27 June 2011

New tools for entrepreneurs who make (real, tangible) things (out of atoms)

Hello -

Websites. Mobile. Deal-aggregators. Game layers on life. Blah, blah, blah. What if you want to create and sell a product made of stuff or light?

Entrepreneurs getting into the hardware game have a few tools in 2011 that make it easier than it was, say, in 2005:

  • GrabCAD turns mechanical concepts from napkin sketches (or better) into professionally designed-and-reviewed mechanical drawings for prototype. [note: I haven’t tried ‘em]
  • Optics for Hire turns your optical wish into a prototyped reality. LED light-shaping? Medical device? Zoom lens? Done. They do the optical design, and if you want, the mechanical design. And the electronics. [note: I work for Optics for Hire, but I wouldn’t if I didn’t believe in it]
  • KiCAD is open-source schematic capture.
  • Many firms offer rapid protoyping “personal factories” – AlphaPrototypes, Ponoko, QuickParts, just Google it.

How do you market-test your idea, make a logo, and launch a website? 4-Hour Workweek has some ideas:

  • Goodle AdWords, which is wildly useful
  • Shopify – instant e-commerce websites
  • 99designs.com – logos, websites, and other designed-stuff from a crowd of artists hoping to get your dollars
  • Elance.com – outsource artwork, copywriting, and coding
  • ODesk – even more outsourcing: code, writing, engineering, design

What would you add?


14 June 2011

Projection Summit 2011: Green lasers, “green” projectors, and etendue

Hello from the Orlando office -

This week’s Projection Summit 2011, an Insight Media event, offered a good view of topics of current interest to the A/V professional. (And by “A/V professional,” I mean: people who design digital projectors, buy digital projectors, make the guts of digital projectors, or love the Earth sufficiently to only buy digital projectors that don’t, you know, screw up our little planet.)

Normally I attend conferences like SPIE-IS&T SD&A, or SID, for their 3-D technical content. I was invited to speak at PS2011, and this was my first time attending.

The conference’s Agenda provides abstracts of each talk, so I won’t repeat that. Instead, here’s an overview, and an informal bullet point list of some key take-aways.

(Those take-aways are conveniently provided after this photograph of the impressively chocolatey brownies served at PS2011:)


So, what was covered at PS2011?

  • Autostereo 3D, emphasizing “light field displays:” OFH’s and Zecotek’s time-domain view-scanning systems, and Holografika’s advances in multi-projector 3-D display.
  • Tiled displays and stereoscopic projection (ROAM, Scalable, XpanD, Lightspeed Design, Brawn)
  • Projector components, emphasizing microdisplays, geometry-correction silicon, MEMS, and LEDs
  • Low-power Green Laser (Panel discussion). I learned too late that “green” here meant… the color green: #00FF00, 520 nm, you know.
  • Projectors in Education
  • Green AV (in which “green” meant earth-friendly)
  • Laser-based digital cinema

What were some key takeaways?

  • Gregg Favalora is a brilliant public speaker, and I understand he might be available for paid engagements on topics as diverse as: autostereoscopic display. With the deftness of an Olympic gymnast and the slight-of-hand of… oh, who am I kidding.
  • According to one speaker, JVC seems to be the gold standard of home 3D projection. (I have not heard this comment elsewhere.)
  • According David Chechelashvili of XpanD, the US stereo market is dominated by passive eyewear, Europe and Asia use active. So far.
  • Chris Ward of Lightspeed Design announced a new modulator with very fast rise- / fall-times for passive stereo projection.
  • Jonathan Brawn, who is well-known as an educator in A/V circles, is a really compelling speaker. Here, he explored the difficulties in designing projection systems optimized both for 2-D and 3-D, one of which requires different gain than the other.
  • Syndiant’s CTO, Karl Guttag, voiced a popular sentiment of Projection Summit – green (as in the color) lasers are a critical need in the world of projector components because of their etendue. (I knew I’d get that word in there somehow.)
  • I could listen to Luminus Devices’ Andrei Kazmierski talk for hours about LEDs (honest). Excited to see continued advances from this MASSACHUSETTS-BASED LED fabricator.
  • Ten lashes with a wet noodle for not knowing beforehand who William “Bo” Coggshall was, an eloquent industry analyst in the world of large-screen display. Also, props to a guy who synchronizes his wardrobe with his corporate logo. He discussed the market saturation of educational “interactive whiteboards and interactive projectors” (e.g. SMART Technology); UK & US is nearing saturation, and there’s a big opportunity in developing markets. Evidently there is a not-quite-closed tender in Turkey for 600k units…
  • Len Scrogan gave a fascinating talk about his efforts to guide Boulder, CO’s schools in testing the efficacy of stereoscopic projection. (Test scores have improved, behavior has improved, and kids with vision problems have gone to eye doctors and improved.) See: http://edtechfuture-talk.blogspot.com/ and www.3deyehealth.org .
  • Educators (who genuinely care about helping the earth) and large corporations (who might, but who also care about avoiding bad PR) want their new digital projectors to be eco-friendly. Does that mean the bulbs are recyclable? That the projectors lack Hg? Much discussion about this. Some claims that EnergyStar 2.0 is “useless” for defining requirements of A/V equipment; that Christie Digital is making incredible strides towards eco-friendliness; that TCO Development has a certification process for “…driving IT towards sustainable use…”. Particularly compelling talk from Chris Maione Associates. (It might have helped that his NYC intonation reminded me of my mother country of New Jersey.)

Until next time,


07 June 2011

Summertime Inspirational Reading and Viewing

Hi -

As these months provide us with some time to read more than Tweets and bullet-points, here are a few books, websites, and videos that you might find inspirational or at least thought provoking:

  1. I've long found the accomplishments, creativity, and speaking style of inventor Danny Hillis inspirational. (1) Danny shares two anecdotes about Richard Feynman in this brief video [YouTube]. (2) For you computer geeks, here's a promotional video about the first Connection Machine supercomputer [YouTube].
  2. Science fiction author Neal Stephenson's very brief PSA to get out there and make stuff with atoms instead of bits [YouTube].
  3. Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget is not your average "Web 2.0 is bad for you" book. It's also a book about the brilliance of cephalopods, self-expression, and how to stay human in a world of broad but fleeting interconnectedness. [Amazon]
  4. Have you ever heard of the Jasons, a real-life cluster of top scientists that advise the government? The Jasons: the Secret History of Science's Postwar Elite. [Amazon]
  5. Staying positive, following the beat of your own drummer: some of Seth Godin's brief blog postings still get it right. [Seth's Blog]
  6. In early 2010 I did some self-help / happiness / be-a-better-leader reading. My favorite: Zander and Zander's The Art of Possibility. My least favorite: The Happiness Project, from which I only learned that you really will feel a lot better if you get a good night's sleep. Otherwise, a pass.
  7. Alan Lightman's The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th-Century Science, Including the Original Papers, is awesome. For each of 25 breakthroughs, Lightman tells the story-behind-the-story, and then, yes, really does provide the original journal article in which the discovery was announced. That is so cool.
  8. My kids are 2 and 5, and evidently they like making stuff. Isn't is wonderful that there's also a reawakening of hobbyist / "maker" culture? An example of this around Boston is Parts and Crafts. Or, Make magazine. Etc. Here are some ideas on easy projects to do with your kids.
  9. Are you an entrepreneur? Consider actually attending a networking event. My pre-event reluctance to get my butt out to a meet-and-greet is 100% of the time rewarded with reinvigoration about entrepreneurship. Around Cambridge, MA, the best resource is Greenhorn Connect.
  10. Got a Kindle? Try Science News and PhysOrg.com. Totally worth it.
  11. Go check out the annual Edge question. This year, 159 intellectuals indicate useful modes of thought gathered from doing science, which everyone ought to add to their "mental toolkit." [Edge.org]
  12. Stop reading this stuff, buy a decent notebook, and go create something.
Also two blog posts from Joost Bonsen that have stuck with me:

Have a wonderful and productive June!


02 June 2011

Seeing Saturn with a $25 telescope

Hi -

Ever seen Saturn in a telescope?

Aw, heck. This was supposed to be a blog post about the beauty and "real-ness" of seeing an actual planet in your own backyard with a cheap-o telescope from a flea market, but I'm no poet. I'm not good enough with words. My point was going to be, "We spend hundreds of hours in the Internet, reading words about reality instead of experiencing it. We've seen thousands of images of Saturn in our lives, but it's easy to forget it's a real giant encircled ball millions of miles away. We all ought to buy a telescope, just a tube with a few glass lenses inside, plant it in our driveway, and crouch on our knees late at night to see Saturn for ourselves."

If you're reading this in June, 2011, Saturn is the only planet reasonable to see at night; everything else is sort of clustered near the sun, early in the morning.

TRY THIS: a cool applet will open up on your computer and you can see what Saturn looks like now, along with its moons. (go here, and click "...includes a JavaScript utility...").

Anyhow, in our little 2" or 3" scope, Saturn looked like a tiny yellow O with a line through it, like a letter of some Scandinavian novel held out at arm's-length. Using our imaginations it looked like this:

Anyhow, if you have the chance to grab a decent 3" refractor on a tripod, pick one up!