Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Top Innovator of 2013


Who did Fast Company name Top Innovator of 2013?

Nike.

“Apple is up there with Nike, Disney, Coke, and Sony. But even the best brands require care and investment if they are to retain its energy and vitality. To me, marketing is about values. The Apple brand has clearly suffered from neglect in this area in the past few years. We need to bring it back but not by speaking about speed and feeds, not about pros and cons or why we are better than windows. Nike never talks about the price they instead honor great athletes. That is who they are and what they are about." -- Steve Jobs

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Good Todd's Notable Quoteables

Once upon a time I worked at a financial services company on a software team with another Todd. Before long we came to be known as Good Todd and Bad Todd. I had a collection of quotes I liked and posted for myself and team-members to keep in mind and glean insights from - I especially appreciated the quote-digs against over-abstraction, "lasagna-code", and Alan Kay dissing C++.

Here are a few from the current collection of Good Todd's Noteable Quoteables...
“The most effective debugging tool is still careful thought, coupled with judiciously placed print statements.” - Brian Kernighan 
“Premature optimization is the root of all evil (or at least most of it) in programming” - Donald Knuth
“First make it run, then make it run fast.” - Brian Kernighan  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Create Or Die


Creation is in our DNA. Humans are makers. We explore. We play. We discover. We build. We create. We invent. Yet too often we lose it, we change:
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” - Pablo Picasso
The fact is this creative spirit can be snuffed out almost as soon as it begins. It can be programmed or educated right out of us. The precious flame of curiosity and discovery sparking our creativity can be extinguished almost without a second thought.

SCHOOL MISTRESS
What about you, Truman?
                          
TRUMAN
I want to be an explorer
...like Magellan.

SCHOOL MISTRESS
(slightly condescending)
I'm afraid no one's going to pay you do that, Truman.  You might have to find something a little more practical.
(glancing to a pulldown wall map behind her head)
Besides, you're too late.  There's really nothing left to explore.

The class roars with laughter as the crestfallen Truman takes his seat. 

-- The Truman Show, Screenplay by Andrew M. Niccol

Despite the soul-crushing assault on the little Leonardos and Magellans in all of us, we live in a time of unparalleled personal creative capacity. The information, the opportunities for learning and doing, and the resources available to even the most common of us would astonish history's most eminent figures.

What an exciting time to be alive!

You can view world-class lectures and courseware from MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Berkley, Carnegie Mellon, and a hundred more institutions, all for free.

Explore the world, the solar system, and galaxies on your computer.

You can explore Math, Physics, Chemistry, now Computer Science, and much more at Khan Academy

You can use Khan Academy to review concepts & form the mathematical bridge you need while taking courses like 6.002: Circuits and Electronics from MITx at edX, again, all for free.

You can build an autonomous multi-rotor drone, a space balloon, or an automated sentry gun using low-cost components along with a simple Arduino "prototyping platform" and free software.

You can fabricate toys, objects, or almost anything you can imagine right on your desktop using 3D additive printing machines.

You can prototype your own circuits on a breadboard or with software, hone it, and then have it printed as a one-off or mass produced.

You can launch a startup business or project that previously would have required big money, connections, and resources, just by having a great idea, the ability to execute, and sharing it with others. If people like it, they fund it, and you might do something like this (raised $10 million).

You can build your own Rally Fighter in 6 days (of course you'll need $75,000).

You can build applications, program whatever you can imagine, and maybe even change the world

The surface has barely been scratched. Truman's teacher was wrong. There is much more left to explore.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Drone Days of Yore

What do you do when you break your drone? When mine bit it hard, the central cross cracked rendering it uncontrollable. Parrot offers a replacement central cross component for $25. So, like the cheapskate I am, I disassembled the drone, fired up the hot glue gun, and went to work.

She never did fly as true again. Now she lays around reliving her glory days under the hot sun. Soon after the hot glue repair I took her back up. The wind was gusty; The pilot was fearless (and poorer for it.) She took to the cement hard and would never fly again... or would she?



