19 November 2010

The Upverter Blog

 I am happy to announce our first ever Upverter blog post (Ohhs and Awes are appropriate so go for it!). We have decided that in preparation for our releases it would be good to start writing about the headaches we know exist, some of our horror stories and maybe a little bit about what its like starting up in Ontario/Toronto. As a result my personal blog will likely suffer a bit, but I’ll make sure to post link backs from Upverter so you can keep tabs on my Pulitzer Prize worthy writing… haha. My first post was kind of a hello world. You know, here is who we are, and a vague hand wave at what we are trying to do - hopefully it gets people excited about our goals, aspirations, open source hardware, and the possibly of something better. I’m pretty excited by how it turned out, but I had such a hard time writing the post. There was just so, so much to say! I wanted to tell everyone, everything, ramble on about the FSF, Stallman, and the better world they created - but I had to hold back, I’d have nothing to talk about next week if I didn’t. Anyway, you should read it! Its pretty bad-ass. As for the hand shaking and baby kissing here in SF, all is going well. So far there is lots and lots of excitement, and lots of good ideas on how to be different and better. More war stories to come, but for now keep your fingers crossed for us!

18 November 2010

A Letter To Our Parents

 Dear Moms, and Dads, I hacked this together back on Thanksgiving (corny I know) but as my mouse hovered over send I decided to wait for the official paperwork to come through, and now 3 weeks later, even though it hasn’t yet, I just can’t wait any more - haha. As I send this Steve and I are in San Francisco. We flew in this morning to pack-up the last of his stuff, shut down operations here in SF for now, and shake as many hands as we can in a week (maybe even Paul’s!). and Its all very, very exciting. But even still… I wanted to send around a little note officially announcing the marriage of your sons. We are still working out the honeymoon, and we haven’t picked the groom, but I just thought you should know it happened! ;) Its been pseudo official for some time now, and I’m sure you’ve heard a lot from your son about the excitement surrounding all of this But I wanted to take the opportunity to bring you up to date, and make it a little more official (because like it or not, and for better or worse the 3 of us are now more or less life partners - without the fun stuff of course ;). Thats right, your sons are in-fact a little bit crazy - and are trying to build a product and a startup business. We are going to try and make the world a little bit better, and if we pull it off we are going to try and sell a business. In addition to making it official - I also wanted to say thanks. thanks for everything. Thanks to my parents for taking me back in, and helping with money. Thanks to Mary for letting us make a mess of her basement. Thanks to Steve’s parents for smuggling electronics and black market chairs across the border. And in advance, thanks for putting up with us! we are probably going to ask a lot of you in the coming months and it means a lot to us that you’re there. and that you’re the kind of parents to put up with sons like us (I guess you did raise us this way after all! haha). I’m not sure how much you each had to do with our more-or-less terrible decisions to attend the University of Waterloo. For me I was a pretty bad listener when it came to my parents at that time, and I also thought I was superman - but Waterloo was close to home, and it was supposed to be the best. And while I squeaked through university, each of us trying to help the others (and realizing we weren’t supermen), I found your sons - and we became fast friends. Steve there to hit me when I fell asleep writing lab reports (or electrocuting me the next morning), and Mike there to yell at the profs when we had all but given up and accepted our grim fate (he actually won a few coups for us!). We had always talked about these days. When we got to give-up on real life and build something special. To solve the problems we had, that hadn’t yet been solved. For me, its super corny, but I always wanted to make the world a little bit better. We spent hours talking strategy and drawing on the walls. and in a lot of ways I’m sure that it was meant to happen. I think despite the outcome of any of this, I will forever remember that night in July that my mom and I went to see a play in Stratford. My situation at work wasn’t great, and I’m not sure she really meant to talk me into quitting - but she asked why I didn’t just quit and chase my dream. I didn’t have a good answer. After I got back to Waterloo I mulled it over, keeping my mouth shut to avoid a forest fire I couldn’t put out. But it wasn’t many days later that I was on the horn to tell Mike and Steve the exciting news. Neither of them was particularly surprised, and they both were very, very excited. We started frantically coming up with ideas and the rest I’m sure you know. I guess I should also say that this is very real. I finished at Sandvine at the end of August, and Steve has quit Xobni and is just recently finished (hence the moving him out of SF). This is our shot. And though it might not look like it if you’ve ever seen a sleeping Steve - but we are fighting for our lives. We probably don’t get a second chance at this if we fail. Steve and I will have to get real jobs again - maybe even white picket fences and all. We are fighting against some very large and established players, a very fast moving clock, a bank account that only goes in one direction, and possibly even a group or two of very smart competitors that are trying to do exactly what we are. And all we’ve really got is our determination, our resourcefulness, our brains, and hopefully a little luck (and you of course!). But we are excited - we all live for a challenge, and a cool problem to solve; but we’re keeping our fingers crossed! Anyway, I’m starting to ramble a little, but there is one more thing I did want to say. I have added links (down at the bottom) to a couple of essays. Don’t feel like you need to read them, but I can imagine all of this seems a little far fetched (insane?) or in the very least is a touch confusing. These essays are written by Paul Graham, and you’ve probably heard us talk about him (he is kindof a jedi). They might give you a little bit of insight into what we are trying to do, and where we stand. In particular as our pseudo-investors I want you keep us a little bit on our toes and make sure we don’t die. If we stop telling you how things are going, give us a poke. Remind us its our determination that is gonna help us win, and that the bad will get better. and if you ever feel like we are ignoring you, I promise we aren’t - we’re just trying to build something very incredible in a very small amount of time and make the world a little bit better - and from time to time that’s distracting. We love you, and we thank you, Zak

