Welcome to Tony's Notebook

On missed opportunities

I was reflecting on missed opportunities recently. Back in the 80s I did a fair bit of Z80 programming. I knew more about the Zilog CTC than was healthy for any human. I wrote the software part of my final project on the Sinclair Spectrum. A couple of friends were writing games for the Speccy and needed another assembly language programmer. They wanted to know if I'd join them. I was more into practical electronics back then and wasn't overly interested in assembly language programming or games, so I declined. They went on to start their own games business and did really well. The games industry in the UK boomed. I ended up driving around the bush in Africa fixing telemetry gear. Sigh.

And then sometime around 1992 or so there happened this magical realm of the Web. I was very familiar with the Internet having been using it since 1981 via JANET, the Joint Academic Network, which was part of the Internet backbone. But this web thing? I thought HTML sucked, had no interest in dodgy web pages and sidescrollers, and was much more interested in neural networks, which I thought were going to be REALLY big. My friend Liam was thinking of starting a consultancy to build websites for companies - he wanted to know if I'd join him, but, oh no, I had my neural networks and was getting interested in OS internals. Neural networks went nowhere. And that web thing?

Then in 1994 I build this little curiosity using a Texas Instruments DSP developer board, which used ADPCM to encode speech waveforms and I sent packets over the Uni network, and then back to a decoder and D/A converter, and wow, speech over the Internet. I even built the little audio amp myself which was a real gem with an LM318 I bought from Maplin back when component shops were a thing. Sometime around 2003 Skype came out - sadly nothing to do with me!

In 2006 I booked a hotel (Northam Suites) in Penang from UK. It was a horrible experience. I had to print off a Word document, fill it out by hand, and then fax, yes fax, it back to the hotel. I thought - there must be an easier way. Armed with a pile of PHP books I wrote a simple web app that would take hotel bookings over the web. It sat there for months in a half-finished state. Then when I went contracting I had a terrible time making bookings with B&Bs. I would ring them up and get an answerphone, and they would never ring back. It was painful. So I turned my hotel booking web app into a B&B booking app. You can guess what happened with that. And in 2008 AirBnB was founded and is now worth about $38 billion or so.

I could go on. And on. And on...

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not depressed about this at all. I can write all this with a smile on my face. Fame and fortune was never for me, and it takes more than a good idea to get you there anyway.

There is actually some good news in all of this. What you realize is that opportunities are like the number 42 bus - there's always the next one coming along!