Saturday, November 02, 2013

Project Planning: Sprint + Kanban + Pomodoro

One thing I like about travel is that it disrupts routine and makes me rethink about life after I get home. One thing which bothers me every year is that I seem to be busy working on various things, but I can’t seems to make sense of what I had done (or achieved). One thing I love about blog is that my thoughts (more specifically my New Year resolution) are recorded and I always look back to see if I have done what I set out to do.

I have 5 things listed for my 2013 New Year resolution: I completed one (travel), will complete another by next week (try hardware hacking), another one is work in progress (travel web app), another one wishful to be completed (stupid idea) and last one is hopeless (make a game).

Kanban + Pomodoro is pretty good in helping me to keep track of productivity and small tasks, but I lose sight of the bigger pictures of things I had done and should be doing next. My wife’s company recently adopted the SCRUM software development framework, and I like the idea of sprint, let see if I can mesh the methodology together.

What do I want to do (or achieve)? I want to work on a stupid idea every quarter of the year, while spending time to maintain and work on Travelopy and Food web app.

I shall split 1 year into 4 quarters, where each quarter has 3 months, and each month will have 2 sprints (2 weeks each). In each month, one sprint shall be used to develop stupid idea, while the other is to develop the core products. By the end of the 4th quarter, I should have 4 stupid ideas in beta release, while the core products should be completed and running as production. Each sprint MUST end with a release (something working in production mode). I will use Kanban + Pomodoro to keep track of the actual tasks and hours spend.

ExpectedActual
Q1
M1
S1
Stupid Idea 1
S2
Core Product
M2
S1
Stupid Idea 1
S2
Core Product
M3
S1
Stupid Idea 1
S2
Core Product
Q2
M1
S1
Stupid Idea 2
S2
Core Product
M2
S1
Stupid Idea 2
S2
Core Product
M3
S1
Stupid Idea 2
S2
Core Product

1 week sprint is too short, and I usually take 1 week to hammer out the code, and another week to polish it for proper release. Why spent 50% of the time on stupid idea and lose focus on core products? I found that if I work on the same project for too long, the enthusiasm and productivity goes down. As much as I like to work 7 days a week, but my mind and body just wouldn’t allow it. Thus I feel a good mix of leisure and work, stupid idea and serious work is important. If I don’t give enough time to stupid idea, nothing will be released thus I won’t feel the accomplishment. I am not sure whether this will work out or not, so let’s try it out.

With this new chart (Project Sprint Chart), I should have a clear view of what am I working on, promising better planning and time management.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

More than a Bookmarking App

I always wanted a better bookmarking app, a better version of Delicious, and I wonder what could it be.

Bookmarking

Old Delicious

The first bookmark app that got me excited is Delicious, where I could see how many people bookmarked the same link as I am. At the time I was using it, Delicious doesn’t even have a browser plugin to easily bookmark a page, where I have to visit Delicious page to add a link (much like HN), but it’s already wildly popular. Delicious has a few goodies:

  • Store bookmark on Internet (before the age of Cloud and Syncing), so we wouldn’t lost all the precious links when the computer fail.
  • Number of people who bookmarked the same link is a vote which signal the “authority or importance” of the link (much like submission and up-voting by HN or Digg)
  • The tagging might be chaotic, but it does allow browsing for import links for a specific category.
  • The front page shows hot links, which is good for reading and browsing (much like HN)


New Declicious

The new Delicious didn’t show hot links unless I signup. They didn’t show the number of people who bookmarked the link in the listing, unless I link on the link for detail.

The hot tags are Egypt, breakingbad, redskins, Olympics, recipes, which didn’t interest me. I realize the early communities of Delicious are techies, thus I found the links relevant. Now Delicious is like Reddit (cover everything from gossips to politics), where I wish it was like HN.

The bookmarking features work quite flawlessly, yet I am still not happy (perhaps I am looking for more than just a bookmarking app). I can follow people and find out what link they bookmarked.

Somehow the new Delicious just didn’t feel the same anymore; perhaps the expectations had changed since I last used it 10 years ago, perhaps the community behind it isn’t the same anymore.

Kippt

Kippt used to be simple bookmarking tool, until they decided to pivot into something called “make your information workflow and archiving effortless.” which I didn’t get it. It annoys me once in a while by prompting their “social” following feature. I don’t object to the feature, but I don’t link to be interrupted by opening the kippt page when I try to bookmark a page.

Chrome Bookmark

Isn’t chrome bookmark good enough? It is fast and simple, and sync seamlessly with mobile devices. Somehow I never quite used it, unless on mobile devices, because it require much more effort to bookmark on mobile browsers using third party tools.

Perhaps it lacks a webpage I could browse my links (Google Bookmark doesn’t seems to integrate with Chrome Bookmark), or perhaps I miss the social and hot links discovery part of Delicious.

Discovery

An important aspect of the Old Delicious is the “social” side, or more precisely the discovery of hot links which interest me, which I would end up bookmarking it.

Digg

In a certain sense, Digg as a news aggregator site have the discovery side of bookmarking app like Delicious, where we could see hot and trending links on the FrontPage. Why I didn’t use Digg anymore? The techies had left, and the gossips and entertainment had taken over.

Reddit

I never joined Reddit because the hot links on the front page didn’t interest me. I read somewhere the essence of Reddit nowadays is in the subreddit (focus topics) due to its grown size. I just added the subreddit into my feed reader.

Hacker News

I use Hacker News actively, because it has quality links thanks to the techie community (felt a bit like the Old Delicious, without the fancy features of tagging and bookmarking).

Lesson Learned: In order to discover the things you like, you need to attract the right crowd.


PS: as much as I like Hacker News, it's still very much a niche as compared to Reddit

Feed Reader

I like Google Feed Reader, where it had the social aspect of following my favorite blogs, and I get to discover good reads from time to time. Nowadays I used Feedly, it works well.

Not Just Bookmarking anymore

I thought I wanted a simple bookmarking tool, but it isn’t that simple anymore. I wanted a tool which keeps my favorite links and help me discover new favorite links (and find useful resource page).

  • A simple tool for quick bookmarking, accessible from anywhere.
  • Discovery of hot links like Old Delicious, Hacker News (need to attract the right community)
  • Follow my favorite blogs, writer, and topics like a feed reader.
  • Group similar links together to provide useful information for a specific topic. E.g. tagging, subreddit, Wikipedia page, etc. In a certain sense is like people keep a page to list relevant resources, e.g. Resources for Android Development, Best IDE for Python, etc.

I always thought of building a “better” bookmarking app, and now I realize I actually wanted a Delicious + Hacker News + Google Reader + Wikipedia.

