My current tools

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I always found looking at the tools that others used a little voyeuristic, but often insightful. Check out the what Michael Arrington used in 2010. Here is my list, but I’m curious at what the indispensable tools and applications that John Lilly, Adam Nash, Mark MacLeod, Jevon MacDonald, April DunfordAli Asaria, Dan Martell, Dave McClure, and others. What are you using?

My List

  • Sparrow – Best GMail client for the iPhone hands down.
  • Calvetica – Great minimalist calendar replacement for the default Calendar app on iPhone.
  • Tweetbot
  • Evernote – It syncs across the iPhone, MacBook Air and Mac Mini I use regularly for notes and to do lists. Though I’m having to add more personal structure to my to do lists to make this work.
  • Dropbox – Feels like a shared file system between the different devices.
  • Rapportive – I have switched back to the GMail web interface solely because of the Rapportive integration.
  • WriteThat.Name – This is best behind the scenes application. It automatically updates your Google Contacts with changes in people’s signature lines.
  • Boomerang – Bring it back to your inbox. Need I say anymore.
  • Alfred – I switched from Quicksilver in the past year – see the LifeHacker review. I hate when I don’t have ⌘-SPACE mapped to Alfred.
  • RescueTime
  • Prismatic – This has replaced Summify for me. It is simply the best discovery application I have used.
  • SublimeText2 and TextMate though I’m very interested in Coda 2.
  • TweetDeck – I am underwhelmed with TweetDeck experience and performance. I am looking at Engag.io and Bottlenose as replacements, but neither offer exactly what I’m looking for.
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • WordPress – I have blogs hosted on EC2, VMFarms and DreamHost.
  • Hipstamatic – It posts to Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr and other sites. The lenses, films are just enough to make it look like I can be a fake photographer.
  • 1Password – I have been using the free version. I probably just need to suck it up and spend the $14.99 on the Pro version.
  • CardMunch – I try to upload every business card I receive before the end of the meeting.
  • Kindle – I seem to read 90% of my content in the Kindle app or on the Kindle.

There are a number of other tools that I’m enamored, but not currently using with including:

Keep on rockin’ in the free world

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Don’t go in to the light! A couple of days ago it was the 5th anniversary of my heart attack at DemoCamp. I am really luck to have friends like JayJoeySuthaLeila and Greg who understood the symptoms and were caring enough to protect me from myself. I’m very lucky we were at MaRS, because for the heckling I do, the first rule of real estate was my friend. Location, location, location. And I’m really thankful for the spectacular care I received at Toronto General Hospital.

I missed what was one of the most important early DemoCamps, it takes almost these 5 years to play out, but look at the schedule.

  1. Skydasher/Feedcache: Skydasher is Tucows latest super-secret attempt at bringing great services to Webhosters and ISPs and their customers. Feedcache is a big, queryable cache of syndication feeds that application developers can play with. Presented by Ross Rader and Joey deVilla, developer relations dudes at Tucows.
  2. BlogScope: Online analysis and visualization tool for blogosphere. By Nilesh Bansal, grad student from database group, University of Toronto.
  3. BumpTop: Next-generation desktop organization software powered by a physics engine. Presented by Anand Agarawala. Video also available.
  4. Joshua Wehner – Rails based web application
  5. semanticPAL – learnable natural language user interface from nSM Semantic Modules Presented by sasha uritsky

On the schedule were BumpTop and Blogoscope which eventually became Sysomos. Both of which were acquired approximately 3.5 years after their inital DemoCamp presentations.

I often get asked why I continue to do this: DemoCamp, StartupNorth, Founders & Funders. I’ve tried to write about my motivations about this community of crazy, under-appreciated technologists, designers, entrepreneurs. I think that this is a special place. I’ve met a lot of good friends. I’ve learned a lot about great people. I hope that I’ve been able to make Toronto a better place. And I wonder what my role should be going forward. This is my hobby. This is my passion. This is my distraction. I do it because it makes me feel better.  It’s just too bad that this isn’t a real gig. I tried at Microsoft. Mark Relph and John Oxley really understood the power of a strong Canadian emerging technology and startup community. It was time to move on. Others think they can manipulate, own and harness the power of loosely connected pieces where the only benefit is in providing a space for the collisions to happen. I like to think of my role as conductor. How do I get the right people to collide so sparks happen.

I’m left thinking I’m very proud of all of the entrepreneurs that I’ve met in the past 5 years. I’m thankful for how much each of you has helped me. And if you feel like I’ve been dishonest or untruthful, please let me try to rectify that. If I’ve ignored you, it’s because your message wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Help me hear you. And to everyone who has become a friend. My table, my bourbon bottle and my office is always open. Please keep on making Canada a place that I am proud to be a citizen.

185 Days Later

Zombie Walk 2010

It’s been like a great zombie movie. There’s interesting zombies, lots of gore, non-cliche characters, man vs zombie, and at least one human idiot (hello, my name is David).

Actually it’s been an amazing 185 days (just over 6 months) since I announced that I was leaving Microsoft.

MSFT 9-24-2010 thru 3-24-2011

The good news is that as a Microsoft shareholder, my departure did not appear to greatly affect Microsoft’s stock performance (closed Sept 20, 2010 at 25.13 vs Mar 23, 2011 at 25.81). This means technically my leaving added 68 cents a share. While my giant ego would be incredibly bruised being the cause of $5.712B increase in value because of my departure (8.40B shares outstanding *  $0.68/share change). I am pretty sure that most of this change is unrelated to me, and more related to Kinect, Phone 7, and other product sales performance). But as an egomaniac, I’ll claim I’ve added $5.7B of value to the economy ;-). But I digress.

I found a co-founder. We started a company. We’ve hired a team. We’re raising money. We’ve built a product. Talked to potential customers. Threw that product out. Started again. Talked to potential customers.Listened. Formed a hypothesis. Gathered feedback. Iterated. Measured. Tested. Deisgn. Built. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It is completely different than my experience at Microsoft. And completely worth it.

Don’t get me wrong. It has been difficult. There have been arguments. I’ve been sick as a dog, twice. Payroll is still a bitch. Dealing with government agencies full of red-tape. Trying to write here and at StartupNorth has been difficult.  I’ve been on planes. Trying to build products. Trying to raise my girls. Trying to stay healthy (unsuccessfully – see SxSARS below). I keep helping other startups: here’s looking at you BuzzData, Attachments.me, and TribeHR.

I’ve been heads down for so long that I forget that there are other things going on in Toronto and around the world. I skipped SxSW for the first time in a few years, though I still managed to get the dreaded #SwSARS. It is a very strange experience being sick and not being able to work, even when you want to, versus just taking a sick day when you work for a big company. The fact that I’ve been mostly unavailable because I’ve been stuck in bed and medicated, makes me wonder how long this will continue. I can’t wait to feel human again, and I can’t wait to get back to talking with customers and building. But since the team kicked me out of the office yesterday, I’m home again fighting this zombie virus.

It’s been a fun 185 days. I’m looking forward to the next 185 days and the changes it will bring.

 

Building a mystery aka my Hackintosh project

My television watching and content acquisition saga continues. Since cancelling my Rogers Cable TV subscription, I’ve found myself consuming content using:

I haven’t had to worry about TUF, Formula 1 and I’ve taken multiple strategies for shows like TopGear (think TV Shows, BBC iPlayer, and other mechanisms). I have bought more DVDs (Shrek4Ever, Toy Story 3, Megamind, Penguins of Madagascar: Operation DVD, I was a Penguin Zombie, and others) for the kids. And I have watched 5 movies on iTunes (Cargo, Predators, The Kids are Alright, How to Train Your Dragon, Top Gear Season 15). And I watched the Superbowl in HD on CTV using an antenna. It has been a really good experience. Though Kristin describes our TV as “the most complicated TV ever, but it works”. I think the Harmony 880 remote makes the experience tolerable, without it I don’t think I could have done this.

One of my thoughts has been about reducing the number of devices (Boxee Box + AppleTV + XBox 360 + Wii). Currently the Boxee Box, the AppleTV and the XBox are all connected to the main TV. I was thinking about getting a Mac Mini and running Boxee, iTunes and Front Row and eliminating the XBox, Boxee Box and Wii (well I’d move the AppleTV upstairs to use in place of the Wii). But why would I buy a Mac Mini for Cdn$1145.82($749 Base Configuration +$165  Core 2 Duo upgrade to 2.66GHz + $100 4Gb of RAM = $1014 + tax). Sure, it’s small, it’s sexy, it would fit right near my Airport Base Station Extreme. But approximately $1100, I should be able to do this for less.

I run a HP MediaSmart EX490 for our internal home network backup device. I figured I’d either upgrade the processor & RAM, buy an inexpensive barebones PC to run Windows with Media Centre or Linux with Plex. But we are an almost all Apple house and I really wanted a machine running Mac OS X. Then Adam (@AdamMeghji) told me about his Hackintosh. And I figured I could build my own.

Lian-Li V351

My Hackintosh Build

I decided to budget the price of the Mac Mini. And see what I could accomplish. Here are details and specs.

Silverstone Fortress FT03I followed Adam’s advice and used the tonymacx86 CustomMac. The builds looked great. It allowed me to customize the case, power supply, CD/DVD drive to my specifications. My fight was mostly with the case (this had implications for the motherboard, the CPU cooler, the video card, the power supply). I was really hoping to build a Home Theatre PC (HTPC) or something that was as small and eloquent as the Mac Mini, but the desire to build a more powerful machine drove me to a bigger case. I looked at HTPC cases but I had a few concerns including heat dissipation, size to fit video card (to fit the proposed video card I needed minimum of 228.6 mm) and cost. I did not want to sink $700+ as some HTPC cases apparently cost. My three leading contenders were:

  • Silverstone Fortress FT03
  • Lian-Li V351 or Lian-Li V352 (Mini ATX vs Micro ITX)
  • Antec P183 V3

I really liked the Silverstone Fortress FT03 and the reviews almost convinced me to purchase it, but as my price was creeping upwards I decided on the slightly less expensive V351 based on the reviews of custom builders. The Antec got great reviews about being silent, but it’s huge. It wasn’t going to fit in the spot in my media cabinent (aka the shelf). The Silverstone Fortress FT03 got great reviews about flexibility, configuration and use. Again it was a space constraint coupled with the price ($70 more).

What doesn’t work, yet

Infrared
I bought a USB IR dongle knowing full well that this wouldn’t work. I have ordered a Twisted Melon Manta TR-1 USB IR solution. This includes the IR receiver and logic board. Coupled with Mira I’m hoping this will let me configure Boxee and/or Plex to work with my Harmony 880.
HDMI + HDMI Sound
I followed the instructions in tonymacx86 iBoot and Multi-Beast installation guide using the Kabyl Chameleon2.0 r748 build. I have DVI video working but I’m still trying to get HDMI and HDMI sound up and running. This is a very frustrating experience.
Bluetooth
This one is totally my fault. I did not buy a Bluetooth dongle.

Thoughts on the process

This has been a fun project. I have probably spent about 10 hours researching, purchasing, and building the Hackintosh. If I were monetizing that time, it would be a complete waste. However, this is a hobby decision. I wanted to build a Hackintosh. The worst case outcome is that I install Ubuntu or Windows and I have a solid PC to use in the office. And technically I have a smoking hot Macintosh that doesn’t support HDMI. This thing runs Photoshop and X Code unlike any other machine in my arsenal.

I plan on spending my free time after 9pm for the next 7 days trying to overcome the challenges with this box.

Anyone interested in building a Hackintosh? I was thinking about doing another big build.