Sunday, September 16, 2012

Show User ~/Library in Mountain Lion

In the terminal window type:
chflags nohidden ~/Library

Friday, September 07, 2012

edX

A summary mashup from the FAQ:
EdX is an enterprise of MIT and Harvard University. EdX is building an open-source online learning platform and web portal for online learning; HarvardX, MITx and BerkeleyX currently offer classes online for free.
learners who demonstrate mastery of subjects can earn a certificate of completion. Certificates will be issued by edX under the name of the underlying "X University" from where the course originated, i.e. HarvardX,MITx or BerkeleyX. For the courses in Fall 2012, those certificates will be free. There is a plan to charge a modest fee for certificates in the future.
I'm signed up for 6.002x, Circuits and Electronics from MITx and CS169.1x, Software as a Service from BerkeleyX.

169.1x starts Sept 24 and ends Oct 26th, with an estimated required effort of 12 hours a week. Course staff is Armando Fox and David Patterson. CS169.1x teaches the fundamentals for engineering long–lasting software using highly–productive Agile techniques to develop Software as a Service (SaaS) using Ruby on Rails.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Mac On Mars?


WALL-E was a Mac, but he never went to Mars. You know he was a Mac by the famous startup chime you hear when he is fully recharged. Unlike WALL-E, NASA's Curiosity rover did indeed make it to Mars, and it just so happens, uses a PowerPC processor based on the original iMac's processor. The PowerPC was developed by an alliance between Apple, IBM, and Motorola. Many Macs featured PowerPC processors until Apple switched to Intel processors in 2005.

For good reason, many automatically think "Mac" when the PowerPC is mentioned. The original iMac's processor was the PowerPC 750 [1]. Curiosity uses a radiation-hardened PowerPC based on that, called the RAD 750. Unlike the Mac, Curiosity does not run a Mac OS version of any kind. Technically, Curiosity is not really a Mac; So, that famous startup chime will not be heard echoing across the barren scape of the red planet... at least not yet.


Curiosity is still a fascinating machine. It's onboard Operating System is called VxWorks. This realtime OS is also used on other systems such as the Apache Longbow attack helicopter, BMW iDrive, several spacecraft, some printers and routers, and more.


Curiosity is powered by a "nuclear battery", otherwise known as an RTG (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator). Basically, it uses a nuclear material and some thermocouples to generate voltage from the temperature difference between the martian cold and the heat from the nuclear material (Plutonium-238). It will generate 110 Watts of continuous electrical power for years.


It communicates with the Mars Orbiters using its UHF Electra radio. But it can also communicate directly to Earth with an X band transmitter and receiver.


Curiosity recently received and returned the first "interplanetary voicemail" via the rover's broadcast capabilities. But what would really get the Martian population excited would be to include Siri on the next rover, and let them ask questions in very deliberate and pronounced English. Maybe that's how WALL-E got his start.

[1] The PowerPC family of processors was not exclusive to Macs. PowerPC architecture has been used by other hardware, such as video game consoles like the Wii, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

114 MPG Car Developed In 3 Months Using Agile

Joe Justice and his team built wikispeed, a car that gets 114 MPG, using agile software development methodologies, and they did it in 3 months. Notice the Scrum task board on the wall in the factory in the TED video below. Justice isn't shy about touting Scrum, or his team's ability to redesign any component of the car and have it implemented on the actual car in 7 days or less.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Rally Fighter


I took my boys over to Local Motors right here in Phoenix off of I-10 a few miles south of Chandler blvd to see the legendary (in my house) Rally Fighter.
Rally Fighter was designed by Sangho Kim, who entered his design for the car into a competition created by Local Motors. The Local Motors community voted, selecting Kim's design as the winner. Kim was awarded $20,000 and takes the title as the designer of the Rally Fighter. Kim attended the renowned Pasadena Art Center College of Design, and it shows in the incredibly cool car he helped create.

