RSS

Category Archives: innovation

30th Annual Connecticut Invention Convention

Yesterday was the 30th Annual Invention Convention at the University of Connecticut (UConn) Storrs campus.

Approximately 690 inventors ages kindergarten through 8th grade.  320 or so adults, all engineers, scientists, educators, and business people, gave up an incredibly beautiful early May morning to judge and inspire the young inventors.  Tens of volunteers.  Overall, thousands of people.

Folks in the United States recognize UConn as a basketball powerhouse.  The women’s basketball team just won the NCAA national tournament, its 8th… which is a staggering number for any college basketball program, men or women.

What’s the relationship?

The basketball teams compete in the Gampel Pavilion on the UConn Storrs campus.  The state wide Invention Convention also takes place in the Gampel.

If you haven’t been there, it is breathtaking to see all of the posters and banners celebrating all of the successes of both teams.  Just walking in you feel the building oozing success and achievement… athletic achievement.

But on Saturday, 690 kids got a different message: ACADEMIC achievement, creativity and innovation, were just as worthy of celebration.

The Connecticut Invention Convention is made possible by the Connecticut Invention Convention non-profit in conjunction with the UConn School of Engineering and is supported by Connecticut firms.

If you’d like to learn more about this incredible program, please see the website (www.ctinventionconvention.org) and/or contact me!

Advertisements
 

Over-designed: the iPhone

Brian Chen of the New York Time reported on February 7, 2012 that Halliburton has dropped the Blackberry platform for iPhone. For me, this is yet another confirmation that the iPhone platform has emerged as the more mature and stable cell phone technology.

I am so disappointed with HTC’s Android 2.3 update to my Incredible cell phone.  It is now unstable, restarting regularly (complete with annoying “Droid” sound). The Sense Launcher (the operating system’s user interface) restarts every time I use the browser… and this takes many seconds, delaying me from using the phone. It has been widely reported that the Android ecosystem is fragmented. My experience is proof that there is little control over the quality of the user experience. It may be time for me to switch to an iPhone.

That being said, if I go to the iPhone, I will go with reluctance.

Steve Jobs famously said: “This is what customers pay us for – to sweat all these details so it’s easy and pleasant for them to use our computers. We’re supposed to be really good at this. That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to customers, but it’s hard for them to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”

I don’t believe this totally applies to the iPhone.

The iPhone is, at least, remotely like a cell phone.  Since it is like a cell phone, users do have certain expectations.  One is to be reminded of missed phone calls and voice mails. This functionality has been on cell phones for at least a decade such as my Motorola StarTAC. This functionality is VERY important to the way I use my cell phone.  I have a great app on my HTC Incredible that serves this function and had a similar app on a previous Blackberry.

As of IOS 5, this feature does not exist. There have been FIVE different versions of the iPhone’s operating system, NONE OF WHICH support this feature. Moreover, for “security” reasons, Apple prevents developers from adding this functionality through an app.

Given all of this appears, the lack of these reminders appears to be conscientious design decision on Apple’s part.

If the lack of customizable audible reminders is a design choice, I argue that the iPhone is over-designed.  By over-designed I mean that the design forces a specific usage model on a user and a model that is inconsistant with the way some users function.

That being said, I figured that since Apple is filled with such great designers, starting with the late Steve Jobs, I might be wrong about this. Therefore, I set out to find a rationale for this design choice.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • The iPhone is not really a phone.

If we assume this is correct, then why does IOS 5 have a setting to remind users of missed SMS messages? (even this is a shortsighted: the reminders max out at 10 reminders spaced every two minutes, for a total of 20 minutes of reminding… so if you are away from your phone for 20 minutes, you miss it). No, this can’t be it: even the name, iPhone, has “phone” in it.

  • Since iPhone users constantly look at their phone every waking moment of the day, they will see a visual notification.

Even though I use my cell phone a lot, it isn’t the center of my existence.  I don’t check it all the time. From other comments throughout the internet on this topic, there are a lot of us who don’t look at their cell phones all the time and need audible reminders of missed calls and voicemails.

The point is this…

The way we use our cell phones is very personal.  They are now part of how we function.  The phenomenal success of the App Store is a testimony to this statement: people personalize their phone with apps, cases, docking stations… well, you get it, the whole ecosystem that has sprung up around the iPhone. They buys these things to allow the phone to support they way they function.

