gears prepared six ways

At my last company we spent countless hours trying to decide how to manufacture the parts that we needed to build PlantLink. One of the resources that we relied on was the Rapid Prototyping Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The lab has four different 3D printing technologies available: Stereolithography (SLA), Polyjet, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). Each of these 3D printing methods has a unique set of pros and cons that I won't get into just yet. In the end it didn't matter which process we choose - we would always run into some limitation that would prevent us from getting an exact copy of the parts we wanted to produce at quantity. Luckily for us our parts were relatively simple, so we were able to pull the trigger on injection molding without having to produce perfect prototypes first. 

Fast forward a few years and now I'm working for a 3D printer company. We make an incredible desktop SLA printer called the Form 2. One of the perks of working here is unlimited access to our printers and materials for personal projects. It's a pretty awesome perk that I don't take advantage of as often as I should. Most of the time I've just printed things for friends or as party favors for guests at a couple of events my wife and I have hosted. 

A few of the Oscar statues I printed for our annual watch party this year. 

A few of the Oscar statues I printed for our annual watch party this year. 

Since I'm constantly exposed to SLA parts these days I know more about their pros and cons than I did when I was making parts for PlantLink. In broad terms the detail and surface finish of SLA parts is better than most other processes and you can use a wider variety of materials. Sadly most of those materials are a poor match for dynamic applications due to their brittle nature. There are a lot of exception and caveats to all of those statements, but that's how I think of it when I'm trying to decide if I want to prototype something on a Form 2. 

Ok, so I know more about SLA printing than I used to. So what? 

Well, my knowledge of other additive manufacturing processes has been pretty stagnant since my PlantLink days. A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to learn more about some aspects of 3D printed parts across a variety of processes - specifically dimensional accuracy and material wear resistance. I had a few different ideas of how to go about testing these things, but I decided on one relatively simple design for a machine that would satisfy my curiosity. I designed a system using small gears produced from six different manufacturing methods: injection molding, SLA printing, FDM printing, SLS printing, metal casting, and laser cutting. 

Enter gears prepared six ways

Enter gears prepared six ways

The concept here is pretty simple. A central gear drives each of the five arms of fixed spur gears, which in turn work together to spin an outer ring gear. That's it. There's no greater purpose or value that this mechanism creates. It's not a clock, it's not a clever power transmission. It's just a few gears spinning around in circles. 

Quick side note: I used Onshape to design and document this entire project. You can access all of the files - from the math for designing the gears to the part files I printed on my Form 2 - on the public project page. 

Since those gears are all ostensibly produced from identical sets of plans they should be exactly the same size. Obviously this wouldn't be a very interesting exercise if that was the case, so I set out on a journey to produce gears six different ways and compare the results. I wish that I could say there was an elaborate matrix that I constructed to select the production methods I chose, but in reality I just picked a few different processes that I was curious about and moved ahead with things from there. 

Finding injection molded gears that also come with detailed CAD drawings might seem like a difficult task at first. Thankfully, McMaster-Carr is there to save the day. All I had to do was browse the McMaster product page for spur gears until I found a few geometries that I liked. Once I picked out my gears I just downloaded a solidworks file for each one and uploaded it to Onshape. I repeated this process for all of the mounting hardware I needed for the project so that I could create a precise model of my assembly before building everything. 

It's almost too easy

It's almost too easy

Once my assembly was complete I purchased several sets of the gears from McMaster Carr and exported STL files for the gears from Onshape so that I could 3D print the other four arms of the design. I chose binary format STLs in inches at high resolution when I exported my files.

Getting my hands on FDM gears was simple enough. My friend Brian has an UP mini printer at home that he used for a lot of his projects before he started working at Formlabs. He's a cool guy, so getting the gears involved sending him an email and asking nicely. Having engineers for friends is pretty awesome. 

Producing the SLA gears was a little bit more complicated. I wanted the gears to mesh as well as possible with one another after I printed them, but I also wanted them to have some resilience. This seems like the perfect application for our Tough resin. I wasn't sure which support structures or orientations would make the best parts so I printed several copies of the gears in one print. 

Four different orientations for my parts

Four different orientations for my parts

My print came out great, but I forgot to take a picture of the build platform before removing all of the parts. I need to get better at this whole project documentation thing...  

Since I don't have access to a multi-hundred thousand dollar SLS printer or commercial metal casting facility I had to go through a service bureau for those versions of my gears. I chose Shapeways since I've visited their facility in New York once before and they seem to be the industry leaders in the space right now. Using Shapeways means that I had a bit of a wait on my hands, but until there's a low cost solution for SLS printing and metal casting I'll just have to learn to be patient. 

Order page for the SLS gears on Shapeways.com

Order page for the SLS gears on Shapeways.com

It ended up taking Shapeways around three weeks to ship me my order. I've had much faster results in the past when ordering only SLS parts, so I assume that the casting process was the bottle neck here. Once I  received my Shapeways order I was able to compare the results from each manufacturing process. 

