Tales and thoughts from the founder of NormSoft (maker of Pocket Tunes), working and living in St. Croix, USVI

Saturday, January 31, 2004

Excellent article on starting your own software company

Eric Sink has a great article in the MSDN about starting your own software company.

They key points that I strongly agree with here are, "Ideas are worthless" and "Choose your Competition".  These are two of the most important concepts I've always kept in mind while working on NormSoft.

I'm also happy to say that NormSoft is the exception to the rule with regards to seed capital.  We started with $0.  My initial legal expenses of $500 were paid for within a month or two.  NormSoft has paid for everything since then and has always been profitable (albeit not very profitable for the first 3-4 years!).


Indian Outsourcing

Oh yeah, an article on Slashdot just reminded me of this...  Yesterday I got a call from some guy in India asking me if I wanted to outsource to India.  So apparently they are getting pretty pushy about this kind of stuff.  I couldn't understand him (his accent was much worse than any of my Indian friends in the US), so I pretty much hung up on him.

Well I'm just catching up on this, but it's directly relevant to my email woes this past week:

Microsoft's Penny Black Project

I like the ticket approach, and it makes good sense for businesses who want to operate a legitimate announcement list.  If a customer doesn't refund your ticket, then you take them off the list and don't mail them next time.  That way you can send notifications only to users who appreciate them.


Just added an Atom feed for my blog.

Attachment Save

I'll give a quick review for some software I just purchased: Attachment Save

There's a free trial, but it's hidden so well on their web site that I just gave up and bought it ($30) since they have a money-back guarantee anyway.

So it does exactly what I want (well, almost; see below).  Whenever an email is moved to a certain folder in Outlook, it saves the attachment to a specified directory.  This will save me hours of saving those stupid CSV files that all of my resellers send me.  (PalmGear has wisened up and has a nice little tool for downloading a CSV that includes all the orders within a certain date range, but Handango and PDAssi still send you the individual ones.)  Now I don't want to hear from Unix weenies about how easy that is to do in Perl/TCL/etc.  I didn't want to mess with my Linux mail server until I fully understand how that control panel my ISP uses interacts with the configuration files.

The only problem I have with it is that it doesn't have enough options for renaming files due to name collision.  So, for example, if you have two attachments called "sales.csv", it will create "sales.csv" and "sales-2.csv".  Not great.  I'd rather have it append a date on the file so I have some idea of what the file is for.  No big deal, though; it was easy enough to write a Perl script to rename them the way I really want. :)

The developer is very responsive; he responded within a few hours of my email asking for that feature.  He said it's planned in a future release a few months away.

So it's good; it saves me lots of time, and I don't have to muck with my mail server (yet).


Geek Leisure

After a rather stressful week of dealing with the Pocket Tunes 2.2 release, subsequent 2.2.1 patch release, and numerous email worms and difficulties, I decided to take it easy this afternoon and indulge in some "geek leisure".  So I'm learning PHP and MySQL.  My first goal is to write a customer database tool for our web site so that customers can look up their past orders and registration codes and change their email preferences.  I've already automated the links on the pTunes homepage to add yourself to the mailing list, etc.  PHP looks pretty cool, but I'm sure everyone knows that already.

Next I'm going to delete my unused cookies.  And you though Palm developers were the coolest guys around...

And tomorrow I'll indulge in some non-geek leisure and watch the game on my widescreen HDTV *silly grin*  Go Pats!


It seems I just can't win with email this week.  After sending out a perfectly legitimate email announcement to my customers about new versions of Pocket Tunes and Athletix, I have seemingly been blacklisted from Hotmail.com.  What's strange is that, if I send an email to Hotmail.com or MSN.com, it doesn't bounce back with an NDR (non-delivery report).  It simply disappears into the ether, and the recipient never gets it.

Some folks on the Palm Entrepeneur's Forum suggested that I just wait; Hotmail's list is updated fairly frequently.  We'll see...


Thursday, January 29, 2004

I just noticed that most of the viruses I'm receiving are addressed to email addresses in the .txt files shipped with Pocket Tunes.  Duh!  So taking out those addresses in the next release should save me quite a bit of this junk...


I will make the predication that 2004 will see the demise of email as we know it.  My email has become nearly useless, between the thousands of viruses I'm getting, misfiled spam (see previous post), and lost emails.  I had to resort to the telephone (gasp!) to call my French translator because neither of us could receive the other's emails.  And then I spent two hours on the phone with MSN, trying to figure out why I can't send email to any hotmail or MSN users (they were no help at all, of course).

I don't know what the solution is, but I think that some kind of authenticated email scheme or micropayment system for sending email will solve many of these problems.  I'm sure others have thought about this more than I have, so I won't make any off-the-cuff suggestions.

As a last ditch effort attempt to stem the flow of spam, I'm obfuscating all my email links (google for "obfuscating email" for some good tips) on my web pages.  What a waste of time...


I've been using SpamNet (www.cloudmark.com) for some time now, and it's been working fairly well.  However, I just checked my spam folder, and I found all kinds of things in there that aren't spam.  Regular mailing list entries, bug reports from customers, and more.  Looks like I might have to start scanning the Spam folder every day.  Sigh...  Email is becoming virtually unusable with this virus and spam.


Tuesday, January 27, 2004

I wake up to 200 copies of the W32.Novarg.A virus  http://securityresponse.symantec.com/avcenter/venc/data/w32.novarg.a@mm.html

And this is after I blocked all the bill@ joe@ john@ etc. email addresses that it seems to spam.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

While working on the German translation of Pocket Tunes 2.2, it occurred to me that German speakers must be used to having their language abbreviated!  All the words are so long that a good proportion need to be abbreviated to fit on the Palm's small screen...

I was looking around for a good bike tour of France with a nice combination of challenging riding and time to drink some wine.  I found a tour company that looks really promising: La Corsa  I'm getting a trip ready, so I'll let you know how it went in July!


Friday, January 23, 2004

Pocket Tunes 2.2 beta is now out.  http://www.pocket-tunes.com/beta.html

So now I'll tell you about the optimizing I was doing a few weeks back.  It was for the equalizer code.  We are now using a real equalizer, rather than the previous hack of tweaking the MP3 subbands.  The new equalizer has much better audio fidelity, but it's slower than tweaking MP3 subbands.

So the optimization was to get the equalizer to run as efficiently as possible without any tradeoff in audio quality.  We succeeded!  We can now claim to have the fastest equalizer on the Palm platform, and it sounds great, too!  To get the speed, I am using a fixed point integer with 28 bits of fraction.  Taking advantage of some of the properties of the digital filters I'm using, I managed to reduce the number of multiplications to 22 per sample for the equalizer, and just 3 per sample for the bass boost.  In order to ensure the best quality, I wrote some software to calculate the optimal band spacing and band widths to get a good, flat frequency response.

Try it out; tell me how you like it!

So I'm trying out NewsGator to post to my blog.  It looks to have some pretty nifty features.  www.newsgator.com

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Well, Athletix 1.0.1 has officially been announced. (1.0 has been out for a few weeks already, but we wanted to wait a little while before making a big announcement.)

The official release can be found here: http://www.normsoft.com/press/2004-01-12.html


Friday, January 09, 2004

Optimization is fun. Don't know why, but I get a huge kick out of tweaking a few lines of code or assembly instructions and seeing the next benchmark soar. If I'm not careful, I can waste an entire day. Like today for instance... Inline some code here saves 10%, unroll a loop there saves 50% (woo hoo!). And so on.

What am I working on that requires such speed? You'll just have to wait for the next Pocket Tunes release, now won't you?