Everyone will have to become an entrepreneur

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I have some good and some bad news. Bad news first – job security is gone today’s world. Take a look at the amount of protests around the world where the usual story is something like “I’ve worked for this company for 30 years, but now I have no future because they fired me!”. The good news is – once you get past that you will quickly discover you will have more control over your life if you choose to accept that becoming an entrepreneur is the road you should take.

It wasn’t comfortable for me to become an entrepreneur – it was a hard and long process. The idea of having a job security (whatever that means) haunted me for a long time. I had millions of fears – from increased taxing to idea of having employes which would take a part of my hard earned cash. Everything seemed intimidating, from accounting to other smaller responsibilities. Fear was the big factor blocking me to take action.

But you know what, after a good decade of actually being an entrepreneur I can safely say it was one of the most gratifying decisions I’ve made and I wouldn’t go back for any price. Once you just choose to ignore the fear of the unknown and step into it, after a while all the intimidating things quickly become a routine and as such they no longer present a threat. It’s all in your head right? It takes a while to adjust to it, but after that it becomes so much easier. The feeling of having more control over your life is also really rewarding.

If you have a fear blocking you – remember this – the easiest way to get past fear is to simply do whatever you fear from. Just take the step. Plunge into it. You will learn things along the way, but do make the first step.

If you are not an entrepreneur yet, take a look at this picture and take a while to think about it.

I surely agree with it – what about your opinion?

This interesting infographic shows how the world, once again is changing.

This interesting infographic shows how the world, once again is changing.

CCFL vs. LED screen backlight – is LED really better?

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Latest models of computer and TV LCD screens use LED (light-emitting diode) backlight. But is it really better than older CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent lamp)?

But before I tell you this story, first I want to explain one common misconception – LED is not a new (nor better) form of LCD display. They are all LCD screens (apart from Plasma displays of course) but it is the backlight that makes a difference. To put it in plain terms – all LCD screens use a LCD matrix which is semi-transparent. Backlight is on the backside of the matrix. When pixels move to non-transparent position, the light is not passing through and you get black pixels. When they are in transparent position the light goes through and white pixels are born (as well as other colors). So that’s how all LCSs work – in a nutshell.

Now onto a backlight and why LED might not be better choice. When you get a new screen you obviously want to reduce brightness as factory settings are usually too bright.

Usually, there are 2 controls to do this – Brightness and Contrast. Brightness setting is the one that controls the brightness level of the backlight (LED or CCFL), while contrast makes it also dimmer but more by reducing the range how much pixels can move back and forth between two phases (transparent and non-transparent). So where is the problem?

The problem is that to reduce brightness, manufacturers usually employ a technique called PWM (pulse width modulation). Essentially, this means the backlight has an ON-time and OFF-time and it quickly flickers between those two states. So for more brightness you have more ON states and less OFF states and vice versa. CCFL does the same thing but with one difference – it does not react as quickly as LED to state change and it can have maybe about 2-3 ms lag, while LEDs do it almost instantly. So CCFL might have a small “fade out” time while LED does not – therefore it might be easier on the eyes.

Here are some images how you can test this by simply waving your hand in front of a monitor – the less strobo effect as on first image – the better.

Waving hand in front of monitor that doesn't use PWM dimming

Waving hand in front of monitor that doesn’t use PWM dimming. Hand movement is blurry and there is no visible strobe effect. This is the one you should look for.

Waving hand in front of monitor that uses CCFL with PWM dimming

Waving hand in front of monitor that uses CCFL with PWM dimming. Hand movement is blurry most of the time but there is some strobe effect in place. This is still a bit better than LED PWM dimming.

Waving hand in front of monitor that uses LED with PWM dimming

Waving hand in front of monitor that uses LED with PWM dimming. Hand movement is not blurry but instead you see strobes each time screen flashes. Effectively it is like staring at fast stroboscope. This one is the one you should avoid.

The problem is that PWM is set to too-low value of a couple hundreds of Hz (changes per second) so to more sensitive eyes it may be visible as flickering. Though you may not perceive it visually it is there and you might get a headache or eye-strain after prolonged period of staring into such screen. If it would be a couple of thousands Hz it might be better for the eyes (obviously the more continuous the light – the better). You cannot see this visually but if you record a screen through a cell-phone camera (or any other type of camera) you will see it as lines. You may also move finger or pencil quickly in front of a screen or place a rotating fan in front of it to see the effect. If you get a continuous line then the light is continuous but if instead you get a sort of flickering “frames” of fan or pencil movement then you know there is a stroboscopic effect in place which you are staring at.

The effect is illustrated in these videos (note this is NOT visible to the naked eye but most likely IS perceived by eyes and may as well have effects on the human nervous system). I am not convinced by the “experts” that claim that 100 or 200 Hz flickering is harmless for people.

But you might say – older cathode tube screens flickered at very low rate like 60 or 70 Hz. True but not entire screen was flickering at once like in the case of modern LCDs – only the part where electron beam was passing by and the rest was slowly fading to black (phosphorous used on the screen also has a delay and fade out time).

This may not be an issue for some people and can be a great deal of issue for others. In any case I suspect it will cause you more headaches and eye strain. There might be also other consequences related to flickering lights (increased seizures maybe?). All in all – not good.

So how to remedy this problem? This is a tough question.

