December 26, 2014

Thoughts on hardware and IoT

I've added a few blog entries recently on the Lemnos site from interviews and panels I've been on, covering the hardware renaissance and IoT directions.

December 25, 2014

Red eye reduction?

If photo editor developers have face detection, they have a corpus of photos tied to an individual. Instead of the generic red eye reduction feature that replaces red with a dark grey or black, could they not use closeups of a particular person from the tagged pool to generate an RGB value for an individual's eyes, then gradient away from the value for correcting images with red eye? It would at least be closer to the true value than black...

October 18, 2014

Post robo war refit

I built a battle bot for a work competition a few years ago. Defeated, the robot was encased in hot glue and electrical tape, aka Carbonite. Nick and I took it upon ourselves this morning to free all of the basic electronic components and the robot base. Now we can build a new battle bot! Bigger faster better!

October 11, 2014


You can never have too many C-clamps. While this may look like a piece for an avant-garde art exhibit, I'm really just trying to fix an old pair of shoes.

In the background is a name badge project I'm doing with legos that I'll cover later.

December 24, 2013

Too many blinking lights : Possible vs functional hardware UI

Dave McClure made a slightly provocative statement recently on Twitter when he said, "many VCs are betting on HW advances dominating next decade, hwvr they fail 2 realize how critical functional UX will be in picking winners." I read his statement in a pre-vacation haze, but after a late night vacation jam session I realize his statement it is more important to amplify than I originally expected.

I took one of my KickStarter purchases with me on vacation, the blink(1) LED light. I was so excited to work with this. Imagine, I thought, what I could do by adding a near infinite number and variety of notifications to my Mac via a USB LED dongle. The engineer in me couldn't wait to see the limits of what I could do. I immediately wired it up in IFTT, a great, if geeky, web tool that allows you to do "if then" statements across supported devices and web platforms. Soon I was "if X then blink" for all sorts of events, supplemented by some quick hacks I made in Applescript. That's when Dave's statement hit me…

I had quickly created a notification monster. My blink(1) was blinking constantly with a variety of colors. Within minutes I was asking myself "Is the orangy color for my wife's email or the Twitter hashtag #Maker? And is that red really red or is that the orange one?"

There is an upper limit in our ability to process and uniquely identify notifications, both in terms of frequency and variety. My wife always asks me what alert came in when my phone buzzes? I have to admit to her that I have no idea. I have too many things on the phone trying to use vibration for notification. The color LED on my HTC One? Same problem. Other than green for email, I have no idea what the other colors are trying to tell me.

I expect that most designers reading this are having a "duh?!" moment. Having worked with great designers for so many years, I too had my "duh" moment, but only after I mentally stopped and put myself in a design frame of reference. I trained as an engineer but learned from designers. My first instinct was "what can I do" not "what is the right thing to do?" I had not a year ago had this very same notification debate with a group of engineers as I tried to keep the notification possibilities for a prototype down to an understandable minimum! But when placed into the role of creating engineer, I immediately crafted a beast. I had to laugh at myself.

I say this because today I see too few designers in early stage hardware programs. The hardware renaissance has unleashed the creativity and imagination of an army of hardware and software engineers, and that is a good thing. A great thing! I think, however, we need to marry this new found capability and creativity with the greater design community to create amazing AND functional products. I'm so lucky to have worked with designers who taught me when to notice that possible is subservient to practical and how to correct it when I notice that my blink(1) is suddenly blinking like a runway light at Heathrow airport on a busy evening!

So Dave, I agree with you!

December 22, 2013

My thoughts on the Narrative Clip

About a week ago I received my Narrative Clip KickStarter purchase! I wore daily for four days and below are some first quick thoughts. I've commented about its Out of Box Experience (wonderful packaging, lack of useful information in manual, requires connection BEFORE using) on my Twitter feed.

