30 September 2008

Getting it Right Before Going to Market

Somewhere in the last 15 or 20 years it seemed to become a business axiom that getting to market fast is more important than getting the product right first. "Get it out there, grab share, and then you can fix it in version 2.0" - maybe it wasn't really Microsoft that invented the concept but they sure seemed to live off it for a long time. So it's pretty interesting to see that there are companies that refuse to follow this trend and instead try hard to make version 1.0 pretty good.

One of them, of course, is Desktop Factory, which I've written about frequently - they could have gotten a lot of press and attention by shipping product last year - but it wouldn't have been a GOOD product, and they would have had dissatisfied customers. They are working hard, with shoestring budgets, to get it right, and then ship.

Another example arrived in my email today. Gridiron Software has been demoing their new concept workflow program "Flow" for at least a year - in fact, I think I first heard about it in mid-2007. Here's the message I got today:
We've just returned from IBC in Amsterdam and Photoshop World in Vegas, and the response to Flow is better than anything we could have imagined. First off - THANK YOU. Your interest is proof that Flow is a much needed product in your workflow, as well as that of your peers. So you may be asking - where the hell is it?

I wanted to send you a quick update on where we are with the product. Flow is completely new. Nothing like it has ever been built before. With new technology comes new challenges. We also understand how you work, and that you need to depend on RELIABLE technology to get through your day to day work.

Flow is meant for Creative Professionals. This is not a hobbyist tool - its meant to enhance the fundamental workflows that allow you to essentially put food (amongst other things) on the table. What I am getting at is - Flow will NOT be flaky; it MUST be technology you can depend on. The response to Flow is proof that it is just "that" important.

Therefore - I wanted to let you know that although we are not far off - we are not yet there. We are holding this product to a higher standard of quality than ever before, and will NOT put it in your hands until we believe (along with our private beta testers) that it can stand the test of real-world, high stress production. Over the coming weeks, I'll send another status update with a more concrete timetable.

In short - I firmly believe that Flow will live up to your expectations (and more) once it is cooked. Until then - please be patient and understand that I and my entire crew are literally working round the clock to give you a product you can depend on, along with technology that just might change the face of the creative computer desktop forever.

GridIron Software Inc.

I applaud them for working hard to get it right, and having pride in their product. I hope it pays off for them.

28 September 2008

Desktop Factory Field Trip Shows Huge Progress

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I'm fond of Desktop Factory, a local start-up vying to be the first to bring 3D printing within the reach of a new generation of hobbyists and educators. I got a chance to make a brief visit to their office/lab in Pasadena a couple of weeks ago, and was very pleased to see the tremendous progress they are making. To the left you can see Brian and Cathy from Desktop Factory on the left and right, and David from Art Center in the middle.

We got to beta-test their first generation printer late last year, and while it worked reasonably well, there were several issues: a tendency for the machine to clog; rather poor resolution; and difficult-to-remove support structures. They now have a new version with a redesigned-imager that makes a big difference on the first two problems - the new imager is under the plate in the photo - and revised software that's made the supports much easier to remove. The change to the imager was small and simple and like most engineering innovation obvious once someone thought of it.

The part shown here was printed from a file for a "real" part in a prototype of a product under development by another Idealab company. There's a little bit of post-processing here - the machine has been "flamed" with a torch - but this is a serious, working part. Last year's model could not have produced anything this nice. The Idealab partner was able to use this part and save about $1000 they would have spent having it made by a service bureau.

Here's a before-and-after comparison - the first test part produced with the "old" imager and the second with the newest machine - and it's easy to see a dramatic difference.

They still have work to do to turn this prototype into a product, and they still have to find financial backing - but I am more optimistic about their prospects than I have been in quite a while. They have proven that the basic concept is sound and that it can produce real, useful parts that can be post-processed in a reasonable amount of time. Their printer has gone from being a proof of concept to a real working prototype - let's hope that a product will be on the market six months from now.

(By the way, click on the photos to see them in higher resolution.)

24 September 2008

Large Machinery Comics present...

(click on the picture to visit the comic)

19 September 2008

Best... Warning Stickers... Ever!

We just received our new Haas CNC Router. It was quite a job getting it in place - it was just a bit bigger than the one we had measured, so it actually required cutting holes in the corners of a couple of walls to get it into the shop. (We really did "cut corners"!)

When we have the machine up and running I'll post some photos, but what really caught my eye (in a figurative sense) were the warning stickers. This ain't some backyard consumer piece of junk, no - this is a world-class body-destroying machine! It can poke your eyes out, crush you, snag you, I mean you name it and this thing can do it. How awesome to work in a college with equipment like that!

I will definitely be in another room when they turn this sucker on.

15 September 2008

"Anything that can be personalized will be personalized"

That's the name of Sivam Krish's new blog. Sivam's a Singapore-based entrepreneur who launched the custom 3D building for consumer site jujups.com. Sivam's an interesting guy so I'm expecting his blog will be worth following. Welcome Sivam!

For a nice example of the maxim that's the title of the blog, take a look at NikeID.com. Now if you're like me, you can design some really ugly shoes! But at least they will be yours alone.

At least spam doesn't need to be recycled

In my job I get to sign off on spending money, which means that technology companies vie to get my attention. What's amazing to me is how badly some of them do it. I don't particularly want to pick on Sun, which is a company that I have some affection for, but the latest mailing I got from them and CDW was so extravagantly wasteful that I feel compelled to comment. (Maybe compelled is a strong word, but it's an easy way to pad my blog!)

It came in the form of two identical FedEx packages, which I had to sign for - I guess because the contents are so valuable. Note that both addresses are identical - it's not even like there were two variations on my name - just two identical mailing records side by side and hence two "urgent" packages.

What was the important message rushed to my attention? That Sun sells servers! And you can run Linux or Windows on them! (And even Solaris, if you still care.) (This has been true for, what, 4 years now? Should I be worried that they are just now getting around to telling me?) AND if I go to a special site, I can get a FREE GIFT!

Wow, they got me now! A FREE GIFT! But there's no room in the elegant and expensively printed piece that I now own two copies of to tell what my FREE GIFT is, I have to go to the web site. So I took a look - it's a carabiner with a digital clock and a compass! Just as soon as I have the time, I'm going to get me TWO - after all, I got two invitations, didn't I? Beats that $5 Starbucks Card, the tee shirt, and the kite I got last year!

At least when I get spam in my email box, it's just one click to discard it! What a pathetic waste of resources....

13 September 2008

9/11, 9/12, and other man-made disasters

I'm not big on going out of my way to observe 9/11 - of course we can't forget, and I'm especially in awe of the many to acted with selfless bravery on that day, and I feel pain for the loss of the families. But I've been so depressed by the political uses that have been made of that event, it make me want to ignore it. Then little things creep into my consciousness....

Like yesterday, when two trains collided in Los Angeles and at least 25 people died. It's hard to imagine the violent moment that occurred when two trains, both going about 40 miles per hour, ran into each other head on. Trains just aren't supposed to do that.

I heard today that one of engineers may have sent a text message to a friend a minute before the crash. We'll probably never know for sure if that was the reason he ran through a red signal, but I hope it will be additional motivation for me to keep my hands off my iPhone while I'm driving. I can only imagine how I'd feel if I killed someone in my car because I was reading a text or an email - shame on me for ever doing it!

And the abstraction of a horrific event like 9/11 - or the much smaller but no less violent deaths in the train accident on 9/12 - is brought home when you're reminded that behind the numbers are real people and real families. I was very moved by Phil McKinney's blog post about the Falkenberg family who died on the jet that plowed into the Pentagon. It sounds like the new memorial there - a bench for each person who died - is somber, appropriate, and humane.

I shouldn't need reminders like this that life is precious, but somehow I do. We never know what the next moment might bring, so we've got to do the best with the one's we're given. There are thousands of little tragedies every hour, and if it's your family it's just as important as a big one. And if it's you, you may never know...

(Photo my Mr. "O", http://flickr.com/photos/mr_o/, used under Creative Commons license.)

10 September 2008

The Rosetta Disk

Awesome article by Kevin Kelly about an awesome project - a very long term backup of a significant portion of the world's linguistic knowledge. If I had a spare $25,000 I'd snap up one of those disks in an instant... but I'm not sure where I'd keep it. (I guess if I had a spare $25,000, I'd have a place to keep it too.)

08 September 2008

HP's Customer Experience Group

Phil McKinney of HP, who engineered the HP purchase of Voodoo PC and launched the HP Blackbird 002 gaming machine, has put together a new "Customer Experience Group" headed by Susie Wee from HP Labs. A recent article in Business Week describes their apparent experimentation with customization - and alternatives to - Microsoft Vista. Most people don't realize that many HP laptops already come with a media-player mode that boots Linux - allowing you to play a CD or DVD with a quick boot and more battery life. I've gotten to know Phil and he's a visionary and an innovator, so it's going to be very interesting to watch HP and see what they can do.

07 September 2008

Happy Birthday, Print is Dead!

One blog I always read is Print is Dead. Jeff Gomez usually has something interesting to say about the present and future of publishing, and he has a nuanced view of the role of print, despite the provocative name for his blog. Anybody who can publish a book called Print is Dead clearly has an ironic sense of humor. The Print is Dead blog is celebrating its second birthday. Congratulations Jeff, keep writing.

06 September 2008

Twitter and Facebook and Ambient Awareness

My friend Spleeness pointed me at an excellent article in the NY Times about Twitter and Facebook, and why it's so appealing to get small and frequent updates from people about what they are doing. The article explains very elegantly why something that sounds so stupid when you haven't done it actually seems to fill a deep social need.

I've been familiar with the way this works in Facebook but this article motivated me to finally try Twitter (as amichaelberman, in case you want to "follow me"). Life is a sequence of moments, and the sharing these moments - profound, trivial, and inane - enables us to stay connected in a world where the people we care about are distributed across the globe. I think these are real connections and they are here to stay.

04 September 2008

Welcome Back to School

The man on the left is my father, Art Berman. The year is 1953, and he’s an 18 year old college freshman, posing with his roommate Stan.

Just 8 years before, he watched his dad die of lung cancer and I can see the sadness in his eyes that never left him. Mysteriously, my Dad has decided to escape from the Bronx and he’s found himself in Yellow Springs Ohio. The two guys standing along US 68 make me think of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.

In three more years he’ll be married, and in four years a father. I’ll be there at his graduation. This is as free as he’s ever going to be. In less than 45 years he’ll be gone, and now Antioch College is gone too. But at this moment the road stretches out ahead and the path is unknown to him.

BB King's secret fantasy

I picked this up from the blog Knowing and Doing, written by Eugene Wallingford and always worth following if you have any interest in computer science education - one of my past lives. According to an interview, BB King wishes that he had been able to go to college to become... are you ready... a computer scientist! He would have to have been one hell of a computer scientist to make up for what the world of music would have lost.

I guess about 50% of the people I know that work in technology harbor a secret or not-so-secret desire to be musicians.... Most of them, including myself, are just not good enough at it. There are so many amazing musicians out there! So it's a little reassuring to know that one of the great ones wishes he could do what I do. If we could only swap lives for a week! BB, drop me a line, I'll give you some technology lessons and you can teach me a few licks.

02 September 2008

My love/hate relationship with lawns

For anyone who lives in a climate like mine in Southern California, a lawn makes no logical sense. We steal water hundreds of miles away and pump it here so we can dump it on our lawns and watch it evaporate in the high temperatures and low humidity of summer. I know I'm supposed to hate lawns.

We've recently come close to finishing a seemingly-endless remodeling project, and of course as we rebuild the crushed and abandoned landscape around our house we're looking at low-water, native plants - which I do really like. But there was one section by the side that was completely bare, and while we figure out what to do long term, we decided to go ahead and plant grass.... and it looks so nice! So cool, so green, so alive.

Someday maybe I'll give up my lawn. Then I can try to give up the other Los Angeles extravagance, driving alone in my car.... In the meantime, it just looks so nice!

01 September 2008

Do Libraries Matter?

A very interesting report from the research organization Ithaka suggests that for many academic scholars, libraries serve a much less central role than they used to, and that the rate at which libraries are becoming less relevant is accelerating. The report seems to be generating a lot of discussion among librarians - see, for example, this entry in the ACRL blog.

Libraries have established themselves as political and economic power-centers on major university campuses because they have served an absolutely essential function for research faculty. As this role matters less to a significant number of faculty, will libraries continue to receive the same kind of support? If the main role of the library is to serve students as a place to work and study - an information commons - is the library the campus organization best positioned to provide this service? Could facilities or student life or academic technology do a better job?

It may seem almost insulting to ask these questions, given the important and traditional role of libraries, and I don't intend to question the commitment or professionalism of librarians. But I do believe that we have only begun to see the impact of a historic shift that will result in the library becoming a significantly different institution on campuses, in a role that may not be as central as it has been for so many years.