Garage

Motherboard for Lunch

We had an extraordinary experience last week, probably one of the best in recent times – we tried to resurrect a dead laptop by baking its motherboard in the oven at 200°C.

The extensive everyday usage of laptops tempts us to play with unconventional maintenance methods sometimes. From sloppy water pouring to hairdryer drying, from overheating to deep freezer cooling, from sticky keyboard spilled with Coca-Cola to complete bathtub washing. In fact, every described incident has happened to one single laptop – the protagonist. However, the most recent one occurred last week when we baked its motherboard in the oven at 200°C. And yes, the oven is those same one where we make pizza.

Pain in the Neck

After 4 years of usage, our protagonist stopped working as a result of the graphical chip failure. The symptoms manifested some strange vertical red lines across the screen with distorted graphics during boot-time, preventing the OS to start. After we had contacted manufacturer support, we were advised to return the laptop back to factory because of a well-known problem. However, we didn’t have much time to send it back due to complicated shipping procedures, so we put another two options on plate:

  • to buy a new laptop,
  • to try fix the old one by our own

We gave priority to the second option because DIY excitement was much bigger than the risk. The laptop was almost dead, so we didn’t mind experimenting a bit.

Actual Problem

The graphical chip have dozens of solder connection points to the motherboard, all it takes is one hairline crack to cause malfunction of the chip. Many times in newer laptops, the heat generated causes the solder to get close to its melting point causing these hairline cracks, also known as micro fractures in the solder joints. With a little knowledge in physics and a short research, we found very interesting method to fix these sensitive micro fragments. The method is called "reflow" where the chip on the motherboard is heated under Highly Regulated circumstances for a pre-determined amount of time at a critical temperature. The objective is to "reflow" the solder from the chip to the board via BGA (Ball Grid Array) points on the chip. The question is how to heat the joints to that temperature?
Actually, there are few methods, some of them are sophisticated, some of them are plain, however the simplest and most fun is the "motherboard for lunch" method (as we call it), that requires literally baking the motherboard in the oven. Are we kidding? – NO!

The Recipe

Below are given the exact steps of how we cooked the motherboard. We took a few shots as a memo though.

  • Carefully disassembled all laptop components, connectors, cables
  • Removed the motherboard
  • Removed all parts from it: CPU, Bluetooth modules, CMOS battery, plastic parts and caps
  • Cleaned up the CPU and GPU from the thermal paste residues

Read the rest »

Invoicebus Has Gone Green

“We are all waiting the Invoicebus” site has officially got the green seal of approval which certifies that invoicebus.com is powered by 100% wind energy.

“The website invoicebus.com has gone green by hosting with FatCow, an EPA Green Power Partner, where the data centers, web servers and offices are powered by 100% wind energy. In an effort to enhance our environmental responsibility, our company has provided eco-friendly web hosting solutions by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to offset our energy use. That means for every KWH of electricity we consume – providing customers with unlimited bandwidth, offering easy-to-use site builder tools, making coffee in the office, etc. – we buy a credit that’s applied to the generation of wind energy.”
EPA Green Power
US, Environmental Protection Agency


We are happy and proud our marketing site and blog are hosted in the eco-friendly data centre, which is part of the Renewable Energy Certificates Program, preventing the release of 2,660 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. The estimated yearly benefit to the environment is equivalent to planting ~2,390 acres of trees or not driving 6.1 million miles (9.8 million kilometers).

Garage Refreshment

Even we are busy as beavers with the Invoicebus development, we decided to make a few improvements of our blog in aspect of design, organization and comments.

Design

  • Sleek new roof (header) of the garage;
  • We introduce you Christopher, our happy mechanic mascot;
  • A few adjustments of colors and fonts.

Organization

As posts have came, we sensed our categories (or so called shelves) are not well defined, and soon will become a hell of a mess. That’s why we decided to replace the old ones on time with these neat, self-explanatory and more general categories:

  • Announcements
  • Business
  • Design
  • Programming (upcoming)
  • Technical stuff
  • Tips & Tricks (upcoming)

Comment system

Here, we want to apologize to all of our readers and fans whose comment was deleted or not answered on our blog during the test period of the facebook comment system. We experienced a few problems and came to this conclusion:

  • Facebook comment system is not reliable and can happen to loose a comment (or all of them);
  • Export/Backup option is not available, unless you rewrite them onto paper;
  • Has very limited moderation features;
  • Comments are not visible for search engines.

For the upcoming period we decided to use the default comment system of our blog.

Revolution in Online Invoicing

Here we are not going to talk about small things, about tiny details that won’t make any significant difference. Here we are going to talk about ideas that change the whole web concept of online invoicing. Ideas that we implemented in Invoicebus.

Researching the opponents

When you start online business it is likely there are bunch of services similar to yours in the Internet jungle. That’s why before we had started to draw wireframes for the product, we browsed some invoicing web-apps as a reference to see their way of creating and managing invoices.

Some of the players that caught our attention in the field were:

  • Freshbooks
  • Blinksale
  • Zoho Invoices
  • InvoiceMachine
  • (and a few others)

We truly liked some of them, however that haven’t changed the fact how old fashioned they are. Beside, in some of them, we discovered flaws in their architecture design causing tremendous chain reactions triggered by the linkage of their system. For example if you delete a client every invoice and quote with that client will be permanently deleted; or if you change your company name, all invoices, even the old ones, will be modified. However, the bigger handicap we found was not having natural flow of creating invoices. Come on guys, invoicing software is not an online address book for God’s sake. It’s not about managing items, taxes, clients, charts etc; its about managing INVOICES. Don’t get me wrong, items, clients and taxes should be managed, but in a totally different way (later on this).

Web technologies – up and up

In our professional carеer we’ve followed the progress of web technologies from the early stages, or more accurately since 1998. However, the big waves in the web industry have started to happen more intensively in the past few years: cloud computing, powerful Internet browsers, faster and smaller personal computers, mobile platforms, easier access to the Internet, more bandwidth available. All of this make us realize how powerful weapon Internet have became, an invisible axis which holds the fundamentals of world economy, business, health, lifestyle, military, government. The whole planet is going online, so the world of stand-alone desktop applications and so-called ‘programs’ is going to vanish slowly.
There will be no more programs with minimum system requirements, no security patches and updates, no cracks. The question is how long it would take to happen? This is what we call transition era, period where people are becoming aware of the online benefits.

The concept

That’s why we invented a whole new architecture of how online invoicing is implemented, the main reason why Invoicebus is referred as a concept, not only as a product.

By utilizing some of the most advanced techniques for web programming today we built а desktop-style web application. Actually Invoicebus is the first online invoicing software in the world that changes the perspective of how people should see on web invoicing, or even on web software in general. In fact, it makes perfect tier between desktop and web applications.

Info for humans Translation for geeks
FOCUSED
It keeps you concentrated on your job, not on how to mange the software, with perfectly consistent elements menus and options. Doesn’t use any page reloads at all. It uses dozens of lightweight AJAX calls in the background. This significantly reduces the time for the request issued by the user.
SPEEDY
Everything happens in real-time, on a tap of your fingers (searching, calculating, adding, editing, deleting), using as less as possible of “please wait …” messages.

Utilizes the most advanced JavaScript techniques by making all heavy calculations at client side, releasing the server from the heavy weight.
FLOW
Doesn’t have specialized pages for management of clients, items and taxes. They are all integrated in the invoice itself. Smoothly like waltz. WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get.

We haven’t invented hot water, however what we invented is the ‘focused speedy flow’ of the water through the pipeline. If you get it, you probably are among the growing group of savvy people who has signed up at http://invoicebus.com and impatiently wait the bus to arrive.

Motivational Fuel for Invoicebus

Sometimes ideas and skills are not enough to take the plunge and begin your own project. Sometimes you need a motivation booster, a hammer that will help you to break the ice and make the first step.

It took a few years to find our hammer, our courage amplifier called 37signals, a great company that sells web-based software. Actually, the upturn point in our professional lives was when we discovered and read their first book called “Getting Real”, written by the founder Jason Fried and their partner David Heinemeier Hansson. In the book they talk about principles of building web application and running a service based online business. Every essay from the book was like a mosaic of words specially written for us. Most important, the book makes us realize that doing what we like is freedom, and liking what we do is happiness.


“Getting Real is a smaller, faster, better way to build software.”

“Getting real is less. Less mass, less software, less features, less paperwork, less of everything that’s not essential.”

“Getting Real is staying small and being agile.”

Fragments from the book
“Getting Real” by 37signals


The wealth of principles exposed in “Getting Real” is so immense that melted our scepticism and provoked us to start thinking of how to implement some of them in our own product. Actually Invoicebus is a product conceived with their blessing. That’s the part of Invoicebus story we call enlightenment, one of the key points of how we got real.

We gladly embraced some of those principles like: to build less, to keep the product simple, to fund ourselves, to ignore the details at early stages of development, to scale later, to personify our product, to make the interface before implementing the logic, to use the epicenter design for building.

