Yamaha, Pedrosa on a mission to finally get his first world title and Marquez ready to jump in the mix.

I am a huge fan of Rossi and watching him languish in the middle of nowhere (4th or less) with Ducati was painful – the guy is a hero to me and I think he deserves to leave MotoGP with a few more victories under his belt, another world championship would be astounding.

Stoner was hugely fast and I admire his riding style and skills to push that Ducati to the limit. Even so, I have never been a big fan, something about his attitude. I completely understand his decision to retire. It clearly looked like he wasn’t having fun and decided it was time to dedicate himself to his new family, while doing a bit of racing on the side, rather than the other way around.

Lorenzo is always a favorite for the title. He is a spectacularly good rider and incredibly consistent. I know many people blame him for the lack of “action” over the past 2 seasons in MotoGP but I think that is unfair. He was racing to win the championship, points over risks, and I don’t think he was challenged enough by his rivals. They were either too far ahead and impossible to catch up without taking too many risks or so much slower that there was no need to push. Either way, with Vale on the same bike hopefully they should be some excitement as they battle it out.

Bring on Qatar this weekend!

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keeping your code in shape

Not too long ago ID Software published a document detailing its coding guidelines. It makes for interesting reading and we can all learn something from it.

I certainly picked a few rules from it as I was putting together a set of coding guidelines for cloudbase.io.

However, web development is very different from game development. Iterations over a piece of software in the web world can be as brief as half an hour, production bugs need to be fixed and released promptly. When building a game you spend months testing and refining your code.

Fast iteration is one of the biggest advantages of web development, a centralised code-base that can be adjusted and updated without needing to re-distribute your software. Unfortunately the speed of development and release is also what causes “spaghetti” code to appear.

What I thought I’d do is try to set, on top of some detailed coding standard rules, more architectural and structural rules for the code. These will hopefully guide developers when they are furiously fixing issues and adding functionality.

These are in no particular order and I’m writing them as they come to mind. I would like to hear from developers and CTOs out there to complete and adjust this list.

  1. If parts of your software need to interact with some code without knowing its entire structure and meaning, in an interface-like style, then it should be an Object. Weakly typed languages are no excuse to produce code that will be harder to debug and maintain in the future.
  2. Your variables should be your comments – use readable variable names and split an instruction in three separate steps if needed for the sake of readability.
  3. Think big – when fixing a bug or adding new functionality think about the rest of the code and how it interacts with what you are re-writing, you are most likely missing something. Then pause again and think even bigger, what will your business look like in the future, in which direction is it heading, perhaps you could add some hooks in your code which will make it easier to re-use as your software evolves.
  4. Objects are nice and keep your code clean – however, if the object you are creating will not be reused, or you already know it can’t be reused because it’s not going to be compatible with the rest of your code, then it probably shouldn’t be an object, keep it simple.
  5. Divide to conquer. If your application can be separated in different components, for example an API and a management console, make sure they can run independently from each other. If one is down ideally it shouldn’t take down the other. This will also make your code easier to re-engineer, you will be able to do it one little logical component at a time without having to go through a monolithic rewrite which almost never works.
  6. If you are writing a 10 lines IF statement there’s probably something wrong with your logic, review and simplify.
  7. Prototype your code quickly but make sure to cover the entire business case from beginning to end. Once you have mastered all of the use cases, write the code for your application.
  8. When adding new functionality also write a test case for it.
  9. If the functionality you are building already exists in a library your project is using or could use, use that library. DO NOT REINVENT THE WHEEL.
  10. Write some java-doc style documentation for your functions. It will make other developer’s life easier, your business will be able to produce a documentation for all of its code.
  11. Write comments to explain the logic of your code if it’s needed. don’t state the obvious.
  12. We are building web apps. The web server is already multi-threaded, each page loads in its thread, you don’t need to spawn sub-threads in a page.
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Is London still the right place for a startup?

