Cows vs Tigers and How to Create a Tech Business

Most advice out there for tech entrepreneurs comes from investors and the advice is from the point of view of an individual or fund who wants to maximize their profits.

Areas where an entrepreneur and investor’s goals are not aligned:

  • Entrepreneur wants to keep more equity, investor wants more equity for themselves.
  • Entrepreneur wants more control in the form of board seats and less or no preferred stock with it’s rights. Investor wants to have levers to be able to block exits, fire CEO’s and so on.
  • Entrepreneur may not want to get acquired. Investor wants an exit with a short time horizon that is low risk and easy to implement (IPO’s are onerous).
  • Entrepreneur should be doing everything to serve the customer as their target market.
  • Investor wants to groom company for acquisition in many cases, so growth, being a credible threat and a beauty contest is the priority.
  • Entrepreneur wants to learn how to be a CEO on the job. Investor thinks they already know and interferes with a very necessary learning process.

There are others.

So I don’t think there are any resources, at least none that I’m aware of, that mentor entrepreneurs with the goal of helping them retain maximum (perhaps all) equity and control of their business.

A mentorship program that does not seek equity in the companies they mentor – and where giving away equity is seen as a fail – would empower entrepreneurs to get further along before they seek funds, if ever. It would create stronger early stage businesses and be very good for for the economy and for customers.

We need to be creating Tigers, not Cows in our entrepreneurs. I’ve seen people who were generating 5 figures a month as a three person team – and customers who loved them -stop doing that so that they can “be a startup in Seattle”.

I suspect part of the problem is entrepreneurs themselves. Many live in a ‘permission’ culture where they need to get the OK from an incubator to get permission to create a tech startup. Why not just incorporate the company yourself and start building product and business model? There’s nothing stopping you.

Signing up for an incubator or participating in startup events and programs feels like forward movement, but that traffic from press releases after your first round of funding is not from customers and it goes away after 48 hours. Those investor phone calls to mentor you and those group sessions with other entrepreneurs aren’t going to teach you how to create something unique and useful for your customers – they’re going to take you away from doing that.

Tech startups are really simple:

  • Solve a real problem. It helps if it’s one you have so that you can understand your customer a little better since you’re the first customer.
  • It needs to be one you can charge money for. If you can’t and there are no other revenue generating options, do something else.
  • The people you’re charging need to be a growing group.
  • They also need to spend money – the more the better. It helps a lot if they’re using your product to solve a business problem because it’s much easier to spend if you’re a business and to spend more.
  • You need to be able to be the best in the world at what you’re doing. If you can’t be, then go do something else.
  • It’s OK if someone else is already doing what you’re about to do, as long as you can do it way better or way cheaper them.
  • You must find a way to tell people about your product or service. Here are a few ideas:
    • Using your product causes people to tell their friends or customers about your product.
    • Create a mailing list by providing information that very closely targets the people you want to tell about your product. This takes months, so plan ahead.
    • Write blog posts that are useful or controversial and appeal to your target market and promote them on social media.
    • Release data that is new in the form of blog posts or white papers. Then hit up journalists directly. They’re always looking for sources and new and surprising data is a source.
  • Incorporate yourself to protect yourself.
  • Trademark your name. Don’t listen to the naysayers. I’ve been sued over TM and sent my own C&D’s. You might be too.
  • Get an awesome but reasonably priced attorney. Don’t hire a big firm and throw equity at them. Get a small lawyer with big firm experience. Generally when you interview corp counsel they’ll give you a 30 minute call they don’t charge for. You’ll learn a lot talking to 3 or 4 lawyers.
  • Nolo is your friend for everything legal. My first startup was sold and I incorporated it myself. When the due diligence came back, I felt like it was proof that I’d created a real corporation without completely screwing it up.
  • Don’t quit. Even when the going gets tough. Even when you’ve invested your life savings and your 401K and are now living with your in-laws in your 30’s. Still, don’t quit. I speak from experience.

It’s going to get very very tough. Kerry and I (my wife and co-founder) call this the “valley of the shadow of death”. Don’t give in to others who tell you you should be “burnt out” or “aren’t you suffering from burnout”.

Humans are very tough creatures. You may confront challenges while you’re being an entrepreneur that are far tougher than entrepreneurship is. You can handle it. Put your big boy or big girl pants on, square your shoulders, take a deep breath and deal. Again, I speak from experience.

Exercise. Your health is the most important thing. Don’t take the attitude that you need to work like a slave for a few years so you can live like a king for the rest of your life. That’s bullshit. Entrepreneurship is a marathon and you need to make it sustainable and so take care of your health. Watch what you eat and get exercise at lest 3 times a week. If it’s crunch time, it may help to eat the same 3 healthy meals pre-prepared on Sunday all week long. That way you don’t have to think and you can’t screw it up.

