The Power of Design

apple-computer-renewable-energy-santa-monica ( Apple Store Santa Monica, CA )

Apple Corporation is the currently the world’s most valuable publicly traded company at roughly 755.53B market capitalization today (24 Feb 2015).  It has the premier brand in computers and personal electronics from the MacBook Pro laptop to the iPhone.  Although often criticized for price gouging in an industry of thin margins, Apple nonetheless sells well worldwide especially among the most coveted consumer demographic.


What makes Apple so valuable?  It is probably the fact that it owns the device platform that the wealthiest and most influential people in the world overwhelmingly use to communicate, collaborate and network on.  When Apple owns the mobile phone, tablet, laptop, wallet and perhaps soon car that is the first point of contact with a person, they can monitor, control and influence the relationship of that person with everything else in the world which is increasingly monopolized by the Intertubes vs meatspace.  In addition, for better or worse, this coalescing market is what economist call natural monopoly (or near to one) which brings even more value to AAPL.


mac-evolutionMac Evolution

I was one of the early Apple adopters with my Apple II plus, original Macintosh and PowerBook 100 (Apples first laptop) even when I was a near penniless undergrad.  Paying my way through college, I was extremely frugal and did exhaustive market research.  As a technologist I realized there were far less expensive and even technologically superior alternatives to Apple.

However, there was something about the Apple mystique that converted me into one of their cool-aid drinking minions.  In retrospect I had an irrationally strong and negative emotional response to PCs and early Linux became my development platform of choice.  Apple design+marketing explicitly strives to create products that are not just inanimate tools but rather an integral extension of their customer’s identity and they do an amazing job of it.

That “mystique” fabricated by Apple’s excellent sales and marketing hype machine created a rabidly loyal consumer base especially among non-tech thought leaders in influential industries like education, the media, techies and early adopter consumers.   The mystique was also partially earned by many products that were the result of extraordinary collective efforts on the part many tech and design geniuses driven by something more than a paycheck or even the cult of Steve Jobs.


Finally, the success of Apple is also in large part due to luck in timing and leadership.  Steve Jobs led Apple at a key point in the evolution of this industry:  technology became advanced and affordable enough to effectively subordinate and even hide impressive computational horsepower without compromising aesthetic product design.  Apple was also able to ride the first wave of technology gadgets becoming luxury identity brands.  The Lisa, a follow-up to the original Mac, was an example where ambitious design outpaced the abilities of underlying technology and economics which led to one of Apples most notable failures.

Apples leadership under Steve Jobs was unique.  His improbable rise, fall and rise again as Apple’s CEO given all his contradictory personal qualities gave Apple a design vision unique among technology companies.




Why Technology is Awesome

smart_dust_m3( World’s Smallest Computer? )

From Backchannel:

“…microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) — the technology of very tiny computers. MEMS are also called “smart dust,” and Dutta’s dust is the smallest known to humankind. Dutta is part of the Michigan Micro Mote, or M3, project at the University of Michigan, and M3 is on the cusp of releasing the blueprints for the “motes,” as Dutta calls them. As soon as the motes get approved by the University’s licensing office — which will happen any day now, says Dutta — M3 will release the blueprints on their website, so that nimble-fingered researchers, hackers and Maker Faire enthusiasts alike might begin to build them. After years of trial and error, smart dust, long predicted by members of the scientific community, is finally here.

…The race to build the world’s smallest computer has been in the works since UC Berkeley professor Kristofer Pister coined the phase “smart dust” in 1997, back when Apple computers were the size of large lapdogs, and smart dust the stuff of fan-boy fiction. Pister envisioned a future where pinhead-sized computers would blanket the earth like a neural cloud, relaying real-time data about people and the environment. Each particle of “dust” would function as a single autonomous computer: a tiny bundle of power, sensor, computing and communication chips that could incorporate and relay information about their environment, perform basic data-processing and communicate with one other, using almost zero energy consumption. And each computer would be no larger than one cubic millimeter in size.

…So Blaauw, Sylvester and Dutta sketched plans for what would become the M3 project. They worked from the top down, meaning that they’d design one system entirely before any coding began, and they built the motes to operate on a power budget of mere nanowatts. They created new circuit structures for RAM and for dealing with heat, and created new ways of processing and programming, done optically and using strobes. The result was a wireless mote consisting of several fleck-like modules that autonomously subsisted on minute amounts of energy harvested from heat or light via photovoltaic cells.”

