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June, 2006:

Outlook to Remind (out2rem) Converter Script v0.0.1

Update: I have fixed some stuff (time format and placement of AT keyword) and have posted v0.0.2 at the link below.

Please find here a short Perl script to dump out your Microsoft Outlook appointments in Remind format.

This should be useful to those of you who, like me, are tracking the whole plaintext / console / CLI resurgence as indicated here among other places.

If you have suggestions, please drop me an email at rlucas at tercent.com, and / or add helpful notes to the 43Folders Wiki.

Vim 7.0 Delights and Amazes with Beautified Auto-completion

Randall Lucas 2006-06-21

Vim, the text editor extraordinaire, came out with version 7.0 last month. At some point, unwittingly, I had updated my work computer — Cygwin under Windows XP — using the Cygwin setup.exe file, not expecting any major version number changes. Hence, I didn’t even realize that Vim 7 was now on my machine.

This morning, I was doing as I normally do in writing a document with many recurrences of the same word — “ctrl-N” to cycle through possible completions of the word — when an odd grey-and-purple blob appeared below my cursor, filled with words! Unsettled, I lifted my fingers from the keys — what was this colorized monstrosity?

And then I realized. Vim was giving me “tool tips.” Here, in a console window, using naught but VT100 control codes. Jaded IDE addicts will say: “sure, but my GUI IDE has had those for years.” Perhaps. But I can use my tool tips in a German cybercafe, over an SSH session from a Danger Hiptop, or over a serial line in a generic data center.

For Perl, populating the tool tips with syntactically valid items (method names, operators, etc.) will be hard, at least according to the conventional notion that “only perl can parse Perl.” But, for Ruby, Python, and, should the need arise, C or Java, adding syntax-awareness (see “:help complete-items”) should be just an exercise in glue coding.

If you manipulate text (and if you aren’t already an adept of another cult editor), then by all means get Vim!

Fixing a package remove failure on Debian (or Ubuntu) when dpkg-divert barfs.

2006-06-18 Randall Lucas

If you get stuck with a half-uninstalled (technically “half-installed;” the debian dpkg system is an optimist, I guess) package that barfs on running its postrm (post-removal) script with something like:

"dpkg-divert: mismatch on divert-to ..."  

This can sometimes be fixed, or at least made to shut up, by finding the appropriate line in /var/lib/dpkg/info/PACKAGE.postrm and editing it to reflect the right filenames for the dpkg-divert remove line.

If you really need to get down and dirty (like, if the removal of a non-critical package is stuck halfway and that is stopping you from doing an installation of a really necessary package), you could just comment out that whole bit with the goal of getting the postrm script to return success (0).

Of course, if you’re running any important services, you shouldn’t be using “unstable” or Ubuntu; just run Debian stable so you can sleep at night.

FIX: Ubuntu Dapper upgrade breaks CUPS printing; reinstall fixes it.

2006-06-11 Randall Lucas

Upon upgrading my Ubuntu installation to Dapper using a simple:

sudo vim /etc/apt/sources.list  

to add the Dapper repositories, and then

sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get dist-upgrade  

I discovered that my printing no longer worked. I just previously been printing (and sharing my printer with a Windows / Mac mixed environment) just fine from my HP multifunction printer.

Among other errors, I kept receiving a note in my logs to the effect of:

cupsdAuthorize: Local authentication certificate not found!  

I looked around and found what appeared to be a certficate in /etc/cups/certs but that didn’t change anything. In frustration, I tried simply reinstalling cupsys with:

sudo apt-get remove cupsys sudo apt-get install cupsys  

To my surprise, after doing this and reconfiguring the printer, everything worked OK again. My theory is that the upgrade did not upgrade the certificate (or clobbered an old one, thereby breaking it), and that reinstalling caused a fresh cert to take effect.

This may not be your solution; there were other, more serious problems with CUPS in Dapper, as detailed here: https://launchpad.net/distros/ubuntu/+source/cupsys/+bug/45099

