09 February 2014

Yale engineering: high school, college, Massachusetts

Hello -

If you have a high school student who is considering applying to Yale in any engineering discipline - such as electrical engineering - I welcome you to contact me, particularly if you are in New England / Massachusetts. I am closing my first year as the New England District VP of something called the YSEA (Yale Science and Engineering Association), and as such, continue to have ties to this wonderful university. Feel free to email me at: favalora [at] gmail [dot] com.

I'm writing this blog entry on the chance that parents searching for "Yale engineering alum" or "Yale engineering New England" will find it. Happy to chat! There are exciting new initiatives - such as the Yale CEID - that are really wonderful.


14 December 2013

9 STEM-y snowy-day indoor ideas for young kids

[or "STEAM," given that Maeda suggests including ART]

1. Hexaflexagons: three-sided paper!?

Gather 'round and watch Vi Hart explain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIVIegSt81k
Download this template & make some: http://www.puzzles.com/hexaflexagon/activities.html

2. Consider some neat games

Have you tried:

Set - http://www.amazon.com/Set-Family-Game-visual-perception/dp/B00000IV34/
Spot It! - http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Orange-410-Spot-It/dp/B0039S7NO6/
Monopoly Jr.

3. Spend 15 minutes with these videos

Brief videos suitable for kids and interesting enough for grownups: The Kid Should See This.
At night sometimes our kids will ask to also watch a few minutes of Carl Sagan (the "Sagan Series") or Richard Feynman ( the "Feynman Series") videos, but you should preview them first in case their viewpoints differ from yours. Beautiful visuals and background music carry important thought-provoking themes.

4. Cook something

  • Slowly stir scrambled eggs
  • Double or halve some other recipe - hot chocolate, lemonade, veggie dip
  • Experiment: how do you make a perfect soft-boiled egg?  Do you put the egg in water before or after it's boiling?  For how many minutes?  Do you run it under cold water afterwards or not?  Make a table with results.

5. Grab a small hardback notebook & Plan a business

Leaf raking? Lemonade selling? Show them how profits = revenue - expenses!

6. Stop-motion or remote video special effects

Have a small camera on your smartphone, or a tiny "spy camera" like this from Playmobil? It's easy to grab the real-time output from USB into Mac Photo Booth... sit the camera on an R/C car, or on your trainset, or... your cat... and make a little movie.

7. Make a map of your house

Pick one room, or several. Measure it with really tight accuracy, or just sketch it.  Consider downloading that cool iOS app (Magicplan) that converts photos into floormaps.

8. Relax with some "Fetch with Ruff Ruffman"

It's goofy yet manages to show great examples of teamwork, humor, and a little science.

9. Got a big sheet of stiff cardboard? Make a "paper city" on it.

For some reason we have a couple of large (maybe 3' x 4') stiff cardboard planks. We began folding pieces of paper into rectangular buildings, and cutting little V-notches into it to make folded tabs for gluing down to the planks.

You can get as detailed as you want: decorate the buildings, draw roads, plan the city's utility pipes, or string up LED lights inside the buildings and see it glow through the windows.

Of course post your ideas in the comments!

For more traditional bite-sized lessons, see a bunch of my prior posts, e.g. http://g-fav.blogspot.com/2012/10/yet-more-bite-sized-stem-nuggets-for-5.html


18 June 2013

What I wish I had time to be reading (w/o Jun 16, 2013)

Techie readers,

Here are more interesting items I'd like to be reading:

A Template for 1-page Startup Investor Updates (HT @mkapor)

The Slowest $380 I'll Ever Make
The story of an entrepreneur's attempt to manufacture a reasonable quantity of "QR Clocks."

David Crane: "How I Wrote (Atari 2600) Pitfall"

MIT CSAIL's Wiki on Distributed Robotics

William Gibson & Douglas Coupland: a conversation

Joel Spolsky on: How to Allocate Founders' Equity Fairly

Thoughts on Good, Authentic Pad Thai

"Light Field Approximation Using Basic Display Layer Primitives"
ETH Zurich, Disney Zurich, MIT CSAIL


22 April 2013

11 ideas for better technical trade-show booths, from the POV of a prospect

Intrepid reader,

Are you looking for ideas on designing trade show booths or signage for trade show tables? I just returned from MD&M (a Boston-area manufacturing services trade show) and – yikes! - the booths were awful from a functionality perspective.