People don't like the concept of me constantly taking pictures of them

Almost everyone I interacted with noticed the Clip and asked me what it was. When I explained it was an automatic camera, the initial reaction was often negative. They immediately wanted to know if it had or would take a picture of them, and when did it take pictures? My telling them that the Narrative Clip was doing it automatically and that I had no control over when the camera took a photo made their reaction even less positive.

No one stopped me from wearing the camera with them around, but people were definitely wary about the device. My friends are as technology friendly as they come, but there is a limit to the acceptance of technology that changes their definition of personal space.

I think it is interesting that we are constantly photographed via security cameras but people don't complain. But when I wear a personal camera, people notice and react negatively. I wonder if this guarded reaction will too wear off if and when it becomes commonplace? I also wonder if people are reacting to the concept of not controlling the quality or situation they are photographed in?

I got many pictures of the ceiling and mundane tasks

After uploading a few days of photos, I realized I had roughly a hundred photos of various ceilings and a huge number of photos of my steering wheel while driving. An automatic camera automatically takes plenty of pictures of boring things. And because the camera is hanging on a shirt pocket or collar, it moves around a lot and gets perspectives (angles) that aren't flattering or useful.

It takes a lot of photos

There is an option in the Narrative desktop uploader to save all of the photos it has taken to the PC. Narrative doesn't recommend this and I agree. I overruled the default and saved everything. Every time the Clip uploaded via USB, it burned almost 1GB of my precious disk space, primarily for photos of steering wheels, ceilings, and random empty spaces. There are only a few photos out of the hundreds it takes daily that are worth saving. The trick for Narrative over time will be to find and highlight those valuable photos. Needle in the haystack problem.

Narrative's mobile software is really nice

Beautiful, intuitive user experience. I like how they use a movie metaphor with time blocks that the camera has captured to show you what has been captured. If you get the chance, ask someone who has a Clip to show you the mobile software (iOS and Android, I'm discussing based on the Android version)

Next steps

I'm planning on wearing it around CES 2014 and we'll see how valuable that experience is in terms of catching and documenting all the things I see there that I want to follow up on. I'm also interested to see what happens when business people from all different demographics and psychographics interact with me wearing the Clip! I'm undecided if the Clip will join the permanent ranks of technology I use daily. CES will be a big part of the decision process.

I should end by saying I'm glad that Narrative made this product. I've seen prototypes of this concept for >10 years in research labs, and there have been plenty of cheap, wearable cameras made without a well thought-out end-to-end user experience. I'm happy that the Narrative folks jumped into the crucible with the Clip, and can't wait to see how the greater public reacts to this product. I don't think the concept of personal cameras and life-blogging will fail, but I think it might take time before the social and product constructs surrounding the product category come into focus. Narrative will get to help define that!

