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Moving to Linked-in

Instead of Blogging here, I am experimenting Linked-in’s publishing platform. So please follow me over at linked-in or try this link to all my posts from Linked-in.


My kids have all the toys that there is to have. XBox, iPad, Lego Mindstorm, you name it. We go to Disney World, Lego land and all the toy events in and out of town. Many times my friends came over and said they wish to be my kids.

Myself, in contrast, grew up poor. We moved to public hosing when I was six and we barely have enough money to paint the tiny apartment. However, I never realized I was poor. I had a lot of toys and I went to the annual Lego show. In fifth grade, I was the first one in my class to have an Apple II computer. I have high self-esteem and grow up being positive.

All these are made possible by one brave, visionary, and strong woman. Thank you mom. Happy Mother’s Day.


The Dream of Universal Data Sharing

I have been talking about this idea of data sharing for over 2 years now. However, until recently, only people in my inner circles have heard about it in details. The idea came to mind a couple years ago when research institutes started using our platform. I learned a lot about quantitative research, statistical analysis, etc. through talking to our customers.

When I talked to researchers, a theme keeps coming up. It will be great if there is an easy way to share and collaborate at the data level. At the same time, however, many researchers and institutes are still ‘concerned’ about the idea of sharing. It’s like on one hand sharing would be great and on the other hand, it’s not that great.

Since then, I have been talking to people about this dream of one day, all structured data will be easily sharable, mashable that new discovery can be made almost by accident.

So when the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) invite me to speak at their annual ICT4D conference, I thought it may be a good platform to finally talk about this crazy idea in the wild.

Around the world, there are many Open Data initiatives. From the White House, to various governments, to the World Bank and  various NGOs, there are many organizations pushing the idea that data should be open. These are great initiatives but I want to tackle the problem from a different angle.

In the spectrum of sharing, there are people who believes in sharing and then there are people who will never share. Open data attracts people who already believe in sharing. I want to target the other end. I want to take the challenge of moving the needle just a bit of those who think they will never share. Can we create a platform that allows for ‘safe’ sharing?

Here’s a thought: If we create a open architecture where data owners can securely control WHO, WHAT and WHEN (for how long) to share, can we at least convince some people to try?

I think so and that’s what I will be working on.


Encryption is easy. Don’t be lazy.

I was working on an internal app for our support staffs. It’s a web app that connects to iFormBuilder through the public API. To use it, one will have to get the API key, secret, etc., from the server.

It’s a very light-weight app so I didn’t want to setup another database. So I thought, yeah, it’s internal anyway, let’s just put the key, secret, and server id in cookies.

So I went about finishing the app with just that. 3 parameters saved in cookies.

All is good.

Except not. A voice came into my head as I walk down the hall.

“Sze, are you sure? Is this going to be that one other thing that you will regret later? Come on! Hold yourself to a higher standard!”

So I walked back to my desk, put headphone on. Shortly after, the following is in place:

$clientId = $_REQUEST['clientId'];
$clientSecret = $_REQUEST['clientSecret'];
$serverId = $_REQUEST['serverId'];
$token = "$clientId::$clientSecret::$serverId";
$key = '...';
$encrypted = base64_encode(mcrypt_encrypt(MCRYPT_RIJNDAEL_256, md5($key), $token, MCRYPT_MODE_CBC, md5(md5($key))));

And on the other side:

$key = '...';
$encryptedToken = $_COOKIE['apiToken'];
$decryptedToken = rtrim(mcrypt_decrypt(MCRYPT_RIJNDAEL_256, md5($key), base64_decode($encryptedToken), MCRYPT_MODE_CBC, md5(md5($key))), "\0");
$tokens = explode('::',$decryptedToken);
$global_clientKey = $tokens[0];
$global_clientSecret = $tokens[1];
$global_serverId = $tokens[2];

And that’s it.

This post is to remind myself that Encryption is easy. Don’t be lazy.



Don’t be Dire Wolfs


Saw a Nat Geo show this weekend about Dire Wolfs and it draws great comparison in the business world. The Dire Wolf as a species is bigger, strong, faster than it’s closest relative, the Gray Wolf. They hunt better than the Gray Wolfs and can go after bigger prey like the Bisons and even Lions. The Dire Wolf co-existed with the Gray Wolf for 100,000 years but about 10,000 years ago, the Dire Wolf became extinct while the Gray Wolf lived on till today.

The Dire Wolf was a better version of the Gray Wolf. So why did the stronger spices die off while the weaker survived?

The answer comes down to, no surprise, adaptation. At the end of the last ice-age, there was dramatic climate change. Resources became scarce and so many of the giants, like the Woolly Mammoth, died off. Things were not pretty. The Dire Wolf, being used to hunting bigger prey, saw resources getting scarce and competition became more fierce. They were not able to adapt and eventually became extinct.

The Gray Wolf, on the other hand, start feeding on smaller prey. They can hunt from deers to rabbits, and even fishes. So in bad times, they survive.

If you read Mark Suster’s post about Start-ups should be Deer Hunters, you know where I am going.

As a business, we focus on hunting Deers. Those are not so big and not so small “Smart Enterprises”. As we grow, we found ourselves slowly moving up the chain and is now trying to hunt for Bisons and occasionally Elephants.

It feels good, you know? I enjoy saying, “Oh an 100-user account used to excite me. Now it take 1000+ to excite me.”

We are getting stronger and bigger and now we are hunting bigger prey. In another word, we are in danger of evolving into Dire Wolfs.

Look at this report from the Startup Compass, 70% of start-ups fail due to Premature Scaling. In other words, Companies are evolving into Dire Wolfs and cannot survive the climate change.

Things may have been fine during ice-age, or the PC era. Now that we are in the Post-PC era, the climate is shifting at a remarkable pace. A lot of species will become extinct.

Don’t go extinct. Don’t be Dire Wolfs.




The only bad conversations are the ones you haven’t had

As a business owner, I need to carry out many bad conversations. Telling customer the project is going to be late, telling vendors we won’t pay them on time, telling employees that there will be no pay check this week, and, my favorite, letting people go. In fact, I believe the job of the CEO is to have these bad conversations.

Over the years, there are many times that I dragged on having those conversations, or hoping the customer won’t pick up the phone. However, every single time, no matter how bad I fear of having a conversation, once I found the courage to have it, it’s not that bad. People do understand. So, a couple years ago, I started the tell myself that the only bad conversations are the ones you haven’t had. I have been living by it since then and it has serve me well.



Dear republicans, please earn my vote.

I hope someone from the republican party can see this.

I am a catholic. I like free enterprises. I think the government should be small. I think abortion is wrong. I think too much entitlement is not healthy. I think illegal immigrants are well, ‘illegal’. I run my own business so less corporate tax would help me. Obama’s health care and tax policies will hurt my bottom-line.

I voted for Obama, twice, and I am not alone.

Within my circle I can count more than 30% of people like me: We generally aline with Republicans’ core values, but voted for the Obama.

We are here, you just have to earn our votes.




The new economy – part 1

Yesterday I read an article from Mark Mills on Forbes about the new Economy, and this morning another article on TechRepublic saying now it’s a great time to be a developer. I agree with both, and as usual, I want to put my own spin to it.

There are 2 key words appear in both articles: Cloud, and Mobile.

The cloud has, and will continue to, fundamentally change everything we do. The term Cloud is a catchy term. What it really means is the as-a-service (AAS) model. (Software-as-a-service, platform-as-a- service, infrastructure-as-a-service, etc.) When an industry moves into a AAS model, it signifies maturity, and the IT industry is finally maturing. Just in the last few months, I bumped into two separate companies who said, “For the last 10 years, we were actually an IT company also doing X.”, and X is their actual business. One of them is the world’s largest hotel chain, and the other is a local public school system. Both of them said they spend so much energy into IT that basically turned them into IT companies over time. Look at any big companies around you, do they have a big IT department? Their own data center? Are you part of that big IT department?

As the IT industry matures, we realize we are wasting resources by having duplicated IT departments in each company doing pretty much the same thing. When I was in Fannie Mae, I keep pushing to have Sun MicroSystems run our data center instead of running our own. My argument was, “Why do you think we, a financial company, will do a better job of running servers than those who’s lives are to run servers.” “Well, security, data behind fire walls, etc., etc.”, my manager said. As the cloud gets better, more companies are realizing giving IT to those who does IT well is a far better and cost effective solution. After all, you would not have a plumbing crew on staff just to have a water cooler in the office, right?

A wrote a blog 3 years ago predicting 80% of IT goes to the cloud.  I think have a big chance of being right!

Now, think about what that means. There is currently probably billions worth of IT that sits in different companies in the world. What this trend will mean is that all of those will slowly move to the cloud. This is a fundamental change. When a change this big is happening, there will be lots and lots of opportunities.

I will write about Mobile in another post.






How Steve Jobs changed my life

When I was 11 years old, my mom used her entire monthly salary and brought me an Apple IIe. It was a Taiwanese clone and cost about US$350.00. It may be a clone, but it’s an Apple IIe. That summer I learned Basic and felt in love with software. Since then I became the “computer boy” at school and eventually came to the US for college and majored in computer science.
In summer of 2008, I was working on a project in Fannie Mae building accounting systems. My friend Mike Sanford took me to lunch and said, “Sze, you got to do this. This is the 80’s all over again. I am quitting my job this afternoon.” Mike was referring to the launch of the App Store and the opportunity that came along. I brought my first MacBook that weekend and start developing for the iPhone.
Today, iFormBuilder helps people replaces clipboards and go paperless with iPhones and iPads. It is deployed in over 80 counties and in many different industries.
Had is not been for Steve, my life would probably be very different.
I will continue to work hard and like Steve said, “Never settle, follow your heart.”

The Kindle Fire will help push the iPad into Enterprises

Just looking at the last 2 days you know the Kindle Fire is going to succeed. Now I’d like to throw in my 2 cents. I think the Kindle Fire will help push the iPad into Enterprises.

Why? Like a lot of analysts are saying, the Kindle is going to kill most Android tablets. New Android tablets will need to compete on Kindle’s terms. Cisco, RIM, and other enterprise hopefuls will now need to come up with something that is around $200.00 and still usable. Now I am not saying the Playbook will be gone, but it will not be widely adopted.

Also, while the Kindle Fire is going to be ultra successful, Amazon will probably be less Enterprise friendly than Apple. Amazon will focus on media consumption that it does well.

Now may be the Fire will be another iPod Touch (you know the military is using iPod Touches, right?) but it all depends how open Amazon will make their Android app store be. My guess is that they want their app store be as closed as Apple’s.

So all of these point to less Android competitors which leave the iPad free to continue it’s penatration into the Enterprises.

By mid-year 2012 we should know the full potential of the Kindle effect, and if Microsoft didn’t execute Windows 8 well, Apple may finally be able to get into the business market.