From left to right: Injection molding, FDM, SLA, SLS, and cast metal gears. 

From left to right: Injection molding, FDM, SLA, SLS, and cast metal gears. 

I broke out some calipers and captured three measurements for each gear: height, gear outside diameter, and base outside diameter. Get ready for some bar charts. 

Here's that same data presented as percent difference from the specifications on the drawings. Positive values mean that the measured dimension was larger than the specification, while negative values mean that the measured dimension was smaller than the specification. 

Some quick observations:

  • I don't know what orientations the SLS and cast gears were placed in the build volume when they were printed, so drawing conclusions about how growth or shrinkage happened in those processes is challenging. 
  • The injection molded gears were typically closer to the specification than the other processes, but not always, and not by very much. 
  • Brian's FDM printer is really well calibrated. His prints were much closer to the specifications than I expected them to be. 
  • SLA printing is unsurprisingly quite a bit more dimensionally accurate than SLS printing. 
  • The cast gears were smaller in the diameter dimensions but larger in the height dimension. I was expecting them to be smaller in all dimensions based on some common casting issues

Overall their was a fair amount of discrepancy between each production method and the specifications. If you are interested in doing your own statistical analysis the raw measurements can be found in the Onshape project or directly in this google sheet

Assembling the device should have been a fairly straight forward task, but I ran into a few small snags. The inside diameter of each of the additive manufactured gears was too small to fit on the shoulder bolts that I selected for the shafts. I used a small lathe at work to remove a few hundredths of an inch from each gear. The laser cutter that I used to make the enclosure and the ring gear (my 6th gear preparation method) had some strange kerf issue that made me have to re-cut all of the acrylic a couple of times. All in all pretty basic stuff, but good things to keep in mind for the future. 

Once I had everything together I snuck into the photo studio at work to use the lighting setup that was leftover from some recent product shots. Don't get excited - the image quality won't be too high. I still used my iPhone to take the photos and videos. 

I actually remembered to take a behind the scenes photo of this step, but that was only because I was literally in the process of taking other photos at the same time. 

I actually remembered to take a behind the scenes photo of this step, but that was only because I was literally in the process of taking other photos at the same time. 

The finally assembly looks pretty close to what I had in mind when I made the CAD model. Nothing all that impressive, but I'm still happy with the results. 

Final assembled system

Final assembled system

Turning on the DC motor causes everything to rotate exactly as planned. 

From here I'm planning on leaving the system running for a week or so and then measuring the outside diameter of each gear over again. Hopefully I'll update this post when that happens. I'd also like to build some kind of automatic data logging system for the setup at some point. I've got a spare Photon sitting around that I got at a conference last year. If I run a motor off of that and attach a rotary encoder to the drive shaft in the box I should be able to count total revolutions for each gear pretty easily. This might just be the perfect useless object to connect to the internet. 

Overall I'd say that it was pretty simple to design, fabricate, and assemble this device. McMaster-Carr makes it easy to get CAD files for standard parts, Onshape makes it easy to manipulate CAD files, accessible 3D printers like the Form 2 and UpMINI make it easy to produce my own gears, and Shapeways makes it easy to order gears from materials I don't have access to otherwise. It's a pretty amazing time to be a mechanical engineer. Next time I'll have to find a more ambitious project to tackle with all of these amazing tools. 

 

 

what goes up

The summer of 2014 started out with a lot of potential. My business wasn't in the best shape, but I was hopeful that our pivot into commercial agriculture might end up saving us from going under. I gave a talk about our plan to a few people at the first Solid conference in San Francisco. 

In retrospect I can see that I was wrong about almost all of the points I made about the future during that talk. I was making the best projections I could with the information that I had, but it was incomplete and based on a few false assumptions. By the end of the summer my company went under and I spent the next few months shutting down the business. 

A year later I had the opportunity to give a talk about how my company failed. I was able to return to the Solid stage and talk about some of the lessons that I learned along the way. My talk about failure was roughly four times longer than my first talk. (I still feel bad about running long and cutting into Ian's time. Sorry Ian) (I also committed the cardinal sin of video presentations and didn't repeat questions into the mic. Sorry everyone.) 

Writing and giving my second talk was a very cathartic experience. It was really helpful for me to get the story of Oso Technologies off of my chest. I enjoyed the chance to share my own experiences with a group of people who were clearly very interested in not repeating the mistakes that I had made. 

I'm finally releasing this video to what I assume is a pretty small audience at this point. Maybe someday I'll be able to point people to it, but for now I'm just happy to have it out there. 

415

I did it. I managed to completely neglect my blog for over a year. 

