Who am I?

Head Grunt, David “NfoCipher” Bunt - I'm a programmer..
Experience: With over 14 years professional experience both in corporate and small business environments. I'm a Linux junkie, have a healthy respect for macs, but cannot tolerate anything microsoft related. Been there, done that, never again.

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The death of a company..

2009-01-22 @ 18:24 in Business

Not my business, at least not yet. Maybe I should say the death of a good idea because the business in question is more likely more funded than ever now. The spirit is gone, the original mission scrapped, the original members moved on to bigger and better things. What is left is a shell of a company motivated by shareholder approval and the requirement to generate large profits. The company in question is GarageGames.com and the situation is big corporate buyout lovin'.

It's really amazing any company survives at all. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, over 50% of small businesses fail in the first year and 95% fail within the first five years.

I'm torn. I've been on the wrong side of two buyouts and I've seen first hand how great it can be. The formula is the same:

The owners start acting weird, you know weird when you see it.

They start asking for inventory numbers, how many servers do we have, etc etc.

A group of people you've never seen before hang around and start calculating how much the company is actually worth.

Management tells you there's nothing to worry about.

People start resigning left and right, you start hearing jokes about how the rats are the first to jump off a sinking ship.

You interview for your own job.

People panic and start choosing sides.

The new regime starts identifying those who still hold loyalty to old management and eliminates you.

The new regime starts identifying those who had problems with old management and promotes them.

There's a reason I watch Office Space at least twice a year. It reminds me to work harder to avoid this cycle again. I'm the loyal guy, I don't really chose to be - it's just my personality. Here's what it looks like from an owner's point of view:

At the start of every week, you know that by Friday you need X amount of money to meet payroll.

You're worried about billing and your credit line at the bank eating any and all profits you may have had.

You're bothered by employees wanting raises and new equipment you can't afford.

Management is busy making power point presentations that depicts everything is fine and the company is strong.

Employees are busily reading Slashdot.org and planning their afternoon StarCraft session wondering why management doesn't have a clue.

It's a non-stop stress fest on both sides and all the sudden here comes mega-corp with an offer you can't refuse. Here's the dirty little secret - businesses want to be eaten within 7 years. The idea is to build up your business to attract the attention of a larger entity. The larger entity will take the best of what you have, get rid of the rest, and try to make as much money as they can before liquidating whats left at the end.

There are very few small businesses who intentionally wants to stay small. You have your auto mechanics, dentists, dry cleaning, barber shops, service oriented in general who will never get past the one location mark. If they're lucky and in the right area, they can make a decent life out of it, but they would have made more money working for someone else in the long run.

The owners, now presented with a buyout offer now usually jump on it. It's a chance for them to cash out, take a break, and do neat things they always wanted to do before trying it all over again. The funny thing is, the stress is addictive, the attempt attractive, the gamble exhilarating. Being a business owner is nothing more than legalized gambling and the ups and downs feel the same. So now the owners go on a shopping spree buying up all the expensive toys they've always wanted. It may be a bookstore, it may be a farm, but it's not long before they're right at it again trying for the buyout again.

So let's take a look at the history of GarageGames:

Ex-Dynamix employees see the writing on the wall, negotiate to buy the engine they've been working on away from the company and bail.

Take the engine, sell copies + source for $100, call it indie and sell it anyone who wants it.

From the start it's cross-platform and works pretty well.

Form community around said engine, accept patches, repackage them and sell them back to new customers as new versions.

Just looking at the publicly available Torque Owner tags and crawling the site, it appears engine sales generated over a million dollars alone.

They gain enough status to get console developer licenses and port the engine over. Of course selling that version of the engine for a much higher cost.

Microsoft gains interest, GarageGames now a xbox ,xbox360 ,xna partner. Die hard c++ programmers are talking about how cool c# is. Linux support all the sudden becomes purely community driven.

TorqueX is the first GarageGames product to hit the market on time, no doubt some sort of bonus money from Microsoft. Jeff now questions Mac development and Linux development drops off the planet.

Things are quiet, promises of documentation and transparent development are made. Opengl continues to take a back seat to directx.

IAC offers big corporate buyout lovin'.