Creating and growing a business can give you a lifetime of happiness and the kind of fulfillment that is indisputable. As my friend Joe once said when we had summited Rainier together: “You know what? No one can take this away. ”

Footnote: For a long time I was a solo entrepreneur with a co-founder and even had a profitable exit. I ran my newest company for a while without investors and was so anti-VC that I even started a blog called novcrequired.com. Then I connected with an amazing investor who gave me just enough mentorship, amazing introductions, a Series A round and then stepped back and watched us screw it up, figure it out and then thrive.

He continues to serve on our board and we’re lucky to have him. I think my story is rare. I also think founders should take the solo route for as long as they can and have a goal of never raising money if they can avoid it. Making software does not require any capital investment. You’re not building an oil rig. You just need to code and ship.

So do it, solve a real problem, charge for it, make your customers happy and build a job creation machine that changes the world.

Working On-Site Considered Harmful

It doesn’t make sense for knowledge workers to be on-site anymore.

Working on-site comes with a significant cost. Quiet time is a precious commodity if you’re in any kind of cerebral role –  and it’s rare in most office environments. Then there’s the distraction of commuting to work, commuting back, people coming and going, the office socializer who wants to chat and so on.

Working remotely has many advantages. If you’re using Slack, you don’t have a situation where the dominant person in the room gets to drown out other opinions. It makes communication more democratic and a side effect is that communication becomes much more relaxed. Less conflict == more fun and getting more done.

When interaction happens via git and a bug tracker in the form of entering and updating issues and pull requests, it keeps things moving forward without the unstructured chaos that in-person communication can create. SaaS for remote workers makes communication more structured.

It surprises me that so many companies in the software space are still hiring on-site workers and developers in particular. I suspect it’s for two reasons:

Firstly, managers or execs think a major part of their contribution is to “oversee” their team. This comes from a kind of personal insecurity caused by them not being able to contribute in other areas – frequently because they’re non-technical, so they need to “manage” to contribute. This is solved by hiring execs or managers who are competent in their own right – and in a tech company they need to be hands-on technical and current in their skills. I’ve met too many managers who just “manage” and mention their MIT degree and tell coding war stories.

Secondly, I think a reason companies want to hire on-site workers is a lack of trust. They don’t think it’s possible to hire people who can be left alone to create amazing things. They think the team has to be put in a room and monitored at all times. This has evolved into persuading them to stay in the room by bringing chefs and masseuses into the office.

I think over the next 10 years we will see the first Google’s and Amazon’s emerge with 100% remote workers. They will create a new normal for tech companies to go remote. That will cause a massive exodus from urban centers. It’s going to have a huge impact on property prices and rentals and a significant impact on the landscape. Cities like Seattle, which is overcrowded with Amazon workers will see profound changes.

Fifteen years from now we’ll look back and giggle at how we used to crowd smart people into little boxes with bright fluorescent lighting so that we could watch them while they did work they can do from anywhere.

We’re hiring at Wordfence. All our roles are remote. We’re a team of 9 full-timers and we have 7 positions currently open (the forensics role is X3). If you’re the best in the world at what you do, are passionate about information security and you’d like to regain your freedom, we’d love to hear from you!

The Longer Term Effects of the Paris Tragedy

Having recently lived in France for a year, my heart goes out to the French people. I lived in South Western France, but fell in love with Paris as a city of art, philosophy, history and music. That it was targeted with such violence last night is a travesty of epic proportions.

London Bridge

London Bridge lit up with the colors of the French Flag tonight.

At this time there are 129 deaths and 352 injured according to Le Monde.

I’d like to spend a few minutes thinking about the longer term effects of what just happened in Paris. My background if you don’t know me is: I’m a CEO of a cyber security company, I’m a software engineer and I’m interested in public policy.

2,977 victims died in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11th 2001. The attacks had a profound effect on public policy and foreign policy world-wide. The result was a US led war in Afghanistan and a further war with Iraq. The cost and effect of these wars continue to this day, 14 years later.

The WTC attacks also led to the Patriot Act and a huge increase in surveillance by the United States and intelligence partners. The intelligence partners are the “Five Eyes”  which include the USA, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Patriot act was the tip of the iceberg and since the Snowden revelations we have now learned the depth and breadth of the increase in intelligence gathering and surveillance post 9/11.

The Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai showing French colors tonight.

The Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai showing French colors tonight.