Ideas for good trade show table design:

  1. Make eye contact with any prospect who’s waiting for you to finish gossiping with a booth visitor, even if it’s just to say, “Hi! I’ll be with you as soon as we wrap up.”
  2. Signage copy (the headlines) should be as concise and honest as possible. Stop saying SOLUTIONS, or words like “solutions,” if you actually mean “we design little plastic parts and don’t manufacture the products that use those parts.” Believe me, you’re not losing any customers by being specific.
  3. Spend real time role-playing during the design process to judge: will a tired but motivated newcomer prospect actually know what we do in TWO SECONDS?
  4. Our eyes evolved to save us from fast-moving tigers – exploit this fact about your customers by adding simple lenticular (2-D, not 3-D) signage, or even small blinking lights – so that, as they walk by, they are helpfully distracted by changes in their visual field.
  5. Stop yelling to prospects from your booth. I empathize – I’ve worked quite a few booths in years past – but (particularly technical) prospects like to stand and mull things over before saying “hi.”
  6. If you have a cavernous booth, don’t stand like a guard in front of it, prospects might not walk in.
  7. I’m not sure how else to say this: For goodness sake, WOMEN are PEOPLE and should not be USED as eye-catching OBJECTS to get booth traffic. ‘nuff said.
  8. Sales 101: ask a prospect two questions BEFORE TALKING to understand what they’re looking for. Prospects do not want to hear about your uncle’s 3-D printer or your proprietary flexible PCBs if it’s not the reason they’re visiting.
  9. Put away your iPod and your laptop: check your email and Facebook during breaks, or at least behind the booth. A good 10% of salespeople were more focused on their iPods and laptops than prospects. That sets bad expectations about customer service.
  10. (Re: #5) At techie shows, at least, try to stand quietly to the side while the attendees take their time to read your signage before you make eye-contact and potentially scare them away.
  11. Reciprocity is powerful: offer favors even to non qualified prospects. E.g., if a prospect is looking for robotic rangefinders and you only sell medical catheters, you should do two things: (1) Say, “Frankly, we specialize in medical catheters.” (2) Say, “Actually, I know someone who might be able to help with rangefinders, let me get their name for you…”  And read Influence.


Here is an actual marketing expert’s advice about trade show booths: Seth Godin, “On Trade Shows.”

Happy prospecting,


10 April 2013

What I’m (wishing I had time to be) reading: w/o 7 Apr 2013

Friends, entrepreneurs, optickers -

More neat stuff crossing (or originating at) my desk:

7 Tips for Engineers New to Optics: Imaging Lenses
A quick “7 ideas in 8 minutes” about what information you ought to consider when you are about to call an optical engineering consultancy to design an imaging system. If you are designing a machine vision system with camera, a microscope objective, a rangefinder… a lens is making an image of an object. Check out this bunch of tips: How to specify a custom imaging lens.

Designing an imaging lens? 7 steps to getting a good start

“Toward a compact, full-color holographic printer”
From the SPIE newsroom: http://spie.org/x93537.xml

Find a cofounder at Harvard
with the Harvard Innovation Lab’s tool from CoFoundersLab: “founder Finder

Allocating equity in startups (Joel Spolsky)
Joel on Equity!

Learning ZEMAX
A collection of exercises: http://www.iap.uni-jena.de/teaching-lightBox-1-lectureID-28.html

18 February 2013

Tips on stronger patents (re: litigation or sale)

From a blog post at OFH - some of my lessons learned while: selling patents, reviewing patents for a client to purchase, or assisting a client in patent litigation.