GarageGames assures its community that everything is cool and this just means more money to do more cool things.

GarageGames founders and superstars jump ship, the B team takes over.

Website takes on a web 2.0 look, engine price triples, and community functions are crippled.

Founders and superstars make new company, new engine, and back on the market to do it all over again.

Yes, it's sad to see something gutted like this. Yes, I was attached to the idea of GarageGames. Yes, I'll more than likely do business with PushButtonGames (even though I'm a complete Flash virgin). Yes, I hope to be bought out by big corp buyout lovin'. No, I don't like change nor how the process needs to happen this way to turn a real profit. This is just how the world works and it beats the alternative - your company fails, you go bankrupt, you feel like a failure and you just can't wait to do it all over again.

Rest in Peace GarageGames.com


Crazy Customers and How to Spot them..

2009-01-19 @ 03:48 in Business

They're out there lurking in the dark waiting to ruin your day. All businesses encounter at least one but they really hurt smaller businesses as they eat up time and resources. There is one basic rule a small business needs to follow - work on whoever is paying you the most right now. The crazy customer will monopolize your time, make unreasonable request, complain about complaining and then not pay you. I made a fundamental mistake - I started working before writing up a scope of work contract. It was a referral of a friend, so I didn't think much of it. He needed work done yesterday, I told him my rate and I went to work. So while I got screwed out of money, here's a list of how to spot the crazies and stop them before they do real damage:

Sending more than 15 emails a day.
Thinks 3 days is 2 weeks.
Calls you "bro".
Thinks a mysql backend is a magical thing only special people can understand.
Wants no scroll bars on IE maximized in a 1024x768 screen while in xp theme mode. (cause that is what *everyone* uses)
Thinks you can use a webcrawler to recover PHP code.
Wants you to work on 3 things at once and wonders why nothing is being accomplished.
Tells you he wants to start a social network for God called hisspace.com
Informs you what is easy and should cost money.
Tells you CEOs don't even make the kind of money you're charging.
And my favorite - Tells you that you are padding hours.

As soon as the customer starts telling you how to do your job - stop. When I take my car to get a tune up (and yes, all Linux people use car metaphors), I don't email my mechanic and inform him how to set the spark plug gap. People are good at different things, that's why I don't cut my own hair. Just because I own a pair of scissors doesn't mean I'm good at or even remotely qualified to instruct someone else at cutting hair.  Some people spend a bunch of time behind a keyboard, but that doesn't mean you're a programmer or even a "computer guy". Owning a computer doesn't make you qualified to tell me how to do my job.

How can you avoid problems? It really depends on the scope of the project. If you write a little throw away application that takes you a couple of hours then it's not worth the trouble of writing up a contract. If they don't pay up, you're only out a couple hours and you move on. Anything more than that, take the time and do it right.

Contracts - do them. Write up a scope of work contract and make them sign it before you do anything.

Educate the customer - maybe they don't know all this computer stuff costs money. Software is expensive, custom software even more so. The bill can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Delays happen - this happens mostly when the customer starts asking for more than the original scope of work ie: the sugar buzz effect. Amend the contract.

Good luck with your crazy customer, I sure had a blast with mine.

Linux holding kids back?!

2009-01-03 @ 16:44 in Personal

Let's talk physics. Most people have heard of the law of conservation of energy. It says that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, but simply changed to something else. Economics dumbs this idea down to there's no such thing as a free lunch. Nothing is really free. Even that pen you borrowed and the owner told you to keep it costs someone something. It took energy to come up with the idea, make the pen, ship it, sell it, use it and the act of giving it away.

So let's apply this to FOSS.

Here is a guy who reconditions old hardware, loads Linux on it and deploys it to kids who need it. One of the kids made copies of a Linux Live CD (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_LiveDistros) and gave it to his classmates. The teacher confiscated the CDs and wrote a nasty graham.