One solution I personally use is to put brightness level to 100% and to choose CCFL monitor if possible. There is no visible flickering on my DELL U2311H when I use a fan or pencil or camera test and brightness is set to 100%. Of course, the screen is then awfully bright – but I simply reduce contrast to about 50% which does the effect of reducing brightness. This is not a perfect solution as it probably messes up monitor color-range but works quite fine for me (I am looking at text most of the time anyway). This particular model has CCFL backlight. The idea is to get a continuous light rather than stroboscope effect. If brightness is set to 100% the more backlight will bleed-through the LCD screen (black is almost never a perfect black) but at least the light is continuous. This is the reason why I choose DELL U2311H over its newer replacement DELL U2312HM (which uses LED as backlight).

Another solution might be choosing a monitor that does not employ PWM as a method of reducing brightness. These are quite rare though. One model I found (but haven’t tested myself) is HP ZR2740w. They may be hard to find but there are others too (look at links at the bottom of this post).

Some LED monitors may also not flicker at 100% – any case where the light is continuous is better than a pulse width modulated version. The easiest way to test this is to quickly move a pencil or put a fan or camera in front of the white screen and change brightness levels. Additional problem may be that some manufacturers also flicker even on 100% brightness settings.

Perhaps some future technology might give an answer to this – like OLED which might emit light continuously. But for now you should take more care when choosing your next screen or selecting its brightness settings.

And one more thing – if you plan on reading eBooks – you should prefer eBook reader like Kindle over the iPad because the former has E-Ink based display and the latter has LCD screen. It is still better to look at reflected light (like from a paper or eBook reader based on E-Ink) than directly from a light source (like from a screen) – the eyes are more used to watching reflected light than a light source directly which all monitor or TV screens are. Not to mention that E-Ink reader doesn’t flicker at all and displays images/text continuously. Of course iPad is more versatile for various other tasks like games, web etc. (not to mention eBook readers may not have color support) so this applies only for reading text and looking at static pictures.

Regardless of all of the above, your eyes still need occasional rest from screen or paper viewing (or reading) otherwise eye-strain and headaches will occur regardless.

Here are some links for further reading into this subject if you are interested:

Informing About LCDs And Luminescence

Fortschritt durch LED (German)English translation by Google

Pulse Width Modulation

Discussion on this topic as well as several monitors that don’t use PWM

2015 update:

It appears that more manufacturers are taking PWM issue into account – which is a good thing – here is what I found recently:

EIZO explains a bit about PWM flickering here

Acer Aspire S7 screen might not have screen flickering above 27% brighness level

2017 update:

Flicker Free Monitor Database – TFT central now maintains a regular list of non-flickering (PWM-free) monitors
PC Monitors – Recommendations – Recommended monitors on pcmonitors.info also feature PWM information

The Big business myth – Is bigger always better?

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What is it with us that we are so easily impressed by the size of company someone runs? Perhaps it scares the heck of us that a company of that size is managed by a guy/gal we know. It is one of the common myths in business to size up the company by the number of employees working for it. Bigger is better and more impressive.

If you have a conversation with someone and he/she asks you: How big is your company?
Your reply might be: I have over 100 employees.
The response you would get might be – Wow, nice!
You received a form of compliment.

If, instead, you answer – I have 2 employees.
The reply might be different – Oh, that’s nice.
Just said to be polite. Not impressive at all.

However, in reality the bigger is not always better. Sure, there are cases where it really is. But it also creates unnecessary drag. For this reason alone, quite often, big companies would prefer to be smaller. Does your small company strive to get bigger for wrong reasons?

There is another thing with big companies – quite often they are disconnected from their end users and don’t entirely understand their needs.

I have example related to this in our own company – we’ve been making income just from using disadvantages of Microsoft (and a few other companies) products and filling the needs of real users in our software like yDecode and OE Classic. The thing is that the gaps we’ve been filling with our software had existed for decades and nobody in large companies ever took notice. Fixing the gap in their software would require maybe 50 lines of code – if they could notice it, that is.

That is the difference in agility of a small vs. large company. Think of small company as a small motor boat while big company could be a large cruiser. Obviously each one is better for their purposes.

What I propose here is neither of those two. The idea of perfect sized company doing work the most efficient way possible is my idea of a perfect business. Find the right size for you and stay that way. Maybe it is 5 employees, maybe it is 250 and maybe it is outsourcing the whole thing without any regular employees. It’s your choice to determine which size is perfect for your company.

So next time if someone asks you how many employees you have – be proud with your answer and don’t care about their reply. After all, you do have a business and you took responsibility of your life by running it. You’ll miss the simplicity of doing business you have now, when your business becomes big. Or even better, find the perfect size for your company and stay that way.

111 years old light bulb

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You know how things happen to break just a short time after the warranty runs out right? We’ve all heard stories how they don’t make things to last anymore.
Yea right – but we live in modern times, today we can only make things better!

Well, this story is about 111 years old light bulb – it’s called Centennial Bulb. And it is not the only long-lasting bulb, there are a few others but less known. Coincidence or better engineering? The latter, I believe.

As it appears, the bulb has been continuously on for 111 years (since 1901) with just a handful of times being turned off for short period. That’s over 972360 hours. The irony is that it outlasted a couple of webcams that have been recording it. And that today’s so-called modern light bulbs are guaranteed to last for 1000 hours. In the early days light bulbs were guaranteed to last for 2500 hours (and then re-engineered to shorten life span instead of the opposite).

Planned obsolescence anyone?

It is not an amazing sight (especially their website) but it is worth seeing or perhaps even visiting the place.

Take a look here:

And webcam sight:

They certainly don’t make things like that anymore.

Here is an interesting documentary on the topic: