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Paul Graham recommends doing things that don’t scale

As usual, Paul Graham writes an interesting piece about startups. He recommends doing things that don’t scale. Thinking like a big company is a sure way to fail. It’s a reassuring piece for the startup creator that I am, because at Taodyne, we are indeed in this phase where you do everything yourself and you’d need 48 hours a day to do the basics. Good to know that the solution to this problem is to keep working.

Connect this to the survivor bias. This is a very serious cognitive bias, which makes us look only at the survivors, at the planes who return from combat, at the successful entrepreneurs. Because we don’t look at the dead startups or planes that were shot down, we build our statistics on a biased sample. As a result, we make incorrect assumptions. For example, if the planes that return have mostly been shot in the tail and wings, you might deduce that this is where planes are being shot at, so that’s the parts you need to protect, when in reality what this proves is that these are the parts that don’t prevent a plane from returning when shot. Very useful.

Last interesting link of the day is the discussion about bullying on the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML). Sarah Sharp, a female Intel engineer, stands up to Linus Torvalds and asks him to stop verbal abuse. It’s an interesting conflict between very smart people. To me, there’s a lot of cultural difference at play here (one of the main topics of Grenouille Bouillie). For example, I learned from Torvalds what Management by Perkele means. On one side, it’s legitimate for Sarah to explain that she is offended by Linus’ behavior. On the other hand, it’s legitimate for Linus to keep doing what works.

Sarah reminds me of a very good friend of mine and former colleague, Karen Noel, a very sharp engineer who joined me on the HPVM project and taught me everything I forgot about VMS. Like Sarah, Karen was willing to stand up her ground while remaining very polite.

Apple backups and RAID are not reliable

You’d think that if you use RAID1 and multiple redundant, distributed backups with hourly backups, daily backups, etc, you’d be safe? Think again. If your backup software lies to you, you may not realize it until it’s way too late. If you RAID software does not deem it worthy to mention that a disk failed, what good is it?

Read more…

The promise of glasses-free 3D – Dolby’s vision

The promise of glasses-free 3D – Dolby’s vision

The article is a little low on details. Based on the fact that the article mentions Philips displays, my guess is that this is based on the 2D+Z technology. In other words, the picture is split between a color map and a depth map.

The benefits of this approach is that it is easy to transmit over a regular channel, since the picture is basically the same size and format as a regular HDTV picture. The drawback is that the display has to reconstruct at least two images (and for auto-stereoscopic displays, several pictures) from the information.

It may seem simple to reconstruct the required pictures from a color map and a depth map. But in reality, it’s a bit problematic, because a single color map cannot encode both the color of the front objects and the color of the objects it hides.

Imagine for example that you have a plane in the front, and the sky in the background. The sky is blue, the plane is grey. Now, at the border of the plane, the gray hides the blue. But the two eyes don’t see this limit at the same exact location. It’s a phenomenon called parallax.

So what happens is that for at least one of the pictures, the system has to “invent” colors. Basically, it’s going to extrapolate the background color of the parts you can’s see based on the color of the parts you can see.

This is one of the drawbacks of the Philips approach compared to traditional stereoscopic and auto-stereoscopic systems that send all the pictures separately (meaning that they don’t need to invent colors).

This is not very visible on movies, if at all. That’s because borders of real objects tend to be a bit fuzzy. But for synthetic images as those created by Tao Presentations, this tends to cause relatively visible artifacts.

I wonder if Dolby solved that specific problem…

Everything is broken and no one cares

February 10, 2013 1 comment

Everything is broken and no one cares

This post from Dear Apple is just so true, and so clearly on topic for Grenouille Bouillie!

Have we reached the point in complexity where we can’t make good quality products anymore? Or is that some kind of strategic choice?

The original post is mostly about Apple products, but the same is true with Linux, with Android, with Windows.