Next up, SmartSpecks the size of micrometers.  The potential applications from military to medical are vast, amazing and potentially disturbing.

smartdust_hitachi ( Simply an enhanced RFID chip as yet, soon to be a general computing platform with sensor and mesh networking capabilities)

Jobs No Robot Could Ever Perform

WatsonAlthough I studied Cognitive Science within an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science context in grad school, coaching FIRST LEGO League has refocused my attention on robotics, automation and machine intelligence.  I have been surprised how progress has been made in these fields recently and how little people are aware of these advances and the consequences likely wrought by them.

For example, most lay people I talk to think that robotics and AI are an unquestioned and unalloyed good in that they will relieve humans of dangerous, repetitive and unfulfilling work like mining, assembly lines or retail cashiering.  An increasing subset of these people are aware that technology supersedes humans in a number of tasks where the human mind is less adept like rapid calculations like speed trading, undistracted driving or perhaps exhaustive and through automotive diagnostics.

jobs recently eliminated in london

Popular economics suggest that this will free up humans labor to advance up the value chain and occupy more profitable and creative roles in our economy.  After all, no Artificial Intelligence program or mechanical robot will ever be able to be creative or truly independent of human supervision right?  Technology is merely a tool for the ultimate knowledge worker – humans.

The problem with this line of thought is that most people overestimate their own creativity while simultaneously underestimating the potential of artificial intelligence even as the bright dividing line between the two rapidly dims (and may cross in 2045 with an event termed the Singularity).  As of yet only a handful of very bright and visionary thought leaders like Bill Gates, Stephen Hawkins and Elon Musk have identified AI as the primary threat to humanity.

One example of this eroding dichotomy is how we humans are reassessing ourselves as gifted with a divine spark that uniquely set us above and apart from the many other life forms on Earth.  As science elucidates the common genetics, biology and evolutionary history underpinning all life on Earth resulting in a more mechanistic view of humans on a spectrum in continuity with all lifeforms this idea of biologically-endowed human uniqueness has faded.  Scientific understanding of all life mechanisms helps us understand our own faulty wiring and limitations as well as develop Artificial Intelligence to overcome these and supersede human cognition and performance.

“The idea that humans will always have a unique ability beyond the reach of non-conscious algorithms is just wishful thinking. It is based on the traditional assumption that intelligence and consciousness are inextricably linked to one another. For millions of years of evolution, this may have been true. But no longer,” – Professor Yuval Harari, Israeli historian and author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

superintelligence( Superintelligence by Oxford philosopher and transhumanist Nick Bostrom)

So to the question of this post.  What are these creative and high-level knowledge worker jobs that no technology could ever compete with humans?

– Journalism – No

– Legal Research and Opinion – No

– Inventing New Cooking Recipes – No

– Medical Diagnostics and Surgery – No, and Not Yet but Soon

– Authoring Academic Research Papers – No

– Independently Identifying and Killing Humans – No

In fact, it is hard to image any physical or mental job that Artificial Intelligence won’t eventually be able to largely perform as well if not far better than a human.  Even within the next decade or two, researchers at Oxford University estimate that 47% of all jobs today are at risk of elimination by technology.  Here are two graphs summarizing which jobs are most and least vulnerable in the near future.

probability of computerization( Probabilistic Graph of Technological Job Elimination approximately 2013-2033 )



job_tech_elimination_most_least_likely ( Irregular Manual, Creative and Interpersonal Jobs at Safest – for now )

While new jobs potentially created by such new technologies may pay better, such jobs will probably be fewer in number and require a very elite set of human cognitive skills and/or mechanical servicing skills.  In fact, it is hard to image any physical or mental job that Artificial Intelligence won’t eventually be able to largely perform as well if not better than a human.


Here are some tips to cope with this rapidly changing labor market from one TechRepublic story on the subject quoting various experts:

“The career advice that Google chief economist Hal Varian frequently gives: seek to be an indispensable complement to something that’s getting cheap and plentiful.”

“To remain valuable knowledge workers in this latest machine age, Brynjolfsson and McAfee say people will need to focus on learning skills that are tricky for computers, such as ideation (the creation of new ideas), large-frame pattern recognition, and complex communication.”

“This is a real frontier for entrepreneurs to develop new ways of what we call ‘Racing with machines’, combining machines and humans in new ways to allow them to do tasks they previously couldn’t have done,” said Brynjolfsson.

