Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle


Sometimes it feels like I've stepped into an episode of James Burke's Connections.

When we started this adventure, our contacts we're minimal. We knew we had to start thinking about our investment strategy, legal representation, etc… but didn't really know where to start.

Then a few things happened.

I read about NWEN in a post by John Cook at the Seattle PI. After perusing their website I signed up for a few of their seminars. The seminars in themselves were very interesting and I learnt a bunch, but I also got some contacts and had some interesting chats. Introductions started.

And those introductions spawned others.

Then John wrote specifically about SwitchGear.

That post generated a lot of contact from the investment community and others.

Those contacts spawned meetings and introductions, including some fine corporate law firms who we met with to chat about having them represent us.

Even though we have to pick only one, these folks still introduced us to others, both potential investors and CEO's at other startups (some quite spectacularly well known!) who are willing to give us advice.

The classic quote goes “It's not what you know, but who you know.”

I agree to a point, but when we were starting out I was worried about “how do I get to know the people I need to know?”

The answer?

Have a great idea that is easy to communicate, compelling and be passionate about it.

Find one person to talk to, communicate well and get them on board. It goes exponential from there.

As a postscript, I believe that I owe John Cook a few beers in thanks by now :-)

SwitchGear Update

Yesterday we finally signed the lease on our office space. You can find a few pictures of the space over on Flickr.

Man, was that a protracted process.

Finding the space was only half the battle. Then it was lease negotiations…

We had the legal guy we were using to get the company's operating agreement set up to look over the lease. Don't skip this part - it was worth the money…

As the space was recently renovated, we got choice of carpet, colours, cabinets, a new kitchen, etc… It's also in a great location with plenty of parking and lots of natural, but not direct, sunlight. All in all, I think we did well.

On Tuesday, the phone lines come in and over the upcoming week the landlord is installing extra power outlets and our low-volt guy is coming in to install Cat5e cabling everywhere.

We're using Cat5e for the phone lines as well as for the network - don't skimp on this. It's only a few bucks extra and you never know what you might want to run over those lines.

Then on Friday the final city inspection happens and the process should be over.

So now we need some stuff to put in it and today Joe and I did the trip to Ikea.

It felt like buying stuff to kit out a new apartment! Desks, chairs, kitchen table, table for server stuff, bookcases and cups (I'll bring in my own teapot). Whee! It all arrives on Monday.

Hopefully by this time next week we'll be fully operational in the new office.

Not that a ton of progress hasn't been made in the meantime.

As far as technical stuff goes, the source tree, build system, bug database and internal wiki are all up and running. We're writing code and getting the full architectural underpinnings in place - stuff is actually running. Finding time for that in amongst the myriad of meetings has been interesting to say the least!

Also, I forgot to mention it when it happened, but we finally signed the LLC's operating agreement (more on that aspect in another post), accountants are engaged and most importantly we believe we've found a cool law firm to work with.

Why do I say most importantly? Well, other than the obvious need for good legal help, those guys come loaded with connections.

Face Recognition

So I've set up an account on Riya, but have yet to really give it a work out - I'm looking forward to that. Tagging the photos I upload to Flickr with the people involved is a time sink that I could do without, and the service seems cool.

Anyhow, I did just try MyHeritage as a few other people I know have had some fun with it, and I wanted to see which celebrity it thought that I resembled most.

First of all though, a little rant.

They perform a bait and switch in you.

On their home page they have a nice big “Try it out now for free!” button. No mentions of having to sign up. Cool!

I click the button and it takes me through uploading a photo, and then boom! Up pops a “Sign up now, to see your results!” form.

I hate it when web services do that. OK, I'll sign up as I already have some time invested, but you just pissed me off and I am now an unhappy customer.

If you're going to pretend to let me do stuff before signing up (the lazy registration pattern - something that Memeflow does quite well, if you don't mind me tooting my own horn…), then don't turn around and annoy me before I can get anything useful done.

With that out of the way, I uploaded a version of the picture you see at the top of my blog sans hat, and who did I most resemble?

Samuel L. Jackson.

Look Alike

Finger Memory

It's pretty obvious that a lot of knowledge is learnt on an subconscious level - you have to “learn” how to walk, type, play a guitar, a piano, etc…

You can understand the mechanics, but until you've practiced, you can't do it without “thinking about it”.

This was driven home to me recently in an amusing incident.

I'm trying to convince Joe that emacs is the one-true-way as far as editors go for developers, and he asked me how to “switch to the other open buffer”.

This is an operation that I perform every single day hundreds, if not thousands of times. But could I remember the keyboard sequence?


I had to sit down in front of the keyboard with emacs in front of me and have my fingers teach my conscious mind that the command it couldn't remember was Ctrl-x o.

Smart things, those fingers.

Flagged Articles #13

Here's my links of interest for the week ending March 18th, 2006…

A brief one this week. Blame it on the coding.

As always, not necessarily the most interesting stuff this week, but I flagged them for some reason…

Seattle in Miniature

Seattle in a snowglobe.


One of the reasons for taking the photos yesterday was to get a decent one to try the tilt shift technique out on.

I think this one came out nicely. Very the picture large for the best effect.

Postcard From Seattle

I was in downtown Seattle today for some meetings and as it was looking like a nice day and I new I was going to be high up in a few of the taller buildings, I brought the camera along…

Space Needle

You can check out the rest of the pictures over on Flickr

Flight Simulator Team Talks at GDC

Just in case you're going to be at the Game Developers' Conference in San Jose next week and didn't know, two members of the Flight Simulator development team will be giving presentations.

