August 29, 2012

Closing Up Shop

Filed under: documentation,life,work — mhoye @ 4:03 pm


I sent this mail today, to the Mozilla enterprise mailing lists:

Hi, everyone. Mike Hoye here from Bespoke I/O.

As I mentioned previously, I’m closing down BeSDS, the enterprise customization tool and business around it that I’ve been trying to get off the ground for the last two years.

In that time, I’ve been quite fortunate to have been able work with some excellent people and, ultimately, ship some pretty good software. BeSDS is a bit rough around the edges, but it works surprisingly well considering. The support I’ve had from people at Mozilla, and Seneca College, in getting this software shipped has been wonderful, and it’s been an honour to work with all of you. We’ve built a real thing that really works, bringing customization support to Firefox and Thunderbird, for anyone that wanted to try them.

During this time, however, and despite how much noise has been made over the importance of long-term stability and enterprise support, I’ve been unable to find a company of any size that has been willing to spend any money on it. I’ve had lots of good feedback and support from administrators in the K-12 and educational sector, but I’ve been unable to convince any member of the private sector to part with so much as a test case.

The frequent insistence that Internet Explorer (and rarely, but still occasionally that Outlook) is free, in these discussions, and that my services should also be free, well. The difference between what IT administrators have said they value and what they’re actually willing to invest in has been as informative as it is galling, let me tell you.

I may have failed at marketing my services effectively, or pursuing business leads and clients as aggressively as possible. Perhaps my expectations or pricing have been unreasonable, that’s true. I have other theories, though, which I suspect are at least as true. Regardless, my kids need to eat and I’m long out of runway. I’ll be closing down the customization site shortly and moving on to whatever’s next.

I still want to make it easy for schools and libraries to use Mozilla, so the Bespoke I/O deployment service is now on Github, under the Mozilla Public License. If you work in one of those places and have questions about setting it up, let me know. I’ve even got a prebuilt VM here (prohibitively large for Github) that I can send you some other way if you want to try it out.

I’m sorry, everyone. I tried to make this work.

Michael Hoye
Founder, Bespoke I/O

I’m more grateful than I can say that I’ve had the support of my colleagues, friends and family while I’ve been working on this. My wife has been a rock, and her love and support while I’ve tried to make a thing out of this have been as much as I could have asked for, and as hard as it is to close up shop and move on, it’s the right thing. I haven’t turned my wife into a startup widow and my children into strangers, and if the cost of that choice is the success of this project, so be it. That’s the right thing too.

I’m proud of what I’ve built here, and the work that I’ve done. And it’s time to move on to whatever’s next. I’m two for two now, managing the development of complicated pieces of software through to shipping on time and on budget, and I want to keep that streak alive. If you’re looking for somebody who can do that, let me know..

August 25, 2012


Filed under: digital,documentation,fail,future,interfaces,linux,toys,vendetta — mhoye @ 9:15 pm

I was idly looking over the shooting script for Men In Black the other day. Different from the movie, in a lot of little ways that add up; as filmed it came out a fun, largely harmless sci-fi movie of no particular note but the original script was quietly darker and more introspective than you’d expect. As an example, the scene where Edwards (Will Smith) has been given until sun-up to decide if he’s in; he asks Jay (Tommy-Lee Jones) “Is it worth it?”

On screen, Jay replies “It is. If you’re strong enough” as he walks away. But on the page Jay’s explanation of the cost of signing up is a lot more personal.

EDWARDS – So what’s the catch?

KAY – What you’ll gain in perspective, you’ll lose in ways you’re too young to comprehend. You give up everything. Sever every human contact. No one will know you exist. Ever.

EDWARDS – Nobody?

KAY – You’re not even allowed a favorite shirt. There. That’s the speech I never heard. That’s the choice I never got.

EDWARDS – Hold up. You track me down, put me through those stupid-ass tests, now you’re trying to talk me out of it. I don’t get it.

KAY – You got ’til sun-up.

EDWARDS – Is it worth it?

KAY – You find out, you let me know.

Kev called me out yesterday, and he was not wrong.