July 27, 2013

New PC

After five years in production, my Q6600 based PC is feeling a bit sluggish. It's a quad-core Q6600 (gen-1 Core architecture) over clocked to 2.8Ghz with the associated P35 motherboard. From a launch date perspective, its tech is six years old, so I'm quite happy with the lifetime value I got out of it. I did some mid-life upgrades in terms of more RAM, SSD, better video card, etc., and the system is still pretty darn good for games at 1080p (1920x1080). The box was ok for 1080p Handbrake work (20-32 fps), but nothing to write home about. I recently retired an eight core 2008 Mac Pro that could eat 1080p video transcoding at easily double that rate, and I really want one ultra-fast system. Apple decided that it doesn't want (at least yet) to make easily expandable workstations ("trucks"), so my fastest computer will be a Windows machine. Again. Here are the specs of my new PC:
  • Intel 4770K processor
  • Intel DZ87KLT-75K motherboard
  • Seasonic 660W Platinum power supply
  • Corsair H90 liquid CPU cooler
  • Corsair Dominator Pro 16 GB (8x2) DDR3-1866 memory
  • Corsair Obsidian 550D case
  • eVGA Nividia 680 GPU
  • Acer GD235HZ 24" 1920x1080 120hz monitor
  • OCZ Vertex 4 512GB 6Gbs SSD
  • Seagate 3Gbs 1.5 TB drive
  • LG Blu-ray + HD-DVD read/write drive (SATA)
  • Astro A40 Gaming headphones
  • Logitech 9000 web camera
  • Logitech G110 keyboard
  • Razer DeathAdder 3.5G (left hand edition)
I've only got a few hours in-flight with the new machine and almost no time in games or video transcoding, but the new machine boots Windows 8 at warp speed. The build process was relatively simple with spikes of "gosh I wish there was a manual for this". The only significant issue I've seen so far is the RAM is only clocking at 1366Mhz, so I'll have to dive into the BIOS (which is beautiful, BTW) and figure out what is going on. This box is super scalar, with USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, plenty of 6 Gbs SATA ports, etc. It was built to be over-clocked, though I'm not through initial bring-up yet so over-clocking will occur later. I'm spending most of my time bringing apps and games to the new box from my old PC. More reports as the system is fully outfitted with software and actually is used to play games, etc. The only changes I'm going to make are:
  • Move the 256GB SSD from my old PC to new when I'm ready to de-commission my old PC
  • I have one of those crazy inexpensive LG IPS panels (CROSSOVER NEW 27QD LED BLADE ​27" 2560x1440 QHD DVI-D Dual LG S-IPS PC Monitor) on order from Korea. I have a full NVidia 3D gaming rig but almost never use it. I decided it was time to prioritize resolution over 3D gaming now that I have the CPU to support higher resolution gaming
  • I really don't like the spacing on the G110 (keys are too tight together), so I need to find a new keyboard
  • Switch to a 6Gbs HDD for maximum performance

April 17, 2013

A new adventure

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. - Helen Keller

Today was my last day at Nokia. I remember getting a call from Rich Green almost three years ago, asking me if I was interested in helping turn around one of the strongest worldwide brands. I was blissfully working on my startup, Lootworks, at the time, but the opportunity to work on a new hardware platform and MeeGo was appealing. Rich was one of the best bosses I'd ever worked for, so the opportunity to build a team with him was the tipping factor.

Nokia turned out to be a tumultuous ride. Not long after I joined saw the arrival of Stephen Elop and his famous "Burning Platform" memo. Stephen was right in that analysis, though the decisions it forced will be second guessed for many years. Working for Nokia's CTO afforded me a unique vantage point into this and many other Nokia decisions, and while I didn't agree with everything decided, I laud Stephen and the Nokia leadership team for facing the rapidly changing mobile landscape and making tough calls.

While Rich left after the Microsoft decision, I ended up staying almost three years. I was afforded the opportunity to build an amazing team in Advanced Engineering, and over time finally started to (partially?) understand the Finnish culture and its profound influence on Nokia. Henry Tirri, Nokia's current CTO and my boss, sheltered my team and me as we focused on rapidly prototyping differentiation for the coming mobile revolution. Henry, you are quite OK ;-)

A surfing analogy turns out to be the best way to explain why I had to move on from Nokia. Surfing for me is about patience, timing, and placement. You can feel and see the ocean start to swell when a big wave is coming. You patiently wait for the right swell, then have be at the right place at the right time to get up on the board and ride a big one all the way in. Your gut tells you when to start paddling, and my technology "gut" says a big wave is on the way…

I believe a profound change in technology is happening. A hardware revolution has started and its impact will be as profound as the Internet revolution that started in the mid 1990s. Hardware prototyping costs have plummeted. The cost and difficulty of moving from duct-tape prototype to mass production, while not insignificant, is now approachable by small teams of dedicated Makers. 3PL and 4PL (logistics) is so much easier, thanks in part to Amazon and FedEx, which translates into products getting from factory to customer in days, not weeks or months. Customer validation and acquisition is now much easier, facilitated by KickStarter, IndieGoGo, and a myriad of web tools. It no longer takes tens of millions of dollars to go from first idea to hardware product at Best Buy. Think an order of magnitude less cost.