One of the best advice was to ignore the functional spec and directly build the real thing instead. Actually, that raised our creativity to its majestic peak. Also, we’ve felt on our own skin the thesis that a small team is more agile and efficient than a bigger one, more organized and more productive. Indeed, a member from a small team can wears different hats in different situations creating a distributed wave of knowledge for all parts of the product equally.

Other remarkable thing for the book is the writing style used to express their attitudes. No formalities, no abstractions and generalizations, direct and straight language just like from a true friend.

Shortly after we had discovered Getting Real (it was published in 2006, we heard about it in early 2010) we found out that they plan to publish another book, more business specific, called “Rework”. We read “Getting Real” online for free, however we were thrilled from it so we bought “Rework” in printed version. In the first week of sale “Rework” became New York Times bestseller. This book is no less brilliant than the first one, full with their simple but powerful approaches. Actually it’s a must have for every business no matter how big or small it is.


“This is a different kind of business book for different kinds of people – from those who have never dreamed of starting a business to those who already have a successful company up and running.”

“It’s for hard-core entrepreneurs, the Type A go-getters of the business world. People who feel like they were born to start, lead, and conquer.”

“It’s even for people stuck in day jobs who have always dreamed about doing their own thing. Maybe they like what they do, but they don’t like their boss. Or maybe they’re just bored. They want to do something they love and get paid for it.”

Fragments from the book
“Rework” by J. Fried and D.H. Hansson



Rework book + part of our working environment


Those books launched us far beyond the boundaries of disbelief and doubt, on the place where motivation grows as a plant seeded with enthusiasm, belief and goodwill.

This blog post is kind of tribute for them, 37signals, a gratitude for the great work they’ve done by writing and publishing these 2 golden treasures.

Thank you guys for the pure awesomeness you exposed in that 171 pages of “Getting Real” and 280 pages of “Rework”.

Hosting Struggle – Round 1

As a bootstrapped company every cent is valuable for us, so we always look to reduce our costs and expenses. Because of the limited budget, we decided to make one week test on a free hosting service, thus lowering the costs for web hosting at the start.

Usually free web hosting is not always as reliable and secure as it’s presented, however we decided to give it a try. There are a lot of hosting companies that offer absolutely free hosting like www.000webhost.com, www.weebly.com, www.webs.com, etc. with limited resources. We chose 000webhost.com because it offers 1500 MB disk space, 100 GB monthly transfer, your own domain name, and support for PHP and MySQL. It seemed more than enough for start.




This is great deal for all start-up companies, actually who wouldn’t like an offer like this? So we signed up and uploaded our early marketing site and blog, but after a while we noticed that invoicebus.com is not accessible for a short period of the day, and this was happening almost every day. Their site says they have 99% uptime which is not very convenient for serious web hosting. If we have 30 days every month with simple math we get 7.2 hours downtime every month (30 days * 24 hours = 720 hours a month; 1% of 720 is 7.2) so on a yearly basis you get more then 80 hours of downtime. This was unacceptable for us, even for our early marketing site, and from this experience we decided that we can’t host our site on another free web hosting, so started searching alternative paid hosting providers, with reliability in mind.

There are a lot of hosting companies so choosing the right one is not very straightforward process. We started reading various reviews for hosting companies, and in most reviews we saw the same hosting companies. What caught our eyes was a hosting company named Fatcow founed in 1998, which servers and offices are powered with 100% wind energy.




They are specialized for hosting personal and small business sites, and offer one unlimited plan, with unlimited disk space, bandwidth, domains, mail accounts, MySQL databases, and plenty of other stuff. For all the things you get, the price is quite decent, with discount for the first year. One of the greatest thing about them is their rock solid support team with quick and friendly responses.

What we really like about them was the fact that they don’t offer many confusing hosting plans, but "One Fat Account", so we picked them. Another thing that we like is their highly clear and very intuitive control panel vDeck. Also we insist on hosting provider with secure data centers located in the United States. So far we are very pleased with their service and support, we’ve never experienced downtime, or any other interruption about our site and we highly recommend them for simple web hosting.

We definitely are planning dedicated hosting account for our invoicing web application, with much better performances. We are considering taking scalable cloud hosting account but at this time we are still working on the details about that.

The lesson we learned in the past period is that if you want to have a good business start you have to spend a couple of bucks, so don’t hesitate about money when it comes to quality web hosting.