You can acquire your own Rally Fighter for $75,000, and you'll get to spend 6 days with a partner and an expert guide at the Local Motors facility building your vehicle.

This car, and the community builder concept that brought it about, are killer ideas. This is pure collaborative innovation. How great that it's happening right here in the Valley of the Sun.

more refs: here, here, and here 


Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Van Halen Software Development Test

Van Halen is responsible for the ingenious brown M&M's clause in their contract rider.
"the band developed the M&M's demand as a means of checking whether the venue was properly honoring the terms of the contract to their satisfaction. Subsequently, if the bowl was missing, or if there were brown M&M's present, the band members would have reason to suspect that the venue might have cut corners or not properly honored legitimate technical and safety concerns listed within the contract." wikipedia (David Lee Roth tells the story here)
Van Halen's brown M&M's test is applicable to software development groups, from programmers through to the rest of the Development Abstraction Layer. But instead of brown M&M's, the fitness of conference room presentations will be our barometer.

Take any random presentation, preferably a demo of a software product. Is the presentation fraught with technical problems and foreseeable distractions, such as projectors not working, sound not working, sound being too low, projection images being too dim or washed out, missing cables, incompatible technology, screens not working, and most glaringly of all, consistently failing or poor connectivity? If so, you've flunked the test. If you can't pull it together enough to deliver a basic demonstration how can you be trusted to make anything more sophisticated, such as software?

It's like a fitness trainer; You don't look to an overweight trainer to help get you into shape. Or a pilot; You don't want the guy who continually crashes during basic maneuvers on a flight simulator to fly you around in a real plane.

But, I think an even simpler M&M's test, before we even enter the conference room, is the fitness of your connectivity itself. Do you have stable and sufficient connectivity, or does your solution hinder you? If it hinders you in doing and presenting your work, then you have just failed your brown M&M's test. The bowl is full of brown M&M's and Van Halen is disappointed in you.

Why be a roady when you can be Van Halen? Now's the best time for your team to become rock stars, not wanna-be roadies who can't even weed out the brown M&M's.

Note: I don't need to state the obvious, but I will anyway - this M&M's test doesn't mean you fail for unforeseen glitches and problems - these are bound to happen no matter what - but I am saying that there are obvious, easily foreseen, fixable problems that are considered total failures unless they're dealt with. A mature team sees them and fixes them. Less mature or less capable teams will fail to see the problems, or just look past them and not care, like bad roadies setting up for a concert disaster.

Hopkinson's Law

Hopkinson's law is a counterpart to Ohm's law used in magnetic circuits. The law is named after the British electrical engineer, John Hopkinson. It states that[1][2]\mathcal{F}=\phi \mathcal{R}_m,where \scriptstyle \mathcal{F} is the magnetomotive force (MMF) across a magnetic element, \phi is the magnetic flux through the magnetic element, and \scriptstyle \mathcal{R}_m is the magnetic reluctance of that element.
Here's where I pretend I truly understand what this means. But I really posted this because I share a surname with the law's discoverer and I like the ring of it - Hopkinson's Law. Although, what if I too discover my own scientific law by some curious turn of events? What will mine be called?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Call Me Trimtab


"Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.
It's a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it's going right by you, that it's left you altogether. But if you're doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.
So I said, call me Trim Tab."
—Buckminster Fuller

Eco-Roof

I recently visited Biosphere 2. Near the end of the guided tour, after exiting the giant atmospheric "lung" at the heart of the Biosphere system, we emerged back out into "Biosphere One" to an outdoor area set up with little 2 to 3 foot tall miniature box houses with flat roofs, capped with rooftop gardens. The guide said that this project, run by local U of A students, was showing results of cooling the spaces within these garden-topped box houses on average by 4-6 degrees.

The Eco-Roof project by Japanese firm Daiwa House Industry brought to mind that student project over at Biosphere 2.