--- quote

"...observed one of my students with a group of other children gathered around his laptop. Upon looking at his computer, I saw he was giving a demonstration of some sort. The student was showing the ability of the laptop and handing out Linux disks. After confiscating the disks I called a confrence with the student and that is how I came to discover you and your organization. Mr. Starks, I am sure you strongly believe in what you are doing but I cannot either support your efforts or allow them to happen in my classroom. At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful. These children look up to adults for guidance and discipline. I will research this as time allows and I want to assure you, if you are doing anything illegal, I will pursue charges as the law allows. Mr. Starks, I along with many others tried Linux during college and I assure you, the claims you make are grossly over-stated and hinge on falsehoods. I admire your attempts in getting computers in the hands of disadvantaged people but putting linux on these machines is holding our kids back.

This is a world where Windows runs on virtually every computer and putting on a carnival show for an operating system is not helping these children at all. I am sure if you contacted Microsoft, they would be more than happy to supply you with copies of an older verison of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them..."

Karen xxxxxxxxx

xxxxxxxxx Middle School


--- end quote

This both amused and angered me at the same time. So much in fact that it became the main topic of my Linux classes for that week. Yes, I'm one of those college instructor types that teaches Linux, part time of course, but a teacher none the less. So let's get this out of the way - no software is free as it took energy to make it. It can be free as in the freedom to do with it what you want. I can, as the creator of the software, give permission - the freedom - to the user so they can use my software as needed. They can even change my software to suit their needs.

Real world example, FollowMeIP. I wrote this little server for a project I had at the time and it turned in to something useful for some people. I've been hosting the site for years now - for free. No catch, if you want to use it, use it. Does it cost me money to run? Yes. Do I sit up at night worrying about how I'm going to recover that lost money? No.

One could say the quality of software isn't as good as commercial and I'd agree in FollowMeIP's case as it took me all of a weekend to write and I haven't put much effort into it since. It will be my test site for that magical day where I decide it's time for Ruby on Rails goodness. Point is, I'm going down the non-traditional road of - here, I wrote this, it was useful to me at some point, maybe you'll like it too.

On the other hand, take a look at OpenOffice. Here you have a fantastic open source project funded by Sun. The quality of this package is the same if not better than similar commercial packages. In fact, I'm using OpenOffice to write this blog post. So what is Sun's angle? Why dump all the time and money into a product that they could easily sell? Instead of worrying about the answers to those questions, I focus on the fact that I have the source code to OpenOffice and the freedom to do neat things with it. If Sun fell off the planet tomorrow, I can still change or patch OpenOffice myself or even form a company that does nothing but OpenOffice support. In my day to day life, I really could care less about Sun's long term strategy regarding its open source initiative.

As for Linux's ease of use. This is completely relative. If you grew up on windows, all you know is windows and you didn't even know there was an alternative - sure anything else is not going to be "easy" for you. I've asked my students many times - why haven't you even tried a mac? The answers are mostly - well, it just never occurred to me that I should. One even said he would feel like a traitor, which means on some level he was emotionally attached to windows. Anything you don't use or do on a daily bases is going to be hard on some level.

My buddy Gary got me a Professor's Cube for Christmas. While I find it fun, it's not easy nor intuitive to me at all. I suppose the natural response for the majority of people is to simply give up as soon as they encounter the slightest difficulty. My reaction was to watch many videos, read many articles and to go as far as setting up a video chat with Gary so he could help me remotely. While I still don't fully understand some of the algorithms I used nor feel like it's "easy", I still enjoyed the challenge.

I remember the first time I saw Linux, Ryan had it running reading his email in a text based console. My curiosity got the best of me, at 20 I was already sick of windows. Here I was pulling down major bucks for rebooting NT servers everyday and it bored me to tears. Then I saw this new and different operating system and I had access to the source code. Computers became fun for me again, I was energized, I couldn't get enough of this new and continuously changing frontier called Linux. It was computing the way it was suppose to be and it didn't take long at all for me to nuke windows and become a Linux only shop.

Since those days, Linux has gotten a thousand fold easier to use and is very accessible to any level of computer user. There's guis for everything, yum installers, even wifi drivers for windows only cards. I can install it on one computer or a million and the cost to me? Time.

No need to call India and beg for a new activation key if I decided to upgrade my mainboard. Freedom is good.

In closing - Karen from xxxxxxxxx Middle School - shut the fuck up.