Here is my own list of additional bugs, focusing on those that can easily be reproduced:

  1. Open a file named X in any of the new Apple applications, those without Save As. Open another file named Y. Save Y as X. Beachball. For every application. Worse yet, since applications often remember which windows were open, you get the beachball again when you reopen the application. It takes another force quit for the application to (fortunately) offer to not reopen the windows.
  2. A relatively well known one now: Type F i l e : / / / in practically any OSX application. Without the spaces. Hang or assert depending on your luck.
  3. Use a stereoscopic application like Tao Presentations (http://www.taodyne.com). Activate stereoscopy. Switch spaces or unplug an external monitor. Kernel panic or hang to be expected. Go tell to your customers that the kernel panic is Apple’s fault, not ours…
  4. If you backup over the network, set your computer to sleep after say 1 hour while on power. Change your disk enough that the backup takes more than one hour. Backup disk will come up as corrupt after a couple of days, and OSX will suggest you start a new one (and the cycle will repeat).
  5. Use the “Share” button. It takes forever to show up the window (like 2-3 seconds in general on my 2.6GHz quad-core i7 with 8GB of RAM). Since what I type generally begins with an uppercase letter, I usually prepare myself by having the finger on the shift key. But to that stupid animation framework, “shift” means “slow animation down so that Steve can demo it”. Steve is dead, but the “shift” behavior is still there.

I’ll keep updating this list as more come to mind. Add your own favorite bugs in the comments.

First update (Feb 13, 2013):

  1. Safari often fails to refresh various portions of the screen. Visible in particular when used in combination with Redmine. This used to be very annoying, but it has gotten much better in more recent updates of Safari.
  2. iTunes 11 no longer has Coverflow. It was a neat way to navigate in your music, which wasn’t even the default, why remove it?
  3. Valgrind on OSX 10.8 is completely broken. I have no idea what’s wrong, but it’s a pretty useful tool for developers, and Apple has nothing in its own development tools that is even remotely close.
  4. “Detect displays” is gone, both from the Monitors control panel and from the Monitors menu icon. Combine that with the fact that OSX 10.8, unlike its predecessors, sometimes totally fails to detect that you unplug a monitor. And you find yourself with windows stuck on a screen that is no longer there…
  5. That little Monitor menu icon used to be quite handy, e.g. to select the right resolution when connecting to an external projector for the first time. Now, it’s entirely useless. It only offers mirroring, fails to show up 90% of the time when there is a possibility to do mirroring, shows up when mirroring is impossible (e.g. after you disconnected the projector). It used to be working and useful, it’s now broken and useless. What’s not to love?
  6. Contacts used to have a way for me to format phone numbers the way I like. That’s gone. Now I have to accept the (broken) way it formats all phone numbers for me.
  7. I used to be able to sync between iPhone and Contacts relatively reliably. Now, if there’s a way to remove a phone number, I’ve not found it. Old numbers I removed keep reappearing at the next sync, ensuring that I never know which of the 2, 3 or 4 phone numbers I have is the not dead one.
  8. Still in Contacts, putting Facebook e-mail addresses as the first choice for my contacts? No thanks, it was heinous enough that Facebook replaced all genuine email addresses with @facebook.com aliases. But having that as the first one that pops up is really annoying.
  9. Now fixed, but in the early 10.8, connecting a wired network when I also had Wifi on the same network would not give me higher speed. It would just drop all network connectivity.

Updated February 28th after restoring a machine following a serious problem:

  1. Time machine restores are only good if your target disk is at least as big. But with Apple’s recent move to SSD, this may no longer be affordable to you. In my case, I’d like to squeeze 1TB of data into 512G. Time machine does not give me the level of fine-grained control I’d need to restore what I really need. So I need to try and do it manually, which is a real pain.
  2. Calendar sync is a real mess. Restoring calendars from a backup is worse.
  3. Spaces? Where are my good old spaces? Why is it I had spaces on the original machine, no longer have them, and find myself unable to say “I want 6 spaces” or to setup keyboard shortcuts for them as they used to be.