The ACROS Fukuoka building in Japan is another application of the green roof concept
Watch this video on the Daiwa green roof project Eco-Roof.
"Eco Roof is roof-top greening system for corrugated steel roof, which is consisted of tray boards made of recycled plastic raw materials. With intention to have light-weight roof-top system, we adopted the plant sedum sarmentosum bunge, which grows with no frequent watering and maintenance. It not only lowers surface temperature of the roofs, but is an indispensable mechanism to prevent the Urban Heat Island (UHI) phenomenon in metropolitan area."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Light Bullets On Camera


This is phenomenal! This amazing TED talk shows a technique that uses a kind of "faster-than-light" photography process to capture photons in motion. The result shows what it would look like if we could see light traveling in slow motion. Utterly amazing. The process is an cumulative photo capture operation that happens over and over again in progressive-timed precision until the pictures of the light falling upon the target can be assembled into one video showing the result.

Watch the video, watch it again. My favorite part - the photons hit the ball, and go inside of it... the object itself glows even after the initial photons elsewhere in the scene are gone, as the photons that hit the ball bounce around inside of it... fascinating.

To top it off, the video discusses a technique termed CORNAR at MIT, that allows us to see around corners. Mind blowing!


Monday, August 20, 2012

A $624 Billion Tribute To Simplicity

Last week Apple surpassed Microsoft's record and became the world's highest valued company, at $624 Billion.

Today's slice of Insanely Simple:
The obsession with Simplicity is what separates Apple from other technology companies. It’s what helped Apple recover from near death in 1997 to become the most valuable company on Earth in 2011.


If you assume the book was made merely to praise Apple, it is worth pointing out that one of the 12 principles underlying the Agile Manifesto is: "Simplicity, the art of maximizing the amount of work not done - is essential". 


Apple doesn't own the idea of simplicity; But it sure is an awesome example of it.

DNA Memory And Computing

Imagine storing 700 Terabytes of data in a 1 gram strand of DNA about the size of a single droplet of water. You can store it just about anywhere, at normal room temperature, come back in a quarter million years or so if you need to decode it. In just under half a teaspoon of DNA (about 4 grams), you can theoretically store the total amount of data created by man in a 1 year period.

Harvard Medical School professor George Church and his team have encoded Church's book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves, copied 70 billion times, onto a strand of DNA. Church reports that his team is successfully encoding data into DNA at a density of about 1 bit per cubic nanometer.

This particular DNA is not part of a living organism, but created standalone DNA (using commercial DNA microchips), created solely for the team's purpose.

Researchers in Germany and Taiwan have also been working toward "paving the way" to creating a cost-effective DNA memory device.

Californian and Israeli scientists have been working on a "biological computer" capable of encrypting and decrypting images on "DNA chips". Ehud Keinen of Scripps Research and Technion reported:
"Our biological computing device is based on the 75-year-old design by the English mathematician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist Alan Turing... Our device is based on the model of a finite state automaton, which is a simplified version of the Turing machine." (source)

Back at Harvard, Professor Church conceives scenarios where we might have inexpensive cameras writing to DNA memory.
“Imagine that you had really cheap video recorders everywhere... Just paint walls with video recorders. And for the most part they just record and no one ever goes to them. But if something really good or really bad happens you want to go and scrape the wall and see what you got. So something that’s molecular is so much more energy efficient and compact that you can consider applications that were impossible before.” (George Church via R. Alan Leo)  
Here is video of Church and his team:


Not long after Google Earth was introduced, I imagined a future Google Earth where we would see full-motion video feeds and replays from space rather than the still imagery that still amazes us today, but then I calculated the probable cost, as well as physical space required for such a storage feat and realized that technologies would need to drastically change in capacity and cost. These new breakthroughs with storing data in DNA provide a glimpse ahead to the not distant future when you will be looking at google earth and watching actual video feeds from satellites, rather than static photographs. Imagine retracing your trip on any given day in the past, by watching it unfold from video in the sky. This could get really cool, and really spooky, very fast. It looks like DNA is emerging as a very ancient method to meet some extremely cutting edge needs.