I moved to London 8 years ago because of the booming job market and, well, because it was London. Many things have changed since then.  I now find myself in the position to start my own business.

Naturally, I assumed that London and the UK was a great place to do it. Simplified bureaucracy, great talent from all over the world constantly flowing in and out of the country, the ever-more prominent Silicon Roundabout, a tory-led coalition government which, for all its faults, should be trying to boost business and entrepreneurship (isn’t that what torys are all about?) – London is the right place to do it.

aboriginal population of englandOver the past few months, I have grown sceptical and wonder if London is the right place for me.

  • Cooling off period - Businesses big and small around London rely on the flow of skilled immigrants to hire the talent they need. The aboriginal population, whose new generation is pictured here on the right, seems to have decided to leave these jobs to immigrants and focus on other things.
    The government has now introduced a cooling-off period for Tier 2 VISA holders – what this means is that if someone’s VISA is sponsored by a business and I decide to hire them, they will have to spend 12 months (12 MONTHS!!!??!!?) outside of the UK cooling off before they begin working for me. I struggle find a justification for this, other than that they were probably red hot by having such an easy time getting the VISA to begin with and needed to cool off a bit before they can work for me here.
    An idiotic populist rule. Clearly drawn up by people who have never had to hold a real job, hire anybody other than their wives and close relations, to keep receiving the votes of the very same aboriginal population who isn’t producing any wealth for their country
  • Commercial real estate – The next step, after taking skilled immigrants off the table, is clearly to take the offices away from small business by making commercial real-estate in London prohibitively expensive. Because of the recession a lot of the commercial spaces in London remain empty. The root cause of the problem is the weak economy not encouraging businesses to expand and new ones to start. As usual, politicians decided that instead of fixing the underlying cause of the issue they will put a patch on it, by making it easier for property developers to convert commercial real estate into blocks of flats. These are properties in the heart of London, no Londoner will ever be able to afford them given that the average salary is $56,000 per year. What we will end up with is a lot more Emirati and Sheiks owning penthouses in central London, the price of commercial real will go up, business will have to move out.

I thought London was a great place to start a business because the benefit of the inflow of skilled immigrants from all over the world (everybody wants to live in London, like New York) far outweighed the high prices.

They have taken both away – I think it’s time we move to another great city in the world.

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Why I’m not applying for TechStars

TechStars LogoI was invited to apply for the TechStars program in London with cloudbase.io.

The program looks amazing and after the initial invitation I took to Twitter to ask other entrepreneurs who already went through the process if it was all worth it. I only received glowing reviews, not a single detractor. It all looked very promising. However, I have decided not to apply.

As I understand if your application is successful, and you are accepted in the TechStars program, you will instantly receive €15,000 worth of funding to keep you going, a €70,000 convertible debt note and – more importantly – 3 months worth of intense mentoring with experienced entrepreneurs and investors. On top of that they offer some nice perks. In exchange for all this, TechStars will take a 6% equity stake in your business (approximately).

My main reason for considering applying to TechStars is the network of contacts cloudbase.io would gain in the tech industry. I am not particularly interested in €15,000 nor in the convertible debt note.

Cloudbase.io is in production and doing rather well. From the financial point of view 6% percent equity stake for what effectively is €15,000 undermines my ability to go to out and raise angel or institutional money at a much higher valuation in the short term. Additionally, I don’t know whether this 6% stake can be diluted or what the terms of the contract are.

Will the simple fact that I participated in TechStars raise the valuation of my business by more than 6%? Possible, but still a gamble.

As TechStars themselves point out the money is just a part of the deal (the least important one at that) – the big value is that you would have the TechStars mentors effectively as your co-founders.

I also have a problem with that. It would be a fantastic proposition if I was sitting in cafes building a new product by myself or with my co-founder. However, cloudbase.io is a live business supporting a number of customers. I cannot just take 3 months off to participate in the program. Even if it was just 1 day a week, that’s time I don’t have.