PS: a quick google on "Bookmarking Tool" yield little meaningful results, perhaps it's not something people care about these days.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Why the Government doesn't listen to me?

Plenty of times Government did do some funny things

  • Spying on the entire nation in the name of national security, irregardless how vulnerable the citizens feel about it
  • Treat people like terrorist suspect with no dignity when going on board a plain
  • When someone reveals dirty secrets about the government, that person is deemed to commit treason against the country (or the government?)
  • Censor the Internet and limit freedom of speech, where you are not allowed to talk bad the government
  • When the people try to voice up, the government threatens to put these people in jail through charges like disrupting the peace, treason, racial sensitivity, etc.
  • When the people try to question the government, the government put up reasons like “this could not be questioned”.

It seems to me that the Government feels insecure, thus act defensive when feels threaten by the people, they very people they are entrusted to protect and take care of. Perhaps I am na├»ve and didn’t understand the concept of the Government. I thought the Government is a custodian to represent the people, and to act in the best interest of the people. Somehow I felt most government’s priority is to stay in power. What is possibly going wrong here?

Maybe Thomas Jefferson and I are wrong

“The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors.” ― Thomas Jefferson
“When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny." ― Thomas Jefferson
Perhaps Thomas Jefferson and I are wrong about the purpose of the government, or maybe Tyranny is still a form of government though not favored by the people. I am not sure what kind of vow the elected representative of the country takes when they take the office, but I sure hope someone has the power to make them accountable.

Why I feel the government is not doing very well "to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness"? Is this the primary objective?

Maybe I am not “the People”

Maybe I am not the intended People of the country, supposing I am the minority and everyone else thinks that the government is doing a great job. Many people could voice their discontent on the Internet, but many more didn't voice up, and even more didn't use the Internet.

When the Government proposed a law which I think is stupid or dangerous or both, how could I as the people stop it? We could do a petition or protest, but we could hardly gather the active support of 5% of the population; the government could claim that they have consulted all stakeholders and the majority support it. In fact, it was our elected representatives who pass the law. The government didn't see any unhappy people, did you?

It’s very hard to prove the Voice of the People, where it’s only actively polled once every 3-5 years during the election. Usually the ruling party shall be the upper hand in government election (access to media and resources, using government machinery for party, last minute favorable policy for the people, electoral divisions, etc.), where the results could easily skewed 10-20%. In another words, it would take 60-70% of favorable votes for the opposition to win.

Do we have a mechanism to effectively reflect the voice of the people for each intervals and events? How do we prove a policy or law is indeed stupid and dangerous in the eye of the people?

Maybe the people are too stupid?

Some people believe that people are too stupid to take care of themselves, what’s more about knowing what’s good for the country. If the people don’t know, who knows better?

Would you agree if the government give you free money even though it would bankrupt the government in the long run?

I have poor financial management skill, thus I hire a financial manager. One day the financial manager I hire thinks that I am too stupid and decided to steal my money. The people don’t know how to run a country, so we elect a government.

If the people could be stupid, the government could be a cunning smart ass, and I am betting the latter is more dangerous.

Why someone want to be the Top Public Servant?

I am in the committee as caretaker of my apartment building, where I don’t get paid, facing complaints, and with plenty of work to do. Why did I take up the role? Because the apartment operation and finance is on the verge of collapsing and there is no one else to pick up the shit. I always wonder what’s the reason other people are taking this role?

Why would you want to take up the top post of the Public Servant, where you have to serve millions of people who are literally your boss, and didn't get paid quite well given your responsibility? Why you didn't become the CEO of corporations where there are thousands of minions under you, and it’s not uncommon to be paid millions of dollars in remuneration?

People say you could get power and money by being the top public servant …

Why teacher get paid so little when they about responsible of educating our future leaders? Why our top public servants get paid lesser than CEOs while being entrusted with more power and money?

Why not we make it a policy that top public servants are paid as well as the CEOs (at least a few million per years, depending on the country’s performance), but are not allowed to be super rich (somehow manage to amass 10 extra million per  year from “business” during the tenure). If your business is prospering rapidly, I am sure you don’t have the time to run the country. If you immediate family fortune grows exponentially during your tenure, I am sure you would like to retire and spend the money with your family.

Do you know the fortune of the top public servants? Is it reasonable given their salary?

Public Servant should be paid well given their responsibility, but it’s unreasonable for them to get mad rich due to their position.

The People always complaint

A Korean friends told me the people always complaint about their government (including Korea), and the Singaporean taxi drivers complaint about their government as well.

Perhaps it's human nature to never be satisfied. Nevertheless, there is still so much room for improvement to build a better country, and I am afraid some of the current trend and policy is leading to a downhill path.

Please enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

I won't and can't secure funding, for now

I was guilty of taking a few shots at the "free money" provided by Government Fund, but I never seek VC money before. Though I was disappointed with the outcome, but I am glad I didn't get funded as I would probably end up like Adam. After many years, I come to understand accept I probably didn't deserved to be invested in (though it didn't means the other applicants are more deserving).

I don't need the money

I have some ideas, and I was tempted by the idea of "free money", so why not spend some time to take a shot at it. In the beginning while I was still under employment, the fund would act as a nice cushion of allowances while I work on the project. When I was freelancing, the fund seems like a good extra income. Today, the "free money" is not worth the paperwork and bureaucracy I have to endured.

I didn't truly need a lot of money to kickstart most of my idea (Internet and Software related). I just need to summon some courage to spend at least 3-6 months working on an idea (leap of faith), perseverance in coding without supervision and good at SEO (now known as Growth Hacking).Besides, I "wired" my mind to not work on any ideas which required tons of money in order to succeed (e.g. e-Commerce).

My intention to apply for the fund is not truly genuine. I just wanted some freebies, a safety net. I didn't need the money to kickstart, and there is no growth to fuel. Servers are cheap nowadays, and I can code. There is nothing to stop me except myself.

I can't Pitch

The ability to start a successful business and the ability to secure money from investors are two very different skill sets. Some people have common idea and unproven execution capability, but they could win pitching contest easily as if they are professional "pictcher". I probably have some common idea as well with some coding capability, but I definitely can't pitch or sell. I could explain ideas and benefits, but I don't have the killer instincts to close the deal. I didn't dive into the mindset of investors and understanding their needs. I share my ideas and plans from the perspective of a coder and a consumer.

To succeed in pitching to investors is like going through examination. You don't have how are you going to apply your knowledge in life, you just need to know how the examiner is going to score the answers.

At a later stage I came to witness the importance of networking with the investors. Stupid coder like me thought that we could barge in into the room full of investors we didn't know, show a slide deck and talk for 10 minutes and walk away with the money. Too young too naive, haha. The smarter way would be find some ways to talk to potential investors before hand, understand what they are looking for, what they think of your idea, how you could improve on the idea and let them know you personally. Else the minutes you finish your presentations, they will bombard you with a high dosage of skepticism, doubts, misunderstanding and distrusts.