The impact of the WTC attacks can, today, in my opinion, be compared to the impact of the Pearl Harbor attack in the way it changed US foreign policy and public policy. The day after the Pearl Harbor attack, the US declared war on Japan and Roosevelt and later Truman demanded the ‘unconditional surrender’ of Japan as the only acceptable end to the conflict.

More recently, post 9/11 in the United States and world-wide the public appetite for conflict had started to taper off starting in 2008 with the Obama campaign that ran on a platform of exiting Iraq.

Added to this there was a tapering in the public appetite and tolerance of surveillance with the Manning leaks published on Wikileaks in 2010 and the Snowden revelations in 2013.

The number of casualties in Paris yesterday are not as high as Pearl Harbor or 9/11, but we live in a post 9/11 World where we already have an increase in conflict and surveillance. The public also has an increased sensitivity to these kinds of attacks.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

In my view, the Paris attacks will bring us back to the world-wide climate we encountered immediately post 9/11. It will ensure that France enters any war it hopes will reduce the threat of domestic terror and France will go beyond that. France will actively, as the USA did, seek retribution for the attacks yesterday. Manuel Valls (France’s Prime Minister – the equivalent of a Chief Operating Officer) said today that “We must annihilate the enemies of the Republic”, which sets the tone of the response going forward.

If this had happened in the absence of 9/11, the French response would have been severe, but would not necessarily have been backed by a long term global response. Because this is post 9/11 and because it refreshes the global memory of the impact of terrorism, this will have a much wider influence on global governments and their public and foreign policy.

The Sydney Opera House Tonight

The Sydney Opera House Tonight

I expect that there is a show of solidarity with France that goes beyond countries displaying the French flag on public and private buildings last night and tonight.

France will likely be brought closer into the Five Eyes intelligence sharing arrangement which has so far excluded all European countries with the exception of the United Kingdom. [And in fact had an adversarial relationship with countries like Germany]

In response to Charlie Hebdo, France passed a new surveillance law in May that allows the monitoring of phone calls and emails without the authorization of a judge. The law also requires ISP’s to install devices to sniff Internet traffic and make that traffic available to French intelligence services. The law is essentially the USA Patriot Act without the need for a FISA court to authorize surveillance.

San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall

The tragedy yesterday will likely provide the impetus to pass additional laws that cover anything that legislation earlier this year may have missed. That earlier law doesn’t appear to have missed much.

I hold no strong opinions either way on public surveillance. That we appear to need surveillance, I consider tragic. I’d also prefer to not have secrets, but a thought experiment I came up with a few years ago seems to indicate that the need for secrets is inevitable.

My interest is in understanding what will happen next, and we appear to be headed into a deeper spiral of surveillance, conflict and secrecy. I’d prefer that things were different, but I’m angry too.

3DR Tech Data and Review

I owned an IRIS+ by 3DR from Jan this year until a couple months ago when I lost it in a large desolate area in South Africa. The search is still on. As a former IRIS+ owner that pushed my drone to the limits of what it can do, I thought I’d post my first impressions of the Solo by 3DR. This is targeted at an advanced audience.

For some context, here’s video I shot with my IRIS+ earlier this year using a Hero 4 Black and the Tarot T-2D brushless gimbal.

I got my first Solo this week. The unboxing experience is awesome – well done 3DR, very Applesque.

The first person video via iPad is awesome. The way 3DR has designed the drone is interesting. With the IRIS+ you had a controller that spoke 2.4Ghz to the drone to control it. Then you had a separate radio that spoke 900Mhz also to another transceiver on the drone which is how you received telemetry. I actually loved this setup on the IRIS+ because the 900 Mhz radio had significantly further range than the 2.4ghz radio and it’s easy to buy high gain directional 900 mhz antennas or antenna amplifiers.

The Solo has a single 2.4 Ghz radio onboard which talks to the controller. The controller acts as a Wifi base station. All devices (like your iPad or android phone) connect to the controller as a wifi base station. As soon as you connect what happens is the controller starts sending your device UDP packets to port 14550. If you have software running that’s listening at that port, the software receives the data from the controller and displays it in the user interface.

So you can have an iPad, Android phone and a PC all connected to the controller at the same time receiving data from the drone.

The Solo has two antennas that are in the legs, diagonally opposite each other. There is a third leg that has a tiny circuit board and I suspect this is a GPS antenna, but I’m unsure at this time.

