Thursday, December 15, 2011

Smile, It's #MIN33 !

Wow, it's the last Mass Innovation Night of 2011 already! IBM Waltham did a great job of hosting again. The space is great and the people are great. Turnout was a little lighter than usual this time, what with Christmas shopping and the prediction of sleet north and west of Boston (which, by the way, still hasn't happened as of Thursday afternoon.), but it was an enthusiastic crowd with a lot of newcomers.  The inimitable BobbieC was running around corralling the innovators and experts as attendees began filtering in. 

Folks Checking In
Bobbie also did a great job of reminding people to smile and enjoy themselves. MIN is a fun time to connect with people. That's what it's all about.

My first taste of a Budi Bar was very satisfying. Budi Bars are whole food for your brain. Full of good stuff like nuts and seeds, they nourish your mind/brain as well as your body and enhance memory. I asked if I could attain enlightenment by eating one. Budi Bars can help, but I still need to meditate. :-)
The Budi Bar kept me going from arrival until after the presentations, so I think it worked.

Team Cangrade
Great companies are made by great people. The team from Cangrade enlightened me on how to hire great people. They combine their social science, psychology, and tech skills to produce a  pre-employment test that when combined with the public skill-test test marketplace cuts through the uncertainty in hiring.  They made a good case for how their pre-employment evaluation is more predictive of job fit than the interview process alone. Also, they had matching jackets, so I hereby award them best costume of #MIN33.

Greenbean -- Recycle This Can!
The innovation I was still bubbling about when I got home was Greenbean, best recycling idea ever. Greenbean is a reverse vending machine that takes cans and bottles, credits your paypal or student card with your 5 cent deposit for each bottle or can recycled, and gives you an instant real time update showing the number of containers recycled and energy savings within seconds. This is a brilliant strategy to  increase recycling rates by using gaming technology and social media. Colleges and student groups can challenge each other and compete in real time.

Greenbean's Beta machine has been on the MIT campus since the beginning of August and a machine is soon to be installed at Tufts. Tufts students will be able to compete against MIT in real time. Predictions of an epic recycling battle between MIT and Tufts were flying around the Twitter stream for #MIN33. I predict that MIT will win and they will be led by the DKE brothers. (Obligatory shout out to DKE whenever mentioning the Institute at the Center of the Universe. :-))

Team Mosaic
I was very impressed with Mosaic's  online and offline storage solution for photographers. As a photographer, I know I generate enormous amounts of data (or digital assets). Serious pro photographers generate even more. Managing all this data is tough job that requires lots of hard drives (:-)).   The Mosaic solution provides safe and accessible online storage, and helps manage data locally on multiple hard drives.  Less time at the computer shuffling hard drives means more time out in the field taking pictures. It's nicely integrated with Lightroom and Aperture too. That's my kind of innovation!

Switch Gear
Switch Gear Interchangeable Jewelry is like LEGO for women who wear jewelry. These kits give you huge numbers of combinations so you can be the innovator in creating your look for the day. You can go from casual to dressy to hipster even when you're on the road being a power woman entrepreneur.

Crowd Already Tweeting before the Presentations Start!
I was having so much fun talking with Board Prospects and ASH that the presentations were about to start and I hadn't met everybody yet! As a veteran of non-profit boards, I appreciate what Board Prospects is up to. ASH's multidimensional approach to health and sustainability impressed me as well.
Presenting Board Prospects
After the presentations I caught up with MyMentorLink and Job Hunt Express and had another Budi Bar to keep the energy flowing.


JR from Job Hunt Express
Along the way, my At-Hand Apps colleague, Robert, and I had a chance to talk with a search engine optimization expert about our New England Day Trips At Hand app.

Robert Demoing New England Day Trips At Hand to Melki

The Experts Corner featured a wide array of expertise this month, including Chef Lam who seemingly can do anything food and event related. I couldn't catch up with him for a photo, though.  The experts were all quite busy, as one would expect. I asked longtime Mass Innovation Nights supporter/expert, Nate Therrien, to pose for the traditional Expert Looking Expert closing photo. He promises to recycle that water bottle.

