The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Chicago startup environment getting better

Chicago Public Radio analyzes losing Bump to Silicon Valley as a demonstration of the lack of VC and incubator support here:

David Lieb and his friend Jake Mintz hatched [Bump] at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business when they discovered in that flurry of the first few weeks of school that they really, really hated manually typing all their new friends’ contact information into their phones.

So, along with their friend Andy Huibers, they figured out a way to “bump” two phones together to transmit that contact info. And their new smartphone application was born on March 27th, 2009. Things moved fast from there - they won the school’s New Venture Challenge business plan competition and in the summer of 2009, just like Gold Rush era miners of yore, they packed up and headed to California.

They didn’t go with the intention of staying. ... [And] just because they got [a $3m VC infusion] there didn’t mean they had to stay. They could have come back to Chicago. But they didn’t. They opened their headquarters in Mountain View, California, and now have 15 employees there and are “aggressively hiring.”

Lieb says the main reason was because Huibers lived in California already. But there was another reason that speaks to Silicon Valley’s dominance.

"We knew we needed to hire a bunch of people, and being here in the Valley is really where all that technical talent is," Lieb said in an interview.

Chicago has lots of talent as well, and it has amenities that the suburbs of San Jose simply can't offer. But I also have found some limitations on the Chicago startup scene, and that many startups here have to be self-funded for the reasons Ashley Gross mentions in her story. (I'll publish my paper later this week.)

The weirdness of the Assange circus

Sullivan calls it out:

Does Assange want to be forced back to Sweden, where he is freer from possible US intervention? Or is this all a massive, unplanned clusterfuck?

I guess if you live in a country where the government stakes out an interest in whether a condom breaks or not in consensual sex, you may never find out.

In other news, the Senate just passed the tax compromise by a wide margin. Among other things, like some rejiggering that should add about $6 to my take-home pay, it reinstates the estate tax for estates over $10m. Watch out for news stories between Christmas and New Year's Day of very rich people dying under mysterious circumstances...

Weather Now upgraded (techie)

I almost forgot: the Inner Drive demonstration site, Weather Now, got a significant upgrade this weekend, to version 3.6. I added two new features that are part of long-term plan of improvements. They don't sound like much, but they're pretty important bits that other features will depend on.

First, the lists of weather stations that appear on the home page are now generated dynamically from a database table. This means that I can change them, remove them, add them, or schedule them without having to make code changes. For example, during NFL Football season, you'll notice a list of home football games that changes every Tuesday at midnight Eastern time. In the past, to add a list like that, I'd have to make code and configuration changes. Now I don't.

Now the cool part, and how this is just a step towards a larger feature: In version 3.7 (coming out in January, I hope), you, dear user, will be able to create your own lists.

Second, I've added caching to the current weather reports. Before, every page view required multiple round-trips to the weather database. Now, any time the site retrieves current weather from the database, it stores the reports for some length of time. Any subsequent page requests will find the weather reports in the cache. This means the home page loads significantly (10x) faster on most views. The site gets about 11,000 page views every day, so this is non-trivial.

The cache right now has a fixed expiration time of 180 seconds, and I can change that through the standard application configuration tools. By "fixed" I mean the cache will discard all reports older than three minutes, forcing the application to refresh those reports from the database. This strikes a good balance between current data and application speed, I think, especially since the National Weather Service (whence comes the data) has new information at about that frequency. (You can read more about how caching works in the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture™ SDK.)

I think these are really cool changes, and I'm excited about how much it moves me down the roadmap. And the 3.7 update will be even cooler.

A little dazed

About five hours ago I finished everything required to earn my MBA. I still have one (option) follow-up lecture for one class, so I can't mark the whole thing "resolved and closed" in FogBugz yet. Thus the precise language: I'm done with all the requirements.

No more Saturday-morning CENTRA sessions. No more papers and exams lurking under the bed. No more residency calendar on my fridge (first attached there 18 months ago).

I feel like Robert Redford's character at the end of The Candidate: "What do we do now?" It's a little freaky.

Total damage, not counting the lecture Thursday and untimed activities like mulling over my assignments while doing something else: 1,437 hours. That's 9 months of full-time work, spread over 18. In other words, between July 2009 and today I spent about 20 hours per week doing something connected with my MBA.

In a wildly-tangential universe, I upgraded FogBugz here at Inner Drive Technology's World Headquarters yesterday. The new version (8.1) produces really cool charts, like this one:

The six big spikes correspond with the residencies that started each term. They drop off quickly because the residencies had immense workloads and short durations. This term, as you can see, had the largest workload of all, because we had four complete classes.

I'm very glad to be done. Parts of me haven't caught up to the reality yet. I'll feel completely through with the program two weeks from Thursday, when I see on the registrar's website that Duke has conferred my degree. Until then, I expect some continuing fogginess.

Sunset at the beach

Ah, how lovely to be at the beach in Chicago tonight. Just look at it:

Oh, just kidding. That's actually Miami Beach at sunrise in January 2007. This is what Lake Michigan looked like this evening:

The video's resolution isn't high enough to show the snowflakes proceeding in a generally horizontal fashion to the south. Nor does it show my dog, who couldn't decide whether all that snow and water was freaky or fun. (He ultimately decided the water was freaky, the snow was fun, and getting toweled off feels great.)

The bad with the good

In Chicago, we get about 10 days a year like this against about 20 leave-work-early-it's-too-gorgeous-out days:

Current conditions at Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters: 1°C, winds from the north at 46 km/h gusting to 57 km/h, with snow. Oh, it gets better, according to the National Weather Service:

Today: Snow and areas of blowing snow. Temperature falling to around -4°C by 5pm. Very windy, with a north wind between 45 and 65 km/h, with gusts as high as 90 km/h. Chance of precipitation is 100%. Total daytime snow accumulation of 4 to 8 cm possible.

Tonight: Snow and areas of blowing snow before midnight, then areas of blowing snow and a slight chance of snow after midnight. Low around -12°C. Wind chill values as low as -22°C. Very windy, with a north northwest wind between 50 and 65 km/h, with gusts as high as 80 km/h. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New snow accumulation of less than one centimeter possible.

Again, though, I have to remind my fellow Chicagoans: for every day we get like this, we get two or three where you don't want to go back inside.

Almost, but not quite, all done

After 16 months, 16 classes, six countries (including North Carolina, which still seems a bit foreign), and 1435 hours of work, I'm down to my last assignment. It's a group paper, for which I've already done the bulk of my part, though the team has nominated me to assemble the final draft. It's due at 11 am Monday; expect to see something around then.

This will all make sense to me in a few weeks. Right now a part of my poor brain insists I have something to do that I'm not doing right now...while the rest of it, for the first time since July 2009, knows I really don't have anything hanging over me.

What a weird feeling.