I disassembled my solo. A few tips on disassembly:

  • The shiny black hood does in fact come off. You need to unclip it from the underside. Look closely under it and you’ll see three tabs. If you push those out with a screwdriver you’ll get it off.
  • Unlike the IRIS+ the main board is harder to get out. You need to unclip most of the electronic plugs that are on the board to be able to see the underside. Then you can slide it out partially. I didn’t go further than that because it looked like I’d need to start unsoldering things to get it completely out of the aircraft.

The two antennas in the legs are MIMO antennas and I haven’t verified this but I’m assuming they’re talking 801.22n to the drone. I suspect what 3DR have done is to have the drone connect to the controller as a base station like other devices have, but I haven’t confirmed this and have no data to support this theory. I used a wifi sniffer to give me the data that I have on how the controller speaks UDP to clients, but my wifi sniffer is only 802.11b/g and I’ve ordered a card that supports 802.11n but am waiting or it to arrive. Once I have that, I will be able to tell if the drone is speaking 802.11n to the controller or if it’s speaking a proprietary protocol.

To use Mission Planner with the Solo, you need to connect to the controller’s wifi as a hotspot. Then launch Mission Planner and select ‘UDP’ as your connection type and hit ‘connect’. You should immediately download the config and start receiving telemetry.

Good news: Even though 3DR have completely hidden away the ability for the Solo to fly a flight plan in full Auto mode, you can still do it. Here’s how:

  • Launch Mission Planner
  • Set up a flight plan with waypoints etc.
  • Upload it to the drone.
  • Arm the Solo.
  • Then go into ‘Flight Data’ and click the ‘Actions’ tab on the bottom left.
  • Select ‘Auto’ from the drop down list and click the ‘Set Mode’ button.
  • The Solo will immediately launch. This is different from the IRIS+ which required you to put the controller into ‘Auto’ and goose the throttle slightly to trigger the Auto program.

It’s funny watching the iPad app show the flight mode switch to “Autonomous” when it doesn’t actually list it as a flight mode, even using the advanced options.

So how about performance. Here’s how you can turn the Solo into a mean machine when flying autonomous programs. If the above didn’t void your warranty, this definitely will.

Go into Config/Tuning in Mission Planner and you can change the following if you dare:

  • Do a search for ‘speed’ and you’ll find many things you’ll enjoy playing with.
  • I changed Waypoint Horizontal Speed Target to 2000 or 20m/s. Verified the Solo can handle this but didn’t try a program that had enough distance to let it fully reach that speed along a track. Note that with the IRIS+ I ran into an issue where using spline waypoints the aircraft would lose altitude if I set the horizontal speed too high because it appeared to give the horizontal speed precedence over maintaining altitude. So careful of setting this high on the Solo. Not sure if the same issue exists.
  • Waypoint Descent Speed. Changed this to 300cm/s or 3m/s. Verified the Solo can handle this and flies fine. However note: Changing your descent speed with any drone is very dangerous because the aircraft is descending into it’s own prop-wash (turbulence created by the propellors). If you make this too high the aircraft can get very unstable and flip or crash. I had my IRIS+ hit snow very hard one night when I set this too high.
  • Waypoint Climb Speed Target. Definitely my favorite if you are doing an auto program and want the aircraft to get to altitude as fast as possible. The max I’ve tried this with the Solo is 1000cm/s or 10 meters per second. It’s awesome – absolutely rockets into the sky.

Once you’ve tweaked a few of these settings you’re probably still wondering why your Solo is a little sluggish. Here’s how you make her zip:

  • Again on the Config/Tuning Standard Params page, do a search for ‘accel’
  • Waypoint Acceleration. I’ve set this to 500 (default for the Solo is 100)  which is the max and tested the Solo doing laps and it handles it fine without crashing.
  • Waypoint Vertical Acceleration. I’ve tested this at 200 (default is 100) and it works great.

So what do I think of the Solo by 3DR? The one issue I’ve found is that GPS signal around my house is a little glitchy. The Solo reacts to this by accelerating hard in a certain direction when I have it in beginner “Fly” mode which is what every newbie will use when they fly for the first time. This is probably going to be a disaster. I had to use every ounce of my skill as a drone pilot to not crash the Solo when it did this. It has so far done this 3 times to me over 2 days of flying. When it happened the aircraft was definitely going to crash into an obstacle and the only way to avoid it was to climb and give full opposite joystick – so unless you do that when this happens to you, you’re going to be wearing a frowny first-time drone pilot face as you send your smashed Solo back to 3DR and wait weeks or more for a replacement. Very worrying. I suspect 3DR will fix this by cross-referencing the data from the gyros with what the GPS is claiming and maybe not accelerate so hard to try to correct any GPS position errors.

I also had a landing where the drone ended up in a rhythmic bounce with the engines racing and I couldn’t shut them down even though I had full negative throttle. I just held it down, thankfully it didn’t flip and eventually go the idea.