Expert Looking Expert: Nate Therrien

Thursday, November 10, 2011

another great Mass Innovation Night -- #MIN32

Our host for this month's Mass Innovation Night (#MIN32) was MassChallenge, the business competition and incubator, in the Boston Innovation District.   CambridgeTrust was our sponsor for the evening and put on a good reception with crepes from Paris Creperie. To my delight, they were also handing out bags of Terroir Coffee. I reminisced with a couple of the Terroir Coffee people about the old days of the Coffee Connection and George Howell's collection of Huichol art. This was my first visit to the Boston Innovation District, which seems hip and cool with its location right next to the ICA.
The MassChallenge Space
 The MassChallenge space afforded plenty of room for all the innovators showing off products. Our At-Hand Apps table was right inside the entrance to the space and next to the netBlazr folks and Confidence Beads.
Robert from At-Hand Apps Demonstrating New England Day Trips At Hand
Robert and I chatted with all kinds of people about New England Day Trips at Hand, including people who will never pay for a travel app, those who are already our buyers, software developers, and business development folks. In demonstrating the app, I had my own @Ha! moment of discovering a nearby Boston Fire Museum that I didn't know existed (they have an antique hand-pumper!)!
Brough and Brian from netBlazr
 netBlazr helps businesses build cooperative networks that provide free and low-cost Internet broadband service to the co-op members with their specialized WiFi devices.  Their customers refer to netBlazr as the Skype of broadband. This should help hasten the onset of ubiquitous broadband.

Confidence Beads
Confidence Beads makes cool inspirational jewelry that gives back to ovarian cancer and domestic violence charities. That is a cool business model - their non-profit partners help sell and win big at the same time.  The beads are really beautiful.

Bindo makes it easy for local neighborhood retailers to take advantage of the point of sale and back office technologies necessary for survival in today's competitive online marketplace. You can shop your favorite local stores all in one place and as easily as the huge online retailers plus get great service and crazy fast delivery.
Sharks Swimming Across SlideShark Table
SlideShark lets you  reliably and professionally show or view your PowerPoint presentations on your iPad. How cool is that? Plus they had the best swag -- toy sharks.

There was so much to see and I had less time than usual because I was also demoing our app, but I managed to check out:
  • PAMSys from BioSensics, a tiny lightweight monitor that measures physical activity
  • ArtVenue, which makes it easy for artists to show and sell their work in local businesses (and had a painting with a scannable QR code)
  • HeyHeyGorgeous, a web service that helps you find hair salons in your city
  • Seacoast Butters, delicious flavored butters.
  • Smarterer, which helps you "show what you know" by testing and scoring you on digital, social and technical skills
Sam from BioSensics Showing me the PAMSys


Tracey from Seacoast Butters

Ginger, Lime, Scallion Butter on Annarosa's Bread

Hey, Hey! Gorgeous

There were no teams with matching T-shirts or great hats at the event this time, but there were lots and lots of great people. The crepes were good too. And I came home with a toy shark, cool shades, and La Minita coffee from Terroir Coffee.

The Experts Corner was really more of an Experts Row this time. I got to chat with Joe Johnson from High Start Group and Daniel Kriegsman from Kriegsman & Kriegsman. Daniel agreed to pose for the traditional Expert Looking Expert shot. He looks quite expert.

Expert Looking Expert

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dennis Ritchie Day

The power vested in Tim O'Reilly has decreed today Dennis Ritchie Day. C and UNIX is the underlying "stuff" that makes the modern world work. Slashdot's post makes the point that this is a reaction to the overreaction to Steve Jobs' death. However, if we only appreciate Dennis Ritchie in the light of comparing his contribution to that of Steve Jobs we're missing the point that much important work has gone unrecognized. Dennis and the Bell Labs folks built on the contribution of Ken Olsen who died earlier this year, and though his passing was acknowledged by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the media did not make nearly enough fuss about the depth of the change that DEC brought to the world. KO was a modest man. dmr was a modest man. Neither were showmen. Yet, we stand on their shoulders to this very day.
One of  funniest moments of my life involved a reference to Dennis Ritchie. I was signing copies of Writing a UNIX Device Driver at a  LUG meeting in Nebraska when someone said that meeting me was second only to meeting Dennis Ritchie. Given that I am not worthy to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Dennis Ritchie, I responded with stunned silence followed by nervous laughter. Fortunately, other attendees also laughed because Dennis Ritchie was such a modest man that he would not have enjoyed being lionized either. We all had a good laugh.
The Onyrix blog posted a wonderful picture of Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson working at a PDP-11. That photo totally expresses what I just tried to say above about the link between the contributions of the Bell Labs folks and DEC.
We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Monday, October 17, 2011

misleading technical writing in 1898

I came across this article while perusing 19th century tech writing on Google Books.  My favorite line is
"But the difference between the mistake of a competent writer, and the absurd effusions of one ignorant concerning his topic, is very marked."
Here's the whole article for your #techcomm amusement:

Misleading Technical Writing

The above is the caption of an opportune editorial in the American Machinist.
The writer quotes, for example, two answers to questions, taken from contemporaries, which are, he claims, misleading and absurd. He deplores, and rightly, too, the fact that publishers of technical journals will maintain departments without competent editors.

The position of the American Machinist is, of course, correct in this matter.

If only well-informed men were to read the writings of the would-be teacher of what he himself does not understand, little harm might follow, except the loss of the reader's time—and temper. But it is the uninformed that have the greatest need of the technical Journals' helpfulness, and, therefore, to be misinformed through this channel is, to such, a great misfortune, and an inexcusable outrage.

Of course, as the editor says, all writers will make mistakes; and, it may be added, they will also speedily correct them if they know how.

But the difference between the mistake of a competent writer, and the absurd effusions of one ignorant concerning his topic, is very marked.

It is the duty of the technical journal to teach the best practice, and for a publisher to be careless in this respect is dishonorable.

We have read articles on foundry practice, written by men who, of course, were strangers to the "sand-heap," whose only merit was that they afforded amusement to the knowing reader. These could be excused but for the fact that the unknowing must he misled.

Obviously, this evil is hard to combat; but it will be well to publish wide the fact that it exists, and so, wise publishers will therefore be on the alert to weed out the incompetent members of tbeir staff.

The Foundry, Volume 13 -- 1898

the Twitter feed is back

After removing it because it didn't work with Internet Explorer, I have put the Twitter Updates feed back in again. I'll try to remember to start tweeting things as @eganwriter again to display them on this blog.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Launch (#MIN31 part 2)

One of the highlights of #MIN31 was a tour of Launch@CenturySuites, a brand new shared office space at TradeCenter 128.  I've been scouting out co-working spaces in anticipation of needing to move my freelance tech writing business out of my house, so have been keen to check out Launch.

MIN attendees checking out Launch

In a convergence of good luck and hard work, the rain held off for us to trek across the parking lot and the folks at Launch had all the finishing touches added just in time for Wednesday's event.  The designer (in the orange sweater) pointed out features and told us which walls weren't there Tuesday night. We were impressed.

Everybody looking around

Launch offers a variety of month-to-month plans and prices, making it affordable for entrepreneurs and freelancers to get out of the house, get connected with like-minded people, and get their business to the next level. There are open desk plans, reserved desk plans, conference rooms by the hour, and day rates. The Launch website describes the options very well. Do check it out.

Desks and conference areas
All the important office amenities are available: fax, copying, WiFi, and coffee and shower access.  They even have the same balloon alien that I have in my home office! Guess I won't need to bring mine with me.
Launch Reserved Desk Area
There's plenty of whiteboard space for brainstorming, several conference areas for meetings,  storage lockers for premium customers, and access to a lobby and reception area. space can accommodate about 20 people. You can even get mail service for an additional fee.

Being at TradeCenter 128 is almost like being in a small city. There are places to eat, the obligatory Dunkies, dry cleaning, bank, medical offices, and access to public transportation. All that and close proximity to the global headquarters of Carlton PR and Marketing!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another Successful Mass Innovation Night #MIN31

Wow! A huge space, big screen, tablecloths, an excellent food spread, and a great atmosphere for Mass Innovation Night at Trade Center 128.  Cummings did a great job hosting this month's event. I toured the new Launch co-working space at Century Suites too.
A Huge Space and a Huge Screen Await the Crowd - Note Percussion CM1 Table on the Right

It was an eclectic lineup of new products with mac n cheese, design-your-own shoes and bags, social media analytics, content management, kids' arch supports, and more. It's fun to see the diversity of entrepreneurship happening in Massachusetts these days. The size of the space made it easy to get around to everybody and check out their products. I always enjoy talking to people about their products, even if they're not techies. I love a good geeky talk about content management and love mac n cheese, but it's fascinating to talk to people about how fast kids outgrow their shoes, designing your own handbags and shoes, and the service economy too.
Sarah from Good Tastes <3 Mac & Cheese
Sarah from Good Tastes was handing out samples of awesome frozen mac n cheese. I tried the Brie & Fig and the Wild Mushroom and can't wait to get some more of the Brie & Fig.