Hosting struggle – round 1 over: 1:0 for Invoicebus

Early Marketing Site

This is the place where Invoicebus concept has been revealed for the first time, where clue has been given what Invoicebus is, who is intended to, and the reason why should be used.

The Invoicebus Manifesto has been published here, so everyone can see what our intentions are and what kind of software Invoicebus would be. It is also the place where everyone who is interested can subscribe to our free newsletter and get notification when Invoicebus launches; get info about our special offers, new features and announcements.
Beside all that, it reveals some deeper philosophy behind its curtain.

We are all waiting the Invoicebus

We came up with an idea, to make this early marketing site more interesting and natural so those who are interested can feel some kind of ongoing process. Actually there is a metaphorical story behind this, and it’s like a little puzzle of details, so every detail on the page has particular meaning.

Our first mockup of the concept: "We are all waiting the Invoicebus".
The final version has sustained a few modifications.

Bus station

Symbolize place for waiting and gathering.

As the number of newsletter subscribers increases, proportionally increases the number of people who are waiting at the station. It’s a trivial logic that introduces some anticipation till launch date, and at the same time captures the momentum of interest for Invoicebus.

Characters

Symbolize real world people

The characters and their stance / outfit resembles the "audience" that Invoicebus is intended to. Busy and professional, confident and independent, decent and self esteemed individuals, who live their lives, love their job and know exactly what they want.

 

The girl on the photo from the left is Isabel, our designer. Photo was taken spontaneously during a short walk at the park, after which we got an idea to make a vector character and use it for our early marketing site. Vectorizing/tracing of the character was made manually in Adobe Illustrator CS5.

Nature, grass hills, beautiful landscape

Symbolize intuitiveness and beauty

Nothing is more intuitive and beautiful than the nature itself. We believe that people should use and feel web applications that way, the natural way, or as close as it could be. As more natural they feel, as more accepted and successful they would be, just like a real product from the nature: pure, unspoiled, simple.

Bright sky with pretty little clouds passing

Symbolize brightness, beautiful feelings

The bright sky reflects harmony, brightness and goodwill about the job we do, our excitement and passion, our commitment and feelings. We always have in mind that sky is the limit of what Invoicebus could be and we strive to that "limit".The clouds are all ups and downs that we face up during the development process; some of they are small, some of they are big, but after all it is still a shiny day, isn’t it?

City

Symbolize everyday living and working
Our mockup for the city and its final version.

Industries, jobs, busy lifestyle, our reality. Are the bus coming from the city or towards it? The answer is both. City represents economic center where everyone can succeed and realize his ideas with endless opportunities. It’s the magicial place where all your dreams can come true.

We don’t want to spoil the anticipation, so the other symbolism that hides behind this concept, will be left on your imagination ;).
This site will exist until the final marketing site take its place, which means until Invoicebus arrives.

Logo Design Recipe

Our logo represents a simple visualisation of the vision that our product delivers, so everytime we look at it, it shouts the character of our product, loud and clear: “Invoicebus is intuitive, fast and simple!”

Workflow:

  • 1. Sketch a few logo candidates onto paper;
  • 2. Choose colors and fonts for the letters;
  • 3. Write the tagline;
  • 4. Create vector version of the logo in Adobe Illustrator CS5;
  • 5. Ta-da!

1. Sketch a few logo candidates onto paper

We wanted simple elegant logo, easy memorable and recognizable, just enough to associate with speed, elegance, invoice and bus. We had in mind that should be scalable on different sizes too. Ready, Steady, Go! We picked a blank paper sheet, a few wooden color pencils, a rubber, and started drawing. After we had sketched 3-4 mockups onto paper (right photo), we organized symbolic voting, within our office, for each candidate. The first one showed up as a winner which after a couple of modifications evolved to the one below.

It visual appearance incorporates our desired symbolism and could be translated this way: If you look at it as a whole looks like simple speedy bus, but when you look thoroughly, it said even more. The window of the bus and the two blue lines (that also bring some speedy effect), symbolize invoice sheet with company logo and product rows, respectively.

 

2. Choose colors and fonts for the letters

Which font to choose? http://dafont.com is a great place to start with. There are plenty of free fonts for download and each one of them can be previewed directly on their site with your custom text.
You can make direct comparison among more font variants and choose which one looks best for your logo. “Cony” seemed fair enough for us. Crisp, elegant and fresh. You can switch on your creativity and transform the letters by your choice in Adobe Illustrator later. We had in mind that our logo should be readable on both, dark and light backgrounds, so we carefully chose the color shades of blue(#00ADEE) and green(#B9E600).