What the Internet revolution did to bits, this Hardware revolution will do to atoms. As we embed intelligence in the billions of "mundane" objects in our world, it will have as much impact as other revolutionary hardware technologies that will simultaneously disrupt entire markets. Using the word "hardware" to describe this renaissance is a bit misleading, as the coming wave of innovation builds on the software and services created by the last innovation wave. We're finally able to economically add hardware into the mix, which in turn allows us to address efficiency plays rooted the physical world.

I could not miss the opportunity to ride this wave. And to ride this wave I needed to be in a startup environment. I started working on a few of my own ideas, focused on the connected toy space. While I was burning the midnight oil, I was introduced to a hardware incubator, Lemnos Labs, in San Francisco. Started by Jeremy Conrad and Helen Zelman, two kick-ass MIT alum, Lemnos Labs takes the best ideas from software incubators like TechStars and Y Combinator, but adapts and adds what is necessary for a hardware company to grow. I had never seen anything like it, and started hanging around "The Forge", as they call it.

You can imagine what happened. What started as an occasional visit turned into a weekly stop. Henry and Nokia graciously let me become the EIR (Entrepreneur in Residence) there, knowing Nokia and Lemnos Labs don't compete. I was the EIR for almost six months, and in that time knew that Lemnos Labs was in the sweet spot to catch the hardware wave. It will be an epicenter for the hardware revolution.

I remember when Stephen Elop asked the 200 senior leaders of Nokia if they were ready to profoundly change Nokia. He asked that they answer a simple question, "Are you all in?"

I'm all-in at Lemnos Labs. I really liked Nokia. I loved my hardware startup idea. But those pale in comparison to the potential and fun associated with Lemnos. I'm passionately, 110% fired up about what Lemnos Labs is doing. And I'm excited to say that Helen and Jeremy have accepted me into the Lemnos family as the third partner.

Lemnos itself is a startup, growing and learning each day. When people ask me what my role entails, I say "whatever it takes." I'll change the toilet paper as much sit (hah!) in engineering or business reviews with our partner startups. I'll primarily be focused on our startups and helping them transition from duct-tape prototype to a production ready company with the capital and "A" talent needed for the next step in their journey. My goal at some level is to help them avoid the common mistakes we all make in our first hardware endeavors so they can make new, exciting, and game changing discoveries and mistakes on their way to greatness.

It's always a bit sad and scary to leave behind your friends, hand-picked teams, and cushy salary and benefits to return to startup-land. But it feels so good to be hungry, passionate, and have nothing but blue skies in front of you. So I say goodbye to one, shorter adventure, and embark on a new, longer one.

Hang Ten, Baby!

March 13, 2013

MakerBot Replicator2 Out of the Box (OOTB) experience

One of my CES highlights was visiting the MakerBot booth and getting some time with their CEO, Bre Pettis. While I've toyed with an earlier MakerBot at work, I wanted to interact with a Replicator2 in person and I wanted to geek with its makers. I got to meet Bre and members of the MakerBot team, and by the time I left CES, I knew it was time to take the plunge. In the middle of the desert driving back from Las Vegas to the Silicon Valley, I placed the order for my own Replicator2.

The MakerBot team are very nice, BTW. A big selling point for me.

So a few days ago, after an eight week backlog/production period, the box arrived!

replicator box

The future in a ~50lb box ;-)

This was my first 3D printer, and it wasn't cheap. Unboxing this had the nervousness of new, unexplored territory combined with the "no one reads the f*$cking manual" attitude of a seasoned tech geek. I was more slow, more deliberate in my unboxing, because I've heard horror stories about assembling 3D printers, leveling the print plate, dealing with arcane software, etc. Let's see if the MakerBot Replicator2 is really the "Macintosh moment" of 3D printing, eh?

Opening the box put the printer in plain sight for me, wrapped in the biggest cloth shopping bag I've seen outside of Ikea.

printer in a bag

What I will do with that bag, I have no idea. If the MakerBot team thinks I'm taking my Replicator on field trips to friends, etc., they must be nuts. I don't want to risk breaking a very expensive printer, let alone re-leveling it every time it is bagged up.

Bag aside, the printer's vitals are tied down with some serious zip ties. I broke a pair of scissors trying to cut those zip ties, and scratched the paint on the Replicator in two places. And this was while being very careful. This printer was seriously protected on its cross-country voyage to me. Speaking of the packaging, here is what the packaging looks like when most the printer parts are out of the box.


Outside of the "printer in a bag", there are two removable sections in the box with printer parts.

more parts

One was obviously the external power supply, and I guessed (accurately) that the bubble wrap held the print plate.

parts is parts

Another section had the manual, a bag-o-parts and tools, and a spool of clear PLA material. It wasn't clear to me when I ordered the printer that the Replicator2 shipped with PLA filament, so I ordered another spool in a cool blue color.

cool blue PLA filament

The manual has a significant addendum page inserted that you simply must read. This printer installation is not a "f*$ck the manual" scenario. After looking at the parts, I figured out how it was going to come together, but a lay person pulling this out of the box would not have a Mac moment. Even if you follow the manual's steps, there are some "huh?" moments and some things that should be documented that are not.

As I mentioned previously, cutting the zip ties keeping the printer's vitals strapped down requires a feat of Herculean strength. I actually had to remove the side panels, not documented, to get better cutting points for some of the zip ties.

side panel

Speaking of the side panels, what are they really for? This picture is after I removed side panel, cut the zip cords, then re-attached the side panel. They are super easy to remove (6 hex screws), but have no glass or material in the middle. Remove them and you have the bare metal frame, which does the structural support work. The side panels make it harder to stick your hand into the printer at an un-opportune time, but if you are going to do that, you are not the smartest person to begin with. It almost seems like they are there to be replaced with cooler, personalized versions you make yourself? Or a legacy from a sealed design where the side panel was not so "ventilated"? I do not know.

Following the instructions on hardware setup is quick and easy. I was ready to power on the device within 15 minutes of un-boxing the parts and finding the manual, and 10 of that was trying to figure out how to cut the zip ties without damaging the printer or stabbing myself.

The leveling process for the print plate initially had me super worried. I've heard so many horror stories about this. On the Replicator2, once you power on the printer, the on-screen LED walks you through this process. You turn three screws underneath the plate and you are done. Sounds easy, right? My two comments on this process are:

  1. You can follow the on-screen instructions or the manual, but when you try to do both at once, it gets confusing. More than once I followed the manual instructions first, only to realize I was "ahead" of where the on-screen process wanted me to be because the on-screen instructions were going to take me through the same process. Ugh.
  2. Level is so freaking subjective. There is no automated printer test to tell you everything is ok. For it to be level, you are supposed to fit a small card between the print plate and the print head with some friction, but no damage to the card. Ok, what is some friction?! It took some time for me to get the process of leveling figured out, and I winged it when it comes to "is there the right amount of friction"

After about 10-15 minutes of wondering whether I was level, my geek courage kicked back in and decided to say f**k it. If it wasn't level, the first print would be all messed up and I'd relevel. Onward and upward. This picture is the MakerBot while I was leveling the print plate.

leveling print plate

One massive tip. MakerBot wisely ships the Replicator2 with a few sheets of 3M painters tape in the correct dimensions for the print plate. Every person I've ever talked to says to not print directly onto the print plate. So the manual has you putting the painters tape on the print plate before either installing the print plate or leveling it? NOPE! So I leveled it first, then put the tape in, even though the instructions don't say to do this (or say not to). Guess what putting the tape on after leveling does?! Changes the leveling, simply by cutting down the distance between the plate and the print head!!!