Based on all the feedback I received from other entrepreneurs I think TechStars is a fantastic opportunity for entrepreneurs building their product who are at early stages of their business.

Unfortunately I don’t think it quite works for me. People will call me crazy and I may very well end up regretting this decision, but it seems the only possible one for me at the moment.

update: TechStars pointed me to this blog post making the case for the “it’s never too late” camp. Definitely worth a read but I haven’t changed my mind as my concern is still time.

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Should I charge for my service?

I think the answer is almost always yes. This, of course, is based on the assumption that your service is useful, intelligent and saves somebody time and money.

If all of the criteria mentioned above are met then you should definitely charge for it.

Just a few years ago it seemed that everything was free on the internet. While I appreciated that and certainly took advantage of it I never quite understood why they were doing that.

The thinking process is always, offer the service for free and find an alternative revenue stream by monetizing the data you collect. Very clever. Hardly ever works.

I’m a big fan of keeping things simple. Business is made much easier and enjoyable when it’s simple. You make a loaf of bread for 5, you sell it for 10. Stick to this principle and you can’t go wrong.

Last year I spent some time with a friend of mine in India. He’s a doctor and donates his time to visit villages around his town that have no access to healthcare where he runs an open clinic.

He told me something that made me think.

He’s selling the medicines to his patients rather than giving them away for free. Not for the normal price of course, they wouldn’t be able to afford it. Just 1 cent. A small amount even for them but they will feel it. That’s exactly the objective. If they know they have paid for something they will value and care for it.

I believe the same basic psychology applies in all other areas. If you believe your service is good enough to justify you asking money for it. Then you probably should.

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Choosing your technology

The other day I was reading Albert Wenger’s post about picking which technology your startup is going to use.

I agree with all of his point, however, I don’t think scalability is all that relevant, at least at the beginning.

If the architecture of a system is well thought through then it shouldn’t make any difference whether you use java or php. Same story for your database system. If you have separated the various components of your application in a logical way you’ll be able to deal with growing traffic for a long while.

Once you get to the size of a twitter or Facebook then it won’t matter anymore.

My primary criteria for choosing the tech for a startup are:
1. Do I know it? How fast can I get up to speed with it and deliver?
2. Is there a big community using it on the Internet?

The first point is rather obvious, Speed to market. On the basis that I’m not a completely stupid man – If I can’t understand it, then I don’t trust it.

The reasoning behind the second point is twofold.

Firstly, while you are building your product you will spend a long time looking up for ready-made solutions and code snippets on the Internet. If the first page of google results is not filled with stackoverlow links then I worry.

The fact that a big community exists on the net will also reflect in the real world. You are more likely to find talent around you who knows the technology. And this is fundamental when scaling your business, and therefore your product.

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Why I love the Royal Enfield Bullet

We landed in Bangalore at 8am on a sunny November morning. After a quick lunch at Koshy’s with a friend, we jumped in a taxi to reach an apartment block in the outskirts of town. That’s where we had arranged to pick up our vehicle for the next two weeks. A Royal Enfield Bullet 500.

Our Royal Enfield Bullet 500

Our Royal Enfield Bullet 500

We strapped our bags on the motorcycle rear-mounted rack, had a big fight with the kickstart (the 500 model kicks back hard, unlike the gentle 350), and set off. We had to reach Mysore to meet some friends for dinner and spend a few days working with the Odanadi guys.

About an hour into our journey, having covered only 30kms, we were standing by the side of the road staring at our bike. Trying to figure out why it had stopped. The tank was full (according to the electronic dial) but the poor bullet was sputtering as if it had a carburator full of twigs. I would know how take care of it if only it had a carburator, unfortunately it was one of the new fuel-injected models.