Adam Szofran will be giving a talk on the “Global Terrain Technology for Flight Simulation”:

This talk presents some of the terrain engine technology developed by Microsoft Game Studios. Of particular interest are techniques for handling the large amount of geospatial data required to represent the Earth from the surface up to orbital altitudes. Also discussed are fiber- and thread-based technologies for composing surface textures on the fly at run-time using a variety of geospatial data. The last part of the presentation focuses on how to triangulate a global, multiresolution terrain mesh requiring double-precision coordinates when the rendering hardware only supports single-precision coordinates.

and Adrian Woods will be presenting “The Make Art Button: Batches, Actions, and Scripts”:

Do something once, it's creative. Do something twice, it's repetitive. Do something three times, you can probably automate it.

This session gives artists tools they can use to help minimize repetitive tasks and maximize creativity and iteration. Using the dreaded DOS prompt, Photoshop actions and droplets, and MaxScript, the speaker shows how technical ability can actually unleash creativity. For example, you can use MaxScript to enable in-game visuals never seen before. You can use Photoshop actions to speed up production time. And you can use the DOS prompt. Spend less time getting carpal tunnel syndrome, and more time creating beautiful artwork.

I wish I was going to be there, but my current employer won't let me…

Family Photography Fun

This afternoon we decided to do a little family photo shoot, so I grabbed the camera and tripod and we went for it.

I Love My Little Sister

I absolutely love my Nikon D200. Not the least because photographing kids is a lot easier if you can capture five pictures a second and it actually takes the picture the instant you depress the shutter button…

Of course, the downside is that you can fill up a 2GB flash card in no-seconds-flat when you're shooting in RAW.

Anyhow, 125 pictures later and it's off to the PC.

I'm still working on my work flow, but for now (and for those interested) it looks something like this:

  • Create directory - e.g. \PhotoSource\2006\06-03-Family\RAW.
  • Copy pictures from camera to new directory.
  • Open up directory in Adobe Bridge.
  • Select all and append personal metadata (author, copyright, website, etc…).
  • Batch rename all files to something representative of the shoot rather than _DSCxxxxx.nef.
  • Initial pass over photos deleting all the crud.
  • Second pass over photos assigning an “out of five stars” rating.
  • Filter by greater than four stars and copy to newly created “Processed” sub-directory.
  • For each resulting photo:
    • Import into PhotoShop adjusting temperature and exposure in camera raw dialog.
    • Crop.
    • Adjust levels.
    • Smart sharpen if needed.
    • Convert to sRGB colour space.
    • Save as maximum quality jpeg.
  • Copy all jpegs to \Photos\2006\06-03-Family. \Photos is shared via Windows Media Connect to the Xbox 360 for slide-show goodness.
  • Upload to Flickr setting appropriate privacy and licenses.
  • Done.


Flagged Articles #12

Wow - an entry on the flagged theme actually appears when it's supposed to…

Anyhow, here's my links of interest for the week ending March 11th, 2006…

As always, not necessarily the most interesting stuff this week, but I flagged them for some reason…

A Disease?

Aren't there quite a few other things more important and relevant than videogames for the CDC to be worrying about?

Oh, and maybe while Lieberman and Clinton are at it, they could find some real issues to pontificate on? Come on. Big issues. There's quite a few around right now - help the party out a little here.

[Tip'o'the'hat to Greg Costik for the link.]

Liquid water on one of Saturn's moons?

NASA announced today that they have found potential liquid water on Enceladus.

This raises the possibility of life there:

“We realize that this is a radical conclusion -- that we may have evidence for liquid water within a body so small and so cold,” said Dr. Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. “However, if we are right, we have significantly broadened the diversity of solar system environments where we might possibly have conditions suitable for living organisms.”


Read the article for yourself over on NASA's website.

Flagged Articles #11

In lieu of actual content, here's my links of interest for the week ending March 4th, 2006…

And with that, I think I'm up to date.

As always, not necessarily the most interesting stuff this week, but I flagged them for some reason…

Finding the time

It occurs to me that I am so heads down with the startup that I'm not finding anytime to post.

I think I need to carve out some time to communicate. Maybe Steve's lunchtime musings would be a good thread…

Maybe I need just need to switch to a different process. Sometimes I just want to post a quick thought, but the cost of firing up the full post creation UI is just too much.

Maybe something like Dave's OPML editor. I need to figure out how well it hooks into MovableType, they seem to have the WordPress integration figured out.

I did experiment with the OPML editor while I was at Gnomedex last June. More experimentation needed…

Slurping on the free and public wifi

I needed to get out of the house today to get some work done and was pondering on my choices on location.

  • Starbucks? Has wifi, but it'll cost me. Nice coffee. Loud. May not get a power source.
  • Library? Quiet, probably no power or wifi.

I opted for the local library as I'd heard good things about it. I was (or rather am - I'm still there) pleasantly surprised to find free wifi, ample power and nice desks with a cool view of downtown.

I think I'll be coming here again. Well, I will until we get the office situation sorted. Talking of which, we've got an LOI out on some space…

Flagged Articles #10

A week late, but here's my list of some “interesting” articles for the week ending February 25th, 2006:

As always, not necessarily the most interesting stuff this week, but I flagged them for some reason…

More later…

SwitchGear in the News

Thanks to John Cook over at the Seattle PI for a nice post on his venture blog

Stealth startup of the week

Two of the brains behind Microsoft's Flight Simulator game are taking flight with a new startup company called SwitchGear Software.

Steve Lacey and Joe Stacy -- who together spent 21 years in various roles at Microsoft -- formed the startup in January. They are still very much in the early stages of development -- trying to find office space in the Bellevue area (a process Lacey describes as “a pain”). They are also just beginning to meet with angel investors and venture capitalists.

Thanks John! Read the rest over on his blog.

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.