April 17, 2013
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
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!
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*$cking manual" attitude of a seasoned tech geek. I was more slow, more deliberate in my unboxing, because I've heard horror stories about assembling 3D printers, leveling the print plate, dealing with arcane software, etc. Let's see if the MakerBot Replicator2 is really the "Macintosh moment" of 3D printing, eh?
Opening the box put the printer in plain sight for me, wrapped in the biggest cloth shopping bag I've seen outside of Ikea.
What I will do with that bag, I have no idea. If the MakerBot team thinks I'm taking my Replicator on field trips to friends, etc., they must be nuts. I don't want to risk breaking a very expensive printer, let alone re-leveling it every time it is bagged up.
Bag aside, the printer's vitals are tied down with some serious zip ties. I broke a pair of scissors trying to cut those zip ties, and scratched the paint on the Replicator in two places. And this was while being very careful. This printer was seriously protected on its cross-country voyage to me. Speaking of the packaging, here is what the packaging looks like when most the printer parts are out of the box.
Outside of the "printer in a bag", there are two removable sections in the box with printer parts.
One was obviously the external power supply, and I guessed (accurately) that the bubble wrap held the print plate.
Another section had the manual, a bag-o-parts and tools, and a spool of clear PLA material. It wasn't clear to me when I ordered the printer that the Replicator2 shipped with PLA filament, so I ordered another spool in a cool blue color.
The manual has a significant addendum page inserted that you simply must read. This printer installation is not a "f*$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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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...
February 17, 2013
I had the great pleasure of working with Brian Greenstone when I was the Game Evangelist at Apple. Little did I know that his game company, Pangea Software, turned 25 years old. This amazing video tells the story of Pangea, and by inference the early days of Macintosh gaming. It might feature a few friendly mentions of Brian's work with me ;-)
Brian is a dear friend and I'm so happy Pangea turned out to be such a prosperous and fun adventure for him!
January 28, 2013
Listening to podcasts and music on my Android phone (Galaxy Nexus, 4.2.1), I've noticed an issue with audio mixing that is fairly annoying. When I get an email notification, I'd expect a fairly smooth, quick ramp-down of foreground audio accompanied by the audio alert mixed in at an appropriate volume. Ramp the foreground audio back up after the alert is played, and everything is copasetic?
Not so, I'm afraid. What I get a nearly 100% drop-off in foreground audio, followed by a perceptible pause, then the alert sound, then the foreground audio returns to its previous volume. It's the audio equivalent of falling off a cliff. It's so jarring as to almost be scary. If this is how the audio manager handles mixing, it might as skip playing the alert itself, because now I'm trained that when I hear audio drop out, I know I'm either getting an alert in a second, or my phone has crashed. The audio manager's mix handling has become the alert itself.
Anyone else seeing this?
July 01, 2012
I had the good fortune of watching the USA Olympic Gymnastics trials over the last few days here in San Jose. These people are athletes. Their strength, energy, and focus were awe inspiring. I don't know how they do it, but whenever I think my work is hard, these Olympians remind me that I have it easy.
To spend 16 to 20 years of your life preparing for ~ 2 1/2 minutes of combined action that determines whether you go to the Olympics seems insane. Yet ultimately inspiring.
Good luck in London! Go USA!
The Verge has a great set of articles called "Whats In Your Bag" that document what their writers, as frequent travelers, carry with them. I fly well over 100K miles per year, so optimizing my travel bag for function and weight is a never ending battle.
The Verge articles have contributors take everything out of their bag and document it in one article, but I'm going to take this from the inside out. I'll later highlight everything inside my travel bag and what I add for international travel, but first off is the tech accessories case inside my travel bag:
- Amazon Essential Carrying Case - I bought this after several recommendations to keep many of my accessories organized as opposed to floating loose in my travel bag. It was cheap and I use it, but I don't like it all that much. I use the left side to hold my mobile devices (2,3, and the not shown Galaxy Nexus), and they just float around in the large pocket, ready to fall out as soon as I open the case. I need to find a better accessories case at some point. Suggestions?
- Nokia Lumia 900 - Nokia's flagship Windows Phone in the USA. My first LTE phone. I'm an game addict, so ratcheting up my Xbox Live Gamerscore while traveling is a strategic advantage!
