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Startup Week-End Nice Sophia-Antipolis : Big Success

I spent the last four days at a rather exciting entrepreneurial event on the French Riviera, which really combined three distinct events under the umbrella of the brand new RivieraCube association:

  • An Open Coffee with the Sophia-Antipolis team. Open Coffee is an informal gathering of (mostly Java) geeks around a coffee (or, more often in our case, a beer, since we do that in the evening). This was so successful that a new Open Coffee group for Nice spontaneously emerged.
  • A BarCamp the next day, with a small (and cramped) Startup Corner where Taodyne presented its flagship product, Tao Presentations. We had some exceptional unconferences from well-known French serial-entrepreneurs, including Kelkoo founder Pierre Chappaz or Kipost founder Pierre-Olivier Carles.
  • A Startup Week-end which gathered about 100 enthusiasts with the intent to create a startup in 54 hours. And some of them actually managed to pull it off, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. But the talent and energy in that room were simply amazing, and reminded me of some of the best moments I had in the Silicon Valley.

Reports on the web

There are already a large number of blogs reporting on this event, but I believe the best indicator of how lively it was is its twitter hashtag, #swnsa. There was actually a friendly contest with another Startup Week-end held the same day in Lausanne, Switzerland:

And the winner is…

There was a number of exciting projects, but there was generally little surprise as to who the winners were. The first three projects get a lot of help from local consulting companies, and the leader of the winning team gets a free Geek Trip to the Silicon Valley.

The winner was “Mamy Story” (@MamyStory), which I believe surprised no one in the audience. The concept is simple (tell the story of your grand-parents), has an interesting innovation (which I won’t disclose here), a catchy name (“papy” or “mamy” in French is a common nick-name for grandparents), but more importantly, appeals to our emotions, something which they largely exploited during their pitch.

As a matter of fact, they managed to get a member of the jury to tell them they could reach a larger market than what they presented in the plan. Here is another example of why they have a market.

The runner ups were :

  • Dynoo (@dynoo_com), a project to “spread the word” (the French pronunciation for Dynoo sounds like “Dis nous” or “tell us”, although they sometimes said it the english way, which I think weakens it. They should consider renaming it to deenoo),
  • Qwinti (@qwinti), a web site to save your social activity, who had a really good designer on the team,
  • JustMyTrends (@JustMyTrends), a web site offering a personalized shopping experience for hard-to-find items (the founder has a hard time finding shoes fitting his über-large feet).

And the winner is (redux)…

There was also an iPad2 to win, offered by Everything4Mobile (a very cool web site created by Virgile Cuba, a regular at the Sophia Open Coffee).

The winner was Matthieu Loutre, who was a member of our team. He lives in Montpellier, but he will happily drive on the 25th of March to Nice just to get his new gadget from the friendly team at the Apple Store (and when I say “friendly”, I don’t say that lightly – The user experience in that store is remarkable, doubly so by French standards).

First use of Tao Presentations in a conference

On Friday evening, I joined a project that I won’t talk about, because I believe the project leader has needs a bit of time to flesh his idea out, and even more time to turn it into a real product.

That being said, that was an occasion to try our prototype of Tao Presentations in a real, competitive environment. I learned a number of things :

  • It’s a really competitive way to tell a story. You think about the story first, the way to tell it follows, something which is often harder with other presentation software.
  • The presentation part just works. It didn’t crash once during the two days of rather heavy use, and the worst misbehavior was transient lighting glitches on the screen when using OpenGL lights.
  • One of the challenges was to test whether creating live mock-ups of software to explain an idea was possible. It worked, it was easy, it really added to the presentation, but then we couldn’t really use that part because the question we expected didn’t come up :-)

Some aspects were less positive:

  • Editing slides triggers an elusive bug on a relatively regular basis. I had the issue about half a dozen times in two days. The program crashes, which is not a real issue because of the way the workflow is organized (I never lost a single bit of what I had done), but still is annoying.
  • The software doesn’t automatically reload images when they change on disk, which means you sometimes need to restart it just to load a new version of the pictures. To be fixed.

Overall, I had some rather good feedback on the presentation. I showed a talk about XL to half a dozen true geeks, talked about programming techniques.

Young programmers and compilers…

These discussions made me realize something : many talented young programmers don’t even seem to know what a compiler is or how it works. They know about languages like Python, XML, Javascript, and just don’t care much how it runs on the machine.

I think it’s a good thing overall, but then someone still needs to get interested enough by system software. I’m afraid system software programmers are getting old. We need to train the new generation, to get them interested in languages that can run fast.

The good news, then, is that XL got rather positive comments. No “why invent a new language” in this crowd.

Time to start a blog

Time for me to start a blog. Here are the topics that I am likely to address here:

  • Computer science, in particular programming languages and software development methodology. My ideas on programming are primarily developed on the XL web site, and I’m slowly writing a book (current draft), but here is a good spot to reference stories I find interesting.
  • Still in computer science, I may also talk about topics like virtualization, operating systems, and so on. I will be much more careful in that space, however, because this is my primary job, and I want to get approval for this from my employer first.
  • Physics research. My own ideas in that space are developed on a dedicated site and in this article. I’m crazy enough to believe that I found a novel way to stitch together general relativity and quantum mechanics.
  • Occasionally, I may dabble into politics or social events, in particular in France and the US.

The title of this blog, “Grenouille Bouillie”, is french for “boiled frog”. I chose it for the following reasons:
  • I’m pretty sure it’s almost impossible for any native english speaker to say it right

  • The boiled frog syndrom is how I describe that feeling you get when you move from one country to another: what everybody else thinks is normal burns you.

The boiled frog syndrom is more surprising when you return in your own country after a few years abroad. I’m born in France, and so are all members of my family but one, so we are very much “frogs”. But then, we no longer feel at home at home. Discussing all these little things about France that French people don’t see, all these little things about the US that American people don’t see, that is likely to be a recurring theme in this blog.

Categories: Blogging
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