Thursday, March 25, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
This week was my first encounter with the hacker dojo, and I was very impressed. As I entered, curious as to what I might expect I asked a simple question to the first person I saw sitting at a large desk with 5 other 20 something laptop people.
Since I am a newbie I ask the basic, what is hacker dojo?
Without another word, he answers.
"well its a community of people, its also sponsored by some larger companies, and probably in this room 6 different small companies are being run, and tonight it is hosting the android meetup and tomorrow night it will be hosting a co-founders meetup" all said without a blink, or snide arrogance, in fact the tone was welcoming and curious. As he talked to me he looked at a google calendar, events overlapping each other over 30 days straight.
That's really what I loved most about the hacker dojo. I am sure that some of these people are ninjas, in fact I met about four of them that night, humble, interested and interesting in their tone and approach. I drop 10 dollars into the "daily subscription" box.
"Oh you paid!, have a piece of pizza!" That was a welcome gift, I was very hungry and needed some nourishment. "We also bake bread every night, I think there is a fresh loaf back there we made less than an hour ago!" I sliced myself off a piece and poured myself a cup of some of coffee that made would make a Peet's pour seem like tea. After talking I bit more I found out that not only is the hacker dojo a nexus of geekery, they also do a bunch of classes "We are doing a machine learning class, a iPhone development class, a Hadoop class". I am sure that the machine learning class will probably be as much philosophy as programming.
I make my way to the android meetup, the organizer starts the meetup, a developer herself has created an application for android called GeoGad. "If you are going to Android Hackathon make sure to sign up, we want to know who is coming so we have enough projects". I am curious, how do you engage a group like this, a mix of developers or people who are just interested in Android development? "Its easy just go up to the table and talk to them."
So I did.
At first Michael Kolb is a little distant, but if you engage him he is one of the coolest people you will meet and is more than willing to talk. "Why would I write a thread pool? The AsyncTask is fully threaded and has a pool under the covers". Actually Michael's Steel Browser was just aquired by Skyfire, he is also running a company called kolbysoft, a micro business owner like a lot of people here. Michael Winter then chimes in, "I want to build a an Andoid Robot (no pun intended)". Michael Kolb responds confidently "well you can just use the USB if you dont mind rooting, but its sounds like you are a bit of a tinkerer in fact there is an instructable for truckbot". Yeah, I think he is.
Think of this night, one night of many and so much of what represents the valley that I love, the spirit of curious innovators who want to learn from each other which is so represented by this humble dojo.
I know kung fu.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
For a very long time I have said that software patents were bad for our community, they stifle new businesses from being able to confidently take existing concepts and build new and unique applications of those concepts into business plans.
There is a philosophical reason to resist software patents, the ethical reason is because software is the encoding of human understanding. What if all of science, the understanding of quantum theory, the standard model of particle physics, the human genome, was patented? What would the effect on human understanding be? I would argue that these discoveries would not even be possible because we could not build upon what understanding we have already achieved. But let us ignore the philosophy momentarily and focus on making money.
Why do businesses want software patents? Some want to protect themselves (at first), but I wonder how much one is really protected by creating a patent? You see, I think patents are a distraction, and trap of one's own making even, for not building a business that has natural defenses from competitive predators.
Software patents are a chinese finger trap, you get in but nobody can get out from under their control once they are created, and to extract the value from them you use the thermonuclear warfare of legal action which can take over your company's life and distract you from actually creating great products that compete based on their merits.
Remember SCOX? SCOX came out with a 1B lawsuit against IBM based on software patents related to the LINUX operating system. For 3 years they spent over 10M dollars trying to litigate a patent claim instead of creating great software and building their customer base. Once they made the claim they had to follow through, all the way to the bitter end. They got themselves into a trap, and every time they pulled the trap held on tighter. SCOX's ultimate fate was bankrupcy.
In the past Venture has supported the creation of software patents to protect intellectual property and to act as a hedge against the failure of the businesses they have invested in but thankfully that is changing, many are coming out against software patents.
Plaintiffs try to use "theft" to inject a moral element into patent suits, but there is no substantive moral element in patent law. The point of a patent is to grant a monopoly in exchange for public disclosure, and patentees want people to use the ideas (in exchange for license fees), otherwise the public disclosure aspect is pointless.
Brad Feld, Feld Thoughts Blog
Brad is a progressive VC (that we really like), but he isnt alone. What is happening is that companies are squatting on software patents like domain names, commonly without any relevant claim to related market segment. It looks like this this a theme that is starting to form consistently in the community, here is another perspective on patents from Union Square Ventures.
Almost a third of our portfolio is under attack by patent trolls. Is it possible that one third of the engineering teams in our portfolio unethically misappropriated technology from someone else and then made that the basis of their web services? No! That's not what is happening. Our companies are driven by imaginative and innovative engineering teams that are focused on creating social value by bringing innovative new services to market.
Brad Burnham, Union Square Ventures Blog
Software founders: If you cant touch it dont patent it. Secondly, we need a way to thwart the predatory actions of patent trolls who retard the foundation of new businesses and extort monies. I don't have a solution to this problem, just a longing for a way to stop the trolls from destroying businesses before they have a chance to succeed.