Monthly Archives: April 2012

Excellent read: The Hunger Games

Bootstrapping is the right way. Pitching to investors (especially VCs) is both a waste of time and wrong. These are two principles I very strongly believe in, and I just read this blog post (thanks Massimo for sharing) by a fellow founder who is living some exceptionally exciting times. It’s true that when you have no other choice than make money to survive, you have no other option that succeed. Here is an excerpt:

I spent, and pitched, and hired, and pitched, and bitched, and pitched some more.  I knew I needed to learn how to pitch better, and relished the opportunities to practice, but we were about to be out of money, fast, and I was running out of moves, and investors.  Finally in February, I sat down with the team and we had ‘the talk’.  March 1 was the end of the money, and it was up to Don (our CTO and my co-founder) and I to take it the last 10 yards.  We stared deep into the abyss that day, and questioned every decision that had brought us here.

And then we jumped.

It was time to embrace the insanity.  Don sold his car, dropped every expense but his phone, and moved in.  I started looking for odd jobs to keep the coffee flowing and the internet on (thank you!).  Shit just got real.



(Lack of) 3D printers in Berlin

I usually avoid blogging when I am frustrated or angry, but I can’t help it this time. I designed an enclosure in Sketchup and thought that getting it fabbed would be trivial. Many online services offer it for “reasonable” prices. But the shipping costs and times make it less practical and “affordable”.

I uploaded my design to both ponoko and shapeways and couldn’t get a price lower than 35 $, plus shipping, plus waiting for 10 to 21 days. Forget it!

Then I was left  the “local” option. I thought that since 3D printing is democratized as we read every day all over the web, it shouldn’t be a problem to go to my local hackerspace or a friend and get it made while having a nice chat. I am a member of c-base where there is a good old reprap, there is also the Raumfahrtagentur another hackerspace that has a 3D printer and I know another two people who operate makerbots. Piece of cake!

It turns out the one in the first hackerspace doesn’t work, the second can not process my file, and the two other 3D printers operators are very busy.

Maybe it’s that time when the lasercutter was accessible to everyone in Open City Design, but It’s very disappointing to me that 3D printing is not that accessible in the so called “Tech Capital” Berlin. With makerbots costing less than 2000 EUR now and many other printers in  the sub 1000 EUR you’d expect to find one in every cafe.

I should be able to walk in the betahaus cafe, or the so famous Sankt Oberholz, or in any other hip cafe where couches cost thousands, upload a file, order a coffee, then drink my coffee while watching the object being printed, and leave with it in my pocket.

Berlin is maybe very good for making software, but when it comes to hardware, it’s still far behind.

Open source hardware and the free rider dilemna

It is no longer a secret that I am starting a little company that will sell open source hardware and software for energy monitoring. It is mainly based on the Open Energy Monitor project which is registered under the GNU general public license. Although I contributed to the development and promotion of the project myself, I often feel like I’m using other people’s work to make money.

There are now more than 960 registered members in the community, not all of them are active and quite a few contribute actively to the development of the project. But does that mean that the others are just passive members? free riders? is that fair?

I started toying with the idea of using an arduino to monitor electricity consumption about two years ago, and I found out that someone else (Trystan and Glyn and quite a few others) already started developing that idea and sharing their work and findings online. Sharing their work and code online does not only save other people (actually humanity in general) a lot of time and effort, but it also allows for a much wider scope of fellow tinkerers to review and improve that work.

This time and effort saved can be used in further developing this project, and this is what the famous “standing on each others’ shoulders” means. But what about people who benefit from this work and do not contribute with anything back?

I think that the free rider definition does not apply here, because since using this code and designs does not affect the creators negatively. They chose to share it with the rest of the world. All they’re asking for is credit and recognition. I think if someone uses open source without credits in a closed source project that would yield financial benefit, then we have a problem.

That’s it then! Problem solved! In theory at least, because in the open hardware world, things are a little bit different. Phillip Torrone from adafruit industries and make (yes he’s everywhere) wrote about it here, and so did Jean Claude from JeeLabs in a series of five posts, but I’m going to bring my two cents in my next post.

Stay tuned…

OSHW is not a blackbox

I bought this FTDI adapter some time ago from sparkfun, and I tried to solder the 3.3v jumper but I messed it up (that was long ago, and I wasn’t born a soldering ace :P)

Because this is an open source hardware product, the manufacturer put the schematics files online, so all I had to do is to go to the product page, see the schematics and find another way from my pin to the next voltage net. Then I just soldered a little wire, and that was it!

This is one of the reasons why I love the concept of open sourcing hardware (and everything in general): repairability. If I buy something with my hard-earned money, I should be able to repair it myself. It’s only fair to have the technical plans of the devices/machines we buy. After all, we paid for each atom in the device + for the R&D costs + a comfortable profit margin, why should the manufacturer keep secrets from us?

Thanks to this good practice, I could repair my adapter and give it a second life instead of throwing it in the trash. I think of all these electronics devices that are thrown away because they don’t work, when it could take just 5 minutes to repair them if they were open sourced. What a pity!