17 November 2010

Heading to San Francisco

 So Steve and I are on our way to SanFran this morning. For him its the last visit for a while - getting rid of his stuff, shutting down his apartment, and saying goodbyes. For me its a chance to leverage his network, shake lots of hands and make some contacts in the startup mecca that is the bay area. Its going to be a busy and exciting trip! I will post more about our meetings as I chat with people and feel out their reception of our goals. but for now lets say there are some pretty exciting and flashy names in the Open Source Hardware community that we are going to get a chance to chat with! I also want to talk just a little about the open source hardware movement. Not in any depth, I’ll bring those guns out later. But I want to say how exciting it is to send an email, saying that you’re trying to do something cool - make the world a little bit better - and help kickoff this movement and you get responses! you get these great and wonderful emails back, from these incredibly influential people, and they want to help. They want to chat. and they want us to succeed - which is so, so cool. One of my favorite quotes from one of my contacts was - I feel like its the 90’s all over again, just hardware instead of software this time. And I think hes right. and we are gonna be right in there stirring the pot, and making stuff better!

16 November 2010

Reaching Around

Yesterday Steve and I made a big push on starting to cold email our ever growing list of influential OSHW people. It actually went pretty smooth - and we’ve even gotten a few responses already. I do have to say we felt a little like stalkers though. Routing around the interweb trying to find which part of the world people are in, and how we get a hold of them. I have to say linkedin pages are like a goldmine, and twitter feeds with location rock! haha. Thankfully most of the people are pretty prominent/noisy and finding their info wasn’t too hard. But there is definitely a lesson in all of this - make sure people can get your email address, and know where you are EASILY. You just never know why someone is trying to get a hold of you! Today is packing for SF, and heading to Toronto to meet up with Mike and crash on his couch for our super duper painfully early flight tomorrow AM.

14 November 2010

Mmmmm Disney Hotness

 Ummm yeah. So I feel a little bit like a creeper on this one, but you have got to check this out. Hottest Disney characters ever! Totally random I know, but they really are! haha. On an unrelated topic we all went out for a big family dinner at Bertoldis in London last night. partly as a nice family dinner, and partly to celebrate the birth of our 7th brother… Steve. It was a lot of fun and the food was pretty good! And we just hung around chatting for a few hours - it was nice. I have to say its really cool how accepting and welcoming my family has been about Steve moving in - its really great. And just another reason why we are gonna win! On the business front I am still deep in refactoring land - but its going well. I have a few dozen files left and I’ll be done - and we will open a brand new chapter on our client code (which is really exciting!).

13 November 2010

Client Rewrite & Google Closure Library

 So Steve is full time! And one of our first missions with him here was to re-architect and overhaul the client code a little bit. This really is a good thing to look at regularly and make sure we are on track as expected - and it lets us adjust if needed. One of the big adjustments we did decide to make was towards the Google closure tools and library. This library is absolutely breathtaking in its size, coverage, and quality. This stuff is bad-ass. and we are going to do our best to leverage as much as possible - which means throwing prototype out and re-factoring closure in. Oh, did I mention that is like the shitty-ist job in the world?!?! cause it is! Otherwise everything is great! But I gotta get back to it before Steve notices I was working on my blog…

11 November 2010

I wake to sleep and take my waking slow

“I wake to sleep and take my waking slow. I feel my fate in what I cannot fear. I learn by going where I have to go.”

Ladies and Gentleman…

He was 16 year years old. A tall, blonde, skinny boy, the youngest of six children. He grew up in Teeswater during the depression. His dad was killed when he was a toddler. His Mom took in mending, cleaned peoples’ houses and somehow made ends meet. When the war came his four older brothers enlisted as soon as they got the chance. Five, young, handsome, brothers from rural Ontario. Lightning’s, what they called him, and he wasn’t about to be left behind. So his big brothers did what brothers do, they lied for him. He was enlisted. They were going to have the time of their lives.