I’m unsure how the 2.4 Ghz radio is going to work out. I already have a set of dual high gain antennas I bought from http://fpvlr.com/ (Thanks Tony for the awesome fast shipping) and haven’t tried them out yet, but they look solid. I think if I can get an antenna tracker working with the Solo with dual high gain antennas, it’s probably feasible to get telemetry, control and video over 3+ miles which is going to be amazing.

The drone itself is a nice improvement. Design is really polished, the battery life is now 20 minutes with a full payload and it seems to fly better than the IRIS+ but I’d like to check how it flies with a Gimbal.

Speaking of Gimbals, they don’t actually exist. 3DR is still figuring out how to get them manufactured and posted this blog entry 3 days ago saying the first Gimbals for the Solo will be coming off the line at the end of July. (!!!) Wow, guys, taking just-in-time shipping to a whole new level of I’m-not-sure-what-ness.

So don’t expect to be playing with the Solo Gimbal any time soon.

Bottom line: I’m a huge fan of 3D Robotics, even though this post was written a little tongue in cheek. I think the Solo rocks but I’d say this is a Beta release based on the GPS glitching that I’ve seen and the landing issue. For guys like me who love voiding warranties, it’s fun to get early access to a platform like this. I can’t wait to play with the Python Dronekit API and I’m enjoying pushing the aircraft to it’s limits and playing with my packet sniffer to see what’s happening under the hood. However I wouldn’t recommend the platform for newbies until say October/November this year when the Gimbal has been out a few months, there have been a few software updates and the platform has had a chance to breathe.

Failure Is Not An Option

If you raise money and fail, you need to consider the opportunity cost of another entrepreneur not having had access to the investment capital you lost. If you fail, you need to be sad about your failure and also be sad about the opportunity cost of your failure.

But it’s “risk capital” you say – money that investment funds allocated to very high-risk/high-return investments. So the thinking is that it’s OK for that capital to go away because it’s expected to either succeed big and likely to fail. But what about the 1 or 10 or 50 other businesses that lost access to that capital once it was invested? Could one of them have been the next Google?

Try Buying your Hardware

We took a lot of heat from the startup community when we bought $40,000 of Dell servers, a switch and a KVM and racked them ourselves in 2008. Seriously, Kerry (my wife and co-founder) and I hand-racked about 10 Dell 2950’s and a couple of 1950’s in the rack we leased at our data center. We didn’t realize the DC team could rack them for us and were so excited when the servers arrived we just dove right in.

Do you have any idea how much a DELL 2950 loaded with disks weighs? They’re heavy.

At that time the “cloud” was all the rage. Amazon services were really spinning up, Linode and SliceHost were the new ‘it’ companies, and we were derided as idiots for actually buying physical hardware: Ew!

Well turns out our business scaled very quickly and in a few short months we were pushing well over 100 megabits of bandwidth average. We were paying around $2,500 a month for that which included power to the rack, a team supporting our hardware 24/7/365 and that included the bandwidth and 5 very high quality upstream connections. We’d discovered the magic of 95th percentile billing. Most of our peers were paying by the terrabyte and getting absolutely screwed. Our business would never have survived if we didn’t use colocation.

Today we’re busy decomissioning our old Dell 1950’s and 2950’s and replacing them with amazing new Dell R630’s. Back then we were paying about $3500 per server. I just bought 4 Dell R630’s at $9250 each out the door. We’re happy to spend that kind of cash because we know these machines will pay for themselves a hundred times over (or more) by the time we’re done with them. We have a little inside joke: “Good servers go to small business heaven. Bad servers end up working for us.” We literally put our servers through hell by running them at very high CPU and IO loads. To date we haven’t had a single failure besides hard drives and redundant power supplies, all of which are hot-swappable and no big deal. No memory, chassis or controller issues. (We use PERC hardware RAID 1 or 10 usually)

So I guess I’d like to say a big Kudos to Dell for producing some kick-ass enterprise class hardware that could withstand the worst kinds of loads we could come up with. And seriously: If you’re a startup and can afford it, consider making a capital investment in your own hardware and using colocation rather than abstracting away the problem and paying more – and in some cases, a hell of a lot more.

Besides: What could be more fun that spending your Saturday night in the data center.

Installing Ubuntu 14.10 on a Dell R630 with PERC H730 hardware RAID 10

If you arrived here, you’re probably spending your weekend doing this too, so perhaps I can save some of your weekend for you. Here’s how I did it. FYI, I’m using a PERC H730 hardware RAID controller with a 1.1TB virtual disk made up of 8 physical disks in RAID10 config. As the title says, this is a fresh DELL R630 and it has single processor and 128G of memory. See my notes below about using a 100g boot partition and creating a larger partition once you have the system up and running with grub installed in the MBR.