Skipping ahead, my first print stuck massively to the print plate (tape), in part because the printer isn't properly leveled. Reading the "FAQ" section, it says to then put in the painters tape because things might stick to the print plate?! Argh! 

I'd recommend MakerBot change the manual and document the user recommended sequence of installing the painters tape then leveling the printer.

After that, the preparation sequence was pretty clear. I had the same problem of manual versus on-screen when it came to loading the filament. I read the manual, jammed the filament in position, only to find the on-screen instructions telling me to start that sequence from the beginning. By now I decided to only follow the on-screen instructions, and the rest of the voyage was easy.

One small point. MakerBot puts the required SD card into the Replicator2 SD card slot, but it is not fully inserted? Are they worried about damage during shipping if inserted. One little push and some sample models are ready to be printed. The following photo is the printer working on my first 3D print, Mr. Jaws.

first print

In roughly one hour I went from closed box to printing my first 3D model. The manual was mildly helpful, but the on-screen instructions do most of the heavy lifting without any need to read the manual. Once the manual says to power on the printer, I'd suggest mostly just following the on-screen instructions from that point.

My first 3D model looked ok, but it was massively stuck to the print plate. I found some great advice on YouTube about tools to pry underneath the model to pop it off without damaging the model. Think very thin but strong food spatulas, which luckily my wife had.

I can't honestly tell if there is a big problem with my first 3D print because I have no frame of reference, but it looks quite OK and now I can start to experiment!

I'd give the overall experience a B to a B+. For something as complicated as a 3D printer, this is a pretty good score. I think MakerBot could get an A in this out of box experience if they grabbed some good CE folks who know OOTB and tighten some of the documentation and actual packaging (zip cords). The docs are better than geek documentation but not meant for a lay person.

My next post will be on the 3D software side of things, using Thing-a-verse to get new models, and how things are going after I've printed ~10 different objects.

Why 3D print?

I believe that 3D printing will be as revolutionary as the personal computer was. Even more so. What the personal computer did for the accessibility of bits, 3D printing will do the same for atoms.

Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot, recently said that 3D printing was "having its Macintosh moment", which I'm going to interpret as the inflection point at which the technology becomes accessible to the early edge of the mass market, who begin to spread the virus of efficiency, productivity, and innovation afforded by said technology. I lived the Apple II moment as a geeky teenager and joined Apple shortly after the Macintosh moment. I have to know if Bre is right!?

I recently had the opportunity to attend a Singularity University Executive Program, and spent nine days having my mind blown by the likes of Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis, Dan Berry, Neil Jacobstein, Ralph Merkle, Jonathan Knowles, and countless others. The experience is worthy of a post that will come someday. But the net result was a complete re-enforcement of my notion that 3D printing is an important step towards the Singularity event. It, combined with other equally important technology accelerations, fundamentally change the world we live in for the better.

So what to do about this? Make, of course. Whatever success I've had was afforded to me by three things:

  • Access to personal computers at the very beginning of the revolution
  • Access to smart, experienced, and kind teachers
  • Curiosity

For the next hardware revolution, I want change only a few words to continue to thrive:

  • Access to 3D printers and electronics at the very beginning of the revolution
  • Be the smart, experienced, and kind teacher
  • Curiosity

For this revolution, my focus will be on building hardware muscle mass. Focus on atoms. I added a small electrical bench to my home lab, and now my "curiosity" time is more saturated by Arduino, LED strips, and small motors. I still write software, but now firmware as much as client or server code. And these things I'm making need a shell, an approachable physical expression. Brad Feld has been famously quoted as saying that hardware is "software wrapped in plastic", so to make hardware I guess I need a 3D printer ;-)

I can't wait to learn this emerging art and science, joining the 10K+ people with 3D printers around the world today. I can't wait to think and design in 3D. I have a few projects in mind to guide my learning, and if those are successfully prototyped, maybe I have the beginnings of a few products. We'll see. The journey is the reward...