Haters Gonna Tweet

I’m back to carrying around a Linux laptop these days, and all those old mixed feelings are still there. Power management is still really dodgy, the UI is a mess, lots of stuff that should Just Work by now either just doesn’t, or somehow stopped working for a while after a good run. Plug the wrong USB dingus into it, and if you close the lid it will try to cook itself; using it for day to day stuff isn’t wildly better than I remember it being a few years ago; I’m back to using it for reasons that I refer to as “principles”, stuff about information freedom and freedom-to vs. freedom-from, developing on the platform you’re deploying to, that sort of thing. They’re arguments that I can make pretty convincingly, even to myself sometimes, but there are days (like this one) that all that rhetoric seems like a thin veneer over some self-imposed variety of Stockholm Syndrome.

I have a paragraph here about how “It is better, the saying goes, to light a single candle than to curse the darkness”, and then goes on to something about being honest about your motivations, and maybe you’re lighting the candle to cover up the smell, not push back the dark. It’s not really coming together for me, but that’s the broad strokes of it.

You get the idea.

But here’s a thing: my brother sent me a PDF he needed to quote some passages from, the usual horrible “PDF-full-of-scanned-JPEGs” garbage you find everywhere. He was losing patience with it, and all the OCR software he could find was either insanely expensive or useless junk or both.

But I know that pdf2html will give me a numbered list of all those images, and after a few seconds of research with apt-cache, I found Tesseract-OCR, installed it and tested it against a small sample of pages to see if the output looked sane. It did; it doesn’t to output to anything but a file, but that’s fine. So a quick for i in `seq` do later, my laptop is quietly grinding out a text file a human can copy and paste from.

The good parts of life with Linux are like that. Rich scripting languages, an incredibly broad, deep and on-demand tools that have been hammered into shape for years or decades, job control that lets you just put it in the background (or on a server somewhere else) and let it run. Being able to chain tools together so that when you need something novel done you can just get it done, and not spend hours scavenging around the ‘net for that one piece of random crapware that does 70% of the job, it’s so great.

Linux on a laptop has a set of problems that have existed for years; I know I’m bringing a lot of this on myself. If I was using a desktop, a lot of these hardware hangups might just disappear, just by virtue of the fact that you never unplug a desktop, or put it to sleep. And I know what way the trends are going, here, too – the Free Software tools people care about seem to be finding their way over to OSX, with varying degrees of speed and elegance, but the rare design sensibilities that find their way back, seemingly via a cargo cult’s long march, don’t seem to be helping much. Bold efforts (like Gnome Shell) that sail less than perfectly polished run rapidly aground on the shoals of the Linux community’s profound fear of change. And as for hardware, well. Um.

But: Apt-get. Shell scripting. Pipe, job control. All the old, unglorious tools, so many of them rock solid and reliable; they are incredibly great. Being able to just have the tools you need, to test and experiment and process and have the computer doing stuff for you instead of having to muck around manually basically all the time, it is so good. Being able to see the right-out-there experimental stuff, like software radio, gestating; amazing. Macports and (God help you) Homebrew are a thin gruel in comparison, and Windows has nothing to compare it to.

I feel like I’m typing with mittens on when they’re not around, like I’ve looked into my toolbox and found one oversize novelty Tonka screwdriver and wrench made of Nerf. These are just the basic fundamental particles of getting anything done! How do people live without this stuff?

These days my everyday computing carry is ideologically polarized. My Macbook is mostly a desktop I can move to the couch, and I roll with a Thinkpad and an iPad. The small number of things I need to Just Work just work, and there’s room to (and yes, frequently, need to) tinker with the rest. I’m actually thinking about my next laptop being a linux on a non-Macbook, as crazy as that sounds. And if you’ve ever tried figuring out if a laptop runs linux correctly, well. You’ve read The Killing Joke, right?

So I don’t even know what direction that pendulum is swinging, now. I guess we’ll see again in a few years. I don’t know if it’s worth it; if I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

August 21, 2012

Ready To Go

Filed under: awesome,beauty,flickr,life,parenting — mhoye @ 12:46 pm

Ready To Go

Maya packed her bag, put her boots on and told me she was ready to leave home this morning.

Well, that happened a little sooner that I expected. I suppose I’m going to have to get used to this feeling-very-proud-while-wanting-to-cry feeling.

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