  • Switch the BIOS boot mode from UEFI to BIOS.
  • If you’re booting from a USB thumb drive, set that to your first boot device.
  • Boot and hit CTRL-R to go into your raid controllers bios and blow away the virtual disk. Recreate a new identical one. You’re doing this to get rid of the GPT partition.
  • Boot into ubuntu 14.10 server 64 bit.
  • Go through installation and make sure you install openssh server because you won’t be able to access the console when you first boot.
  • Also make sure that when you partition your disk, you don’t create one huge partition larger than a terabyte. Instead, you probably want to create a boot partition and then a larger partition. I use 100G boot partition and 1TB big partition which I create once I have the system up and running. When I tried to create a 1.1TB partition it has trouble installing grub into the MBR. Using UEFI or a GPT partition table might fix this but I haven’t gone down that rabbit hole and don’t really want to.
  • The grub installation onto the MBR will fail. This is because if you’re installing from thumb USB, ubuntu switches the /dev/sda and /dev/sdb devices and tries to install grub onto your thumb drive instead of your hard drive. To fix this hit CTRL-ALT-F2 open a console, then run the following:
  • chroot /target
  • grub-install /dev/sdb
  • update-grub
  • Then hit CTRL-ALT-F1 and go back to your installation.
  • Continue without installing a boot loader (because that’s what you just did).
  • Once done, when you reboot, go back into the bios and disable booting from your thumb drive (or just unplug it if you’re not doing this remotely like I am).
  • Boot into linux, except that all you’ll see is a blank screen at this point.
  • SSH into the server.
  • Edit /etc/default/grub
  • Change the value of GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT to be “vga=normal nofb nomodeset video=vesafb:off i915.modeset=0”.
  • Run update-grub2
  • Reboot and your console should now work and also won’t freeze up.

Congrats, I just saved you a few hours. Go enjoy them.

The FAA needs to get their hands dirty to enable UAV innovation

In the 1970’s and much of the 80’s, passengers on commercial aircraft would occasionally experience the joy of the ‘holding pattern’. Having their plane stacked with other planes circling in a spiral due to a delay at a destination airport. Planes would circle sometimes for hours, with priority given to those about to run out of fuel.

Then in 1981 the FAA used a ground delay program (GDP) for the first time during an air traffic controllers strike. The advantage of keeping airplanes on the ground at their departure airport was immediately obvious: passengers are just as unhappy, but they’re safer and the aircraft isn’t burning fuel at 161 lbs per minute (or 73kg per minute for the 767) in a holding pattern. Today the ground delay program is run by the  Air Traffic Control System Command Center, in Warrenton, Virginia which coordinates commercial flights around the USA and Canada and implements a GDP for destination airports if their arrival rate drops below a threshold.

The FAA is catching a lot of heat for their delay in implementing UAV (or drone) legislation. The drone pilot part of me sympathizes with the public and I think what is particularly frustrating is that a small handful of commercial operators have actually been granted licenses to operate giving them an unfair advantage over other operators. The article in the Denver Post today probably stung a bit among unlicensed operators when one of the already-licensed operators described the FAA’s pace as “about where it should be”. Sure, it works for them.

But the private pilot part of me – and the aviation history enthusiast part of me is sympathetic towards the FAA’s plight. Make no mistake, I think we should bringing as much public pressure to bear on them as we can. In the legislative environment we’ve inherited that’s the only way anything will get done. But this country has a long and storied history in traditional aviation and we have achieved a remarkable improvement in safety by creating well engineered solutions for specific problems. A glance at the chart below showing safety from the 70’s until 2012 illustrates that. [Source: The Economist on air safety and MH370]

20140315_gdc500_0

 

The FAA is not asleep at the switch – they are continuing to innovate and improve safety and efficiency with the rollout of the Next Generation Air Transport System which started in 2012 and is due to complete in 2025. Part of this rollout was support for ADS-B which is just about complete. This remarkable system gives everyone including hobby pilots like you and I the ability to buy an $800 transceiver, attach it to our iPAD and get real-time traffic and weather data as we fly anywhere in the USA while sharing our own position with other pilots and air traffic control. Previously you had to buy expensive avionics systems and a subscription to a commercial provider’s satellite feed.

Unfortunately we are stuck, while we wait for formal FAA legislation, using an FAA advisory circular (91-57) that applies to radio control model aircraft as our legislative guide. It says, don’t fly near populated areas, don’t operate near spectators until you’re sure your aircraft works, don’t fly above 400ft, don’t fly near an airport without notifying them, give way to full scale aircraft, ask the FAA for help if you need it.

Comparing a model aircraft to a drone is like comparing the Wright Flyer to a 767. One has wings and an engine. The other has GPS, avionics, autopilot, gyros, accelerometers, real-time ground station connectivity, real-time logging for later analysis and flight modes ranging from fully-autonomous to the pilot having an advisory role with the computer taking over when needed – to fully manual. (I am comparing most newer commercial long range aircraft with the IRIS+ by 3DRobotics for $750).

Most drone innovators are very excited by the prospect of being able to fly their aircraft out of sight autonomously. Whether it’s Amazon wanting to do package delivery, a survey company wanting to offer services to farmers or me wanting to deliver beer to my friend a few blocks away. Autonomous flight is the most useful aspect of drones and they are very very good at it. I can go outside right now and get my IRIS+ to fly 3 miles away at 390 feet, descend to 60 feet, point the camera on gimbal at my friend’s house, circle the house in a smooth spline navigation path as it films the home, ascend back to 390 and return to me and I can get telemetry via an excellent 900 mhz transceiver from the drone the whole way and even take over manual control if I feel the need. But that’s not allowed because the FAA won’t let us fly out of sight until they make laws which may simply formalize the fact that hobby drones can’t fly out of sight.

The USA is filled with tech innovators that are salivating at the prospect of trying out new things with drones – things that may drastically improve our quality of life and safety. I’m reminded of the horrific King5 news chopper crash a few years ago in Seattle which killed 2 and burned a third victim. Today that job can be done by a drone costing under $2000 – filmed in 4K video, gimbal stabilized with real-time first person view as film is being shot. With an amateur radio FCC license the operator can legally boost the drone telemetry and video signal from 0.2 watts to 10 watts with a high gain antenna and increase range to the point where battery life is the only issue.

But autonomous flight innovation of that kind is banned and the only laws we have to guide us right now are an advisory circular relating to model aircraft and public statements by the FAA. Some operators are saying “to hell with it, we’re flying” as is the case with Texas EquuSearch. The search and rescue operator was issued a warning by the FAA, they then turned around and sued the FAA and a federal court threw out the case saying that the email the FAA sent EquuSearch did “not represent the consummation of the agency’s decision making process, nor did it give rise to any legal consequences.”. EquuSearch have interpreted this as the FAA having no jurisdiction and so they have decided to continue flying.

In my view the FAA must be very careful to not treat drones like manned aircraft because they risk band-aiding the situation and crippling innovation. They need to look at the modern air space systems and innovations that have worked there and then assess drones as unique and completely different entities that happen to exist within their jurisdiction. I think giving everyone from hobbyists to commercial and government operators the ability to perform out-of-sight autonomous flights is a very important and necessary goal if they are to be an enabler of innovation rather than being a crippling force that ensures we aren’t competitive in this new arena of aerospace.

It is essential that this country (the USA) maintains its dominance in aerospace and we worked incredibly hard to get to where we are today – from the Wright Flyer to breaking the sound barrier, to getting our asses kicked by the Soviets when they made it to space first, but we regained the lead by getting to the Moon first. Then on to Stealth technology and military UAV’s. We’ve managed to stay out in front. To do this we need to enable the private sector to conduct research into autonomous flight and the private sector includes individuals and small groups of entrepreneurs. We need to enable them and we need to do it as fast as possible.

To allow autonomous flight I would propose a system similar to DUATS which pilots today use to file flight plans. The FAA should create a system whereby drone operators at defined levels of competence and commerciality are able to file a flight plan before flight. The plan would include waypoints with latitude, longitude and altitude. The flight plan would be filed an hour before flight and define a window for the flight. It would also be approved on the spot or rejected due to a conflict with another plan, temporary flight restrictions (TFR’s) or an airspace conflict.

I would suggest that a system like this could be used for autonomous flights under 400 ft in open areas. With additional licensing operators should be able to enter our national airspace system which starts at 500ft and this may include additional equipment like an ADS-B transceiver. And with further licensing, as with the current pilot requirement of an instrument rating, pilots may be able to complete autonomous flights above 18,000 feet.

To truly enable innovation in autonomous flight, the FAA can’t simply bandaid the existing system. They need to be an enabler and create new products and services to support drone operators and ensure that, as we have with manned aircraft systems, innovators are able to improve safety, efficiency and quality of life with unmanned aircraft.

OS X 10.10 Yosemite WiFi Problems Analyzed with Wireshark

I never realized how often I google and how much I rely on sub-second response times until I upgraded my Macbook Pro to OS X Yosemite. After muddling through issues like upgrading VMWare and a few other items and fixing my terminal emulation, I couldn’t figure out why I was in such a bad mood.

Then it hit me. My Google searches while I had been doing that had been slow. I would type something in and Google’s search results page either would not appear for about 3 to 6 seconds, or it would half-appear and then the search results would only show up after 3 to 6 seconds.

There is so much garbage SEO bait out there about “what to do about Yosemite wifi problems” so I’m not going to bore you with the details of my investigation and I’m just going to cut straight to the chase:

I put a network analyzer on my wifi. It turns out that the problem appears to be duplicate packets arriving on the WiFi network card. I switched to Ethernet via the Thunderbolt adapter and the problems instantly went away.

Here’s what it looks like in Wireshark….

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 2.21.31 PM

What happens is the network card transmits an acknowledgement. Then there’s a 2.7 second freeze where nothing happens. And then a few packets arrive followed by a flood of duplicate packets.

The duplicates are both duplicate application data packets along with duplicate TCP acknowledgements.

Scrolling further down you can see the duplicates increase and Wireshark starts labeling them “TCP Spurious Retransmission”, implying an issue with a network interface on the network.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 2.23.50 PM

Another test shows exactly the same thing. A 3.1 second delay where I’ve highlighted in blue and then a few good packets and the duplicates start.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 2.30.26 PM

And then the frequency increases…

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 2.31.38 PM

Deleting and re-adding your wifi network or network card device does not fix this. Neither does some of the other suggestions out there like turning off bluetooth, joining a 2.4 Ghz network instead of 5Ghz, etc…etc..

To me this seems to be a driver issue where the network card freezes and when it comes out of the freeze it’s sending the OS large numbers of duplicate packets. It’s curious that the freeze is around 3 seconds each time.

This test was done on a: MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Early 2013). The only other software running while this test was being done was Chrome, Excel, X11, Wireshark, Terminal and Keyboard Maestro (a keyboard macro utility).

Writing this post after the test was done on ethernet and I can feel my sanity already returning.

Apple please fix. Thanks.

 

Startups that Move the Needle

Something that I’m becoming more cognizant of and that I see in my friends as we all get a little older is the question about whether what we’re doing is actually moving the needle for the rest of humanity. If it’s making positive change by enabling our species or improving quality of life for others.

My business is cybersecurity and the biggest positive impact I see is when we help mom and pop or small businesses keep their websites and businesses secure. But I question whether we can do more. I think Elon’s SpaceX and Tesla moves things forward for our species as a whole.

An old friend arrived in Seattle this weekend. He has a really exciting startup based in Europe and is one of the most persuasive and energetic guys I know. It’s his second or third time in Seattle, ever – he doesn’t even live in this country – and  we show up at the Black Keys concert, sold out show on Saturday night at Key Arena, he walks up to security and talks us into a sold out show without any bribes or cash changing hands.

So in between rocking out to Black Keys and then hitting a Bollywood party in Freemont, I learned about what he’s been doing for the last few years.

Oradian creates software for banks in developing countries to do what banks do. Most of their target market is either using paper or using antiquated systems that are cobbled together and run on an old PC or laptop. Oradian provides a cloud based core banking system that gives banks a way to drop in an IT solution and get up and running fast.

My first thought was skepticism that a bank in a developing country would have access to the Net. But Antonio has been on the ground selling directly into these organizations and markets for a few years (he was previously in micro-finance) and because of the heavy reliance on cellphones in these markets, the Internet is more reliable than the power grid.

They’re currently raising series A in the USA and Europe and it’s interesting hearing his perspective and seeing other companies that are raising in Seattle and the Valley. I think there are other exciting businesses out there that are moving things forward, but there are so many that are spending precious energy on attracting a few more clicks or a few more eyeballs and I’m not sure how they help make the World a better place.

It’s gotten me thinking about how we measure success and gauge whether something is a great idea or not. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a startup appear on the West Coast that has a for-profit model that has the potential to make positive change in developing countries. I grew up in South Africa (as did Antonio, Oradian’s CEO) and we’ve seen and continue to see first hand how important it is to create a strong middle class in developing countries that is empowered with commercial opportunities and the services that surround them in the form of banking.

I’d like to see more smart people thinking about this space and if Oradian is anything to go by, my sense is that there are opportunities in the developing World that can be both profitable for investors and make significant positive change.

Edit: Found this video which gives you a better idea of what Oradian does…