Thursday, July 24, 2008

Open Source

I have been a user of the internet since around 1989, when I was a student at a tiny college (~400 students) on the East Coast. I created my first website sometime in the early 90s, and have had a nearly constant web-presence ever since.

I have long believed that the essence of the internet is freely (and broadly) shared and distributed knowledge and information. The sharing of ideas is what I have most prized. At times, I have lamented the commercialization of the space, when it seemed to counter the free-flow of ideas. Commercialization in itself is not the enemy. Stifling creativity is.

So, where do I see my role now, as I labor to develop a new technology, one which I hope and believe can be transformative. In principle, I'd like to see this new technology as widespread as possible, accessible, available. But...

I wish to retain for myself some independence, some ability to sustain myself, my family, my work. I have no desire to give away the farm. I want to ensure there is enough land left for me to grow vegetables, for I enjoy tilling the earth, and I require sustenance. It's an apt metaphor.

It is easy for a fully-employed, tenured professor to create and support open source software and technology. It is in ways the life of a scholar to freely share ideas (though, of course, there is at times conflict over whose ideas they are.)

But what of an entrepreneur? And not just any entrepreneur. I am in ways one thrust upon this life-path by circumstance, frustrating, disappointing, discouraging, abandoning circumstance. I have so far no external supports. I'm like a boat adrift at sea, with no anchor, and no sail.

We shall see. I have been preparing to patent the very foundation of the research I am doing. I have thought to protect the underlying principles upon which all the work depends. If I can figure a way to get to market with products that may prove sustaining, that may render my company viable for the long-term, without needing to keep that foundation closed, I will. I will, because it would be a better world for the free-flow of ideas, for open sharing. I will, because the ideas will more likely be widespread if I do. But I only will, if I can reasonably see how to keep enough of the farm.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cooking anyone?

Looking over recent draws to this blog, I've discovered that over 1/4 of traffic comes to find my recipes. Hmmm.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Abundance is a good thing to have. I can't say that we are wealthy, but we have enough. Luckily, thanks to our savings and the generosity of state-sponsored benefits, we have enough to survive as a family in relative comfort for a few more years, without worrying too much about when and how much income. It is a luxury for which, though I think we are worthy of it, I am truly grateful.

What it gives us is an abundance of time. It's ours to choose how that time is spent. I'm plugging away at my business plans and research. I've realized that while I've been placing a priority on developing the materials for a patent application, what I really need is to develop some proofs-of-concept. These are complementary enterprises, so I'm not too concerned. It's just good to keep priorities in mind.

Time. To some extent, time is on my side. I'm in no rush. There is little to be gained from rushing through a patent application. Without the proofs-of-concept no one is going to take me and my technology seriously. That's an advantage as I see it. The only real threat is if there is some maverick or outsider like me out there who either gets whiff of what I'm doing (not terribly likely) or who is developing such things concurrently and happens to reduce to practice before I do. For now, I'm discounting that possibility as rather unlikely, since I think it takes an odd and eclectic background and interest (as well as the means to spend a great deal of time on the project) to get where I am and where I'm going.

I'm planning to keep up with my schedule this summer. I've actually worked out a fuller and more detailed plan in the past week (which incidentally includes this book chapter I agreed to write--a promise is a promise). I've been playing with Gantt charts (which I first used in my recent grant proposal). But I'm also planning to keep my life in perspective. I'm moving ahead my plans to get a workstation dedicated to the research and software development. I might go for it in the next few weeks. I'm planning to run a flavor of Linux (any recommendations or cautions... I'm leaning toward SuSE at the moment), and pick up some powerful (possibly expensive) industry-strength software for prototyping and algorithm development. It's time to get serious in that regard.

It's not all work though. Today, I cleared out much of the garage, enough to park our car in there alongside our minivan. We've been here three months, and this is the first time. This morning, I finished putting up the ceiling tiles in the basement family room. All that remains is staining and putting in the baseboards and the doors, getting an area rug or ordering carpeting, then organizing and cleaning up. I also consolidated my books and papers in the office onto one large bookshelf, and moved the second large bookshelf into the living room, to store games and toys. It's a big improvement for both rooms, and gives the office more space which will be needed especially when I get the second workstation. More cleaning and organizing tomorrow, and I've committed to keeping the home projects end up, even if it eats into some of my workweek hours. In the end, I'm sure my work time will be more productive (and my life more fulfilled).

As soon as the family room is finished, I can set up the exercise room. I'm feeling my age (or worse). I'm 40. Too many people die young. I think of Tony Snow. No fan of his, I assure you. But no one should die at 53! I think of Douglas Adams. I am a fan of his. My wife and I heard him speak about a week before he died in 2001, at the age of 49! My dad was 69 when he died of prostate cancer. Give me 30 more years, that's all I ask. But it's a tall order I know. It's best I do my part, meaning exercise for one.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Clean Slate

I am not by nature a particularly neat and organized person. At least, I'm not organized in a neat fashion. My wife would assure you that the picture of my desk above is a rather tame condition for the wilds I normally inhabit. (The walls are still a might bit dark for my taste, but that will have to await completion of the basement improvements).
My desk, in its state of disorganization, patiently awaited my return from a holiday. We arrived at the Lake House a week ago. Shortly after arriving, I took off my watch, as I readied to hit the water. I didn't put it back on until the drive home on Sunday.

I spent a good deal of time on the water, in the row boat or canoe. It's not a big lake. About 10-15 minutes is enough for a full circuit in a boat. There are about 8 houses surrounding it (two of which are for sale!). But the family Lake House is at our disposal, so there's little need for us to purchase our own plot any time soon. Good to know it's there for our use as we wish. We might get a small sailboat (say 14-18') sometime to supplement the rowboat and canoe there. It'd be a nice place to practice.
It was overall a peaceful and refreshing break. Our visit to the Lake House last year in fact was a major factor in our deciding to move to these parts. Our requirements were simple: affordable, near family, near the water. Many places would have fit the bill. But the peacefulness of nature at the Lake House was a reminder of what we wanted to capture.

There was little cause for my initial concern over spending five days away from home. I've sometimes felt a fish out of water during family vacations. I just let go this time. It helps of course, that there were others (mostly the inlaws) to entertain the boys much of the time, freeing me up to boat, or to read or just sit when the weather dictated.
In the end however, I find my slate has been wiped clean. I checked off the remaining two tasks on my to-do list this morning. I've spent much of the past couple days dealing with some technical issues regarding my websites and email servers.

I've been reading up on some of the engineering side of the research I'm involved in. Before me lies the patent preparations. Immediately, my plan is to develop my "technology narrative," sort of a white paper to explain what I'm doing, its relevance, the procedures, the market. This will be the basis for the patent description, and also for future grant and funding proposals.

Even though I've got this goal, it's dauntingly open. At the moment, I have no hard deadlines. A soft one I've self-imposed of the end of the summer to have the patent materials completed. It's soft because I'm not certain whether I'll file a provisional or full utility patent, or whether I might put off the patent filing for a time once I've gone through the process. There may be reasons to delay, so I'm open to the prospect (as long as I'm poised to file with everything prepared).

Will I get the grant I submitted last month? No telling. It'd be nice, but it won't really change my plans one way or the other. The next round of deadlines for grants and such is October-December, so that won't occupy me this summer. It feels good to be where we are. But things have slowed down a bit. I just want to keep up the momentum, even while I'm enjoying a bit of coasting.