Avoid dropping out at all costs

After reading this post, I got the urge to write a reply of some sorts, with my thoughts about dropping out to build a startup.

My advice: Don’t do it, there is always time, but it’s harder to get back to studying once you’ve dropped out.

What set me going was this last paragraph of the post

As a result, my advice to anyone thinking of dropping out is to keep studying, and use every opportunity to build projects and startups on the side. When something starts to work, you’ll have that same feeling that many others have, and you’ll know that it’s your duty to keep building it and bring it to the world. Until that happens, keep studying and keep building. When it happens, drop out slowly.

There is no such thing as “drop out slowly”. You either drop out or you don’t. Once you’ve got your own startup, you are “supposed” to put all your energy and time into it. People take Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Zuckerberg as examples, and generally don’t go back to studying, because “there is no time for it”.

As the article says, you go through a very fast, compressed, learning stage when you have your own startup. You learn so many things that it kind of feels irrelevant to go back to studying.

My story

I’m not a dropout, but I’ve still found my way to building startups, making money, and following my dreams.

I’ve worked since I was 17, whilst still in high school. I started off working as a developer and photographer at a jewellery factory. I started university, and joined a software development firm. I chose a university that would adapt to my work hours. Sometimes I would go to uni at night, other times I would take online courses, etc. My bosses knew that schools comes first, so when I had to take a mid-day course for a few months, they would allow me to leave the office for 2 hours at lunch time.

At the same time, I was working on starting my own business, developing CMS and CRM systems. So, how can you handle two jobs and uni at the same time? Trust me, it’s possible. It’s all about time management and good communication. As long as you know how to prioritise, organise, communicate, schedule, and perform well, then you can master anything in life.

So, fast-forward a few years, and I’m in Scotland doing a master degree in Artificial Intelligence, whilst working part-time for a financial software company, and freelancing as a web designer in my spare time.

I managed to get through the course, fly back home, and carry on with my start-up. Right now I’ve got over twenty clients, whom I do web systems, websites, and other custom projects for.

You don’t need to drop out to get your own projects going. You just need to know how to organise your life, find a flexible course or university, communicate well with your clients, co-founders and university staff to let them know what you are doing, organise your time adequately to cater for all your needs, and get to work.

The number one thing I learned

I took away from this experience that what you learn at uni, you apply in your start-up and other jobs, and vice-versa. It is a constructive symbiosis that will help you grow intellectually, as well as economically. Furthermore, when you finally graduate, you will be much better prepared to manage your start-up than you would have been if you would have dropped out.

Now, my experience and words might not work for everyone, but it certainly worked for me. So think first, analyse, compare experiences, do research, and then decide. Because when you drop out, it might be the last time you ever go back to the classroom.

How to deploy a static page to Heroku, the easy way!

I wanted to upload a simple website based on HTML, CSS and JS files, with a few images, and a favicon. So I registered at Heroku, bought a domain name, followed the Heroku instructions on how to set up the “Toolbelt” and GIT.

So I thought I was all set up: I created a folder with an index.html page, with the text “Coming Soon…”. I set up the repository, and tried to commit to Heroku, only to receive a message similar to “This is not a code repository” or something similar. Heroku is primarily aimed at apps running on frameworks, like Ruby on Rails, Django (Python), node.js, or… ahem… PHP.

So it seemed incredibly dumb that it can handle all these frameworks, but it doesn’t let me upload a static site! So I searched about, and found out how to do this by setting a demo (barebones) ruby app, as well as a Sinatra variation. However, this didn’t convince me. First of all I didn’t want to place my code in a “public” folder. No. I was probably being a bit picky, but when I expect things to work a certain way, I get annoyed when barriers are put up in my way.

I finally figured out that Heroku allows you to publish PHP sites as well, with NO configuration needed! That’s right, just create your .php files, and it will figure out that the Heroku app should run PHP for this site, and it will auto-configure the app to run on the latest version of PHP/Apache.

So here is how you do it:

Rename your index.html to home.html or something similar.

