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.