Moderizing my television subscription

Photo by Solacetech
Photo by Solacetech

I was reading Wired 18.09: The New TV Guide which comes as I’m re-evaluating my cable TV usage and evaluating every cost savings as I try to free myself from expenses while starting up a new company. I decided to switch from Rogers Home Internet to Teksavvy. Teksavvy cable provides me (currently) with 15Mbps download and 1Mbps upload with 200Gb monthly usage for $42.95/month. This compares to essentially the same service from Rogers for $59.99/month (HighSpeed Internet Extreme – 15Mbps download/1Mbps upload and a 80Gb usage). I figured for approximately the same service I could save ~$17.04/month or about $200/year. Once this decision was made I started to look at our cable expense and watching patterns.

Basically, the F1 season ended and I my blood pressure can’t bear to watch the Steelers. I watch very little television, it was mostly morning news, kid shows, a few sitcoms and movies. I like watching TV in HD. I had Rogers VIP Ultimate with TMN that was approximately $100.47/month. We had a digital cable box plus the HD PVR. My cable bill was averaging approximately $140 after taxes (about $1680/year). What was watched:

On December 21, 2010 at midnight was the day the cable turned off in my house. I was really scared. It was the first time since 1997 that I hadn’t had cable television. I had Time Warner in Austin. I had Rogers in Canada. It’s been a long time. But I decided to shake things up and see what our TV watching experience would be like. I figured I had a rough budget of $200/month including hardware or about $2400/year. Here is my current setup.

Using a very simple amortization algorithm (divide the price of hardware over a 12 month period) plus the basic cost of content I spend $79.98/month (TekSavvy + Netflix + Hardware) versus $200/month for home internet plus HD cable. This is a very basic comparison and assumes that my total content is provided by Netflix or other internet source.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Netflix. Perhaps this is because the only 2 movies I’ve seen in a theatre in the past year are The A Team and Tron. And the only other movies I’ve watch on planes. There are all six seasons of Franklin the Turtle and Dora the Explorer. And I’ve caught up on some of the movies that I missed on The Movie Network (500 Days of Summer; I Love You, Beth Cooper; Taken; The Day the Earth Stood Still – not the best selection but when you haven’t seen them they are sufficient entertainment). Plus the documentaries are great (Crips and Bloods: Made in America; Empires: Medici – Godfathers of Renaissance; Blood into Wine; MacHEADS; Between the Folds; Vice Guide to Travel; and a bunch of other stuff). It’s not perfect but for $8/month it is perfect. I’ve rented 2 movies on iTunes at $5.99 (Predators and Cargo) plus purchased TopGear Season 15 HD from iTunes ($14.99) and DVDs of Shrek Forever After ($19.99); WALL-E ($12.99); Toy Story 3 ($19.99) and ripped them using Handbrake. So for December I’m all in for $425. Not bad given that it’s about 3x from my previous bill but includes hardware: cable modem and AppleTV. Using my rough calculations if I continue to rent 2 movies @ $5.99/month and purchase 6 movies (or TV shows on iTunes) @ $19.99/month I should break even after 4 months compared to my previous cable + internet bill.

The set up is not perfect. I feel like I miss local news even with a digital antenna for the TV and the CityTV application on the iPad. I’ve added the CityTV podcast to my favorites, and we’ll see if that satisfies my coffee and the news fix at 7am. I miss watching football, well technically I miss falling asleep watching football with a beer on Sunday afternoons. Television has been the most difficult. Season Passes to HD shows on iTunes are about $60 (The Big Bang Theory Season 4 – $55.99) and we’re part way through the season and I don’t feel compelled to purchase the full pass. Season 3 was 23 episodes at $3.49 – $80.49 purchased individually vs $64.99 as a Seasons Pass. I could download torrents of most of the shows but that’s not my style. I’m leaning more towards DVDs given the unfavourable ownership rights of digital content purchased on many of the services. We’ve tried watching episodes on Boxee and CTV but the quality is just not right on a 37″ 720p capable TV. And I have no idea what I will do for Formula1 in 2011, this is still up in the air, hopefully the mobile application for 2011 will work. But I’m hoping Bernie Ecclestone is reading I’d pay him directly for a live stream (may have to purchase a VPN connection to watch BBC or other broadcaster).