To the sender of an unsolicited business plan email

2006-06-08 Randall Lucas Hello, I received an unsolicited business plan via email from you. This letter will try, in a constructive and humble manner, to tell you why I won’t read it, and what else you should try. Unsolicited commercial email is spam — even if it’s sent to twenty VC firms instead of a million random people — so I use that word to describe it here. Spam is costly but those costs are unfairly split. An email costs the sender nearly nothing on a per-recipient basis, but instead places all the cost (of time and attention) on the recipient. If VC firms made a point of reading business plan spam, it would effectively reward the senders of spam, and thus perpetuate the problem in a vicious circle. So, those of us who work for VCs must — for both moral and time constraint reasons — relegate unsolicited business plan emails to the “Trash” folder. However, in the spirit of constructive criticism, I want to point out some good alternatives to business plan spam for getting a VC to look at your plan. These are solid ideas that have worked for firms pitching my employer, [http://voyagercapital.com/ Voyager Capital], but may not be applicable everywhere. – Build your team in-house. It will be very hard to successfully raise VC funding without at least one person in your management team who hsd experience with venture-backed startups (and therefore, at least some connections in venture capital). If you’re having trouble getting seen by VCs, you should consider teaming with someone who has done it before. – Find quality “Angel” investors. Angels (high net worth individuals) often have connections to VC firms and try to parlay their initial investment in your company by introducing you to VCs they may know. While your best bet here is to find angels who are personally connected to you or interested in your product, you could also look to organizations like these: * [http://www.allianceofangels.com/ Alliance of Angels] * [http://www.k4seattle.com/ Keiretsu Forum] – Hire top-notch service providers (lawyers, accountants, consultants). Hiring a “brand-name” lawyer or other service provider often gets you limited access to his Rolodex. The Holy Grail of this route is to find a well-connected service provider who is willing to take equity for payment; his cash flow then depends on your successful fundraising. I hesitate to name names here, but some good signs might be having a Silicon Valley office, reaching out to the entrepreneurial community, or having been the service provider on well-known deals in your industry. – Get out the door and network. VC folks, from general partners down to lowly analysts such as myself, can often be found at technology and business networking events. Here in Seattle in the last few months, I’ve personally spotted other VC folks at events ranging from the [http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/06/01/two-parties-in-two-weeks-seattle-and-london/ TechCrunch / Redfin / TripHub / Farecast Party] to the [http://www.nwen.org/ NWEN Venture Breakfasts] to the [http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/venture/archives/101645.asp PaidContent.org mixer]. Many of these events are free or of nominal cost. This route is easily the best way, since everyone who works in the Seattle VC community is not only good-looking, charming, and witty, but also a pleasure to talk to (ok, in any case, most of us don’t bite). Please note that one thing I did not list is hiring a firm specifically for fundraising purposes. While there may be some situations where hiring a fund finder is appropriate, in most cases, a promising business should be finding VC connections through one or more of the above routes. Remember, in business as in life, you are often judged by the quality of the company you keep as much as by anything else, so having an introduction from a trusted party is the first step to winning the VCs’ trust. Finally, while many VCs don’t explicitly rule out investments brought through a paid fundraiser, they tend to be wary of investing money to be spent on a finder’s fee, rather than on growing the business. (Arrangements where VC introductions are incidental to a consultant’s substantive work on growing and shaping the business are generally viewed more positively.) I hope this note has helped you to understand why your unsolicited business plan will not be read, and how you can go about making the sort of personal connection that will maximize your chances of getting a good deal funded. Best regards, Randall

Unsolicited Emails and VCs

2006-06-01 Randall Lucas About a month after starting to work for Voyager Capital’s investment team, I started noticing a different kind of spam email than I had ever received in the past: business plan spam. This problem — probably fairly unique to VCs (and possibly high-profile angel investors) — exhibits many of the same characteristics as “normal” spam: – Sending these spams, on a per-recipient basis, is cheap or free to the sender. There are ~ 700 venture firms with Web sites in the US; scraping or guessing the addresses of people at those firms is fairly trivial (remember, most of these spams are from ostensibly “cutting edge” software companies; writing a screen-scraper is a before-lunch type of project for a competent programmer). – Receiving these spams imposes a cost on the recipient. VC is already an ADD-riddled industry; it would only be humane to respect what little concentration and attention your average VC has left. – The senders acknowledge that the “payoff” event (making a sale, or in this case, securing an investment) is exceedingly rare, but figure that at so low a cost, it’s worth it even at a tiny payoff probability. – For a product or business plan, being advertised in a spam email correlates remarkably well with being low quality. In addition to these similarities, there are a number of other characteristics of business plan spam, some of which make it more pernicious: – Business plan spam is eerily closely targeted. For one thing, there are only a few thousand VCs in the US, so it’s kind of like some stranger knowing that you were born in a particular small town. For another, many of these spams manage to include the recipient’s name, in a pseudo-personalized way. Business plan spam is just anonymous enough to be disrespectful, and just personal enough to be unsettling. – The VC community this spam targets is small and runs on personal relationships. Offending a colleague or possible business partner in this small world is a big deal. Since it is possible, though unlikely, to misinterpret an email as unsolicited, and since accusing someone of spam has the potential to offend them, I believe VCs are loathe to reproach senders of business plan spam. (Much like the spammers themselves, VCs are faced with a low probability but high [negative] payoff event of offending a legitimate referral.) – Oftentimes, perhaps because the senders of the emails are poorly indoctrinated with good Internet culture, they think that they are behaving within appropriate norms. This leads to a number of behaviors, such as being very free with the number of emails they send, and taking umbrage at the lack of a prompt reply. Finally, further complicating all of this is the fact that sometimes (though rarely), a business plan that might otherwise be judged worthwhile, if referred through a trusted channel, comes in through the spam channel. Admittedly, it is unlikely that a partner-level VC would remember a spammed business plan well enough for it to hurt the company’s chances of funding. However, associates, analysts, or gatekeeper support staff who may have had to deal with a spammed business plan (sometimes repeatedly!) could have a lot to do with those chances, and annoying them is therefore bad practice. Entrepreneurs should keep in mind as well that “hired guns” for fundraising have a wide range of levels of quality and soundness of practice; I’d estimate that nearly half of the business plan spam I receive is from a paid fundraiser rather than from a company principal. My reason for explaining all this is by way of introduction to another document I feel needs to be written: a respectful explanation of why spamming VCs is a bad idea, and some constructive suggestions on how to approach them (us) through channels that ultimately work better for both parties.