3. Write the tagline

The idea behind the tagline is to create a memorable phrase that will summarize the tone and premise of your brand/product, or to reinforce the audience’s memory of a product.
We unified our ideology in one sentence: “Invoicebus – Delivers invoicing for humans”.

4. Create vector version of the logo in Adobe Illustrator CS5

So far so good, it’s time for vector design. In the tutorial below, we’re going to show you how we designed our logo, step by step using Adobe Illustrator CS5. We believe it might be useful for people who want to learn something about logo design, so we decided to share our experience.

Read the rest »

Brainstorming Our Product Name

Choosing the right name for our product was one of the top priorities from the very beginning. A lot of ideas passed through our minds, whereas all of them had one thing in common: the keyword "invoice".

We wanted a catchy and easy pronounceable name, so we started thinking of different names involving the word "invoice" or similar. Some of them seemed very interesting, but we stumbled upon a barrier of domain name availability.

Every .com domain that was on our candidate list was already taken, so we had to reconsider our naming strategy. One of the solutions was to choose the name and then put a prefix or a suffix on it. However, that’s like copying someone else and not having the original idea. Also, we didn’t want our domain name to contain dashes, thus would break the typing flow of the web address. For marketing purposes we stayed determined to choose .com, and not another TLD as .net, .co, .biz, etc, so we picked up the domain register (GoDaddy) and started our search for domain name.

We combined “invoice” with different words like: office terms, financial terms, even with animals. After spending a couple of hours we came up to the idea of combining it with transportation means, like cars, trains, jets and boats. One aspect of our web application is to deliver invoices/invoicing so we sensed we are on the right track. It took us several iterations, until we came across Invoicebus. We liked it instantly, and bought the domain name invoicebus.com.

After choosing Invoicebus for our product name all other ideas came spontaneously. The name for our blog Invoicebus Garage has two meanings: first, bus is transportation vehicle and need a garage in which will be preserved and repaired; and second, most of the enthusiastic and creative developers & designers gather in garages and start their own companies.

The story and the design about our early marketing site (as we call it) will be told in future posts, so stayed tuned and don’t forget to subscribe for news.

The Invoicebus Manifesto

Our ideology is precise and publicly available to everyone.
It consists of 12 fundamental principles in which we strongly believe:

We believe Invoicebus is reflection of our passion

It’s more than just a software, it’s a real-time projection of an ideal full of enthusiasm and faith where belief in success is our key component. It’s an asset that we use to show our customers how the glow of our motivation and the greatness of our vision reflects into the product we create. It’s been built with great passion and every single functionality has been studied to the tiniest detail with lots of love.

We believe in simplicity

Invoicebus is intended to be used by human beings, who are intuitive by nature and like simple things. We are surrounded by invoicing web-apps which compete on that who has more features like: time tracking, to do list, expense tracking, staff members, contact list and bunch of other stuff. We don’t compete with them on features, instead we do the opposite: We make less software with less options deliberately, software that doesn’t require you to read help and tutorials or even search Google to operate it. Invoicebus is plain and focuses on what is really necessary and important. Simple as 1, 2, 3.

We believe invoice creation is the core of invoicing

Everything else is secondary. We spent a lot of time to bring the invoice creation concept simple and intuitive as the natural way with paper sheet, by using the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) approach. In Invoicebus everything is accessible on the same screen with no page reloads or interruptions, smoothly like waltz. We think the customer’s focus should be on the invoice content, not on the software and how to manage it.

We believe in beauty of clean interface

We give a great importance to the beauty of the graphical interface. We think beauty is perceived with eyes first, and after with all other senses. That’s why we make the crystal clear interface of Invoicebus with perfectly consistent elements, menus and options. It is interface similar to a desktop application that provides user with an experience well beyond traditional web paradigm. It has such immense wealth of user interactivity possibly to a degree never achieved before in online invoicing.
That’s interface who has more visibility, focus, intuitiveness, elegance, consistency; but has less redundancy, distractions, confusion, ambiguity.

We believe small businesses and freelancers have special software needs

Big software companies don’t understand the needs of a small business. Why? Because they ride on a different bus, they are big, they think big, they make big. Тhey build software, but their software doesn’t fit small businesses and freelancers. We know this because we are a small business and we have special needs. Owners of small businesses are constantly in rush because everything they do for their business they do it themselves. They don’t have a whole day to learn the invoicing software or dig thought their fancy features. They need a software that simply does the job. They are people who share the same vision as we do, who ride on the same bus with us. We’ve created Invoicebus for them, to pick them up.

Read the rest »