Ian Ozsvald picture

This is Ian Ozsvald's blog (@IanOzsvald), I'm an entrepreneurial geek, a Data Science/ML/NLP/AI consultant, author of O'Reilly's High Performance Python book, co-organiser of PyDataLondon, a Pythonista, co-founder of ShowMeDo and also a Londoner. Here's a little more about me.

High Performance Python book with O'Reilly

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25 November 2005 - 14:18Great customer service

Two of my toys blew up last week. My 18 month old 17″ Viewsonic LCD monitor just stopped working and about the same time my 6 month old 512MB Compact Flash camera card died.

I was (pleasantly!) surprised to see that Viewsonic offer a 3 year warranty on all LCD monitors – they just came to my office and did a straight swap. Totally painless. The 512MB card came from Expansys, they replaced the unit in a week. No fuss, no argument – just pain-free customer service. These are good companies.

No Comments | Tags: Life

25 November 2005 - 14:05An evolutionary approach to starting a company

Here’s a nice post by a VC taking a look at two ways of building a new business – either start well-funded by VCs or start as a one-man-band in a garage (or a two-man-band from sofas for Kyran and I).

“We don’t have a preference for one way or the other, but I will say that there is something particularly special about the companies that are created via the evolution approach.

They seem more “authentic”, to borrow a word from David Beisel.”

He frames the point as Intelligent Design vs Darwinian Evolution so the post’s comments get a little interesting.

1 Comment | Tags: Business Idea

21 November 2005 - 23:11Grant for Investigating an Innovative Idea

In an earlier post I alluded to a government-awarded grant that Kyran and I had used to evaluate a business idea. I hadn’t applied for a government grant before and it was a bit daunting – perhaps explaining the experience will be of benefit to other UK entrepreneurs.

Back in April I worked with the Sussex Innovation Centre to evaluate an idea dubbed BookAnExpert – a proposed website that would let anyone trade their knowledge with anyone who wanted to buy their time. The idea stemmed from my frustrations when trying to find someone for advice on web-API programming. I was working as a programming consultant in a web start-up and I wanted to buy the time of an experienced eBay API coder to ask a few hours of questions.

There is no website where you can find a rated, reputable person who would sell their time and knowledge by the hour. There are websites (e.g. RentACoder) when you can hire programmers for jobs, but none of these support short-term Q&A sessions. Since the service didn’t exist, I wondered if we should make one.

Mike Herd (Executive Director at the Innovation Centre) suggested we apply for the DTI’s Grant for Investigating an Innovative Idea (more details at Business Link). The scheme offers a grant of 75% of the cost of hiring consultants who can advise on an innovative idea.

The money is refunded retrospectively if the DTI agree that the work is up-to-scratch. This involved some risk as hiring the staff we wanted at SInC would cost several thousand pounds – we judged that the opportunity to learn and network would be worth far more than the risk of not receiving the refund.

Paul Jordan acted as mentor and a financial guide over the following months and Melanie Page provided market research and evaluation advice. Over the course of several months I learned a lot from my involvement with SInC – they helped shape our idea and and our approach to testing the market.

Ultimately I saw that the idea was unlikely to succeed – the pool of expertise required would take far too long (and probably cost a lot) to build. Before undertaking the grant I believed that we’d figure a way of making it work – possibly we’d have been in for an expensive lesson had we gone ahead with the site. The DTI were understanding – it seems a lot of ideas are canned or changed after one of these Grants. They liked the work and the refund was paid within a month.

In hindsight, was it worth it? I’d say yes – personally I learned a lot of new skills (principally to do with financial and market analysis) and the experience has shaped our thinking towards our new idea – ShowMeDo. I’ll talk more about that over the coming weeks.

I’d like to recommend the Sussex Innovation Centre to any entrepreneurs within reach of Brighton and thank Mike, Paul and Melanie for their help both during and since the Grant.

2 Comments | Tags: Business Idea

9 November 2005 - 15:48Review: Beginning Python: From Novice to Professional

Beginning Python

I highly recommend Beginning Python: From Novice to Professional to anyone looking to learn or improve their Python programming ability. I recommended this to a colleague who had a lot of programming knowledge (in old Microsoft QuickBasic, would you believe) but no experience of Java, C++, Python.

Within a few days he was comfortably doing difficult math calculations (he’s a physics researcher), plotting data, using all the intrinsic functions and editing using IDEs (so, my evangelical mission of conversion was accomplished). This book is only a few months old and is written for the latest major Python version – 2.4.

A few days later I noticed an odd thing – I found myself using the same book for reference. I’ve been using Python for 3 years, I’m a very strong programmer in various modern languages and I use Python in a Nutshell (aimed at Python 2.2) and the Cookbook (I think Python 2.2 as well, though there’s a 2005 edition now), and here I am using a ‘beginners’ manual.

And there’s the crunch – this is a powerful book – it addresses all the basic needs and then runs on through to complicated problems with worked examples, from web scraping, drawing, games, databases and more. In short, this book is brilliant and I probably ought to buy myself a copy. If you want to code in Python then I strongly recommend that you get this book.

No Comments | Tags: Books

4 November 2005 - 0:35Hacking stuff – MAKE: magazine

MAKE :  Technology on Your Time Volume 03 (Make: Technology on Your Time)

I’d been futilely waiting to see one of these in Borders, then stumbled across a link on Amazon. I knew that Tim O’Reilly (founder of the insanely good O’Reilly computer-manual empire) had wanted to make a magazine aimed at techno-tinkerers and hackers and I really wanted a look.

Seeing as it was only £6 at Amazon I dived in and bought a copy. I’m not disappointed. It’s an A5 format glossy print magazine, thick and brimming with lots of hackery articles. There’s a bit on sleep hacking, a guy working on home fusion reaction (from the fringe), welding for beginners, modifying you car’s sound system with an iPod, converting a supermarket trolley into a go-kart, portable GPS married with a wi-fi router and an absolute ton of other articles (see article list here). The geek in me smiles.

Volume 4 has just come out, I’ll have to make another purchase…

No Comments | Tags: Life