Saturday, April 12, 2008

New blog.

I've started a new blog over on my own domain, in part because Blogger has at times been blocked in China, and in part as an opportunity to start anew.

I'll be putting most of this blog's content back for historical purposes next time I'm back in the US, but if you would like to follow along with my newfound adventures in China, I invite you to visit my new space over at!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Change is in the air

I've temporarily taken down much of my personal blog as part of a larger effort to re-focus my energies.

I'll be back to writing shortly, with a renewed sense of purpose.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

New Toy: AT&T Wireless Option GT Max 3.6 Express 3G Card

One thing I certainly miss about Seattle is the abundance of amazing coffee shops with free WiFi. Even when I had an office, I never missed the opportunity to camp out with my laptop at spots like Bauhaus or Vivace and get some work done among the hustle and bustle of the city.

Now that I don't have an office -- the world is my office -- I have occassion to spend even more time coffee shop and airport hopping.

Unfortunately, not all cities are as coffee or WiFi-friendly as Seattle. I find myself spending more and more time at Starbucks, in neighborhoods where fewer and fewer coffee houses cater to laptop toting folk like me. In fact, it even feels like some of my favorite LA coffee shops intentionally withhold the WiFi!

So today I caved and bought a new toy. It's a tri-band 3G (UMTS/HSDPA) and quad-band GPRS/EDGE ExpressCard, and so far, I absolutely love it. Coverage appears decent, and speed certainly seems fast enough to surf/work. At around $50-$60 for the device (after rebate) and another $50-$60/month for the dedicated line of service, it might seem a little pricey. But hey, compared to a lease on office space, I'd say it's a fair bargain. ;-)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy New Year!

Back in LA for a few days...

Spent the morning with my laptop at Panera Bread, still the best source of free nationwide WiFi and french toast bagels!

Finally got around to making a few tweaks to my blog. I added a Shelfari bookshelf, and a Flixster badge. Shelfari is nice. My friend Mike recently left Microsoft to work there. I like the way they let you customize the bookshelf, and hope they continue to make it even more customizable.

Flixster, on the other hand, is hideous. It's heavy on the advertising, and is highly tailored to MySpace and Bebo (read: 12 year old) crowd. I started using both apps on Facebook to keep track of what I'm reading/watching, share with friends, and discover new reads/films. Flixster fills up my profile's news feed with all sorts of crap about friends taking quizes rather than information about what movies I've watched. The blog badge is animated, and cycles through 20 "recent" movies showing only one at a time. Horrid.

I also recently ditched Bloglines for Google Reader, and will never go back. It's much better than the first time I tried Reader before their major revamp, and it's much better than the recent Bloglines Beta. Offline reading support through Google Gears seems promising but useless until it supports images (who wants to read blogs without inline images??).

Here's a nifty little device I stumbled upon recently that geotags photos right on the SD card -- no sync/software required. Definitely wanna ditch my PhotoTrackr for a Photo Finder, but then again, how long until it's all built into mainstream cameras? 1 year? 2?

Finally, it seems Windows Live Messenger might get support to talk to AIM and Gtalk soon! That'd be a dream come true -- one IM client to serve them all!!

That's all for now. Need to blog more soon on life in general, the startup, etc. Off to New York City in a few days for New Years. Yay.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

&& GTalk !<3 AIM?! :-(

Cool to see Google and AOL working together so that Gmail users can now IM AIM users. I personally prefer not to chat from the web page where I read my email, so I really hope Google Talk also gets this feature soon.

Two years ago, I had 4 IM clients installed on every PC. When Microsoft and Yahoo decided to partner, I was able to ditch YIM and knock the total down to 3. Hopefully soon, I'll finally be able to kick AIM to the curb as well.

It seems like every new version of AIM is more poorly designed, bloated, and unstable than the previous version. Most recently, the latest release of AIM completely screwed up my new laptop, and apparently it's been a widespread problem for people who run with UAC turned off.

I don't mind so much having both Windows Live Messenger and Google Talk running at the same time. They're both pretty solid, and are good for different things. WLM is featureful -- supports tablet ink, folder sharing by replication, and a bunch of other neat things. Gtalk is incredibly fast and lightweight -- almost everything's a single click away. I'd love to have a client that supported the best of both worlds, and interoperability between the two, but sadly, I suspect that's not likely to happen any time soon. ;)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Outlook's killer feature

Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 has one feature that I really miss from using it daily for 2 years -- the ability to copy and paste an image into an email.

I really like taking screen clippings and including them in emails, both because pictures make things fun to read and because they're often worth a thousand words (and who wants to write or read a thousand words?!).

But with all of the web-based email services (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, etc) it seems you have to save the image as a file, then attach the file to the email, and in most cases, it doesn't get inserted in any particular position in the message body.