Kids are just as happy. There are movies and TV shows they watch. Essentially no change. Spouse is mostly happy. TV is a little weak but that’s because Boxee and iTunes are different. Netflix and movie consumption is up, which balances the displeasure of traditional broadcast. My assessment is that it’s a wash. We’ll break even in another 3 months and my TV watching behaviours will have changed.

Next, I’m considering purchasing a proxy or VPN service. Anyone have any recommendations? I’m also looking at hacking my AppleTV or jailbreaking the iPad to stream content from any app using AirPlay. Fun stuff.

Meet with me in Vancouver

Grow Conf, Aug 19-21, 2010 Vancouver, BC

I’m heading to Vancouver for the Grow Conference. If you’re a startup, an investor or a service provider in Canada you should be at this event. Read my Top 5 Reasons to go to Grow. (Random note: I’m surprised that Peer1 or Q9 or MyHosting or iWeb or RackForce didn’t see this as a potential sponsorship and marketing event. Further evidence that tech startups are the Rodney Dangerfield‘s of Canadian businesses).

Bootup LabsI’ll be in Vancouver Monday, August 16 through August 20. On August 19 & 20, I’ll be at Grow Conference (I am currently open for breakfast on the Thursday August 19 if you’re interested). I am staying downtown so if you’re up for breakfast, lunch or dinner and you want to talk startups, product/market fit, marketing, BizSpark, technology, or better yet if you can show me where to get a bourbon manhattan. I’ll be working out of Bootup Labs, 163 West Hastings Street – Suite 200, Vancouver, BC and WavefrontAC, 1055 West Hastings Street, Vancouver BC.

I’m looking to talk to entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, investors, policy makers, technologists and designers. I’d love to learn about new companies in Vancouver that are:

  • Building on the Microsoft stack including Azure, SQL Server, Silverlight, Windows Phone 7, IE9, and other emerging Microsoft technologies. I’m happy to chat about BizSpark and other programs available for startups.
  • Not building on the Microsoft stack, I’d still love to talk to you. I’d love to learn about your choices whether they be PHP, Rails, Android, iPhone, AppEngine, BigTable, Hadoop, Solr, Cassandra, RIAK, VoltDB, open web, etc.
  • Startup fund-raising and Vancouver. I’d love to get an entrepreneurs take on the funding scene. What’s it like to raise capital form W Media Ventures, GrowthWorks Vancouver, VanEdge. Who are the angels? What works? What’s broken?
  • Pitching StartupNorth. We get a lot of submissions of standard press releases. I’ll tell you what works in getting our attention and maybe this can help you get the attention of other bloggers and more credible press.
  • How to demo like a demon! I’d like to see entrepreneurs demo their wares. Come show me your software, the coolest thing about your solution, something that changed your life. Real software always makes me happy.
  • Emerging business models and go-to-market strategy – I’d love to talk about new pricing models, new consumer advertising models, economic and growth models that will allow startups to monetize and survive.
  • Health 2.0 – I’d love to see startups in the patient care space, new health tracking, personal health informatics, aging population support. I think this is a fantastic market segment, though highly regulated, but it’s a area that I have a personal interest in.
  • Social CRM – Microsoft just release CRM5 (ok CRM 2011). Salesforce continues to evolve their platform. There are new competitors like Jive and Lithium. I keep looking at HighRise and BatchBook for my personal contacts. Love to chat about the space, the players, what customers are looking for, etc.

These are all just suggested topics. I’m in town, I actually don’t have an agenda for 3 days.

Find time on my calendar and book a meeting with me at tungle.me/davidcrow


Factory of dreams

I seem to have a strange fascination with local economic development. I’m not an economist. I’m not a politican. I just want the community that I live in to be vibrant, safe and offer opportunity.

I have been following Fortune’s coverage of activities in Detroit. David Whitford wrote a piece about the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit. It reminds of the great work being done in Toronto at 401 Richmond and 215 Spadina by the Urban Space Property Group. And 720 Bathurst now that the Centre for Social Innovation has purchased a building. While the challenges in Toronto were never as large as New York City in the 1970s or Detroit now, I was just shocked listening about the state of a suburb in Pittsburgh.