Originally Steve said that the apps that came with the iPhone were all everyone would ever need.  (See an article in The Guardian here about this).  Steve got this wrong… so wrong that Apple is about to celebrate 25 BILLION APPS being downloaded from the App Store.  Indeed, the iPhone and the App Store are the epitome of empowering the user to use the iPhone the way they want it.

With this as a backdrop I’ve got to ask this: why doesn’t the Apple allow iPhone users to personalize how their phones remind them of missed calls, voice mails, missed SMS, etc, like virtually every other smartphone, even the lowly Blackberry line?

The only rationale I have left is this: Steve didn’t like to be interrupted by a cell phone reminding him of something.  Steve didn’t like to be nagged.  

I’m about a third of the way through reading Isaacson’s biography of Steve.  Based on everything I’ve read, this seems to be the most plausable.

Really great designers often seem to act like gods for the masses. They bring design and order to where there was none.  I, for one, respect a lot of designers.

But there are two ways of acting like a god:

  • You can dictate and force your design vision on to the masses, or,
  • You can allow your design to empower the masses

I think Apple is schizophrenic in this sense: it plays both ways.

I challenge Apple, now that Steve is gone and not dictating anymore, to be less schizophrenic. Empower users by meeting all of their expectations, not just the ones that meet a narrow definition of what a product should be. Please, give us a complete cell phone experience, not a limited over-designed iPhone cell phone experience.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Apple, design, innovation, iPhone, smartphones, users

 

Tags: , , , , ,

SCIESF epilogue

Just a quick note to say how amazing it was to judge the SCIESF again (see my previous post on judging at SCIESF).

And what’s not to like? I get to see friends again and I get to immerse myself in science topics I would not otherwise look into deeply.

It was also an opportunity to meet some incredible students.  I’m always fascinated to hear the stories what led them to their research:

  • In one case, it was a students fascination withBioluminescence that led him to pursue optogenetics and find a mentor at Yale University
  • In another, it was a group of students answering a STEM challenge set forth by Sikorsky Aircraft
  • One student wanted to pursue forensics, but didn’t like blood and gore so she thought pursuing document forensics was more her suit
  • Another, it was the pursuit of the basic mechanisms that cause cancer
  • And yet another the research was the end point of three years in understanding the mechanisms of gene expression.

My hats of to these student, their teachers, mentors, and parents.  The pursuit of science, in all of these cases at a college or even post-graduate level, meant that these students had been lead to understand the value of understanding complex systems, communication and cooperation with others, and hard work.

I am wondering which will be a Nobel laureate.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 4, 2012 in education, growing up, innovation, learning, thought

 

Southern Connecticut Invitational Engineering and Science Fair Judging

This will be a brief post… but I’m really excited about judging the Southern Connecticut Invitational Engineering and Science Fair tomorrow.  Here’s the research I’ll be judging.  I’d like to remind you that this is the research of Southern Connecticut high school students, even though it is most often at a bachelor’s or sometimes even graduate level.

  • Optogenetic Interrogation of Prefrontal Cortex Dopamine D1 Receptor-Containing Neurons as a Technique to Restore Timing: A Novel Approach to Treat Prefrontal Disorders
    • I don’t know much about it yet, but I’m reading like crazy.  Found a great website that describes optogenetics
  • The Effect of Carbohydrate Inhibitor Tris-HCl on Creating Ketogenic Diet Conditions to Treat Epilepsy
    • Cool, I’ve been on a ketogenic diet, so I know a little bit of what is going on here.  I never knew that ketone bodies replace glucose as an energy source when passed through the brain and that apparently glucose in the brain can trigger epilepsy.
  • Sikorsky STEM Challenge
    • Designing an engine mount for a WWII F4U Corsair carrier based fighter airplane… Tim Allen cool! (cue his famous grunting noise…) Never flown in a Corsair, but I’ve been up-close and personal with one!
  • Individual Characteristic Analysis of Stamps Retrieved From Scanned Documents
    • Something I’ve actually studied while I was at Pitney Bowes. I’m actually a co-inventor of a patent in this area (7,889,885).
  • Creating a Cre/Lox Barcoding System: A Potential Breakthrough in Tracking the Heterogeneity of Glioblastoma Multiform
    • Just learned a lot about Cre/Lox recombination (thank you Wikipedia) and apparently this research is about using it to understand the performance of Glioblastoma Multiform, the most common and malignant form of primary intracranial tumor.
  • Finding the Optimal AlphaScreen Conditions for SMCX, a Histone Demethylas
    • Last thing to study tonight… AlphaScreen is a novel proximity-based assay developed by Connecticut’s PerkinElmer to measure gene expression and methylation. Methylation either promotes or silences gene expression, which of course can lead to either causing or stopping cancer. This research led to understanding the optimal conditions for this important test.

If you’d like to see a listing of all the projects, they can be found right here.

Unfortunately, Trumbull High School doesn’t participate in this event.  I wish it did.

And to my previous blog entry on the cost of today’s education… I’m quite certain that funding “just the basics” would not have allowed the participating school districts to create these opportunities for high school students.  And isn’t it important to our future that these opportunities are afforded students who want the challenge? Isn’t allowing students to pursue challenges where tomorrow leaders come from?  High school challenges come in many forms besides athletics.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 3, 2012 in education, growing up, innovation, learning, taxes, thought

 

All they need is farming and military service… really?

I live in Trumbull, Connecticut.  Like virtually all municipalities, the town is forced with making difficult decisions about what parts of the budget to fund. And, again as in most municipalities, the school budget is a very large part of the overall budget.

Last night our first selectman (mayor, to those outside of Connecticut) held a town wide meeting on the budget.

Shocked, I read the following report on the meeting from an article in the town’s weekly newspaper, the Trumbull Times: “Carmen Denicola also urged financial restraint. He said he had lived in town long enough to remember when Trumbull High graduates ‘had only two choices, farming or the service.’

“Denicola said his generation had been raised differently than children of today.

“‘I see a lot of spoiled kids at the high school,’ he said. ‘Young people with children need to tighten their belt a little bit. You don’t need everything, you need the basics. With the basics you can do anything.'”

Honestly, all I can say is that this logic scares me. It scares me that someone would actually think this and it scares me even more that someone would actually say this in a public forum.

Tomorrow I’ll be judging at the Southern Connecticut Invitational Science and Engineering Fair. There I will see high school students who are working with college professors to research Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, and genetic defects, to name a few of their projects.

I’m also on the board of directors of the Connecticut Invention Convention which provides a curriculum and competition around innovation to over 100 K-8 schools in Connecticut. One of last year’s winning inventors, a seventh grader, has created a lollipop that is particularly effective in curing hiccups especially for cancer patients on chemotherapy… and she was recently invited to ring the bell on the NYSE.

While I’m not advocating fiscal waste, I recognize that an education that allows children to reach for the today’s future in an increasing complicated world comes with a price.  That price is more than when children were taught enough to be farmers and soldiers.  And that education is necessary because our children, OUR COUNTRY, is competing on a bigger world stage than back then.

For some, it appears, that the American Dream of wanting better for our children is dead if the children are not their own. It is my sincere hope that this is not held by the majority of my Baby Boomer cohort.  We need today’s children, tomorrow’s adults, to be better, to have more than just the basics, so that we are ALL better.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 3, 2012 in demographics, education, growing up, innovation, taxes

 

IT, users, tools, and machine shops

I was reading the article “Bring your own apps: The new consumer threat to the CIO” on TechRepublic this morning.  I had to chuckle.

The lead sentence,”The CIO’s control over workplace IT is gradually slipping away as today’s digitally-savvy workforce have decided they want to call the shots when it comes to the technology they use at work,” could have come out of a Computerworld from 1983.  The IBM PC had been released in 1981 and in January of 1983 Lotus 1-2-3 allowed users to take IT into their hands.

Backing up, historically speaking, we find:

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977, and

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

(both courtesy “Bad Predictions”)

What does this “history repeating” moment tell us?

It has always been about users, taking what’s available to get what they need, when they need it, the way they need it. Technology is not an end onto itself.  Technology is a tool to get something done.

And, ultimately, isn’t how we make, use, and improve our tools fundamental to our humanity?