My naive idea of pitching is just to share what I love doing, and hopefully you might like it as well and put some money into it. I don't like to hard sell, or pretend to be someone I am not just to please you. Sadly the VC world don't work this way, these people invest to make profit, not a hobby or investing into ideals.

I don't have a Business Model

When people ask what do I do? I told them I am a programmer who build website, and they probably think I am a freelancer who build websites for business. I don't consider myself a true entreprenuer, as I care more about product and users than how to make money. I just want to build a great product and have plenty of happy user who find my product useful and use it frequently. I like how Google, Twitter and Facebook got started: build something useful.

During my pitch, I did come up with some ways to monetize my products and projects profit from few hundred thousands to a few million per year. I probably did it to satisfied the pitching requirement, where the monetization methods are reasonable, but I was never truly interested in them. Most of the time I failed miserably at this part. Most investors probably would not invest in Google or Facebook, so it doesn't helps if I try to act like them. Anything with a few million ringgits of profit per year might be good for a lifestyle business, but it's not a business worth investing in for most investors. I was just being too naive.

Nothing to Show

I guessed there are certain things investors are looking for, either they are conventional wisdom or what the startup world is preaching nowdays:
  • Idea: Restaurant review like Yelp? Never heard of it. Travel Review like TripAdvisor? They are some damn good and there is nothing you can do to beat them. What makes you think they won't do the features you are proposing?
  • Profit: Since I don't have a real business model, and pathetic income from Google Adsense probably made them despised my capability to make money.
  • Team: I'm a solo founder, nothing more to say.
  • Traction: I have nothing more than an idea at my first few attempts at the Government Grant, but my last attempt does have 300K monthly visitors with 50% yearly growth (not spectacular, but something to show). Sadly investors from this part of the world probably like paying users better.
  • Market: Malaysia? Too small. Restaurant Review? Nobody makes big money in it. Why don't you do food delivery like foodpanda, or e-Commerce?
  • Passion: Passion is not something we can put in a slide deck and talk it out; and personally, nobody care about your passion besides yourself.
  • Connection: I am a coder who doesn't have any influential friends.
  • Social: I don't know you, never heard of you, and you will end up as the 101th small potato I rejected this year, muahahaha.

Poor evaluation based on Profit

Most investors in this part of the world would evaluate a startup based on current profit fast forwarded 5 years in to future with a certain growth rate. Let say my startup makes RM 50K per year with 30% growth annually for the next 5 years (50 + 65 + 85 + 110 + 143 = RM 453), my startup's evaluation would be around half a million ringgit. Is there evaluation tempting? RM 500K is nothing much nowadays (can't buy a decent house), and I probably spent almost equivalent of time worth in it, and the same amount of money couldn't not build another equivalent startup. Since I suck at squeezing profit out of the business, the evaluation seems unfair to me.

Anyway, how does Instagram reach $1B evaluaton without making a dime?

Loss of Autonomy

Once I taken in partners or money, the entity is not fully mine anymore. I can't do as I wish, where I have take into account the opinions of others and probably focus on profitable activities. I can't work on an idea just because it would be fun or cool or "because it feels right" anymore; I probably need to spend a lot of time convincing others that these ideas are worth pursuing, and they would probably ask me to create a project plan, market survery, feasibility study, etc.

I never really like the Business Modal Canvas, and Steve Blank would probably roll his eyes with the way I work. I don't really care about market size (at long as I'm not the only intended user), I naively believe I am the model user of the product and it should be fun to develop to keep me going. It shouldn't take too long to launch the first version (less than 3 months, 1 month would be better), and it shouldn't require skill I don't have or money I'm not willing to spend. I must be confident of making moderate success through SEO or some other common Growth Hacking technique and doesn't require to spend a fortune on marketing.

I'm pretty sure many people aren't comfortable with the way I work, thus I require absolute autonomy. I hate the feeling of not able to work on something I truly believe in, unless you could dissuade me.

I might be happy running a lifestyle business

I thought I am a Startup Guy (I like Google), but I am probably running a lifestyle business. My website doesn't have high growth with no massive users or big fat cheque after running for 7 years. When you take money from investors their business model becomes yours.

I might have a very peculiar attitudes towards running my business which might make most VCs roll their eye or vomit blood. I am mostly driven by passion and didn't take making huge profit seriously, but survivability and sustainability is important. I like to work on idea where I am the intended users, so I don't have to go around asking people what they want. My only measurement of success is traction, the number of happy users using my product to solve their problem. I don't like weekly meeting to talk about numbers, but how to make the product and user experience better. I believe in growth hacking, and it's about the only non-coding thing I like in running a business. I try to avoid direct sales and in person marketing. I will end up procrastinating too much if I work on things which I dislike. I don't buy the idea that there is a need to work more than 8 hours per day, 7 days a week (I will burn out within days).

Perhaps I had become too rigid, and probably a bad team player, but I believe I am in my "optimized" form for productivity, probably suits me in the current state and stage. I realize I might have problem growing a team as I am too used to being a lone ranger. Basically, I want people to leave me alone and let me do what I like, and I am too lazy to convince others.

I thought that I need to secure funding from VC to be successful (reading too much TechCrunch). I also understand an invested business with VC support does have higher chances of million dollar exit, as proven by a friend's business lately. Somehow I am not ready to play the VC game, and I probably sucked at it. One day an angel investor offered me a small investment, then I realized something: I don't know how to use the money, and I always believe my business is undervalued.

Do I really need VC money? There is no growth to fuel yet, and I yet to have the confident to repay.


 

Review: PG's How to Convince Investors

  • Investors are interested in you if you seem like you have a chance, however small, of being one of the big successes (the conventional wisdom is 15) each year.
  • How do you seem like you'll be one of the big successes? You need three things: formidable founders, a promising market, and (usually) some evidence of success so far.
  • Most investors decide in the first few minutes whether you seem like a winner or a loser, and once their opinion is set it's hard to change.
  • Truly evaluate whether your startup is worth investing in. If it isn't, don't try to raise money.
  • Founders think of startups as ideas, but investors think of them as markets.
  • A lot of VCs would have rejected Microsoft and Google.
  • The people who are really good at acting formidable often solve "who else is investing?" problem by giving investors the impression that while no investors have committed yet, several are about to.
  • The best solution is to tackle the problem head-on, and to explain why investors have turned you down and why they're mistaken. Experienced investors are well aware that the best ideas are also the scariest. They all know about the VCs who rejected Google.
  • i) Make something worth investing in. ii) Understand why it's worth investing in. iii) Explain that clearly to investors.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: Do Things That Don’t Scale

Do Things that Don’t Scale by PG is one of the more insightful article I had read in recent times, and it’s pretty long (having a hard time taking notes).