The fact that this is still the case in 2007 is tragic. I'd even go so far as to switch back to Outlook for work email, except that I imagine when I would send an email with a few pictures between paragraphs from Outlook to a Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo Mail recipient, they would probably often arrive out of order and/or looking different than how they looked when sent? But maybe it would work alright if I switched Outlook from rich text to html email? Has anyone ever tried?

When Ray Ozzie took over Bill Gates's job last year, he was working on a pet project to help bring copy/paste to the web. Has it gone anywhere, or was it a complete failure? Ray hasn't updated his blog at all since mid-2006. (As a sidenote, anyone else notice that regular Windows Live Spaces users get their blogs plastered with ads at the top but Ray Ozzie doesn't?)

Perhaps now that Gmail supports IMAP, I should try the Windows Live Mail client app again. Should I be willing to suck up having to look at banner ads while I read my email if I can paste my screen clippings? Perhaps I'll give it a go...

[Update 12/25/2007] I ended up giving the Windows Live Mail desktop client another try, and it's absolutely wonderful with Gmail's IMAP support. Images pasted into messages still appear inline in Gmail, and it has a great offline sync story. Check it out.

Monday, November 26, 2007

DIRECTV Removes TiVo From Our House

Before I returned to my family's home in LA for Thanksgiving, my Dad apparently got a call from DIRECTV letting him know that in order to continue receiving service and newer HD content, they would need to replace his dish and receiver. So, without providing any more information or options, they came out to our home and did so.

In the process, DIRECTV did something pretty sly -- they sneakily kicked his TiVo to the curb.

I love TiVo. They're sorta the Apple of the DVR -- pretty, friendly, and easy to use. I bought my parents their first TiVo 6 years ago after owning and loving one of my own. They loved it too, and bought more newer ones over the years -- including a DIRECTV receiver with TiVo software.

At some point, DIRECTV figured it would be cheaper to bundle their own software instead of offering TiVo. That's fine and well. But to come into our home and replace it without even telling us in advance that that was what they would be doing? Shady.

There have been news articles that DIRECTV has extended support for TiVo, and that new TiVo-enabled models will even be released in the future. So I'm not quite sure what's really going on -- but now you've heard my family's experience from the front lines.

Poor TiVo. RIP.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gooooood Morning Los Angeles!

Pheeeew! After 15 hours of traveling by ferry, car, and plane, it's good to be back in Los Angeles with my family for Thanksgiving.

As an early Hanukkah present, my parents, who have been incredibly supportive of this whole quit my job and burn through savings adventure, replaced my dead Thinkpad T40 with a brand spankin' new Thinkpad T61. It's a beautiful machine with a 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB ram, 100GB 7200RPM disk, 128MB NVIDIA Quadro video card, bluetooth, "Wireless N", and a 15.4" WSXGA+ TFT display that runs at a smokin' 1680x1050 resolution!

I'm super happy because it was getting a little frustrating to wait 20-30 seconds after hitting 'F5' in Visual Studio on the older X-series tablet I was borrowing over the last few months!

One of the funny things about the new Thinkpad I've noticed in my first hours using it is that they split the regular-sized left Alt key into 2 smaller keys -- on the left is the Windows key, on the right is Alt. Sony is the king of non-standard keyboard layouts with their compact VAIO laptops, and I absolutely can't stand VAIOs because of it. At first, the new Thinkpad key design thoroughly annoyed me because my thumb kept hitting "Windows" instead of "Alt", bringing up the new, horribly designed "Flip 3D" feature. While it makes for sexy TV commercials, it's a horrible way to switch between windows. But I've found a solution to this problem! In just a few seconds, I'll rebind Windows-Tab to Switcher -- at which point I hope my fingers will slip more to use Windows-Tab, since as far as I know Alt-Tab can't be rebound.

That's all for now. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Life without "is" is...

... null.

Software testing is a polarizing topic. Some people swear by software testers ("SDET"s at Microsoft) and demand a 1:1 developer:tester ratio, others think they're not worth the overhead whatsoever and that developers should test their own code (and we'll hear about the rest from customer service). Usually the latter camp begins to cave when they find themselves running a global service and stuff like this starts to surface at 4:30am the morning after a change.


Anyhow: "Adam Herscher is preparing for the 15 hour journey from Beaver Island, MI back home to Los Angeles, CA" (and is not null)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I spent a few days playing around with Ruby on Rails. It was the first time in over 2 years that I'd learned a new, non-Microsoft language/technology stack, and I like it a lot. The two key Rails concepts I spent time playing with were ActiveRecord and the Model View Controller scaffolding. ActiveRecord was very similar to Microsoft's new LINQ technology that I've been using lately. The Model View Controller stuff was very intuitive and easy to 'get'. This morning, I came across a post on Scott Guthrie's awesome blog about ASP.NET's new MVC framework. It looks promising. I have to imagine someone at Microsoft was inspired by Ruby on Rails, but who knows.

I have no interest in spending time right now on an ASP.NET vs RoR post (and I don't have enough Rails experience to do so)... but I must say the one thing I do love about Ruby on Rails is its "convention over configuration" philosophy. I vaguely remember reading something once in a perl manpage about a perl core tenet of being able to do one thing many different ways. There's value in both philosphies, but lately I'm starting to place a much higher value in how quick, easy, and friendly something is over how powerful/extensible/backwards-compatible it is. For example, some of the ASP.NET controls are incredibly powerful, but it takes 4 hours to scratch the surface and evaluate a single control that might or might not be useful (what's the difference between a GridView, DataList, ListView, and Repeater, and why should I care?).

I think the difference between the Rails web site and the LINQ web site really sums things up well. Rails is the "Apple guy" of web developers -- used by indie hackers and designers, and ASP.NET is the "PC guy" -- used by big Enterprise people that wear suits and get sent to training sessions and stuff.

Anyhow, that's all for now. Here's a picture from Jeff's webcam right outside our office on Beaver Island (it should be current as of the time you loaded this page):

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Sustainability of Web 2.0

Since the inception of the term "Web 2.0", something about it has made me cringe. Even after reading numerous definitions and opinions over the past 2 years, I never seemed to be able to describe exactly what bothered me about it so much (beyond its ambiguity), until now.

Perhaps unintentionally, "Web 2.0" has come to represent the general category of recent tech startups. Beyond the media hype/Dilbert/geek-culture ("Lunch 2.0") references, the term has been tossed around as a business category in every recent discussion I've had with friends in the finance world. It's even being used as a category in an official capacity on paper: I recently had lunch with a partner in an investment fund with a few million dollars earmarked specifically for "Web 2.0 companies" (as labeled in SEC filings).

I think it's time to accept that, just as the many failed (and few successful) tech startups from the late 90s came to be known as "dot coms" (a once flattering name), this round has been categorically labeled as "Web 2.0s".

But what makes me cringe when I hear "Web 2.0" is not the way it has been interpreted or categorically applied. Rather, something bothers me about the category of companies that the term now represents. It's the same cringe I felt when I was working for a tech startup in Silicon Valley back in 2001 and I would *shudder* when people would use the word "dot com" because at the time, something was fishy about the whole "dot com" category, and in the same way, something feels fishy to me about the "Web 2.0" category today.

At the root of the fishiness is the question of whether or not this category of web 2.0 companies are sustainable.

Two years ago, Paul Graham wrote:

The reason this won't turn into a second Bubble is that the IPO market is gone. Venture investors are driven by exit strategies. The reason they were funding all those laughable startups during the late 90s was that they hoped to sell them to gullible retail investors; they hoped to be laughing all the way to the bank. Now that route is closed. Now the default exit strategy is to get bought, and acquirers are less prone to irrational exuberance than IPO investors. The closest you'll get to Bubble valuations is Rupert Murdoch paying $580 million for Myspace. That's only off by a factor of 10 or so.

Well, there have since been a few more bubble-like developments like a potential $10 billion valuation on Facebook, but even putting those aside, I still don't see the current situation as sustainable for long. It seems to me that with the IPO market gone and venture investors driven by acquisition exits, founders of web 2.0 companies are often not focusing on building sustainable businesses that could ultimately be successful without being acquired. I run through the hundreds if not thousands of web 2.0 companies, and see mostly potential Bloggers, Bloglines's, and's (all successful acquisitions), but very few Amazons or Ebays, let alone Apples.

While founders are doing things significantly cheaper than in the late '90s, VC investment is still at an all-time high since 2001. I suspect that a lot of money is riding on large numbers of web 2.0 companies hoping to be acquired, but statistically I imagine that a relatively small percentage are actually being acquired, and the rest are silently burning through their cash. It's only been 2 years since "Web 2.0" was coined, and less time since the term has come into the mainstream as a category, and so there probably couldn't have been too many stories of web 2.0 startup death yet (the TechCrunch deadpool is growing, but thankfully it's no circa 2001).

I can only hope that I'm simply wrong to shudder at the label "Web 2.0", in the same way that we all came to shudder at "dot com", while most people around me seem to be using the term happily as a category in everyday speech. But I certainly question the sustainability of so many "web 2.0 companies", and coming from the perspective of someone currently in the process of doing a consumer tech startup, I'm certainly concerned about all of the recent bubble talk, and what its impact might be on our ability to raise money in the future should web 2.0 begin to tank.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Email Photos

Last week, Jeff and I published a small web app that makes it easy to resize and email photos.

We posted a bit of background here and here.

I think it will be useful for people who don't want to spend time learning how to use their operating systems or imaging software to resize photos they've taken off their digital cameras, and who aren't interested in maintaining an online photo gallery or using a social networking site like Facebook (Jeff/my parents and grandparents seem to fall into this category).

But to my own surprise, I've also started to use it myself to quickly send off photos to friends -- even to send quick screenshots to Jeff when he's sitting 5ft away.

Anyhow, that's all for now. It seems it has been 2 months since my "Three weeks in" post, so I suppose I owe anyone who still reads a follow-up "Three months in" post shortly! There's been a lot going on around here lately, so it should be an interesting one.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Three Weeks In

It's been roughly 3 weeks since I landed in LA and began working on the new business with Jeff.

Interestingly, I feel a lot like I did when I started my new job at Microsoft, and when I started other exciting new jobs before that. One of the fun aspects of having kept this blog is the ability to look back over my posts from June/July of 2005 and see that same spark of enthusiasm for starting something new then.

As with all of the challenging jobs I've started in the past, when the end of the day comes (or night as the case may be), I find myself feeling pretty exhausted. We've been working from roughly 8:30am until any time between 11pm-1am, 6-7 days a week, with relatively few breaks. Most days, I find myself eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner in front of my computer. Today, however, I escaped to eat a bowl of chili for dinner in front of the TV while watching 10 minutes of COPS 2.0 on G4, and now I'm taking a second break to write this blog post. One upside on the work/life balance front is that my parents have an awesome hot tub, which we use to wind down 4 or 5 nights a week. Not so bad.

Besides a single visit to an LA geek dinner, and a night out roughly once a week, I feel like I've more or less put my social life on hold. I've also tabled my Mandarin lessons because even with my ChinesePod loaded iPhone, I don't seem to have free time to listen. I'm trying hard not to give up the gym, though we've only ended up making it once or twice a week so far.

I don't expect too much to change over the next several months while we try hard to get something up and running, and as a result, my posts here will likely continue to dwindle. Rather than sharing random thoughts on a wide range of subjects as I have in the past, I'll likely move towards juts posting sporadic personal updates from time to time.

That said, Jeff and I have started blogging about our experiences from day zero in building a new technology company. We call it fluxcapacity (the blog, not the company). If you're interested in such things (topics will range broadly from technology to business), and would like to follow our progress, I invite you to subscribe.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Hello iPhone.

Ten reasons buying an iPhone was a sound financial decision:

10. It was $300 less expensive than the first Smartphone I imported in 2004.

9. I just recently signed a new 2 year at&t contract anyway.

8. With Visual Voicemail, I'll actually save money I would've otherwise spent having to make a call to listen to messages.

7. Since it has an iPod built in, I'll save money and time by not buying, charging, and syncing a 2nd mp3 player device in the future.

6. Jeff and I will need to test our own UI on many devices and platforms.

5. As a technology entrepreneur, it's critical that I investigate and understand various advances in technology (and thus, one of these is obviously next).

4. It was really fun to play with today at Mind Camp (like band camp, for nerds!)

3. My last phone's LCD cracked then died after dropping it one too many times over the weekend (i.e. the real catalyst for it all).

2. After dropping my last phone again when pulling it out of my pocket in the Apple store, I was able to secure a rugged iPhone case to protect my investment for only an additional $30.

1. Simply put, it really fucking rocks. Get one. Really.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Leaving Microsoft

It's official. I've decided to leave Microsoft.

The past 25 months have given me a great opportunity to learn and grow, while working for one of the best software companies in the world.

But alas, the time has come again to change things up, take on some risk, and start a new adventure. In just a week, I'll be moving down to LA to bootstrap a startup with Jeff, a friend from college who recently finished his Masters and with whom I worked on the mates project several years back (and as a sidenote, he's been up to some pretty cool stuff since!).

We won't be working on location-based social networking or flying robots, but it's a little too soon to share our plans just yet.

With that, I leave you with some pmarca words of wisdom...

First, and most importantly, realize that a startup puts you on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything you have ever experienced.

You will flip rapidly from a day in which you are euphorically convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined, and back again.

Over and over and over.

And I'm talking about what happens to stable entrepreneurs.

There is so much uncertainty and so much risk around practically everything you are doing. Will the product ship on time? Will it be fast enough? Will it have too many bugs? Will it be easy to use? Will anyone use it? Will your competitor beat you to market? Will you get any press coverage? Will anyone invest in the company? Will that key new engineer join? Will your key user interface designer quit and go to Google? And on and on and on...

Some days things will go really well and some things will go really poorly. And the level of stress that you're under generally will magnify those transient data points into incredible highs and unbelievable lows at whiplash speed and huge magnitude.

Sound like fun?