“We are not a poor town, we are experimental because we’re not a town that’s down on it’s luck” – John Fetterma

John Fetterman, talked about his challenges as the Mayor of Braddock, PA at PopTech 2009. I went to graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University and I remember some of the communities. I was fortunate to live in Squirrel Hill, but I remember the first night I spent in Pittsburgh in 1996. But I am more shocked by the economic conditions encountered in Braddock including .

I was just shocked at some of the data:

  • 90% of the population has moved away
  • 90% of the buildings in the community have been lost
  • Median price of a home: US$5,250
  • Median household income: US$17,518

I’m curious about the ongoing impact of the closure of UPMC Braddock post January 31, 2010. This is a story to follow.

Integrity, hunger strikes and plagiarism

Some rights reserved by The Rocketeer http://www.flickr.com/photos/kt/309783238/in/photostream/
Some rights reserved by The Rocketeer

I asked Mark McQueen to comment on the OMERS/ABP newly announced €200 million venture fund (with €100 million being spent in Canada) knowing full well that he was currently unable to comment. Mark responded with a little bit of the history of the OMERS efforts to create a venture fund.

“This is not the first anyone’s heard of OMERS getting into the direct early stage VC business. CEO Michael Nobrega spoke about it last Spring at the CVCA conference, OMERS Worldwide chief Jacques Demers mentioned in during a panel last September in Boston, and OMERS PE boss Paul Renaud was equally detailed during a CVCA panel in May in Ottawa. I feel as though I have a good sense of what they are planning, and would be happy to share. E100 million over 15 years for Canadian startups is welcome and needed capital, even if it represents one tenth of the money that the Government of Ontario wiped away (for Ontario-based firms) when they announced the end of the LSIF program five years ago.”

It’s too bad that Mark is currently on Day 10 of a hunger strike. His writing, humor and insights on the financial industry and it’s impact on Canadians is unsurpassed. The hunger strike stems from Globe & Mail not properly referencing the originating sources of their published news stories:

“Unfortunately for we providers of the what must have been the original source material, none appear to receive a single acknowledgement as to the origin of the analysis, research, storyline, etc., etc., that made up the key underpinnings of the Globe’s lift masquerading as a bona fide “news” article….we’ve now reached the 10th incident by last count (see prior posts “Google acquires BumpTop part 3” May 3-2010 and “DTM copycats at it again part 8” June 20-08). I’ve broached the topic with the editing team in writing on more than one occassion, but no response has ever come.”

Mark documents at least 10 incidents where mainstream media has plagiarized stories from online resources. And has started a hunger strike to protest the lack of integrity and referencing sources present in mainstream media. It seems that many journalists are able and willing to reference their sources, I’m looking at good guys like ex-Globe & Mailer Mathew Ingram, who referenced Mark’s Bumptop piece in his post on GigaOm.

I’m supporting Mark’s efforts by uninstalling the Globe & Mail application from my iPad and refusing to share any link love.

I’m also accepting food donations and lunch invitations on behalf of Mark. Ping me if you have a hankering for lunch at Cava, George, Spendido or anywhere else that you’re buying 😉

MEIC and NextMedia

I realize that I sit on the Board of Directors for the MEIC and on the Board of Advisors for NextMedia, however, I didn’t know about this great partnership and opportunity. It’s a contest focused on taking early concepts for tablet computing and media consumption, the goal isn’t to build the technology, it’s to get people to sketch and explore new opportunities enabled by mass penentration of tablets.

This is a fun contest for designers (and aren’t we all designers). All you need to submit is an outline of the value proposition, the initial design concepts including IA or prototype screens, the audience and the business model. It’s a great

  • goal of the application, and specifics of functionality
  • audience target
  • intentions for development
  • information architecture or up to five screen shots

The prize

The winner will recieve a development deal worth $25,000 in development services from Trapeze to go from concept to reality. And business development, strategic relationships and incubation with the MEIC.