Catch Ohio FIRST teams at World Championships

2014-FRC-Confetti shotFrom an email from the Ohio FIRST Organization:

Next week is the FIRST World Championships/World Festival. We have 24 teams, 8 Deans List Finalist and an FLL Global Innovation Award Nominee representing Ohio.   If you would like to tune in and watch log on to:

 Here is a list of competing teams (from Ohio):

FRC (13 Teams)

 #             Name                                    Hometown                         Division

 3193       Falco Tech                           Austintown, OH                 Curie

 144         The R.O.C.K                        Cincinnati, OH                    Carver

4028       The Beak Squad               Cincinnati, OH                    Carson

120         Cleveland’s Team             Cleveland, OH                   Curie

3324       The Metrobots                 Columbus, OH                   Carver

3266       Robots-R-Us                      Eaton, OH                            Hopper

379         RoboCats                             Girard, OH                           Curie

128         The Botcats                        Grandview Heights, OH Carver

5418       The Sonic Screwdrivers Hubbard, OH                      Newton

5413       Stellar Robotics                 Mansfield, OH                   Hopper

5667       Team AIR                             New Albany, OH               Archimedes

2399       Fighting Unicorns             Shaker Heights, OH         Tesla

48           Delphi E.L.I.T.E.                 Warren, OH                        Tesla

FTC (6 Teams)

#             Team Name                       Hometown         Division

4251       Cougar Robotics               Columbus, OH   Edison

6022       TBD                                        Aurora, OH         Edison

6987       Hat Trix                                 Granville, OH     Edison

4530       Infinite Resistance           Cincinnati, OH    Franklin

5140       WACO Aerobotics            Troy, OH              Franklin

6133       The “NUTS!”                      Cincinnati, OH    Franklin

FLL (2 Teams)

#             Name                                    Hometown

2071       LEGO Squad                       Warren, OH

3566       Lightning Trampolines    Springboro, OH

Jr.FLL (3 Teams)

#             Name                                                    Hometown

1655       Everything is Awesome!               Batavia, OH

2779       The Master Fire Builders               Washington Courthouse, OH

681         Masterminds                                     Waynesville, OH

FRC Deans List Finalists

#             Team Name                       Student Name                  Hometown

1014       Bad Robot                           Deepthi Thumuluri          Columbus, OH

3138       Innovators Robotics        Colleen Fulton                   Dayton, OH

4611       O-Zone                                 Liz Halter                              Lewis Center, OH

4611       O-Zone                                 Thomas VanFossen         Lewis Center, OH

FTC Deans List Finalists

#             Team Name       Student Name                  Hometown

5029       Powerstackers  Pedro Campos                  Englewood, OH

6987       Hat Trix                 Cameron Richards           Granville, OH

7078       STEMBotics         Colleen Fulton                   Dayton, OH

7947       DECAbotz            Damon Alexander           Dayton, OH

FLL Global Innovation Award Nominee 

#             Team Name       Hometown         Product

436         Robot Rights      Dublin, OH          Math Magic

Prioritizing Entrepreneurial Technical Skills

Skills-infographicA Great Example of a Visual Resume of Technical Skills

A spiritually and materially fulfilling life depends upon a lot more than narrow technical skills and the income they can garner.  FIRST LEGO League emphasizes a lot of the life skills like teamwork and presentation skills that often prove more valuable than narrow technical skills (although together these soft and hard skills can prove to have multiplicative value).

Given that disclaimer, I’d like to isolate and focus on exactly how to prioritize the hard technical skills we could learn in our FLL off season this year.  I’ve been putting a lot of thought and research into exactly what would be the optimal mix of skill enrichment I could introduce this Spring/Summer prior the start of our August 25th Trash Trek Field Kit Release.  It’s a multidimensional problem that weighs a number of resource-competing factors against each other:

* cognitively most appropriate for 9-14 year olds (eg what level of mathematical modeling is appropriate)

* inherently most interesting (eg game programming)

* specialized skill sets (eg UX and infographic design)

* likely tools we’ll need to execute on an innovative Research Project (eg android and iOS app design)

* core tools we’ll need for FLL (eg extremely robust error-detection/recovery robot programming)

* balance between breath and depth of teaching given our limited time

* the limitations of our physical resources (eg lab space, laptops, operating systems)