When Google oversteps its authority

Recently, a user of Tao Presentations informed us that Google Chrome displayed a dire warning after he downloaded our software: “Tao Presentations may be malicious software”. Uh oh, for the average Joe, that’s a big no-no.

Google locks out “unapproved” programs

It’s not just us. Recently, I tried to download some of the amazing demos created by Iñigo Quilez. Same thing. Seriously, a 4K exe that manages to display a complete mountain? And Google Chrome would have me believe that there’s room in there for “malicious software”? Get real.

Now, it took me quite a while to find a solution to this problem. Apparently, you just need to record your site in Google’s Webmaster tools, and after scanning your site and ensuring (I assume) that there’s no known virus signature in the files, things should improve.

I still find this really annoying that a browser vendor would, by default, tag unknown files as “malicious”. Who are they to make this judgment call?

Why didn’t Google implement a real solution?

Shouldn’t they instead have something a little more sophisticated, that actually detects malicious signatures? You know, like a real anti-virus? Don’t tell me that Google doesn’t have smart enough engineers to write an in-browser anti-virus that doesn’t completely suck.

Nah, instead they went the easy route: anything that we don’t know is malicious. And we tell your users so.

I used to be a big fan of Chrome. Not anymore. Because of this single issue. I think this demonstrate an incredibly stupid arrogance and lack of technical diligence on Google’s part.

Google overstepped its authority and took advantage of their weight. Let’s not get used to it.

Adding chapter numbering in Apple Pages

At Taodyne, we mostly use Apple Pages to create our documents. For large documents, I’d like to be able to create numbered chapters, something like “Chapter 1″, “Chapter 2″, and so on. Apple Pages does not seem to have that feature. Let’s not get used to it,  and let’s fix it.

Apple Pages can read numbered chapters from Word

One thing that I observed is that when you read a Microsoft Word document that contains numbered chapters, Apple Pages preserves that formatting. In other words, if the user interface may not know how to edit numbered lists with text in them, the rendering engine knows how to render them, and the regular editing within Pages will correctly renumber these documents.

To verify that my recollection of this capability of Pages was correct, I first created a document in Microsoft Word that looks like this:

Section 1 – Hello

Chapter 1 – This is a chapter

I. This is a numbered section

1. This is a numbered sub-section

It doesn’t just “look like” this. The Section and Chapter text were edited in the Numbering section of Microsoft Word, so this is auto-numbering.

Then I saved this document to disk, and imported it into Pages. And indeed, when I edit it in Pages, numbering works just like in Microsoft Word.

The Pages XML format

Let’s look inside the document to see what’s there. A quick tour through the command line shows that Apple Pages documents are really zipped collections of files, including XML files representing the document itself:

% unzip Hello.pages 
Archive:  Hello.pages
 extracting: thumbs/PageCapThumbV2-1.tiff  
 extracting: QuickLook/Thumbnail.jpg  
 extracting: QuickLook/Preview.pdf   
 extracting: buildVersionHistory.plist  
  inflating: index.xml

The most interesting of these documents is the index.xml file. It contains the actual description of the document in XML format. And if I look inside, I see something interesting:

<sf:list-label-typeinfo sf:type="text"><sf:text-label sf:type="decimal" sf:format="Section %L -" sf:first="1"/>

So this sf:format= accepts a rather general format, with %L serving as the marker for where the number should go.

The solution for adding chapter numbers

So the solution for adding chapter numbers is simple:

  1. Once, you will need Microsoft Word to create a document that has the kind of chapter numbering that you need. You may have multiple levels of numbering (e.g. chapter, section, etc).
  2. Import this document in Pages. This will give you a new list style.
  3. When you want to number chapters, select the given list style.
  4. To edit the formatting of the numbering text, select the whole line, change colors or fonts, and in the list style, select “Redefine style for selection”. In other words, the list style defines the font and color for the numbering independently from the paragraph style, and can do that for multiple levels.

Now, you have proper chapter numbering in Apple Pages.

Moi Président de PME

Quel “président” j’aimerais être?