After about an hour we had looked at everything we could possibly check. Spark plugs, injectors, throttle linkage, everything seemed fine yet the bike gave no signs of life. As we worked ourselves into a frenzy to avoid riding on the big SH17 highway at night somebody reminded us of the basics. The dial says the tank is full, is it really?

Of course not, it was just a broken fuel gauge. That’s that then. Push the bike to the next petrol station, fill up, and off we go.

Like all best laid plans of men and mice ours went completely wrong and we arrived in Mysore in the middle of the night. An interesting ride on a motorway where ox carts cross all 4 lanes in the middle of the night without any lights and speedbumps are an invisible constant.

Even so, we made it there and spent a wonderful few days in Mysore with our friends.

A few days later it was time to move on. Next stop, Masinagudi, the spectacular Jungle Retreat resort. A short 120kms ride. How wrong can it go? Right? Let me tell you.

Riding on a major road heading towards the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and leaving the state of Karnataka we were following a truck loaded with sand and rocks. Next thing we know, as we  approached the clunker to overtake it, a small rock fell and hit our headlamp shattering the glass cover.

A minor inconvenience, not even worth stopping for, we’ll get it fixed when we get to our destination. Ooty is a major town in the area and luckily we have a few friends there, they’ll help us sort it out.

Tribal children in Chamanattam

Tribal children in Chamanattam

We spent our time in Masinagudi helping Solomon, a wonderful man who runs the Grace Charitable Trust to educate the tribal children of the area who have no access to schooling. With Adventure Ashram we have been supporting him for the past few years and we have now sponsored over 200 children.

On our day off I picked up our Bullet and rode the 39 hairpins up to Ooty, on the Western Ghats, to get the headlamp fixed. A friend hooked me up with a mechanic and the whole thing was sorted out for about £5. By midday I was done and began riding down the same 39 hairpins to get back to Masinagudi. About 1km into the journey, just as the downhill section started the bike stopped again.

It felt like the battery was flat. Either way, I thought I’d just bump-start the bike down the hill and ride it home. Only as gravity was pulling me down the hill and the engine was starting I realized that the bike I was on was a fuel injected model. Even if it did start, it needed the battery to drive the injectors and throttle. Guess who had to push the bike back up into town?

Fortunately it was just a blown fuse, I bought a few new ones for pennies and soon enough I was on my way back.

Our next stop was Kodaikanal, still in Tamil Nadu. This was going to be a big day. 300kms to cover and our bike didn’t have the best of records in terms of reliability.

We loaded our bags back on our bike and set off at an ungodly hour in the morning. Wound our way up the 39 hairpins again, sped through Ooty, and turned onto the Kotagiri road. Not the fastest way between Ooty and Kodi but the least populated and most beautiful in terms of scenery. The Kotagiri road winds its way around the stunning landscape of the Western Ghats. Entire valleys of tea plantations and charming small villages are revealed at every turn.

Panoramas from the Kotagiri road

Panoramas from the Kotagiri road

The Kotagiri road doesn’t only offer beautiful panoramas. It’s also a fantastic ride for bikers. A perfect series of twist and turns surfaced with the smoothest tarmac you can get, at least before the monsoon hits.

As I was riding around a particularly tight left hander I heard a metallic clink. I considered the implications for about a second and decided to ignore it.

At the next corner, a right hander, I went to change down on gear. My left foot hit clean air. In disbelief, I tried again, and again, still nothing. I managed to get the bike around the corner and stopped, looked down, and my gear lever just wasn’t there. Wanna bet that metallic sound from the previous corner…

We found our missing gear-lever

We found our missing gear-lever

Yep. Just a short walk back confirmed my suspicions, there it was. Sitting on the road.

While the Kotagiri road is absolutely stunning and I would ride it every single day it has one “drawback”, it’s very isolated. No mechanics in sight.

I had to ride the remaining 35kms back to civilization while keeping the gear-liver in place with my left heel. Not the most pleasant sensation.