Not to be left off the list are my concerns about what are the core, most valuable and most interesting technical skills I’d like to convey that will prove useful well beyond FLL and perhaps spark a life-long interest in some aspect of STEM.

computer-centric-skill-value-average-salary-value-of-skill_chartbuilder-1A Current Narrow but Quantitative Market Measure of Specific Technical Skills

Here is my evolving list of topics I’m thinking of covering or at least introducing in a way that gives kids a systematic way to think of the tools available and how to select among them and combine them to achieve their ends.  Hopefully this will give a layout of the land and help them to envision an original architecture for their Research Project this fall.  This is basically an Entrepreneurial STEM life-skills course outline that I’m developing from scratch – much of which I wish I had someone provide me when I was young.


– Psychology/Self Assessment/Career Objectives/Resume

– Entrepreneurship Ecology and Scholarship

– Economics

– Research

– Strategy and Tactics

– Financials

– Business Plan

– Patents

Technical Management

– Agile Development

– Technical Documentation

– Project Management

– Code Coordination / Management

– Bug Reporting / QA Improvement Process


– LEGO Robot Visual Programming

– Multi-Level Error Detection and Correction

– Fundamentals of Programming

– Data Analysis/Mathematical Modeling/Machine Learning

– Virtualization and Cloud Services

– Database

– Web Server Config / Web App Design

– Mobile and Table App Design

– UX Design

– Infographics

– Game Design

– Social Networks

– DIY micro controllers/computers and sensors

Obviously I cannot devote the time required to cover all these subjects in depth.  Currently, I estimate I can introduce one or two main topics as the focus with most of the other topics slipped into the mix in the most general terms.  As we progress, specialize our team roles and more clearly define our Research Project I hope various individuals take interest in and ownership of key technologies needed to execute on the group’s vision.

skillbubblesTactically and Strategically Representing Skills

resume-infographicInsights to help kids be Proactive rather than Reactive in Identifying and Pursuing Interests

Virtual Team and Collaboration Technologies

After my last startup was acquired by Symantec, I became a Director in that company overseeing the incorporation of our web-based VPN Linux appliance into their product line.

We relocated our startup office from Emeryville, CA to Redwood Shores, CA in the SF Bay Area (everyone but our developer in Flagstaff, AZ who continued to telecommute from 742 miles away).  I reported to our division Vice President in Waltham, MA located on the other side of the country 3100 miles away.  That VP in turn reported to Symantec corporate headquarters 3100 miles away in Mountain View, CA (ironically just 14 miles south from my office).

globe_mouse_wire-353x179Immediately prior to that I was a chief technical officer for a startup in Irvine, CA simultaneously managing ERP consultants in Irvine, CA,  Web Developers in Santa Monica, CA and programmers in Sao Paulo, Brazil 6,100 miles away.  Several years before that, I setup a the first US-based Japanese test bed for DELL in Austin, TX and collaborated with a more extensive test bed site in Japan about 10,500 miles and 14 time zones away.  Finally, before that I worked in Tokyo supporting a global financial information network with nodes in London, New York, Hong Kong, Sidney and several other smaller cities in Asia.


All this is to say virtual teams comprised of individuals working across many geographical regions is extremely common – especially in high-end knowledge fields like finance, engineering, design, film, etc.  As a result we have a great deal of technical tools that will help us collaborate with JP in Costa Rica (and you will all be better prepared for the future).

Here are my short list of tools that we will find useful to coordinate our collaboration:

Meetings:  Facetime/Skype

Screen Sharing:  ScreenLeap, SkyFlex, Mikogo and CrossLoop (more research needed)

File/Code Sharing:  Dropbox/Git

Project Management:  Asana, Trello, Bitrix, etc

Bug Tracking:  (may be relegated to a todo list in Project Management)

telecomm_growthIt’s difficult to come on accurate figures for the percent of the workforce that telecommutes but this freelancer cites 35-40% telecommute in businesses she deals with based upon her experience and the opinions of HR people she deals with.

Unfortunately, virtual collaboration will not address all the challenges that we will face this fall in FIRST LEGO League.  Much of FLL is based upon teamwork and developing good interpersonal skills that are optimally achieved face to face.

Fortunately, JP will be visiting us periodically before our first Nov/Dec FLL tournament during which we can focus on addressing these short comings of technology with team building exercises.  In any case, our team will have a unique opportunity to be introduced to the future of work via FLL.