Un président de PME qui, d’abord, respecte la France, qui l’aime. Je suis le président d’une petite société, je ne peux être que président de pratiquement rien, chef de rien, mais en définitive responsable de tout.

Moi, président de PME, je ne suis même pas le chef d’une minorité. Je n’ai pas le temps de recevoir qui que ce soit parce que je travaille soir et week-ends.

Moi, président de PME, j’ai à traiter avec des investisseurs, pas à polémiquer de savoir si on les appelle associés ou collaborateurs.

Moi, président de PME, je participe à toutes sortes de collectes de fond parce que que je n’ai pas l’option du déficit budgétaire.

Moi, président de PME, je fais fonctionner la boîte de façon indépendante, mais j’ai des compte à rendre si j’agis contre l’avis de mon “conseil d’administration” (ou ce qui en tient lieu dans une SAS).

Moi, président de PME, je n’ai pas la prétention de nommer des directeurs, je sais très bien que c’est par leur indépendance d’esprit et leur initiative qu’ils ont mérité ce titre

Moi, président de PME, je fais en sorte que mon comportement soit à chaque instant exemplaire, tout en ayant une conscience plus aigue que jamais de mes propres limites.

Moi, président de PME, ce n’est pas de gaité de coeur que j’ai un statut très peu protégé, sachant très bien que si mes actions venaient à être contestées, aucun magistrat n’hésiterait jamais à me convoquer.

Moi, président de PME, j’ai constitué une équipe paritaire, avec autant de femmes que d’hommes dans la mesure où on peut le faire dans une équipe de cinq. Et alors?

Moi, président de PME, je suis soumis tout comme mes investisseurs à un code de déontologie qui interdit tout conflit d’intérêts. Là encore, et alors?

Moi, président de PME, je constate que mes associés ne cumulent rien, sinon les heures de travail mal payées, car on peut considérer qu’à partir de 70h par semaine, on se consacre plus que pleinement à sa tâche.

Moi, président de PME, j’aimerais bien voir un peu de décentralisation, j’aimerais bien qu’on donne aux forces vives locales que sont les PMEs un nouveau souffle, qu’on tire parti de leurs compétences, qu’on leur accorde un peu de liberté.

Moi, président de PME, j’aimerais bien grossir assez pour avoir des partenaires sociaux ou consacrer du temps aux associations professionnelles. Je préférerais quelques discussions régulières à des lois imposées sans négociation.

Moi, président de PME, je me contenterais bien d’un petit débat. On a évoqué la taxation du capital, et il est légitime qu’il puisse y avoir sur ces questions là un débat citoyen.

Moi, président de PME, je suis soumis à la proportionnelle face à mes actionnaires, et ce n’est pas en 2017, c’est dès maintenant que l’ensemble de leurs sensibilités est représentée.

Moi, président de PME, je suis la tête dans le guidon, avec toute la hauteur de vue qui va avec. J’aimerais bien fixer de grandes orientations, de grandes impulsions, mais en même temps, je dois m’occuper de tout et je dois avoir toujours le souci de la proximité avec les clients.

J’aurais bien aimé une vie un peu plus normale, mais rien n’est normal quand on est président de PME. Etre président, c’est pas si facile. Notre monde traverse une crise majeure, en tous cas la France. Mais on peut encore réussir à se fâcher avec l’Europe. On peut encore créer plein de conflits en se montant les uns contre les autres ou en se disputant sur l’environnement Bien sûr qu’un président doit avoir une réponse toute prête qui prenne de haut ses sujets: “je n’aime pas les riches“, ça suffit largement à montrer qu’on est proche du peuple, qu’on est capable de comprendre toute la complexité de réalité économique et sociale en France.

Cela dit, moi, président de PME, j’aimerais bien qu’on laisse nos investisseurs tranquilles. Ca serait déjà pas mal comme changement tout de suite.