DNA stretches back into history for as long as earth-life itself. How fitting that DNA may be the very solution for recording our history long into the future as well.

(via gigaom.com; extremetech.com; R. Alan Leo in Harvard Medical School news "Writing the Book in DNA"; Next-Generation Digital Information Storage in DNA, ScienceMag.org; Scripps.edu

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Avoiding The Bozo Explosion

Steve Jobs believed that A players hire A players
I refined this slightly—my theory is that A players hire people even better than themselves. It’s clear, though, that B players hire C players so they can feel superior to them, and C players hire D players. If you start hiring B players, expect what Steve called “the bozo explosion” to happen in your organization. - Guy Kawasaki
Does your organization believe in this? If it does then learning from those who have been successful at hiring and keeping A players is a top priority.

GigaOm shares some insights on hiring from Matt MacInnis, co-founder and CEO of publishing platform Inkling

My favorite bits
- Only a small number of people in the company will interview candidates
- The individuals that do the interviewing are trained in guidelines that will help ensure the hire of only those candidates that are most compatible with the company values and culture
- The CEO meets every prospective hire, and despite the bottleneck, it pays off in the consistency of the hires

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What Microsoft Should Do

Put me in charge of Microsoft, and this is what I'd do:

- Come out with a line of desktop computers called the Xbox PC. It is a PC version of the Xbox. Exactly same form factor as the Xbox 360, only it runs Windows. We're going to take a page right out of Apple's book and deliver the top-to-bottom user experience from hardware to software.


- Come out with a laptop based on the Xbox 360's industrial design style.

- Consolidate the Windows OS into a single edition - no more different editions, no more matrix of different features or prices, just one simple choice. Cut the cruft, all of it. And to top it off, replace the Windows Control Panel with something more like this:


Oh, and we'll make it cheap! We're extending all the way into the Hardware business. (Xbox PCs!)


The Rally Fighter inspires the inventor in us all
- Transform the Microsoft Stores from a wanna-be Apple Store into a one of a kind innovation showroom targeting creatives and makers (developers, artists, authors, etc) on one side, and selling to everyone on the other side (where the products are actually sold). The focus of the store is on creating, inventing, and each store would feature a spectacular marvel combining art and engineering, such the Rally Fighter.
The connection? This thing is inspiring; We (Microsoft) make the tools for you (everyone) to invent awesome things like this. The drive of the store is to provide an experience and inspiration communicating our belief that you can create greatness with our tools. Time for MS to stop trying to piggy back by way of a lame copy of some other store's experience.  The store would showcase many of the technologies being worked on in MS R&D around the world. The only hardware sold here would be Microsoft hardware - XBox PCs, XBox gaming consoles, the Microsoft Phones, Surface, and a curated selection of applicable items, such as robots that can be programmed with the Robotics SDK, etc.

- Consolidate Visual Studio into a single version. Make it free.

- Target iOS and OSX developers with a solution that allows you to convert your objective-c project into a Windows Phone app or Windows app; or create a new language initiative called Objective-C# that allows you to develop Windows/Windows Phone apps using Objective-C syntax. Remember Sony SNAP? It was Sony's Objective-C based 'networked application platform' that was announced and was mysteriously closed down almost the next day. Under my dictatorship, MS will make an Objective-C SDK a priority. What this will accomplish is bring in a flood of developers who have long been honing their skills and profiting on apps for Apple devices. This rapidly grows the MS app pool on Windows Phones and Tablets more rapidly than almost anything else. We will also undercut Apple's take on Apps, taking only 20% of each app sale, allowing developers to keep 10% more than Apple does.

- Fire everyone who had anything to do with the launch-debacle of the Surface tablet. I will keep the Surface tablet, get it finished, and then release it. 

So, to transform MS into a company that makes the kinds of tools and platforms I want for myself, this is where I'd begin.