Soon enough we found a mechanic, bought a bolt and fixed the gear-liver back in place. We managed to reach Kodaikanal late in the afternoon and stayed there for a few days in the stunning Villa Retreat.

I wanted to spend some time with a friend in Kodi. He works half his time in a hospital (he’s a doctor) and donates the other half assisting children and families in the poorer villages surrounding the town who have no access to healthcare. Another project we sponsor at Adventure Ashram.

Our next destination was Munnar, a hill-station at the border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala surrounded by the most beautiful tea-plantations you will ever see. I was really looking forward to this ride and wanted to show my girlfriend how beautiful the place was as she’d never been to India.

She recorded a few videos with her mobile phone while we were riding through munnar. The quality is not perfect and her fingers are a bit all over the place but the road was very bumpy and that’s the best we could do.


The ride was stunning and all was well. We arrived in Munnar much sooner than expected and enjoyed an evening strolling through the markets in town and doing some Saree shopping.

The morning after we were due to ride to Kochin. the capital of Kerala, situated on the Arabian Sea cost in the middle of the stunning back waters of Kerala.

Imagine my surprise when I left the guest house, walked up to the bike, and discovered that not everything was well. The day before, probably because of the bumpiness of the road, we had lost the battery cover plate. The Bullet’s battery was just sitting there not anchored in any way.

Fortunately, when we left London on this trip I knew the score. I had taken with me some duct-tape. Again, needs must, we duct-taped the battery to the bike and set off.

As it turns out duct-tape is much better than the original Royal Enfield components at holding together the structure of the bike. All went well and we had a nice and hot (there is no font bold enough to signify how hot it was) ride through Kerala.

Back to the original question. Why do I love Royal Enfields?

Because our trip would never have been the same.

The sense of adventure (and DIY) you get with one of these bikes is unlike anything else you have ever experienced.

Because it is the right bike for the rough roads of India. A lump of led that can deal with almost any pothole and adversity.

Of course you could probably have ridden the whole trip without a single mishap on a BMW GS. But I can guarantee you, if an Enfield pulled alongside you at a traffic light you would have felt inadequate, out-of-place and generally inappropriately brash.

More pictures from our trip are on my flickr account.

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An entrepreneur without an office

London Underground commuteThis is something I learned from personal experience. Like all geeks I loved working in my basement, at home, where I could pull all-nighters and focus.

I have very fond memories of the nights spent building cool new stuff in a dark room over the past decade and in a way, when I started cloudbase.io, I wanted to do the same thing, at least initially.

I did, I set off working by myself in my room and soon enough I had a few people helping me, just as passionate as I was. It was great.

a few months down the line we had launched a private beta of cloudbase and people had started signing up. Suddenly it wasn’t a toy anymore, it was a business. The level of commitment required changed completely and we started working full time on it.

As we kept working from our room-office we suddenly realised that the business was taking over our lives. We couldn’t seem to find our off switch anymore. Arguably this could be a good thing but separating your personal and professional life is incredibly important, especially if you want a personal life. Sure your business will thrive as you dedicate yourself 24/7 to it but you will burn out very quickly.

The solution is pretty simple. Get an office, just a desk. The important thing is that you’ll have to commute to it, even if for just 10 minutes.

This commute-buffer, I found, is incredibly important. It allows me to switch off so that when I’m home. I’m home.

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Goodbye Google Reader

I have had an account with Bloglines, then it closed, so I moved to Google Reader. This was about 5 years ago.

I have many blog and news feeds collated in there and it represents my window on the world, at least it used to.

To tell you the truth I haven’t opened it in at least a year. Sure it’s sad to see it go but I doubt I’ll miss it. My life has now gone almost entirely “mobile”.

I’m very happy with FlipBoard on my iPhone to “flip” through the news when I have a spare second. I find it more usable, immediate and pleasing to the eye.

RIP Google reader, you will certainly be remembered but I, for one, won’t miss you.

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