Notes


  1. The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually.
  2. There are two reasons founders resist going out and recruiting users individually. One is a combination of shyness and laziness. They'd rather sit at home writing code than go out and talk to a bunch of strangers and probably be rejected by most of them. The other reason founders ignore this path is that the absolute numbers seem so small at first.
  3. If you have 100 users, you need to get 10 more next week to grow 10% a week. And while 110 may not seem much better than 100, if you keep growing at 10% a week you'll be surprised how big the numbers get. After a year you'll have 14,000 users, and after 2 years you'll have 2 million.
  4. Marketplaces are so hard to get rolling that you should expect to take heroic measures at first. In Airbnb's case, these consisted of going door to door in New York, recruiting new users and helping existing ones improve their listings.
  5. It's harmless if reporters and know-it-alls dismiss your startup. They always get things wrong. It's even ok if investors dismiss your startup; they'll change their minds when they see growth. The big danger is that you'll dismiss your startup yourself.
  6. Microsoft can't have seemed very impressive when it was just a couple guys in Albuquerque writing Basic interpreters for a market of a few thousand hobbyists (as they were then called), but in retrospect that was the optimal path to dominating microcomputer software.
  7. How do you find users to recruit manually? If you build something to solve your own problems, then you only have to find your peers, which is usually straightforward. 
  8. Otherwise you'll have to make a more deliberate effort to locate the most promising vein of users. For example, Ben Silbermann noticed that a lot of the earliest Pinterest users were interested in design, so he went to a conference of design bloggers to recruit users, and that worked well.
  9. You should take extraordinary measures not just to acquire users, but also to make them happy. For as long as they could (which turned out to be surprisingly long), Wufoo sent each new user a hand-written thank you note.
  10. A lot of of startup founders are trained as engineers, and customer service is not part of the training of engineers. You're supposed to build things that are robust and elegant, not be slavishly attentive to individual users like some kind of salesperson.
  11. I have never once seen a startup lured down a blind alley by trying too hard to make their initial users happy.
  12. But perhaps the biggest thing preventing founders from realizing how attentive they could be to their users is that they've never experienced such attention themselves. Their standards for customer service have been set by the companies they've been customers of, which are mostly big ones.
  13. Steve Jobs wasn't just using "insanely" as a synonym for "very." He meant it more literally—that one should focus on quality of execution to a degree that in everyday life would be considered pathological.
  14. It's not the product that should be insanely great, but the experience of being your user. But you can and should give users an insanely great experience with an early, incomplete, buggy product, if you make up the difference with attentiveness.
  15. In software, especially, it usually works best to get something in front of users as soon as it has a quantum of utility, and then see what they do with it. Perfectionism is often an excuse for procrastination, and in any case your initial model of users is always inaccurate, even if you're one of them.
  16. Sometimes the right unscalable trick is to focus on a deliberately narrow market. That's what Facebook did for Harvard students.
  17. Any startup that could be described as a marketplace usually has to start in a subset of the market. It's always worth asking if there's a subset of the market in which you can get a critical mass of users quickly.
  18. Most startups that use the contained fire strategy do it unconsciously. They build something for themselves and their friends, who happen to be the early adopters, and only realize later that they could offer it to a broader market. The strategy works just as well if you do it unconsciously.
  19. Among companies, the best early adopters are usually other startups. They're more open to new things both by nature and because, having just been started, they haven't made all their choices yet. Plus when they succeed they grow fast, and you with them.
  20. Pick a single user and act as if they were consultants building something just for that one user. The initial user serves as the form for your mold; keep tweaking till you fit their needs perfectly, and you'll usually find you've made something other users want too. Even if there aren't many of them, there are probably adjacent territories that have more.
  21. Use your software yourselves on customers’ behalf. Viaweb: Some merchants don’t want to make an online store with our software, but they'd let us make one for them. It taught us how it would feel to merchants to use our software. Sometimes the feedback loop was near instantaneous.
  22. When you only have a small number of users, you can sometimes get away with doing by hand things that you plan to automate later. This lets you launch faster, and when you do finally automate yourself out of the loop, you'll know exactly what to build because you'll have muscle memory from doing it yourself.
  23. If you can find someone with a problem that needs solving and you can solve it manually, go ahead and do that for as long as you can, and then gradually automate the bottlenecks. It would be a little frightening to be solving users' problems in a way that wasn't yet automatic, but less frightening than the far more common case of having something automatic that doesn't yet solve anyone's problems.
  24. The Big Launch don’ usually work. All you need from a launch is some initial core of users. How well you're doing a few months later will depend more on how happy you made those users than how many there were of them.
  25. So why do founders think launches matter? A combination of solipsism and laziness. They think what they're building is so great that everyone who hears about it will immediately sign up. Plus it would be so much less work if you could get users merely by broadcasting your existence, rather than recruiting them one at a time. But even if what you're building really is great, getting users will be always be a gradual process—partly because great things are usually also novel, but mainly because users have other things to think about.
  26. Partnerships too usually don't work. They don't work for startups in general, but they especially don't work as a way to get growth started.
  27. The need to do something unscalably laborious to get started is so nearly universal that it might be a good idea to stop thinking of startup ideas as scalars. Instead we should try thinking of them as pairs of what you're going to build, plus the unscalable thing(s) you're going to do initially to get the company going.

A Shorter Summary

Sometimes conventional wisdom (even in the startup world) could be wrong, or wrongly interpreted and practiced. When we are small and have no users, there is a lot of non-scalable manual work need to be done to attract users, keep them happy until we reach a tipping point. The side effects is that we could learn a lot while doing the manual work, better understand the user's need, and how to optimize the process better. After that, perhaps we could scale, or not. No everyone needs to scale like Google.

A local angel investor reminded me that sometimes it’s good to go local and do something which don’t scale, as it makes it harder for the “scaling” foreign player to enter the market. It’s more work with more “hardware” problems, but it’s also more defensible. Market too small? The VC might not be interested with 10 million dollar market, but I am.

Perhaps it’s not a matter of scaling or not, but doing whatever is required.

Invited: D`MUG’s Magic Mug

When I caught wind of a friend venturing into the ceramic mug business, I was curious and wondering what is special about mugs. Then I was told it is a “magic” mug.


It’s magic in the sense the mug is temperature-sensitive (react to heat or cold), where the image on the exterior of the mug will change color when the mug is being exposed to heat or cold (heat-sensitive based product is more common). The “magic” nature of the mug makes the mug much more interesting, where you could put hidden message or motive where it will only be exposed when in contact with heat, which makes a great gift candidate.
 

I would assume the most important aspect of magic mug is the design of the exterior image, where is not only have to be beautiful and unique, but the contrast between the normal image (room temperature image) and hidden image (appear upon heated) must be captivating and bring out “surprise”, the same expectation we have with magic.

I ask Dexter, the co- founder of Dexsim (the company behind d’MUG), about who their target customers are. He said the magic mugs are popular as corporate gifts, and they are targeting end users as well. From their design I would say it’s a “safe” design, meaning it probably more suited towards corporate with similar “look & feel” to those of souvenir gifts.
Before
After

I was given 3 design as samples: The TV (a black screen brighten up and showing the word “ON”), The Tiger (Stripes turn into a tiger) and The Words (Black words turned into colourful words). I am very satisfied with the quality of the mug (solid build, vibrant color), and the design is okay, but I feel there is much more room for improvement. The TV has lots of potential, as the black screen could be turn on into anything, but why just show the word “ON” (which is not very meaningful), why not a more meaningful hidden message, a funny character or “You Are Being Watched” or “I'll Always Watch Over You”, then switch the corresponding white background with similar mood theme. As for The Words, rather than showing a bunch of meaningless words, why not put a hidden message in it and color up the hidden message, such as “Marry Me”, will this be a potential best seller? The Tiger is quite alright, but I like The Zebra better.

video

To target the individuals, especially the younger crowd, the mug’s design should incorporate humor or cuteness (for the much younger crowd) or some special characters or styles (gothic, girlish romance, etc.). Since it is expected to be bought as a gift, it should have more meaning (especially hidden meaning) for occasions such as birthday, father and mother’s day, valentine, etc. There should be a message of love, message of praise, message which makes people laugh, and help people to convey a message. When I say message I don’t mean just text, as message could be translated in other visual form. We have enough of “safe” design flooding the market; I believe we are desperately looking for something special, unique and unconventional. The nature of the magic mug is very special, and it should be complemented with a special design.

The magic mug still makes a very good gift with a surprise element, and I have high hopes for d’MUG’s next releases. The mug is sold for RM 22 per piece on d’MUG’s online store (original price is RM 26) excluding delivery (For West Malaysia is RM6 for Normal registered pos & RM8 for Poslaju. For East Malaysia will be RM12  for Poslaju only). If you would like to save on the delivery fee, you could try to contact them (enquiry@dexsim.com) to arrange for pickup (probably near Subang Empire area). There should be discount for bulk purchase (at least 50 units).

If you are interested in custom design, they accept a minimum order quantity of 50, and you can even print some customized message at the bottom of the mug. What if you only want 1 or 2 unit? Probably still could be done, but the price shall be higher, do contact Dexsim regarding your request.

The mug is made of High Grade Ceramic Compound, which feels pretty sturdy. The Ink and the Mug is food safe, certified to be compliance with "Directive 84/500/EEC – approximating EU countries' laws on ceramic articles intended to come into contact with foods”

I believe d’MUG should be a popular corporate gift, magically presenting each company;s identity and “secret message”, and it comes with a solid blue color premium box, which protect the mug well and portray a premium image. Do email enquiry@dexsim.com for bulk discount and custom design.



Dexsim (M) Sdn Bhd
B-06-29, Empire SOHO, Empire Subang,
Jalan SS16/1,
47500 Subang Jaya,
Selangor, Malaysia.
Tel: +6017 888 4678
Email: enquiry@dexsim.com
Web: http://dexsim.com
Online Store: http://www.d-mug.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DexsimSdnBhd

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A funny case of using the PC

Nowadays I boot into my Windows 7, check my mail and browse some web; then I click on VirtualBox and start Lubuntu to code web application (Python, Flask, Brunch, etc.), where I spent most of the time on. It's funny I spend most of my time in a VM.

Why I am using Windows for the past 10 years

10 years ago I was a desktop developer using VB6, Microsoft C++, and eventually .NET, so Windows is the obvious choice with more than 90% market share.

The the programming work started to shift to web through ASP, ASP.NET, Java and PHP. Though I am using Eclipse to code Java and PHP (Zend Studio), it never cross my mind to shift to Linux as I see no value added benefits.

There are a bunch of Windows only apps which I cannot live without, such as Microsoft Office, Visio, Photoshop, Visual Studio, etc.

Besides, Windows 7 is pretty fast and stable, and the BSOD is pretty much dead.

Why did I start using Linux

I did install a few Linux distros in the past 10 years, but I just couldn't find a compelling reason to use it on a daily basis.

I guess Python, Brunch and Node-related stuff trigger the reason to move to Linux. I started with Python and Brunch on Windows using Eclipse, though it work pretty well. These tools involve a lot of command line at times, and Windows command prompt does look and feel terrible (cygwin doesn't work really well with Python). There are some dependencies for certain libraries or tools (I forgotten which one) which could not be installed on Windows properly (or too messy), most tutorials are on Ubuntu environment, some tools ported late or second-class citizen on Windows (livereload, yeoman, pip, etc.), lack of convenience of apt-get to install various tools and libraries, etc. I guess a combination of these reasons encourage me to move to Linux, and I am actually glad it happened.

Some benefits of Linux includes similar environment as my production environment (less deployment issue), powerful command line means plenty of stuff could be automated through cron and shell, plenty of tutorials to setup various tools and services on Linux (espcially Lubuntu), apt-get and pip (and virtualenvs) allow easy update of various tools and environment.

Lubuntu consume very little resources (could run on 512MB RAM, but more practical with 2G RAM if used as Coding environment), have decent desktop applications for Development (Chrome, Eclipse, Sublime Text), stable and speedy. Though the File Explorer on Lubuntu is a bit sucky.

How did I end up in VirtualBox Linux

At first I was still skeptical about Linux, so I take the safest route of installing one in VirtualBox. I choose the least resource intensive Ubuntu flavor (Lubuntu), assigning it half of the memory (2G out of 4G) and half the processor (i5), and it run decently on most cases. I can't take away more memory from Windows as it would crawl the moment I try to open up some apps on it.

Why not Dual Boot?

I gave this option some thought, and found it too troublesome (and time consuming) to switch between OSes.