Create an index.php file with the following code:

<?php include_once("home.html"); ?>

That’s it!

Now go to your app folder in CMD (or Bash), and commit your code to Heroku using the following:

git add .
git commit -m 'Change this to a meaningful description'
git push heroku master

 And finally, you should get the following:

-----> Heroku receiving push
-----> PHP app detected
-----> Bundling Apache version 2.2.22
-----> Bundling PHP version 5.3.10
-----> Discovering process types
Default types for PHP -> web -----> Compiled slug size: 9.5MB
-----> Launching... done, v4

Congratulations! You have published a static site to Heroku with one line of PHP code :)

From a screenshot to a CSS ‘image’

I must say I was pretty impressed when I saw the Mona Lisa rendered using pure CSS. While talking about it with a friend, I told him I thought it had been done using an automated process, where a program would read an image as an array of pixels, and would output an HTML file containing a CSS section with a bunch of box-shadows that “represent” the image.

Why “represent”? Well, the amount of CSS required to represent each pixel in the image would be massive. Therefore, the better approach is to take a pixel from each 5×5 pixel block, which will represent that block, and use a CSS box shadow which will converge (fade) into nearby pixels. Therefore, giving an approximate representation of that the full image looked like.

So I set about doing a Python program that would do this. Shortly after finishing the Python version, my friend pointed me towards this file which does a similar thing using PHP. Oh well, at least I had fun coding it.

So, my program basically allows you to take a screenshot of your desktop and convert it into a CSS version of the image, or you can take a png/jpg file and do the same thing.

The output (example below) is pretty fuzzy, but I’m thinking I can probably improve it a bit by tuning the spaces/pixels, or by getting a better “sample” of the overall colour that predominates in a 5×5 pixel section of the image, instead of just using the first pixel in the section.

Get the code from Github, and if you have any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below (or on Github).


My thoughts on eBooks VS real books

(c) PhotoDune, 2011Let’s start by stating a fact: Some people love reading physical books, some people love eBooks, most people hate reading on a computer, quite a few love reading on a tablet.

I remember ten years ago reading a 600 page book on the computer, and it was a pain. But with the current revolution of iPads, Kindles, and Android tablets, more and more people are flocking towards digital book stores instead of real ones.

Some of my best friends are quite disturbed by this tendency. They argue that the smell of opening a new book, the feeling of turning a page, the texture of each sheet of paper, and the ease of grabbing (and tossing) a book, leaves a much nicer feeling than holding a device that you feel more “attached to” (e.g. you can’t just toss an iPad) while reading.

However, whilst I can’t say I’m a bookie, I have read my fair share or physical books. But lately I find it much more enjoyable to read on an iPad (for example) instead of an actual book. Why? Easy: Digital bookmarks, highlighting, notes, having all my books in one place, requiring just one (or two) taps on a screen to start reading where I left off.

I recently finished reading ‘STEVE JOBS’ by Walter Isaacson (great book by the way), and I read it on an iPad. What I really liked about the experience was that I could highlight sections I considered important, and I could share quotes on Twitter and Facebook right from the app. So when I was writing a Powerpoint presentation the other day, I remembered something I read in the book, so I just went straight to “notes”, and copied the text I needed into my presentation.

So, I guess it all comes down to one question: Do you read just for reading? I know I don’t. When I read I like to make notes and highlight interesting things. Somehow highlighting an actual book doesn’t seem right. I remember that I once had a book with over 30 bookmarks. It just seems much easier to use an eBook reader nowadays.

So, in my opinion, the inevitable will come to happen: eBooks will eventually prevail. And as much as I like the smell of opening a new book and flicking through the pages, ease of use always dominates. There are so many books out there, and those books won’t disappear, but eventually, all new books will be released only in eBook formats.

Shivering Cold

After two and a half years of work on my new album, I’ve finally released it. The album is about distance, living in a cold country, the violent situation in my home city, adjusting to changes, amongst other topics.

It’s going live on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Play, and other services in a few days.

Meanwhile, check out the first “single” below on SoundCloud (player below)… Comments appreciated!