Et si vous ne comprenez pas pourquoi je dis ça:

(Mis à jour pour utiliser le terme de PME, plus général que SAS)

Dix raisons de ne pas taxer le capital comme les salaires

Au moment où les entrepreneurs se mobilisent contre la nouvelle loi de finances 2013, il faut peut être rappeler pourquoi aligner la fiscalité du capital sur celle des salaires est, au départ, une fausse bonne idée. Read more…

Ten reasons capital and salary should not be taxed the same

At a time where French entrepreneurs are actively fighting the new French finance law for 2013, it might be good to remind our politicians of a few reasons why it is a not-so-good idea to consider that a salary and a revenue from capital should be taxed the same way.

Read more…

Explaining #geonpi to non-French entrepreneurs

There’s been a recent flurry of activity on twitter around the #geonpi hashtag. What is going on?

The short version is that French entrepreneurs are all up in arms against the French budget law for 2013. On the surface, one aspect of the law is intended to align the taxation of capital on the taxation of work, to use the words of the French government. But the reasons that entrepreneurs react is that, in practice, the new taxation may well make the creation of startups in France completely untenable.

Etymology of #geonpi

A first question you may have is: What the hell does “geonpi” mean? Well, it’s simply Verlan for pigeon. And in French, pigeon is a slang word for a dupe, a scapegoat, or someone who is being easily been taken advantage of. In short, a sucker. But there are many other expressions and word associations around pigeons, like “tir au pigeons” or “roucouler”. Les Pigeons movement is clearly about the “easily abused” meaning.

Entrepreneurs in France feel that they are the “pigeons” of the whole social system.

What caused the wrath?

Like in any other country, entrepreneurs in France take risks. They create new wealth. They create jobs. They usually reach the legal 35 hours per week on Tuesdays. They often put a good fraction of their own savings into the enterprise (I talk from experience here). They don’t sleep well at night.

Yet, in France, entrepreneurs get very little recognition. This may be hard to comprehend for someone who is more accustomed to Silicon Valley, where being an entrepreneur is a Good Thing™. But in France, “entrepreneur” is almost a dirty word. In the mind of the general public, entrepreneurs and greedy corporate executives earning millions per year are one and the same thing.

In reality, entrepreneurs in France earn very little if anything, just like in any other country. No minimum wage here. No job protection. Entrepreneurs, unlike other workers in France, have practically no retirement benefit, and certainly no “golden parachute”. More to the point, they don’t get anything from the state if they fail.

The new regime

So what changed? What bothers French entrepreneurs is how they would get treated under the new budget law in the unlikely case they succeed. In France like in any other country, nine out of ten entrepreneurs fail. They are prepared for that. But what happens if they succeed is the problem here.

The new law is supposed to double the the taxation of the benefits you might derive from a successful investment in a small startup. from an already meaty 30% or so to about 60%. Yep, you read that right, six oh. I guess you have the reaction reading that number that I had reading the gas mileage of a Humvee. [Update: ddabdul commented that I should talk about capital gain tax, but it's actually a combination of various taxes, one of them being capital gain tax. To muddy things further, the French government actually moves that to the income tax. So I decided to stick to my previous wording with this clarification.]

If, after 5 to 10 years of an extraordinarily uncomfortable life, one lucky entrepreneur happens to have any kind of success, which by the way means he created a sustainable company and presumably quite a few jobs, then under the new regime, he immediately loses a little over 60% to the Benevolent State in taxes.

But don’t worry for the Poor State of France, there’s more. The State gets to collect a few extra percents here and there in value added tax and other taxes on goods (e.g. on gas). Then 1% to 2% per year on the “tax on fortune”, another beautiful French invention. And finally 45% of whatever is left would again go to the State when the exhausted entrepreneur dies.

Le Gendre was right

Sorry to put it that way, but so much stupidity really hurts.

The debate in France about why the State needs to be so greedy is not exactly new. Colbert once asked to a merchant named Le Gendre what the State could do to help. Le Gendre reportedly answered “Laissez nous faire“. Centuries later, that wisdom remains ignored by the French government.

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