San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon – Finisher!

Last Sunday (11/15/2009), we ran the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.

In an attempt to run a faster, stronger marathon, we adopted a new Bart Yasso training plan which focused heavily on hills and speed workouts. My overall training mileage was 30-40% higher than previous marathons.

The race started at 7:30am with approximately 30,000 (!) participants. The temperature was in the mid 60s with 96% humidity. Being a Bay Area resident, I had never run in weather of this nature. Since this was a large race, runners were staged in corrals (the total length was over a half mile). Our corral crossed the start line 25 minutes after the race officially began.


Starting off, we headed south and ran through downtown San Antonio for miles 2 – 4 (course map). We passed famous landmarks including the Alamo. The crowd was pretty deep during this part of the race as the streets were narrow and twisting. At one point it reminded me of the Mountain stages of the Tour de France! The downtown area was fairly warm as there was no breeze and the humidity definitely slowed the race down a bit.

After running through the downtown, we headed north through some older neighborhoods. There wasn’t much to look at but the course was as advertised – flat.

At Mile 10.5, the half-marathoners went their own way, which thinned out the field. We went south into a more rural area of town, running along a large cemetery for miles 16 – 18, which was a bit … creepy.

The humidity stayed around the 96% mark with the temperature edging towards the 80 degree mark. We headed back into town at mile 22 and somehow I never hit the wall, no doubt in part to the training regimen (thanks Bart!)

The finish was at the Alamodome. Mile 26 had a full, cheering crowd which was very motivational. Right after Mile 26, the course took a hard right and after a poorly placed hill and another hard right, the finish line emerged, looking like an oasis in the heat.

Overall, here's how the run rates in my book:

Organization – Well-organized/staffed with 3,500 volunteers.  Course was clearly marked, mile markers were accurate. Grade: A+

Course – Low on the scenery factor. Grade: C

Aid-stations – Truly excellent. Given the humidity and temperature, maintaining fluids is a key part to a successful race. Even though there were 30,000 runners, every aid station I saw was fully stocked. Grade: A+

Swag – Short sleeve, dri-fit shirt. Grade: A

ApacheCon 2009

I attended ApacheCon 2009 which coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) this week.

Deciding what sessions to attend what tough (So many sessions … so little time) I focused mostly on the following:

  • Tomcat
  • Internet Scalable Architectures
  • Lucene
  • Solr
  • Hadoop/Mahout

Unlike the Cloud Computing conference I attended earlier in the week, there were no vendor presentations, pushing their solution. Instead, sessions were generally led by project committers. This meant that the speaker was very knowledgeable about his/her subject and was able to answer in-depth question off the cuff. Very Gnomedex-like!

Slides of each session are supposed to be up on the ApacheCon website “soon”. In the meantime, I’ve included links to some of the sessions. Unfortunately, some were hand drawn, so no slides :-(

I’m not sure on the date for the next ApacheCon but I would highly recommend attending if you are interested in ASF-related projects.

Cloud Computing Attracts Big Players

The Cloud Computing Conference in Santa Clara, CA (11/2/2009 – 11/4/2009) was well attended and featured a number of companies.

There were a number of large players offering cloud solutions. They are not just dipping a toe in the water, instead many enterprise players are putting significant efforts behind their cloud offerings.

Some of the large players included:

  • Intel
  • Oracle (yes, even though Larry said cloud computing was vapor)
  • EMC (focusing on storage, disaster recovery)
  • Unisys
  • Yahoo
  • Microsoft
  • SAP
  • Sun
  • VMWare

There were a number of cloud vendors, ranging from large to small startups:

  • Rackspace
  • RightScale
  • 3Tera

Amazon did not make an official appearance, although Jeff Barr tweeted that he would be in attendance.

Major takeaways:

  • Vendors smell large opportunity. Agatha Poon of the Yankee Group thought large scale adoption was a number of years out, with adoption varying by sector. Interestingly, she stated that the healthcare sector was more optimistic on cloud adoption, ahead of both manufacturing and finance.
  • Still working on “closing the deal” – many discussions about overcoming “myths” and having to educate potential customers about public/private clouds, security, etc. The cloud has not entered anything close to the mainstream yet.
  • Major selling points revolve around economics (perhaps a sign of the times): pay-as-you-go, no depreciation, etc
  • Cloud portability and service interoperability will not happen in the near term.

Agatha Poon captured the state of the cloud at the end of her presentation quite well:

“Make no mistake, cloud services are still evolving”

Nine Myths of Cloud Computing

Richard Marcello, SVP Unisys, gave the keynote presentation at the Cloud Computing Expo. His talk was entitled “The Time is Right for Enterprise Cloud Computing

The most interesting part of the presentation was a list of the “Nine Myths of Cloud Computing”:

  • Myth #9 - Cloud computing is not new, not revolutionary
  • Myth #8 - All clouds are the same
    The speaker noted that there are many different types of clouds including: public, private and hybrid. He felt that in the long run, most companies would end up with hybrid solutions, running what is appropriate for each type of cloud.
  • Myth #7 - Cloud computing is about technology
    Marcello walked through a slide of Forrester info on traditional data center vs a cloud-based solution. He focused on expense, financial risk and depreciation, noting that cloud computing is also about cost.
  • Myth #6 - Private clouds have no benefit over virtualization
    The speaker felt that private clouds had to deliver self-provisioned capabilities. At Unisys, the average setup time for a developer went from 10 days to 5 minutes due to the creation of a self-service web-based UI.
  • Myth #5 - Cloud computing is not reliable
    Marcello disagreed with this myth, focusing on having a disaster recovery strategy, data security requirements, data reliability (using ‘m’ of ‘n’ redundancy strategies)
  • Myth #4 - Cloud value is only about cost
    Don’t let the improvement in agility get lost in the message
  • Myth #3 - Cloud is not for mainstream business applications
    Marcello felt that cloud computing won't take off until this myth dies
  • Myth #2 - Cloud is inappropriate for compliance-regulated industries
    If architected properly, can address all kinds of compliance issues
  • Myth #1 - Internal datacenter is more secure than the cloud

Overall, quite an interesting presentation; certainly some hype around the cloud, but good list nonetheless.

Facebook Architecture and Scaling

Dare Obasanjo has a great (long) post about the Facebook Engineering Roadshow he attended in Seattle on 10/28/2009.

I particularly liked the level of detail Dare provided in his write-up. He discusses the evolution of the Facebook architecture from a sharded-by-school approach to today’s much more demanding requirements.


Dare’s description of how the FB News feed is assembled via their “Multifeed” service is incredible:

Multifeed is a custom distributed system which takes the tens of thousands of updates from friends and picks the 45 that are either most relevant or most recent. Bob updates status to DB and then Scribe pushes this to a Multifeed server which is a cache of the most recent 50 items the user has performed. This caches data for every user in the system. When a user shows up, the user hits an aggregator which takes the list of friends and then each leaf node does some filtering then gets back to the aggregator which then does some filtering and returns story IDs. Then the aggregator fills out the data from memcache given the story ID.

Facebook’s use of memcache is well-known but I wasn’t aware of some of the changes they have introduced including:

  • Ported to 64-bit
  • Migrated protocol to UDP
  • Added multi-threading support

Dare notes that these changes have increased the throughput 5x. Hopefully FB will be contributing these changes back to the memcache project.

The money quote for me was

Huge Impact with Small Teams – Most features and underlying systems on the site are built by teams of one to three people.

Great news for FB that they are able to remain so entrepreneurial and innovative even as the company experiences incredible growth. Not an easy task and something I really miss on a personal level.













Facebook is a large-scale, transaction-intensive service. Learning about how they are working to keep up with the demands of a growing service is fascinating. It is also a great way to leverage what they’ve learned and apply it to your world.

What Startups Are Really Like - Paul Graham

Paul Graham has posted a new "essay", entitled "What Startups Are Really Like". He aggregates feedback he's received from some YCombinator companies and created a list of 19 "surprises" people encountered when starting a company. I saw Paul discuss some aspects of this list a month or so ago at the fbFund offices and thought he had some great insight into startups.

His list (and some of my commentary):

  1. Be Careful with Cofounders
    Couldn’t agree more – it is like a marriage so choose wisely.
  2. Startups Take Over Your Life
    As much as you let them anyway; somewhat counter-intuitive, but I think the 37 Signals guys are onto something with their “do less” mantra. Working hard is a requirement, but don’t waste time on nonsense features.
  3. It’s an Emotional Roller-coaster
    Absolutely – the IPO process at iPrint and the Microsoft acquisition process at Messagecast had huge highs and lows. As did every round of venture we raised. It is really important to try and buffer the highs and lows by keeping some perspective.
  4. It Can Be Fun
    Why do a startup if it isn’t?
  5. Persistence Is the Key
    You have to be the biggest believer in your startup – if you aren’t who will be? If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that a bunch of companies had already done ‘x’ and we wouldn’t be successful…
  6. Think Long-Term
  7. Lots of Little Things
  8. Start with Something Minimal
    Especially in today’s world of constant iteration. I know a company that was run straight in the ground because they wouldn’t release until they could be better than a competitor that had released a year ahead of the them. They never did find that killer feature and actually ran out of money before they ever launched.
  9. Engage Users
  10. Change Your Idea
    Or put another way, evolve your idea – constantly. Strive to be a voracious consumer of feedback. Seek out what people think and pro-actively address. This really is a never ending task.
  11. Don’t Worry about Competitors
    Can’t say I really agree with this one; I think only the paranoid survive.
  12. It’s Hard to Get Users
  13. Expect the Worst with Deals
  14. Investors Are Clueless
    If you expect a venture capitalist to know how your product works down to a detailed level, you don't understand what it means to invest in a sector. No one will know more than you do about your product. It is in your best interest to seek out investors that can help move the ball forward, but be realistic in what you expect them to know.
  15. You May Have to Play Games
  16. Luck Is a Big Factor
    Maybe, but I wouldn't say Google, Yahoo, eBay or Facebook were "lucky". They were all smart, committed people that worked extremely hard. I can't think of any companies that were successful because they were "lucky".
  17. The Value of Community
  18. You Get No Respect
    Perhaps this is true on the East Coast, however, in Silicon Valley, I find it to be quite the opposite. Risk-taking is not that unusual as even the mainstream press reports on startups on a regular basis.
  19. Things Change as You Grow
    You will probably have a ton of hats to wear when things get rolling. If the company grows, you will want to/have to give up some of these hats as more people are hired and the responsibilities of each hat grow. Do yourself (and your co-founders) a favor and try to anticipate when you need to hand-off something; if you miss the signs it might be painful for everyone.

Des Moines Marathon Finish

The Des Moines Marathon is a Top 30 race (we ran the Half a few years ago) according to Runner’s World.

This year’s race had a bit of a different finish than previous years:

Sawe was leading fellow countryman David Tuwei by 10 seconds when, after a left turn onto the final stretch on Southwest Fourth, he stared right at a train passing on the road.

“Nobody is prepared for that scenario,” said Sawe, the inaugural champion in 2002. “I couldn’t believe it. It was a long train.”

Tuwei caught the 40-year-old Sawe and the two waited ... and waited ... and waited for the train to pass. Third-place Geoffrey Birgen had nearly caught the two leaders when the train finally crossed the street about 40 to 50 seconds later.
A 26.2-mile race came down to a 400-meter sprint, and Sawe used his speed as a former 1,500-meter runner to pull away and win the $3,000 top prize in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 50 seconds. Tuwei finished 5 seconds back.

Maybe they’ll change the course next year…

Twitter and Highly Invested Users

Steven Levy has an interesting article up on the Wired website “Mob Rule! How Users Took Over Twitter”.





Levy’s story is about how a portion of the Twitter user base is helping to innovate and drive the platform forward. He covers things like retweets (“RT”) and hashtags (“#”). Levy’s article is hardly the first to point out the world that is Twitter, but it is an interesting read nonetheless.

As an early Twitter user, it has been really interesting to watch the platform evolve. Like many social platforms, Robert Scoble has been in the thick of it, helping to make people more aware of innovation.

From an entrepreneur’s perspective, having such an engaged group of users is about as good as it gets. Probably a two-edged sword sometimes (when you do something they don’t like) but a great way to innovate in the open.

Some other services (off the top of my head) that have had similar user “investment”:

  • Facebook
  • Flickr
  • Gmail
  • Friendfeed

Interestingly in the case of Friendfeed, the Facebook acquisition seems to have caused a big drop in traffic. The user investment level has dropped quite a bit; early adopters have left before the platform achieved more mainstream usage.

Hybrid Clouds - Silicon Valley Cloud Computing Group

Last night I attended the Cloud Computing Group’s meeting on Hybrid Clouds.

The guest presenter was Paul Lancaster from GoGrid. Paul attempted to get through his slide deck (about 12 slides) in a timely fashion. However, there were so many questions/opinions that his presentation took over an hour. The questions varied widely – one high-level observation is that “cloud computing” still means many things to many people. Also, the cloud experience level of the audience was all over the map, with some just learning about the concept and others quite experienced with a particular vendor (AWS, etc).

GoGrid’s particular cloud offering was interesting and quite a bit different than AWS. However, being the AWS fanboy that I am, I didn’t find GoGrid compelling enough to warrant a switch. Of particular note, they are privately funded with ~130 employees. Given the costs of infrastructure, I would worry about their ability to geolocate, QoS and scaling in general.

I’m looking for a copy of the slidedeck and will add if I can find it online.

Top 20 VC Bloggers OPML

Eric Schonfeld has a Techcrunch post this morning on the latest edition of Larry Cheng’s Top 100 VC bloggers (list is based on the number of subscribers each blog has on Google Reader)

To avoid having to add each blog manually in your feed reader, I made an OPML file of the Top 20 bloggers on the list available here



Quick refresher on how to import OPML into Google Reader from the FAQ:

11. Can I import an existing subscription list?
If you're switching from another feed reader, you can import your existing subscriptions into Google Reader. To do this, you first have to export your subscriptions in a standard format called OPML (see the next question to learn how to do this). Once you have your OPML file, go back to Google Reader and click "settings" at the top right, then "import/export." Choose the location of your OPML file and click "import"; Google Reader will add all the subscriptions in the list to your account and start checking them for updates