Here's number 5 of the list:

5. BONUS: Re-read your patent application while imagining it is the target (or weapon) of deep-pocketed litigation. Specifically:

  • Is the chain of title truly clear?
  • If the ideas were developed within a government contract, do you have paper or electronic copies of that contract’s IP-rights section?
  • Do you have all assignments? (Really, check…!)
  • Where are the inventor notebooks?
  • If litigation: do you have records of any previous contact with the litigant?
  • Did you or your employer enter into any licenses that even tangentially relate to the inventions (e.g. software licenses, a beast to themselves?)
  • Will a judge - who might lack an engineering degree - be able to understand the patent in a first reading of it?
  • Does the specification offer a logical narrative flow?
See the entire article on patents here.


09 December 2012

(Age 3-6) Holiday gift recommendations, 2012 edition–STEM

Our children are now 4 and 6. For reasons I’m not sure of (though I’m delighted by it!), some of our friends seek us out for holiday gift recommendations. Here are things that have really kept our family’s attention over the years, rather than gather dust.

(For 2-3 year olds: my blog post here.)

For 3 + 6 year olds:

These gifts probably resonate with kids are intrigued by projects, fiction, making / trying / imagining, etc. We only have the most basic sports-stuff, so I really don’t feel qualified to make any recommendations there. But our bicycles and soccer ball and hockey-things do get a lot of use too.

Reconfigurable marble rolling tracks
The most popular playtime activity during visits to the grandparents’ is getting out the big box of Imaginarium Marble Race Deluxe. Sure, some pieces are a little bendy the wrong way, and when you want to build exactly what’s pictured, you need to follow the directions carefully. But it’s super fun. Note: at least one Amazon reviewer prefers this competitor’s toy instead.

Setting up a kid project area, and making STUFF
Turn off the TV and make PVC marshmallow shooters or a terrarium with Howtoons: The Possibilities are Endless, a comic book about a brother-sister inventor duo by MIT alumni.

Any Bruder tonka-like trucks.

Reconfigurable well-made wooden toys. They have a hint of a snooty “heirloom” edge, and they’re pricey, but they’ve kept our interest for several years. The regular-sized ones.

Imaginative Play
The Fisher-Price Imaginext toys generate hours of pretend play. Big, durable, plastic, fun.

During the year, we visit hardware stores, electronics shops, Radio Shack, and MIT flea markets for stuff to tear apart or build from scratch. If you’re keen on that, why not get your kids a small project-box or toolkit, and pledge to build a few things with them in the new year?

Science kits in a box
In general, these are awful. Even when I go to high-end toy stores, the boxes of kits like “light!” or “electronics!” often disappoint. Fortunately they’re cheap enough that you don’t have much regret. For instance, this kit from Ein-O Science on light had enough stuff to make a very simple periscope but I don’t recommend it as more than a stocking stuffer.

We did have fun with the enduringly popular snap-together electronics set from Elenco: Snap Circuits. But, these are not ways to actually learn about electronics theory. For that, your kids either need to do projects from a Radio Shack book by Forrest Mims III, or take a ham radio test after reading an ARRL book, or something like that.

We haven’t gotten into robots yet. Families with big budgets and some pre-existing programming or electronics know-how consistently report enjoying stuff like Lego Mindstorms (really $$) or things hacked together with Arduino (but if you’re the right audience for that you probably already know about it).

Two (fiction) series our kids love
1: Jenny Linsky (an adventurous cat, books from decades ago)
2: Ivy & Bean

Checkers or Chess
In particular, this chess set – Quick Chess - has a neat “placemat” with cartoons showing legal piece movements.

A decently high-end magic set
I can’t find it online tonight, but good ones do exist, with instructional DVDs.

Plenty of art supplies
…and a dedicated “art table,” desk, right-sized chairs, little storage bins, etc.

USB Microscope
I’m cheating here because we don’t own one yet, but several friends have said this is one of the best gifts ever. Rather than peering into an eyepiece, today you can look at the computer screen to see life in a drop of water, or the detail in a dollar bill.

Subscriptions to nature magazines

There are several National Geographic kids magazines, for various age ranges. I think. Am I wrong? Anyhow, here.

Give them tickets to a great planetarium. Or, find a friend with a 6”+ telescope, to see the moon, or Saturn.

Magnetic reconfigurable cars, and tiled magnet shapes
Constructables are fun. And so are Magna-Tiles.

How many mornings have we spent watching these videos. Warning: you will soon feel like mere tenants in your home, paying rent to a landlord named Rokenbok.

Again – about science kits

Almost all science kits are AWFUL. ** Please ** post exceptions to this in the comments here. Seriously. There’s like this plague in the educational toy industry in which stuffing a bunch of paper and cardboard and plastic in a box and calling it “science!” is considered okay somehow.

I’ll add as I remember more!


10 October 2012

Yet more bite-sized STEM nuggets for 5-6 yr-olds (Part... III?)

Hi -

I have to admit, I ran out of ideas (or STEAM [hah hah hah]) on little 3-minute lessons here at Chez Favingham. We've been distracted by longer night-time stories, various construction toys, and life in general.

On the 0.002% chance that I have a readership, I present to you a giant backlog:

28: Number lines

Draw a number line of integers from -3 to 3. Something about it lets a bunch of concepts "click" at once.

29: Multiplication table

We did a table from 1x1 to 5x5. The parent fills in almost all of it, your child can do a couple too.
Extra: ever wonder what the curves are when you connect equal answers? They're solutions to xy = C. Yes, hyperbola. Or as my teacher used to say, degenerate hyperbola, which sounds vaguely naughty.

30: Computing miles from a map
(We had a road atlas with one of those giant tables in the back that kind of looks like a multiplication table but isn't.)

Anyhow, it's a good source for your kid's first word problems - connecting practical questions to arithmetic.

"How far is it from Portland to Boston to New York City?"

31: Drawing noses
Our 6-yr old took a turn and taught me a nice lesson in drawing noses on stick figures.

And also:

32: How to tell if a cheetah is 10 months old
I have no idea if this is true:

  1. Babies under 10 months have a white stripe
  2. Over 10 months, they have spots.
31 (back to my numbering): M C Escher
Kids like Escher.

Then we practiced drawing cubes again.

32: Logic
I honestly was reaching pretty deep here. I thought "it'd be a good idea for him to see what circuits and logical statements look like."

Reversed photo, I know, I know.

33: Area of a rectangle
This was a more abstract recap of Lesson 1, in which we constructed rectangles out of arrays of squares, and the area = the number of squares.

a = xy

(Draw a 3-by-10 rectangle. The area is:

area = 3 x 10 
   = 30

34: Quadrangles II
Hmm. All I drew were some parallel lines. Not sure where I was going with this.

35: 3-dimensional shapes
Draw a cube. Label: vertex, edge, face

36: Statistics
Teach: minimum, maximum, and range.

Pick a friend and write down, I don't know, how many glasses of water she drank each day.

Josie:  4  10  1  7  12
        M   T  W  Th  F

Min: 1
Max: 12
Range: 12 - 1 = 11

Then, let your child do one.

Then, we decided to graph something.

37: Parts of a Robot Arm
I mean, kids love robots, right?

38: Base
I thought that maybe if I showed him what "base 10" meant, I could somehow more easily explain how to tell time. Not sure I succeeded. But, realizing that we have 10 digits (that coincidentally map to our 10 fingers) might be a kind of a-ha! moment. Maybe there are number systems with 2 digits? Or 16 digits?

NUMBER:  7 2 6 0
(and then, "digit" with an arrow to each)

Base 10 has 10 digits: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9
I drew three cylinders, like your odometer wheels, with the numbers on them, to show how the one all the way on the right moves through every digit and then the wheel one step to the left advances by one, etc.

And then imagine: what if each odometer wheel only had THREE numbers on them? That's base three! It would only have: 0, 1, and 2.

Maybe three-fingered aliens would count like: 0, 1, 2, 10, 11, 12, 20, 21, 22, 100, 101, 102, 110, 111, 112, 120, 121, ...

What if aliens had 16 fingers? That's hexadecimal!

0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 1A, 1B, ...