- iPod Touch, latest generation, 32GB. I think the iPhone 4(S) screen is too small, so I don't like it as a phone. I'm not a screen size junkie, but 3.5" is just below what my eyes and hand prefers. I still need a iOS device to test apps and accessories. And control my Romo ;-) Hence the multi-purpose iPod Touch.
- Screen cleaner - because clean is cool.
- Assorted memory cards - I have a cool Hans Solo MimoBot and SD cards of the regular, mini, and micro flavors. Problem is, I never use them. I have a nice LaCie iamaKey on my keychain that I use for quick transfers, etc, so soon I will deprecate these from the accessories kit.
- Assorted travel cables - Ethernet (spooled), USB to mini USB, USB to micro USB, USB to iPod, USB to Ethernet, and MiniDisplayPort to VGA. I use these all the time. I rarely travel with power chargers, as I use the USB ports on my MacBook Air as a portable charger when traveling. The USB to Ethernet adapter will soon get swapped for a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adapter, as I rarely simultaneously use external video and wired Ethernet, and when I need wired Ethernet, I typically need maximum data throughput.
- SIM card adapters - While most new WLAN devices use the micro-SIM format, I still work with devices that need full size SIM cards. Problem is, all of my SIMs are now the smaller format. I know adapters are bad. My friends in the standards world will kill me when they read this, but "it works" = "I'll use it".
Sorry for the less than great picture quality. I'll submit this in the "Galaxy Nexus has a crappy camera" category and promise to shoot with something else next time!
June 30, 2012
I had a work colleague who I still consider a friend. He's one of those rare people who is honorable and takes care of others as a matter of principle. A prince amongst men. Recently his employer let him go, but the real travesty is how they handled it. The company aspires to be people focused and take care of its employees, but in this case the company didn't follow its own ethos.
My friend is now employed in what can only be described as a dream role, one that is personally fulfilling and helps so many others in his community. He makes a difference in the world and is having a blast doing it.
Good things do happen to good people! There is karma in the world and it's inspiring to see it in action.
February 23, 2012
Why these over higher quality wired earbuds? It's all about exercise. It is so much easier to exercise without the clutter of cables inhibiting mobility. I've got great wired eytomics earbuds, but lack the frequent need to enjoy them. When I'm exercising or out and about, I like the physical freedom afforded by the Jaybirds. When I'm traveling on long flights (a frequent occurrence), I need the noise cancellation afforded by my Bose QuietComforts. When I'm at home listening to lossless digital audio, I use a high quality USB DAC and great over-the-ear headphones. Wired in-ear headphones have lost out in the great user scenario race.
Two things I'd wish for in future incarnations of these Jaybirds? Longer battery life and higher audio fidelity. I'm sure the upper limit on audio quality is gated by BT A2DP, but improved battery life might be possible?
EK rating : 4/5 stars
January 22, 2012
At the beginning of each year I renew my checkin ritual with foursquare. Each year I hope they have found a reason for me to checkin. Each year to date I've been disappointed.
... and this year was no different.
2011 continued the gamification of foursquare. While I annually hope for an economic reason to use foursquare, this year foursquare decided that competition would keep me motivated to use their service. And for a few days it did. I valiantly tried to check into more places than my friends on the service, only to determine that foursquare primarily rewards checking into new places. Great for travelers; bad for the majority of us who have a daily routine within fifteen miles of our homes.
I like the addition of competition, but it is still icing on a hollow cake. foursquare doesn't help me with the fundamentals. It doesn't improve my interaction with friends and it doesn't create a tighter economic bond between the businesses I frequent and myself. For better or worse, groupon does a far better job creating an economic reason for me to visit local businesses. Perhaps a reactive economic model of offering me discounts for places I've already committed to visit isn't viable, but foursquare and other checkin services have to find a better way to both proactively and reactively entice me to visit nearby businesses. And better facilitate me interacting with nearby friends.
So today I stopped foursquare checkin and add it to my 2013 todo list.
As a footnote, I'm still trying to figure out how Jenn Winger gets the checkin score she does. She regularly has 2-3x the checkin score of my other friends. I guess that is what makes her a social maven?!