Besides, there are some surprising benefits of running a VM:
  • A share folder could be easily created to share files between Host (Windows 7) and Guest (Lubuntu); somehow drag and drop doesn't work on my setup for file transfer.
  • Host and Guest could share the same application/services, e.g. MySql still resides on Windows 7 where Lubuntu can easily connect to it, and I could easily test IE compatibility by connect to Lubuntu test server from my Windows 7
  • Whenever there is a need to run IE or use Microsoft Office, switching back to host (and vice versa) just take a second or two.
  • Easy Backup and Transfer: My Lubuntu VM is about 20G, where I could easily backup the entire environment into an external drive/cloud, or setup my coding environment on another notebook within minutes. Keep the VM small by storing large but non-essential files on the shared drive on the Host, and I put all my essential files (e.g. Code) on a separate virtual disk (the benefit is that I could start another VM if necessary and mount my "Code" virtual disk).
  • Snapshots

Why didn't I ditch Windows totally?

Though I would like to, but I can't at this stage due to a few reasons:

  • Legacy Development Support: I still need to support some application written in VB6 and .NET; sometimes, there is still a need to develop some Windows-based application.
  • Internet Explorer: In Malaysia (my country), IE is the only choice if I need to perform Online Stock Trading (every brokerage use the same ActiveX app developed by the same company), and the same goes with some Online Banking. Besides, I still need IE to testing purpose.
  • Microsoft Office: Though I use Google Apps most of the time, there are just some 100-pages existing documents which I need to edit, where even app like Libre Office would screw up the formatting badly.

Why not put Linux as the Host (and run Windows in VM)?

This sounds like a good idea, as most of the time I am using Linux and occasionally run Windows for special purpose. The downside of the VM is I only get half the memory and CPU most of the time. The downside of not running as VM is I loose the ease of backup the entire VM image and quick portability to another PC.

I don't feel like rocking the boat now on my old notebook (almost 3 years old), but I am constantly on a lookout for a decent notebook which support Linux. Somehow the feeling is Linux notebooks are quite limited in options, but will try to get one.

4G RAM seems a bit "uncomfortable" when running VM, so 8G RAM is quite essential; and SSD is preferred for faster disk IO. 

The Future of VM OS

I wonder about the future where the main OS of a notebook/PC is a VM OS (something like Xen), where we could choose to boot up multiple OSes and communication/sharing between these OS are still possible, and the VM OS doesn't consume too much memory and CPU.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Afterthought after a travel

Travel is a love and hate affair for me. Love the freedom, escape and experience of new things; and hate the planning, booking, waking up early, race against time, return to “reality” at the end and the time consuming task of “documenting” the diary and photographs.

When I am on a travel, suddenly there is no more email to check every morning, no more phone request to do this and that, and lesser of daily routines and responsibilities, which is superb. It’s like I am reborn, and no one knows me, thus there is no baggage of life, only new things to explore. There is a tendency to be more observant and adventurous while traveling, where we like to observe people and their culture, and go to places where the local don’t even bother to visit, and find fun in every little stupid thing. The most amazing thing about travelling is the afterthought, how it changes our mind and priorities in mind. I suddenly realize what is important and what’s not, what could be live without, and what could be potentially a better way of life, or perhaps what I really desire as my way of life. Travel memory (and photograph) is great, but the effect of the experience and afterthoughts are amazing.

With the abundance of tool like TripAdvisor, Google Maps and some guide books, it’s still not an easy task to find and explore the places which interest us. Florence or the hill town of Siena? Is there something closer to nature with hiking options? Seems like an easy question which is awfully hard to get the answer without hours or days of Googling and reading. If I enjoy museums and churches, then it would be much easier in Europe. Then there are the logistic stuff, like in what sequence should I visit this places, how to get there (train, bus or fly? Which departures with less transits?), which are not too hard to find out (especially for Europe), but still take some time to do research and book the right tickets. Booking of accommodations is quite a pleasant affair in Europe, thanks to Booking.com and HostelWorld.com (sadly Airbnb didn't work that well for us). Moving around is great with Google Offline Maps, sadly Search and Directions didn’t work offline.

There is an uneasy feeling when nearing the end of the trip, where I have to leave the wonderland and return to reality. I do get tired and could enjoy a good rest back at home, but it’s the uneasy feeling like I have back in the schooldays on Sunday, where Monday is so close. When I am working, Sunday and Monday seems like a normal day (though Friday and Saturday is still great), which probably means I love what I am working on. Life could not be perfect in the sense of doing only the things we love (or it could be?), so there shall be customer supports, some freelance requests which I turn down mostly but still accept some (there is money, but not that much satisfaction), and some stupid things we just get involves without gaining any satisfaction out of it. When holiday is over, there is no more time to blog about the travel or organize those photographs, and working is piling up, which is not a good feeling.

The feeling I dislike most is the distinction of wonderland and reality, and why reality is such a drag and why can’t we turn reality into wonderland? Travel is a temporary escape and disconnection from the stressful life, so it’s not a solution to a happier life. I would like to figure out a way which brings life into travelling, where there isn't quite a need to go on holiday, as life itself is a travelling experience. The idea of hacking on an Island seems to be intriguing in a certain sense, but not as an escape, but a new way of life, where work, life and travel come together in happily ever after. That’s why I love programming, it’s one of the best jobs in the sense I can do it from anyway around the world (besides the ability to build and create).

Next plan: turn travel into life, or the other way around.

Day 5: Cycling out of Den Bosch again (Engelen, Bokhoven, Heusden, Well, Hedel)

Cycling using Google Maps (Offline) is pretty much an enjoyable experience, especially in Netherlands. From my last experience, the route is usually more scenic if we follow the river or canal, which is very true; but at times, it is also very windy.

I was planning to cycle Northeast out of Den Bosch towards Maren, but somehow I ended up Northwest at Engelen after passing through some light industrial area. Engelen is a very scenic town: quiet, rows of trees along the road, with water canal, vast green grassland, a gold course, and some scenic small road with wild flowers and ducks (they are everywhere as long as there are water). I cycle to the nearby Engelermeer lake, which is extremely windy. I someone enter through the wrong entrance and ended up in the woods with deadend, and move on towards Bokhoven.

Bokhoven has plenty of nice grassland, and soon I saw my first herd of white sheep up close. There are big and little sheeps, and the little one have strong little legs. An old lady came by to feed the sheeps with bread, and I get to photograph them up close. It's very windy around this area, and I found a park protected from the wind to have my lunch: sandwich (self-made), strawberry and grapes, perfected with nice weather and good environment.

The next part of the journey is the most difficult one, from Bokhaven to Hesuden, with extremely strong wind blowing towards me, making cycling forward almost impossible. I have to push my bicycle half of the way, and realize no bicycle cycle the same direction as I am (am I the only idiot here?). It had a vast grassland here, with plenty of wild flowers and sheeps, along a water canal. Sadly the strong wind make the view less enjoyable. There are some "professional" cyclists with full gear just zoom past me without much problem, thus I try to cycle slowly again with lower gear.

Finally I reach a ferry point which could ferry me across the canal, which is very frequent (every 10 minutes) and seems free. I saw an inland island surrounded by water canal on the map not far from here, so I decided to check it out before I board the ferry. Soon I reach Heusden, which seems like a  pretty small touristy town, with a few windmill of its own (you don't have to go all the way to Kinderdijk to see windmill). The tourist office have a nice replica model of the town, and it's a pleasant walk around. I bump into a group of old tourists on wheelchair on a day visit of the town (unlike Asians, old people in European still like to travel around). After grabbing a bite at the local bakery, it's time to find my way home.

I went back to the ferry point, cross it while having a chat with another local man on bicycle (he loves his great cycling country). Now I am going at the same direction as the wind, which means wind-powered bicycle along the way, wheeee! Soon I came across what seems to be an inland beach called Strandbad Well, which looks like lake connected to a river, with a sandy beach. Interesting place.

I continue my journey into well, which is a really small town by the farm, and connected to the Hedel town. It's getting late, so I continue to push through towards Den Bosch. It's still pretty windy at certain sections, making cycling difficult at times; most local cyclist doesn't seems to have a problem with this.

At night, I wait for Mei Ru to came back from work and ferry her to the nearby park and the "no man land" at the south of the city. It's still quite challenging to ferry someone in the city while trying to figure out the direction, but we make it alright.

I would say cycling is perhaps one of the most enjoyable activity in Netherlands, especially adventuring into a town which you know nothing about, and hopeful of a more scenic route along the way. Every tourist to Netherland should cycle out of the city (it's safe and easy, with a map), else you never quite experience the country before.

Day 4: Den Bosch Market Day

Wednesday is one of the more interesting day in Den Bosch, where it's the market day from 8am to 5pm (Saturday's Market Day is slightly bigger with more stalls) at Markt. Some stalls bring in metal or wood frames to setup their stalls, while others just stroll in their moveable stall (like a container at the back of a trailer) without much hassle. Half of the stalls sell clothing related items, while others sell cheese, fruit and vegetable, flower, etc. My personal favorite is a stall selling Turkish Pizza, and pick up some fruits (Strawberry for EURO 2-6 per small box, and some decent grapes goes for EURO 2.50 per kilo). I pickup a small pot of flower for EURO 1, which I think is a good bargain.

Den Bosch is a small town, very walkable, nice buildings, and enough restaurants to go around; but nothing much to explore after one day, except to cycle out of town. I walk a little further to a nearby park (???), where there is a big lake with plenty of ducks and some goose. Surprising there is a fenced up little zoo with sheep and some animal in it. It's a nice park, where I spent some time doing some writings on the bench. Another interesting place in Den Bosch is the "No Man Land" (a big piece of land with "nothing"), at the South of the town.

The cheapest food in Den Bosch is probably McDonald and Doner Kebab (EURO 4), and some other fast food stall which are closed at night (except those Kiosks at the train station). Ice-cream seems to be a local favorite even though it's cold, and Bagels and Beans have a decent breakfast set for EURO 5.75 (Bagel with sour cream, Coffee and Orange Juice). There is an Michelin restaurant (???) as well. The cheapest dinner at restaurants start from EURO 12.50, and a 3-course meals start from EURO 21.50. Personally, I don't find the dinner at restaurants satisfying (I mean most restaurant in Europe), perhaps most of the cost went into wages rather than the food; though I haven't try any more expensive food yet (above EURO 30 for main course). Doner, Turkish Pizza, Sausage with Bread seems to be a better value for money.

As a traveler or tourist, Den Bosch is not very interesting. But I like the size of the town (walkable without the need to rely on bus, trem or subway) where it's walkable without hurting my legs, and the environment is pleasant and the buildings are nice. It's probably a decent place to escape the business of big city, or perhaps a good place for retirement. The quality of life is very good here, only if there are some mountains and forest around for hiking, but biking around is pretty good as well.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Day 3: Kinderdijk and Rotterdam, Netherlands

I was tired from yesterday's cycling, so it is probably a good idea to move around by public transport. One of the more interesting places is Kinderdijik, the place with plenty of windmill and an UNESCO heritage site.

I had breakfast at Bagels and Beans, which is a cozy little cafe which sell bagel (it is a donut shape bread with various flavors, such as Tomato, Cinnamon and Raisin, etc.). There is a breakfast set for EURO 5+, which include bagel with sour cream and jam, coffee and orange juice. One interesting fact about Europe is that they charge money for sauces, and the cost of different sauces varies. The bagel is hot, not too hard (or soft), and goes well with the sauce (sour cream), and I can't help it but to order another bagel for EURO 1.50. There are some interesting tapas set which serve minimum of 2 person, would most probably try it when Mei Ru is around.

Deciding on the route to Kinderdijk is quite a challenging one, where I basically have 3 options i) following the easy instruction on the website by taking a train to Utrecht Centraal followed by an hour bus ride ii) take a rain to Rotterdam and rent a bike to Kinderdijk (10 miles) iii) follow some more complex instructions on 9292 (website and app). Since I was out late (10.30am), I pick option 1. The train to Utrecht Centraal is below an hour from Den Bosch for EURO 10. There are 3 bus station at Utrecht Centraal with 2 exits; after consulting the Station Information counter, I need to get to the West Bus Station and board bus 90. The bus stop is in the open air, so people are standing out in the cold without much cover, but luckily the bus arrive within 20 minutes. I can buy some manual ticket from the bus driver, which cost EURO 10 to Kinderdijk.

The journey is about an hour, but it's quite scenic as most part of the road is along the river canal and farm land on the other side. I wish I could cycle along this part, which made me realize I should select cycling routes which are along river canal. The weather is good, and everything went smoothly.

Finally arrive at Kinderdijk (thanks to Offline Google Maps and gentle que by the driver, I know where to stop). The visitors walk on the center walkway, where both side are flanked by canal and windmill. We can't really get near to the windmill, except the only one opened to visitor as a museum (around  EURO 5). The pathway is pretty long, I was contemplating to rent a bicycle (not sure of the price), but I didn't. One thing for sure, this place is very windy, where I am wearing double layer of jacket to keep me warm. What more could I describe about Kinderdijk: canal, windmills and strong wind.

I walk until the end of the pathway for almost 45 minutes, and I certainly doesn't feel like walking back to the bus stop. With my handy Offline Google Map, I cross a bridge into a farmland and into a residential area. Some houses actually have water canal at their backyard, which seems interesting. The people here do spent quite some time tending to their garden and walking their dogs, and cycling. It's interesting to stay in this area, where a UNESCO heritage site is just behind my house. After getting some direction from a local man who is tending his garden (his wife was born in Indonesia), I found a bus station soon enough and happens to board bus 90 again towards Rotterdam (actually most bus go towards Rotterdam, just make sure you are on the right side of the road towards Rotterdam). The ticket is EURO 6 and take about 30 minutes. I was a little worry that the bus might not stop at a central enough location as its destination is a place called Zuidplein; soon enough I realize though it's quite far away from central, but Zuidplein is a Metro station (city train) and a shopping complex, hurray!

The Metro ticket is quite interesting, as you don't buy your ticket by destination, but you pay EURO 3.50 for a 2 hour pass. I choose to visit Delfshaven, as it is an interesting old neighborhood. This street is filled with immigrants, mostly african and middle easterner; which means good variety of restaurant, especially kebab. The buildings here are fairly interesting, but still rows and rows of brown-colored buildings (perhaps I am not the guy to appreciate architecture). I walk towards central, and trail of immigrants had lessen along the way. Interestingly, there are rows of Chinese restaurant near the train station, mostly of Cantonese origin. Finally I stop at a Kebab (Doner) stall, which offer a kebab burger for UERO 3+ or EURO 5+ for set meal (with fries and drink). I opt for the wrapped kebab (mayonnaise and hot sauce is free, an good) , which is really full, but the meat is not necessary tasty.

Rotterdam is a big city (they have Metro and Tram), yet might not be an interesting one (perhaps I didn't do enough research), and I didn't have time for Den Haag. Perhaps I dislike big city, just rows of shops and tiring walking around; and the restaurants here are expensive, so I can't indulge myself in great gastronomy adventure. Most of the shop here doesn't close by 5pm, but in comparison, Den Bosch seems like a cozier place to visit. It makes me wonder what we really enjoys during our travel? I would say trying now new food (but internationalization of restaurants means you can eat almost any type of food anywhere, which make the experience less satisfying), view the magnificent scenery (sadly, most of these places are overcrowded or too expensive) and finding the hidden gem (which remain hidden, or became too popular). In a certain sense, which visiting the local grocery and trying to live a different live in a different city seems more interesting at times, but this cannot be experience with just over one week in a place and staying in hotel. Perhaps my concept about traveling is starting to change. I usually enjoy hiking trip: nature, beautiful scenery all the way and no city hassle or thinking what to do next.

Finally took a train back to Den Bosch for EURO 16, which need to switch at Utrecht Central. The transportation cost of the day is pretty costly, add up to EURO 42. Perhaps cycling around Den Bosch to the next towns are better value for money, for EURO 7.50 per day.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Day 2: Cycling out of Den Bosch

Since Den Bosch is not much of a touristy town (more of a weekend escape and relaxation for locals), I would guess the best activity for the day would be to explore the outskirt of Den Bosch. In Netherlands, the best place to rent a bicycle is always the train station; for Den Bosch, it's EURO 7.50 per day with EURO 50 deposit, and it's a decent city bike (3 gear) in good condition.

How to navigate around? There is a famous Netherlands cycling map available, I could find the English version in the VVV (Tourist Information) office. Why not just use Google Offline Map and I probably won't get lost (proven to work well during my Vietnam trip). I am aiming for one of the local national park (De Loonse en Drunense Duinen), so off I go. Cycling is pretty safe and comfortable in Netherlands, where there is a dedicated cycling path most of the time, and the cars are pretty considerate of the cyclists and pedestrian, but I do need to remember to cycle on the right side (sometimes there is no cyclist path on one side of the road where we need to share the same path on the other side, which could be confusing at first).

Soon enough, I left the City into the highway, crossing through residential and finally on a small path in the outskirt. Netherlands is very flat, with vast grassland and bold trees (right after Winter) and brown-colored buildings. There are some horses, goats and sheeps along the way, and the scenery doesn't change drastically. Some parts of the road are more pleasant due to the lack of cars, which makes it quiet and comfortable to cycle; or surrounded by farmland, grassland or nice houses. Perhaps I was looking for some breath-taking view, but there is none, just comfortable views along the way.

Once in a while I went into a small town, where every town seems equally populated with a lively street with shops, definitely equipped with with two or three supermarket/convenience stores, a shop which sell cheese/nuts/meat/bread and 2-3 restaurants & cafes. It's a quiet town, but far from "dead", which make it an ideal place to live. It started raining when I reach the first town (Vlijmen), and I realize the rain didn't bother most of the people: they just keep cycling, keep walking or keep playing football. Some pedestrian use an umbrella, but most didn't make an attempt to find a shelter or cover their head. Drizzling rain seems to be common around here, and my hand and face definitely felt the freezing cold; wearing a water resistant wind-breaker is good, keep the wind out and keep me dry.

Bought some cold pasta (about EURO 1.50 per 100g, 400g could probably make a decent meal) while taking a shelter from the rain, and take lunch at the 3rd town (Drunen). I definitely could use a hot drink in this weather, and EURO 2.50 for 5 Cheese Stick Bread (Knabbelstengel) and EURO 1.70 for  a Chocomel at Bakker Bart seems like a bargain to me. In any town or city in a new place, there is always a few things which always interest me: the restaurant (food), the supermarket (food), the market (food) and local specialty shop (cheese, meat, nut, etc.); I guess it's all about the food. If I can't appreciate local culture in the form of art and history, at least I would like to taste their food.

After a nice rest, it's time to venture into the national park. The national park have plenty of hiking trails, but the path is not city-bike friendly. I have to push my bicycle half of the time, and the forest is pretty "deserted" (I did bump into the only other person). It's a pine forest, and the forest is not thick, and every part of the forest look almost the same, and with some sands on the ground, and there is some horse riding trail as well. After rejoining into the main road, it's a pleasant ride along the way. I guess I didn't went through the "main entrance" of the national park and saw the sand dunes.

My butt is getting sore for the last 90 minutes of the ride, and cycling within the city is slightly more confusing. The total journey is 28 miles (probably the longest ride I have) in 6 hours 18 minutes (thanks to Google's My Tracks app). Cycling is fairly enjoyable (I don't mind doing it again), the weather is nice, the path is good, and the scenery is lovely. I like the cycling culture here, where the weather is nice, dedicated cyclist path, the motorist are considerate and the concept of "snatch thieve" doesn't seems to exist here (proven by lady cyclists putting their handbags in front of their bicycle): sadly Malaysia have neither of these criterias.

I would one of the most interesting attraction in Netherlands would be cycling, sadly I am not prepared to do one of those long distance (LF) cycling route (>100km) with camping along the way. With more bicycle on the road, it does make car traffic a lesser problem; and it makes the people happy. They make quite a few innovation for ferrying babies, with baby in the front with a windscreen, put them in a cart at the front or full them from the back with a trolly extention. Anyway, cycling is a lovely part of Netherlands which I truly enjoy.