39: Potential energy + kinetic energy

Explain what each is.
Draw fun looking ramps and hills. Imagine pushing a boulder all.. the way.. to the top... "filling it" with potential energy. If you let go, where does it roll? What's the highest point it could reach on the other side? Does it roll forever? Where does that energy go? Does it become heat?

I know you love the backwards photos.

40: Coordinates in the Cartesian plane

'nuff said

41: Review of carrying

We did a bunch of multi-digit addition exercises.

42: Compass rose

Draw a pirate treasure map with a compass rose.

43: Lift (i.e. of an airplane wing)

Draw a free-body diagram in which a down arrow (gravity) and an up arrow (lift) act on an airplane. What happens when the up arrow is longer? Where does the airplane go?

44: Electronics II

Draw an atom: nucleus & electrons.
Complain about Ben Franklin setting a counterintuitive standard for arrows depicting current flow in the "wrong" direction on circuit diagrams.
Draw a circuit with a battery and a light bulb.  Show which way the electrons run through it.  Show the way the absence of electrons (the "holes" kind of) go the opposite way. That's current.
Draw the "soda in a soda bottle with a little bubble in it" analogy. When you tilt the bottle, the soda follows gravity and the bubble goes the opposite way.


Take something apart, like a digital camera. Products are made out of subsystems that work together. People like us designed them, and other people made them, and then they were put together. A camera has:

  • small screws
  • magnets
  • viewfinder lenses
  • LCD
  • image sensor
  • gasket
  • capacitors
  • (etc.)
46: Pi

Draw a circle, label diameter and circumference. 

For some crazy reason, if you take any circle and multiply its diameter by a number that's a little more than 3, you get its circumference.

47: Area of a circle

Whew! I'll pause here. We're up to 60. Soon...


27 September 2012

What I’m (wishing I had time to be) reading: w/o 23 Sep 2012

Hey optics / displays people:

  1. SeeReal’s paper for ISDH 2012 (hosted at MIT)
    Stephan Reichelt and Norbert Leister, “Computational hologram synthesis and representation on spatial light modulators for real-time 3D holographic imaging,” (ISDH 2012).
  2. I hope to get time to read this:
    Martin S. Banks, Jenny R. Read, Robert S. Allison, and Simon J. Watt, “Stereoscopy and the Human Visual System” (SMPTE 2012?).
  3. There’s an open-source project by entrepreneurs in Australia – the HoloDome – to build a volumetric 3-D display using DMDs at 480 x 320 x 72. http://hackaday.com/2012/09/23/volumetric-display-projects-200-million-voxels-per-second/  (H/T Joseph “Jofish” Kaye)
  4. VERY LARGE DOWNLOAD  - A cool early reference on electronic volumetric display from BYTE (1978) with many details:
    Timothy Walters and William Harris, “Graphics in Depth,” BYTE (May 1978).


ps I updated my personal website; half “pretty” and half ASCII plaintext. Apologies on behalf of iWeb: it doesn’t deal properly with bold text.

15 August 2012

What I’m (wishing I had time to be) reading: w/o 13 Aug 2012

Hello -

Mostly optical stuff:

  1. Visible light CMOS image sensors (by Dr. Eric Fossum, Senior Fellow, Micron Technology) [pdf]
  2. The camera lens designs (no cement! no aspheres!) on the Mars Exploration Rovers – published 2006 – a book chapter excerpted on the Radiant Zemax site here.
  3. Fluorescent party drink? http://www.thecampuscompanion.com/party-lab/2011/10/21/aurora-drink/ 
  4. J.-H. Jung et al, “Integral imaging using a color filter pinhole array on a display panel,” Optics Express, Vol. 20, Issue 17, pp. 18744-18756 (2012). http://www.opticsinfobase.org/oe/abstract.cfm?uri=oe-20-17-18744 
  5. MUSCADE http://www.muscade.eu/ 
  6. 3-D Olympics broadcast rant from Display Central’s Pete Putman http://www.display-central.com/for-the-first-time-ever-the-olympics-in-3d-complete-with-pop-up-ads/ 
  7. Printing Reflectance Functions (SIGGRAPH 2012) http://graphics.soe.ucsc.edu/prf/