The other? He was 16 too. Tall, blonde and skinny, the oldest of six children. He grew up in the 90’s, the product of two working parents and a time in history that thought a lot of its kids. Lightning’s brothers all took on different roles on behalf of their country….one a pilot with the RCAF, flying reconnaissance missions over Africa and India, one a mailman delivering mail from home to war weary soldiers stationed in France, one a member of the automotive training corps, one served in the ordinance corps. Lightning, baptized Clarence, found his place in the 1st Hussars and became a tank driver. 

Somebody by the name of Lightning probably knew his flash of brilliance would be short-lived. During the stormy, dreary, rainy night of June 5th 1944, 822 aircraft carrying paratroopers and gliders began the first of what would be the Normandy assault and eventual collapse of the Nazi regime. This weather posed many problems for the Allies but regardless ships set sail, planes flew and troops went to war, among them a young boy doing all he could for his country. In the early dawn of June 6th 1944, a day that later become known as D Day, the 5000 + allied ships composing the largest navel armada in history approached the shores of occupied France. At 6:31 am the first landing craft opened its gates at Omaha Beach, the most heavily fortified of the five beaches, where the Americans would suffer the tremendous loss of 2,400 lives. The Canadians followed shortly after at 7:55 am, at Juno Beach, the second most heavily fortified. Delayed by a treacherous low tide and many mines, they now faced the Germans with far from ideal landing conditions. The 1st Hussars, the London tank regiment made up of mostly farm boys, landed safely on the beaches of Juno and began to make their way inland. The Hussars, intended to be support for the advancing infantry, had landed late and missed most of the beach fight.

The Canadians fought determinedly and went on to clear many of the small towns along the coast. The 1st Hussars were the only unit in the landing that met its objectives, having to pull back because they out ran their infantry support. This feat credited the Canadians as being the deepest in France and most successful of all the landings at the end of the day. Having lost, only, 1,000 men. One of the Hussars first objectives was the liberation of a small town, known as Fontaine-Henry, located near the coast. It was heavily fortified and the Hussars were ambushed upon entering the town. During the street fight that followed the tank of young Lightning was machine gunned and destroyed, killing Lightning and his fellow troops. Sixteen years old, driving a tank for his country, his “coming of age” adventure, his chance to see the world, was snuffed out.

The other? He left during more peaceful weather, the bright, sunny afternoon of June 20, 2001 at 3:35pm. No armada, rather, a mere one airplane carrying a boy, his father and grandfather, three generations en route to the battle grounds of northern France. They didn’t know their route, where they would go, what they would witness, where they would sleep the next night. All they knew is that they were going to have the time of their lives. They landed in airport chaos many hours later and began the route followed by Canadian soldiers 87 years before. They traveled to the Somme, Passchendale, Vimy Ridge, saw monument upon monument, battle field upon battle field, and cemetery upon cemetery. Realizing there, the immense loss suffered by so many.

They walked the trenches and shell holes of so many years before, now green with grass, where years before they were indistinguishable with mud, tainted with the blood of so many young men. They walked through the Fields of Flanders touching the still wild growing poppies which inspired the famous poem by one John McCrae who too now rests amongst those very same poppies. They visited Ypres Salient and the Menen Arch where the names of 54,896 commonwealth soldiers with unknown graves are inscribed, and the Tyn Cot Cemetery the largest in Europe where more than 12,000 commonwealth soldiers rest at peace. Then they walked the beaches of Normandy and Dieppe and followed the Canadians on their journey through yet another world war, they traveled along the once great Atlantic wall, through the Arc de Triumph and finally down the streets of one Fontaine-Henry. They later visited the Canadian Cemetery at Beny-Sur-Mer the burial site of the Canadian D Day casualties, amongst those the grave of a Clarence Edward Homuth. Lightning’s what they called him. They say that coming of age is not without a sacrifice – a loss.

As for Lightning and his great adventure? 

Well, he gave up everything, didn’t he. As we stood there, four lives entwined, four generations combined: my grandfather, my Dad, my great Uncle and me, I felt it too. I realized my Canadian nationality, my identity, my place and, my loss. You see, the story of the loss of my Great Uncle’s life, is the story of a loss shared by so many, by a whole world really. Sept.11th, 2001 reminded us again of how a world feels stopped still, by such a loss. Compared to Lightning’s generation, we grow up with so much. Yet we still seek adventure. Adventures of the kind that we think will make us grown up. Too often, we seek them in all the wrong places. I see that now. I saw that then, as I stood at the graveside of a boy my age. No, at the graveside of a man my age. 

The poet Roethke must have been thinking of us when he wrote: This shaking keeps me steady. I should know. What falls away is always. And is near. I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. I learn by going where I have to go. — The above is a speech I wrote and presented 9 years ago. It won every contest in which it was presented and I ended up taking it to New York to say it at the United Nations.

10 November 2010

In Browser, Pure Javascript, XMPP Client

 So I was in research mode yesterday. I spent a bunch of time trying to figure out how to build an in browser chat engine that leveraged peoples already existing Facebook and GMail accounts. And I wanted to write this because it wasn’t as intuitive as I thought it should be. So if you’re in the market for setting up your own web or corporate chat heres what you need to know. Its all about the server When I approached it originally, I figured I could do everything I wanted in the client. Google and Facebook already have servers, why can’t I just connect to those? Why can’t I just have a bit of javascript that I open in a browser and it connects to google and facebooks servers - simple right? Well, it turns out there are 2 really decent reasons why you cant. First your javascript can only talk to stuff within your domain. This protection goes back a long way and was added, I guess, to reduce the likely-hood of cross-site scripting attacks. There a a couple work arounds like hacking it using dns and apache redirection, but its kinda painful. And second, because javascript cant open and hold real tcp connections you need to cheat when doing jabber/xmpp. The hack in this case is called bosh (which is basically just binding over http). this binding lets you fake these long held tcp connections, and do chat stuff without polling (which is the other solution). And because all we know if the google and facebook xmpp connection info, and not the bosh server info (if they even have bosh servers), we cant escape having our own server. OK, so what server do I use? Now this question was very debated and very heated 2 years ago when everyone and their brother was setting up chat on the coat-tails of google releasing googletalk. There are a couple picks, but as far as I can tell the world has united a bit on the choice.

  • jabberd2
    • a clone of the originally jabberd.
    • written in c
    • chose if you absolutely need to run a c-based bit of code
  • openfire
    • a semi-commercial jabber server
    • written in java
    • chose this is you absolutely need to run a java-based bit of code
  • tigase
    • also a jabber clone
    • written in java
    • chose this if you believe their claims about reliability
  • ejabberd
    • another jabber clone
    • written in erlang
    • its used by facebook, it can scale, its the most used, its the most complete, and its pretty easy to get going
    • chose this one

OK, Now I’m confused. I connect to a local jabber server with my google or facebook account? how does that even work? I can’t really explain this one yet, I’m still working on figuring it out myself. But when you’re setting up your local jabber server you need to tell it about all the other places you want to chat with, and you setup transports to allows that to happen. I still need to figure out how the remote login works, but I’m getting close. Basically I think your jabber server doubles as a proxy for these other services - allowing you to do the http binding and same-domain stuff. You setup accounts for everyone that onces to chat locally with an account you provide, and you proxy/transport all the other domains (ie. logging in with @google.com goes to the google servers, instead of yours). I’ll let you know once I get it nailed down, but I’m close - and the important part is I have a good bubbly picture of the architecture. What about the client? So for the client there are a couple of great libraries and starting bits of code out there to get you going. There, as far as I can tell, isn’t a great ready to use open-source client floating around, but check out these:

What else do I need to know? Here are some resources that might help - but you’re basically up-to the point I’m at.

9 November 2010
Sweet Dreams

It was a beautiful ceremony yesterday. Grandma was a little choked up but otherwise pretty good. I’m not much for words today - so I guess that’s it. Rest in peace Opa.

8 November 2010
Mitch’s New House

So after the visitation yesterday we all drove to Bayfield to see Mitch and Ashley’s new house. I have to admit that I thought the whole thing was pretty silly at first. but it was really neat. I was very excited for Mitch. and I could tell that he was pretty excited too. He has really be embracing this whole home-owner thing - cutting down trees and cleaning up the yard - its neat to see. The house is a little old, and definitely qualifies as a fixer-upper. It has a decent sized main floor with the kitchen, living room and bathroom. the bedroom is upstairs in a sort of loft thing, and the basement is a half height utility room. The whole place isnt very big - but its cute. lots of wood on the inside, which I like, and they’ve dressed it up kindof nice. The house is on a big double long lot, more or less in Bayfield proper. its got a big old barn in the back which Mitch is very, very excited about - they maybe, just a little bit, bought the place because it was the cheapest one they could find with a barn! haha. Anyway you can tell I’m not in real estate! but its a nice little place for them to get started. And who knows, if Mitch continues to work away at the place they might be able to make a buck off the whole adventure when they move on.