It has been said that IT departments should be tool-chests for users.  I’d argue that they need to be more like a  machine shop, allowing users to craft their own tools.  IT departments need to furnish the nuts and bolts of their enterprises and the tools to use those parts to fabricate whole new tools.

I think we need to stop clinging to old models. We talk about mashups with its throwback to the term “lash-up” which Merriam-Webster defines “as any improvised arrangement for temporary use.” To use this term actually belittles the activity: it implies that mashups are put together until IT comes up with a more permanent solution.  Actually, mashups are a tool-defining activity onto themselves: users getting what they need, when they need it, the way they need it. Let’s give credit where credit is due: the user!

 

Tags: , , , , ,

When “new stuff” is decades old

Of course, this is just going to be the rantings of an old fart… but I guess that’s part of the reason to have a blog, right?  To rant?

Geek alert… this is going to be a bit technical.

The other day we were discussing the need to move an internal website from a rough and tumble, less-than-actively-supported environment to something more mainstream (as in, supported by IT).  I reflected that if the prototype environment was contained to single disk partition, it would be relatively easy to make a virtual image of it and move it to a supported VMware server and run it intact. (Translation: if the website was on a single disk drive, we could copy that disk drive to a file, which could be used by a piece of software to simulate a real computer).

The response I got was to the effect “yeah, that would work and wow do you know your stuff!”

I had to chuckle.  Virtualization, the process of having a real computer simulate one or more computers, has been around since 1967 when IBM created an operating system called CP-40 (and later, CP-67).  I first encountered virtualization more than a decade later when in 1979 I was a system programmer working at Hewlett Packard in their mainframe data center. I was responsible for installing IBM’s then current virtualizing operating system, VM (for virtual machine) on HP’s multi-million dollar Amdahl mainframe.  At that time HP only had one mainframe (hey, they cost a lot of money, even for HP) and if a systems programmer wanted to try out a change to the operating system, you’d need to come in on the weekend for the few hours that the data center wasn’t running. By installing VM, we could run two simulations of our physical mainframe.  One would run our production operating system, and allow business to carry on as usual.  The other we could use to test new versions of the operating system.  No more weekend testing!

Later, as I started to develop PC software, I watched how Intel added capabilities of their microprocessor chip.  By the time Intel announced the 80386 version of their microprocessor chip in 1985, they had added everything needed so that it could simulate multiple computers using virtualization. It wasn’t until 1998 that VMware was formed and created the first software to virtualize the PC.

Being a virtualization affectionado I’ve been experimenting and using VMware’s software since 2001. This included (and still includes) running their Mac OS X specific version, Fusion, on my Mac Book Air.  For those that are PC-only literate, Fusion allows me to run Apple’s Mac OS X operating system AND SIMULTANEOUSLY run Windows 7 on my Mac Book Air.  I can readily switch between the two environments, including cutting and pasting (a version of which had been present in IBM’s VM mainframe operating system in the early 1980’s).

VMware is not the only company that provides virtualizing software.  There are even open source versions.

So, referring back to the comment that set this off… yeah, I know this stuff.  Been there, done that… and even in more than one environment.

But I think the bigger picture is this… in any maturing industry, great ideas are going to be reused.  I’ve watched from a point where computers were so expensive that everyone had to share to a point where computers are so cheap everyone has one (or more!). I’ve watched the data move from that centralized model, where all the data is in one place, to a decentralized model (first with distributed minicomputers and later PCs on local area networks) and now back again… to the “cloud.”

Likewise, social media has its roots in technology that was created in the earliest days of computing.  In the earliest days there was commercial systems like Compuserve, but even before Compuserve there were systems such as Douglas Engelbert’s NLS demonstrated in 1968. Oh, by the way, Engelbert demonstrated the mouse at the same time as part of the user interface to NLS.

Business models need to take this phenomena into account.  Not only do you need to be aware of the side attacks that Clayton Christensen talks about in “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” you need to see where yesterday’s solutions might once again solve the problem’s your product is solving today.

You’ve heard it before: history repeats itself.  Unfortunately, I think some technology companies think they are immune from that law. They are not. And there is nothing more embarrassing than to lose to the past.

Oh, and if you are looking for an industry to model where the past is new again, look west to Hollywood and east to Broadway.  They’ve realized this and profited from it for years.

 
 

Tags: , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: