Archive for October, 2006

iStockPhoto

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

One of the most useful tips from my friendly neighbourhood web gurus was where to get stock photography from. The answer: iStockPhoto.com. So, that’s where the random photos on the website are appearing from.

Pension, life insurance, health insurance

Monday, October 30th, 2006

I knew that when I left my previous large employer, I’d have to take care of some personal financial matters which they had previously looked after. But I wasn’t sure of exactly what; all the different kinds of financial products were a bit blurry in my mind. It turns out the answer is:

  • Life insurance
  • Health insurance
  • Income protection insurance (also known as ‘permanent health insurance’)
  • Pension

Not to be confused with:

  • Critical illness cover
  • Mortgage payment protection insurance

What are all these things about? Pension is obvious. And, so far, has been pretty straightforward – I just wrote to my pension provider explaining the situation and they sent me back a Direct Debit mandate to send back. I’ll then be paying for my pension from within the company.

Health insurance is also obvious – BUPA or similar – I have not signed up for this and don’t intend to do so any time soon. I am never convinced that, unless you pay for a really expensive plan, you’re likely to be covered in any given situation. It seems to me that most health insurance policies exclude both chronic and acute conditions, which doesn’t leave much in between.

Life insurance is nice and straightforward too; they pay out if you die before the age of 60 (or whatever age you choose). You choose the payout you want your family to have (e.g. £100,000); the premium is guaranteed for life, and there’s really not much debate about whether you’re dead, so you don’t need to consider very much except for price.

The rest are a little more confusing. Income Protection Insurance pays out an income until you’re (for instance) 60, if you are unable to work for medical reasons. Again, the premium is guaranteed for life. You can choose your income level (e.g. £1000 a month), and the deferral period before which they start to pay out (e.g. 90 days).

Some income protection policies only pay out for a year, not the rest of your life. Some of them also cover unemployment for non-medical reasons.

One consideration with income protection insurance is the definition of “work”. Some of them define work as “your current job”, some of them define it as “your current job or any similar”, and some of them as “any job”. This could make a difference if, as a programmer for example, you get bad RSI and can’t type. With some policies you could retire. With others you would have to become a gardener or something (which sounds quite appealing but that’s not the point).

(Note to self: must investigate whether there’s money in gardening if Macrobug doesn’t work out. Doubt it!)

Critical Illness Cover is, seemingly, similar, but it’s not related to your employability… it just pays out if you get certain illnesses. They’re on a defined list. I have been advised that I probably don’t need this, unlike Income Protection Insurance which I really ought to have.

The last one, Mortgage Payment Protection Insurance, pays your mortgate if you are unable to do so, for health or unemployment reasons. So there’s a bit of overlap with Income Protection Insurance but that’s OK. Like most people I organised MPPI when I got my mortgage, although not with my mortgate lender as that was a rip-off.

It’s taken until now to finally work through all these things and set them all up. I’m not even quite there yet with the Income Protection Insurance but it won’t be long.

Product details added

Friday, October 27th, 2006

Please see our products page for details about what we’re working on.

Woohoo!

Friday, October 27th, 2006

At last, the new MacBook Pros are out. This should make all the difference to my development efficiency.

I’m famous

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

Well, sort of :-) Markus has linked to me from the Carbide blog. Cheers Markus!

To anybody who’s stumbled here and has noticed that this site doesn’t say anything about what debugging tools I’ll be producing, err, you’re right. I’ll be posting some proper information soon. Watch this space!

That was the week, that was

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Last week was a bit nuts.

On Monday I had the Smartphone Show to prepare for – in the end, that seemed to consist mainly of filing some patents, deciding who I wanted to talk to, what to say, and preparing slides/etc.

Then the Smartphone Show itself on Tuesday and Wednedsay. Previously when I’ve been to those shows, I’ve effectively been passively absorbing stuff. This time I was positively trying to network, and it was exhausting! I thought the show would be a bit of a damp squib as I didn’t have anything to demonstrate, but it wasn’t – I was continuously talking to people one way or another.

This left Thursday and Friday to squeeze in my part-time contracting for the week, a task in which I failed, leaving a backlog of work to do this week.

Finally, on Saturday and Sunday, the second event of the week which I was scared of – the Marin Dusk ‘Til Dawn Mountain Bike Race. This was from Saturday 7pm till Sunday 7am. I had a dual role – I was a member of a team of four (relay style); but my wife was crazy enough to try it solo, so I was also her support team and pit crew.

The race went pretty good for me – I was lucky (?) enough to get the first lap, where there’s loads of jostling among the 400-odd riders along the (wide) forest roads before the entrance to the first bit of (single-file) singletrack. This was lots of fun. I managed reasonably good times of 0:52, 0:48, 0:46 and 0:51 for my four 9.2-mile laps, though I did manage to waste two minutes when the cleat came off the bottom of my shoe. Our team came 30th out of 78 teams which we’re quite pleased with.

Claire meanwhile did excellently – she survived all twelve hours, paced herself correctly, and covered over 100 miles. Which I think is pretty amazing off-road. Solo results aren’t available yet but either way, just lasting for the whole 12 hours is an achievement.

Anyway, I’m glad the week is over. This week I’ll probably just be doing stuff on my contract to make up for last week’s backlog, but that’s OK.

Day Two of Symbian Show

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

I can’t remember this as well, as I am writing it about 5 days later. However…

  1. I had a good chat with some of Nokia’s Carbide.C++ guys. Right now our roadmaps are not on a collision course, which is the most important thing. They seem pretty pleased that there are potentially third-party plug-in developers and say they want to help. Or, at least, not squish me.
  2. Symbian are being exceptionally helpful in dealing with the fact that a small start-up can’t afford their licensing costs.
  3. I spoke to a major developer of Symbian on-device software who were interested in my ideas and said they would “definitely buy them”. Probably best to take it with a pinch of salt, but still.
  4. Had a long useful chat with one of the Symbian techies about how best to achieve some of the technical aspects of the tools I’m developing. Followed by further discussions with some Symbianites about how they might make a small change to the OS to make it easier. However, I shan’t be relying on that!

Definitely a very positive day. Lots of things seem to be coming together.

Day One of Symbian Show

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Quick summary of what people have said to me on the first (of two) days of the Smartphone Show 2006. Bit of a braindump, sorry.

  1. A certain phone manufacturer’s tools team reckons their engineers have not been asking them for the tools I’m doing. Implication: I’m unlikely to sell them to this phone manufacturer.
  2. However an engineer within the engineering team of the same manufacturer reckon these tools would be very useful, and is going to get me in touch with some more of the engineers there.
  3. My friends from another manufacturer reckon they would definitely pay for the tools I’m developing, and think I should sell to them just by talking to them as I did today. Once they’re done…
  4. Apparently my name is getting mentioned a lot within Symbian circles. Allegedly there is even somebody posting on the internal databases with my name. It’s not me. Either Symbian’s hired a new Adrian Taylor, or I’m a victim of identity theft, or it’s a mass hallucination.
  5. People aren’t convinced I did the right thing by spending time patenting stuff. Neither am I. Shrug.
  6. Lots of emphasis on static code analysis tools. Apparently the existing products aren’t good enough. I still can’t quite get my head around this: there are various products out there by big OS-agnostic companies, and at least one Symbian-oriented product which fell flat. So how can there be a market here? But I have now twice been told that this is a better idea than doing debugging tools. Hmm.
  7. Question put to me: if this doesn’t work out, am I going to find another idea, or am I going to go back to full-time employment? I thought the latter, but apparently that’s the “wrong answer” because too many “entrepreneurs” are too wedded to their ideas and should be more willing to find other ideas. Fair point.
  8. Lots of people have asked me if I’m glad I made the move I did. Yes!
  9. Lots of people have asked me if I’m enjoying my part-time contracting job. Also yes! And various have offered me other contracting roles. We’ll see… None are tools-related at the moment which is a shame.
  10. Developing my tools for the Symbian OS emulator doesn’t sound like a long-term viable solution. It sounds more and more likely that the Symbian OS emulator will eventually be replaced with a proper phone “simulator”; but personally I just don’t believe this is going to happen any time soon. It’s not clear to me what I should be aiming at. Need to think…

I suppose – on balance – not a bad day. I’ve shown a few slides to some people of what I’m up to, and the response has been 2/3 positive.

Registering for VAT

Friday, October 13th, 2006

In the UK businesses with a turnover above £66,000 must register for VAT. However businesses with a lower turnover have a choice.

What does VAT registration mean?

It means that you have to charge your customers VAT, but you can also reclaim VAT on whatever purchases you make. It also means you have lots of quarterly paperwork to do. You pay the government the difference between the VAT you charge, versus the VAT you spend.

Sounds simple. I decided to register for VAT because, although there’s lots of extra paperwork, I would make a small saving in tax and it’s one more thing I wanted to learn about.

But last week I got this horrible nagging doubt that I’d all made a huge schoolboy error and I was going to end up paying lots more tax due to VAT. Really elementary stuff. I have reassured myself. Here’s how it works.

vat.png

Obviously, the real numbers will be bigger, but the saving probably still won’t be much more than the accountancy costs incurred to get VAT up and running, not to mention the time spent doing so. But there we go.

The reason for the temporary doubt is because I was told that I’d have to include VAT on my charges to my customers even if I weren’t VAT registered. I was told this by the customer in question! This, I believe, is incorrect. This is the page that finally reassured me. I had been right all along. HM Customs and Revenue pages aren’t too hot on explaining the pros and cons of VAT registration, possibly because they get less money if people like me register, although on the whole I’ve found HMRC to be quite diligent at collecting the correct amount of tax rather than collecting as much as they can. YMMV…

Anyway, I really hope I’m right and that I didn’t make the schoolboy error after all otherwise this post is going to make me look extremely silly.

PS I don’t want to be schoolboyist. I think I was probably less of a wally when I was a schoolboy.

Patents in the post

Friday, October 13th, 2006

Apologies I’ve been a bit quiet lately. I’ve been working right hard on patents.

Last time I asked about patents, the consensus (on this blog and elsewhere) was that I should stop fannying around and just do it. So I did.

I’ve filed two patents (I decided to split my original patent into two, because it had two fairly unrelated things). I’ve written my description, drawn my drawings, and filled in my forms. I haven’t done the abstracts or claims (the tricky legal bit) – I don’t have to do them for 12 months so I’ll wait and see whether I want to continue at that stage.

It’s not been a very positive experience.

For one thing, I wasn’t sure it was the right thing for me to spend my time on. As you’ll remember, I was trying to do it in advance of the Symbian Smartphone Show, so that I could talk more freely about what I was doing, instead of getting everyone to sign NDAs and/or worrying my ideas will be snaffled. The alternative would have been to work hard to get something worth demonstrating, which obviously I haven’t done because I’ve been busy with patents – it seems a shame.

Secondly – writing software patents is just plain hard, especially since I was doing it to a deadline. Since you can’t properly patent software, you are supposed to describe a device which does what you are suggesting. I think, relative to many software patents, mine are sound because they do solve a particular technical problem, and the method by which they do so is fairly technical in itself. But – nevertheless – I’ve had to try to identify the pattern used by other patents to get around these limitations on software patents. I doubt that I will have succeeded. Related to that is the difficulty of describing your invention in a sufficiently generic way, so that other people can’t just do the same thing a different way. Yet you have to describe your invention in enough detail that people will be able to replicate it. In short, I have limited confidence that the patent applications I’ve submitted will actually be granted. Obviously I’ll be employing a professional to draft the claims in a few months, if I do go ahead, but they’ll probably be having to work around the flaws in my description and drawings – which can’t be changed after today.

Thirdly, writing a patent involves doing at least a cursory search to find out what other patents are out there in a similar field. Entirely predictably, there are some that come quite close to what I’m up to. I knew there would be, just due to the massive volume of patents that exist. There’s one in particular which is rather close to one of mine – unfortunately I didn’t come across it until I had finished writing my patent. I hurriedly emphasised the parts of my patent which were different from the existing one… but that might not be good enough. But of course, we’re not just talking about whether I can get my patent granted… we’re talking about whether I can continue with my tools ideas without licensing the existing patent. The point of a patent is to stop anyone else doing the same thing.

Naturally, nearly all the patents in my field are filed by big corporations, and therefore could be used to squish little guys like me. Software patenting is just a game of Mutually Asssured Destruction by them – they try to get enough patents that, in the event of a dispute, they’re all infringing each other and have no choice but to put their guns down. That’s fine, so long as they only threaten each other – but of course, it means nobody except those big companies can really develop software of any kind, because they are guaranteed to be infringing on something. There’s no choice for small companies like mine except to infringe, knowingly or unknowingly, and just hope. The net effect is therefore for the patenting system to stifle innovation, instead of encouraging it. The whole system absolutely sucks. I really, really hate it with a passion.

The theory goes that the big companies won’t bother to sue you until/unless you make a profit big enough for them to notice, so by then it’s a good idea to have some patents of your own to defend yourself. We’ll see. Obviously I’m going to work hard not to infringe but it’ll be tricky given the deliberately vague nature of patent wording (of which mine are guilty too).

Which leads on to the fourth reason I haven’t enjoyed the past couple of weeks – I am now a total, 100% grade-A hypocrite. I hate the software patent system, and now I am part of it. (It turned out I was already part of it – I hadn’t realised I’d been named as an inventor on a patent Symbian had filed in the past). I am still hopeful I will decide not to take my patents forward, in which case I will put them in the public domain. But hey, who am I kidding. I’m only going to do that if they turn out to have no value to me.

So I am presently grumpy and stressed (not to mention evil). And I’ve got nothing really prepared for next week’s show. I haven’t even figured out how freely I will be able to talk, as there are other factors which may prevent me from fully explaining what I plan to do. I’ll be thinking about that over the next few days.