Shoes and Handbags
Imagine designing your own shoes and bags. That's exactly what Open Runway lets you do. It is a "design your own fashion" platform where you can create and share your own made to order handbags and shoes.
Speaking of shoes, why is it that all the innovations in kids' sneakers are about bling and not about comfort? Kids need comfort too.  Arch Angels® are the first children’s comfort insole on the market designed specifically to meet the needs of active children’s feet.

Arch Angels
The four presenters were:
The crowd packed the space for the presentations, some even watching from the stairs or upstairs in the Experts Corner.
The Crowd
It's about time somebody came up with a tool to help you use Twitter to reach the audience you want. Terametric Optimizer for Twitter does just that, integrates real-time analysis with guidance on what to tweet, when to tweet it, and whom to target on message. They also had nice swag, with T-shirts and hats.  Since this wasn't a Cambridge event, they weren't actually wearing the T-shirts, but I'll award them best costume anyway because nobody was doing the matching shirt thing this time.

There are a ton of Content Management products out there, but small to medium enterprises are still spending too much on 3rd party services firms to roll out and update their online presence. Percussion CM1 returns the power of content management to the content owner  with an intuitive drag-and-drop interface.  Marketers can manage just about every component of their site without a whole lot of web expertise. The folks from Percussion were fun to talk to and had good swag, with yo-yos and pens and stuff in bright orange. One thing I have observed at MIN and other events is that geeks love orange. I don't know why, but they do.

The Experts Corner was upstairs and the experts were looking expert as always.
Experts Looking Expert

What if drawing a sophisticated diagram online were as intuitive as drawing it on a piece of paper or a white board? Grafpad is a web app for creating legible diagrams online that combines the simplicity of drawing your concept/idea on paper with the power of applications like Visio. It uses image recognition to let you draw by hand instead of fiddling with complex menus. You don't need a manual and training to draw your idea on a napkin. The app is essentially a smart napkin. Those who remember how much of computing technology was designed on napkins can't help but appreciate the simplicity of Grafpad.
It was great meeting Leo from VKW Virtual Knowledge Workers, trying out Ravid's simple video messaging application, and chatting with Jon from Splitwise too. I had so much fun at #MIN31 that it won't all fit in one blog post! Stay tuned to this space for more on my tour of Launch and more on virtual knowledge workers.
Leo from VKW
Networking at MIN31

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

the consultation of many works of reference

Nobody at all conversant with the subject requires to be told that any technical writing needs the consultation of many works of reference, as indeed does the general work of a Botanic Garden.

-- Botany bulletin By Queensland. Dept. of Agriculture and Stock 1897

another 19th century #techcomm quote

Technical subjects don't admit of much sentiment, and technical writers do best who deal only with matters of fact. Any attempt to wrap technical writing in ambiguous language, detracts from its usefulness and lessens its value; it was truly written :—
"Of writing well, these are the chiefest springs. To know the nature, and the use of things"
From The Journal of the Society of Estate Clerks of Works, Volumes 6-7 By Society of Estate Clerks of Works, London -- 1893

Thursday, September 29, 2011

small data and root cause analysis

Sometimes it's not the "big data" that you need to solve the problem at hand. Sometimes you need small, focused, local data and a whole lot of smarts about the analysis.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away, I was responsible for corporate quality. Metrics were popular at the time, but they were somewhat abstracted from the nitty gritty of actual customer problems. Well, we had a very unhappy customer. "Wicked unhappy" as we say in the depths of New England. They kept telling us our system was buggy and unreliable. Everybody thought it was a bunch of different software problems. Engineering and support management fixated on responding to bug reports quickly as they came in. Timely fixes are good for sure, but there seemed to be something else going on.

I collected the raw data, that is, all the bug reports we'd gotten from that customer. I assembled the multitudes (support, quality, software engineering, hardware engineering). I drew a bunch of buckets on the whiteboard and we categorized each one according to the root cause. Sometimes we had to do a root cause analysis to determine which bucket it belonged in. Surprisingly, many seemingly unrelated bug reports stemmed from the same root cause. We counted how many were in each bucket. Suddenly we knew where to look.

The numbers pointed to an area we hadn't considered to be an issue: the disk-mirroring hardware. Digging a little deeper into the data, there seemed to be a correlation with a particular supplier and with systems built during a certain window of time. Turns out we'd gotten a batch of defective controllers from our supplier. Their testing hadn't caught it, nor had our hardware testing. The problem only showed up when running the complex software on top of it all.

Hardware replaced. Customer satisfied. Lesson learned. Sometimes data is just what you need to lead you in the direction of the cause.

Friday, September 16, 2011

what if girls who like math could cure breast cancer?

What if instead of buying t-shirts about being too pretty to do homework or being allergic to algebra, our best and brightest young women took on the challenge of fighting breast cancer? 

Seeing Tweets and Facebook posts about the absurd t-shirts and then seeing Tweets from a former co-worker about the "healthymagination" open innovation challenge to fund promising ideas to improve breast cancer diagnostics just announced by GE knocked me upside the head with a huge "Aha!" The challenge was launched in collaboration with venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Venrock, Mohr Davidow and MPM Capital. The effort will focus on data in partnership with O’Reilly Media. The magic word "data" sprang off the screen at me. Data science, as folks call working with these huge data sets nowadays, is math! Data analytics is math! Yes. Math!

What if we valued girls who like math? Not only can girls do math, but they also have a vested interest in improving breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.  What if girls who like math are part of the solution?

With Data Science growing in importance and asking the big questions, it's about time the popular culture embraced girls (and boys too) who like math. Math can make a difference. Let's do something with all this "big data". We just might find some answers to those big questions.

What if girls who like math could be the cure?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

#MIN30 Wrap Up

Our hosts: SCVNGR

Yes folks, it's that time again already, Mass Innovation Night number 30! Thanks to our hosts at SCVNGR, we had an excellent space with lots of nooks and crannies. Every time I turned a corner, there were new products.
As usual, I tried to check out every product. That was a challenge this time, what with the number of products and the nooks and crannies, so I did miss a couple.

I had a nice chat with HeyWire about the difficulties of staying connected to my brother in the Emirates. Free worldwide texting is definitely appealing. SMS to Twitter is also a great idea. HeyWire does a great job of bringing all these communication options together. I also liked how they worked H E Y into their QR code.

Speaking of communication, it was great to meet Twitter acquaintance @trishofthetrade from Vsnap, the cool platform for sharing short video messages. I love the idea of being able to attach items to the video -- gives way more context.
Repeat Receipt

The folks from Repeat Receipt not only have a great marketing/promotion idea to help merchants increase repeat business and give rewards to consumers but also bright orange T-shirts. They win best costume for #MIN30. There's no best hat award this time as nobody was wearing a hat. Oh, and best prop goes to the Chinese gong that Bobbie used to get the attention of the attendees.

Who knew there was still room for innovation in email marketing? Revotas offers a marketing platform that brings together email, social media, mobile, and web channels and delivers analytics-driven and personalized customer communications across all of them.
Water My Blog

I enjoyed talking with Water My Blog about how their network of writers creates optimized blog posts specifically designed for your company and your industry. It's a nifty content-driven way to do SEO. 

Experts Corner

The Experts Corner was buzzing with entrepreneurs seeking all kinds of expert advice. I think the placement of the food at the far end of the Experts Corner drove a lot of traffic to the experts too.

College Golf Pass
I passed on the chance to try out my putting skills, but did very much enjoy talking with College Golf Pass. Their discount program for Massachusetts college students helps improve the game for college students and supports the local golf community. One of my brothers is a golfer and back in the day he could've used such a program to afford more time on the course.
Brian demonstrating Comparz

Comparz was off in one of those nooks and crannies I mentioned, but I did get to check out their application for in-depth user reviews and rankings of services for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) -- kind of like Yelp for B2B.

I don't think I got a picture of VizConnect, who were sharing a conference room with Comparz.

Century Suites

I made it a priority to talk to Century Suites about co-working space in the palatial Trade Center executive offices. It would be awesome to get out of my house if I can afford it. Turns out they do offer co-working space, called Launch. Of course, the way things are going I'll have a run of clients who want me to work on-site all the time and I won't need an office. I took a flyer with the Launch info. We shall see.  Anyway, I think I drove past that building on 128 at least 5 times in the past 3 days.

Yottaa Presentation & Crowded Table
My favorite of the four presenters was Yottaa. They make websites faster. It's amazing what latency can cost you and it's great to see a cloud-based service that addresses performance in a meaningful way.

Client Types

Client Types identifies key behaviors of customer buying style and predicts customer response for sales, marketing and customer retention. This behavioral data allows businesses to create more targeted campaigns. directs you how to improve the interaction to close more sales, improve marketing response or retain more customers. Know your audience as I always say. BTW, the types have cool animal names like Social Lion. I turned out to be a Helpful Penguin. Oddly appropriate since I love penguins and traveled to Antarctica to see them.

As is traditional, I'll close with an "Expert Looking Expert" shot.
Expert Looking Expert