When I started this in the fall of 2014 it was part of an effort to keep myself busy while I transitioned out of my role at my last company. I enjoyed having a focal point for my thoughts and feelings during that season of my life, but I didn't prioritize it over my other responsibilities once I started my new role at Formlabs. I spent the majority of 2015 running a project that I can't openly discuss. It is incredibly exciting and there will be a lot to say someday, but for now I'll just say that I'm working on something different from the products we have released in the past and leave it at that. More to come in the future. 

Why the recap? 

I'm going to attempt to restart this blog during 2016. The topic for this year will probably be somewhat meandering, but I'd like to have a place where I can talk about some of my past failures more openly and chronicle some of the intersting things that I'm doing right now. I suppose my ultimate goal will be to pass on what I've learned so that it doesn't just remain inside my own head. 

This is typically where I would talk about some of the content that I plan on posting, but I'll just share this TED talk instead. 

I suppose I'm already violating this principle by just talking about starting up again. Oh well. 

 

the next chapter

What a wild ride. 

The last 50 days have been a complete whirlwind. The story of Oso Technologies is still being written, both figuratively as some other stake holders decided about the future of the IP, and literally as I have a working draft of a post about the history of the company sitting on the cloud at the moment. Regardless, I stepped down from the day to day operations of the business on the 17th of October. My "retirement" as CEO had been a long time coming in the months and days leading up to the 1 7th, but that's a story for another time. 

On October 19th I sat down in a Starbucks in Champaign, IL with my wife to discuss our future. We weren't sure where we wanted to live, what Lisa wanted to do for her next job, or what I wanted to work on. So, like the engineers that we are, we made an ordered list of things to look for during my job hunt. After leaving Starbucks I knew I wanted a job with at least two of the following three components. 

  1. Startup company OR large company with good product reputation 
  2. Company located in a good entrepreneurship ecosystem (Silicon Valley, Boston, New York City) OR an international opportunity 
  3. Chance to continue working on physical hardware 

It's admittedly a fairly broad set of criteria. Number one was there because I wanted to either stay in the startup world or move on to a large company like Apple or Google where they ship world class products. Number two was on the list because I knew that I'd probably want to start another business someday and it made sense to put roots down in a place with a great ecosystem already in place. If that wasn't possible I'd pursue opportunities overseas. My wife and I agreed that since we are still young we'd be up for trying out another country for a little while if it came up. Finally, I wanted to stay connected to the world of physical products. It's a no-brainer as a mechanical engineer, but a harder fit as someone that wants to work in rapidly growing companies. We set a deadline of February 28th for my search since my wife's job was stable enough to support us for the time being and our lease would last until then. 

The next day I sent out a flurry of emails to around 20 people that I had gotten to know around the country while I ran my last company. I was humbled by the number of gracious, helpful responses that I received to those emails. I was introduced to a number of fantastic people and started lining up conversations with a few different interesting companies. 

One of those conversations was with the CEO of Formlabs. After a short talk we agreed that the next step would be an in person interview with the team. I had my first phone call on the 24th, I was on a plane flying to Boston on the 28th and I got a job offer on the 30th. Needless to say, I was incredibly surprised that the process had moved so quickly. I was more surprised by the fact that I was seriously considering the offer. My February deadline was still months away, but the project that I'd be working on was such an incredible opportunity that I couldn't pass it up. 

I accepted the offer and my wife put in her two weeks notice at her job in Illinois. We packed up all of our stuff, handed our boxes off to some movers, and drove across the country to start our next chapter. We've been here in Cambridge for the past three weeks now and so far things have been pretty incredible. I already knew I loved the city after living here this past summer, and the job has been everything I wanted and more. 

It feels like my whole life has changed in the past 50 days, and in a lot of ways that is true. I'm incredibly thankful for my new opportunities, my amazingly supportive spouse, and a world class professional network that helped me find a job in less than a week. 

I obviously won't be blogging as regularly as I was when I started this up, but I hope to share some of the lessons that I'm learning in my new position here as they become more public. I've also got to finish off that history of Oso at some point. I guess there's always more to do. 

*An earlier version of this post omitted the name of the company for which I work. 
  

the inevitable bundling of home automation

This past summer I listened to a podcast from Harvard Business School IdeaCast where Marc Andreessen and Jim Barksdale discussed the topic of bundling business services. The conversation is worth checking out if you haven't heard it yet. You can listen to the podcast or read a transcript here

The basic idea is that businesses can make money by either bundling services together or by breaking out better versions of previously bundled services. One example from their conversation was the record industry. Before MP3s were widely available people had to purchase entire albums to get copies of the few songs they really cared about hearing. MP3s came along and made it possible to selectively acquire (legally or otherwise) the individual tracks you liked from an artist. Keeping up with that many individual unbundled tracks turns out to be a pain, so people are starting to turn to new bundling services like Spotify, Pandora, and Beats Music to conveniently re-bundle their music. 

I hadn't thought about that concept very much since hearing about it in July until this past weekend when I was killing a few minutes of time at the local Best Buy here in Champaign, Illinois. Most of the store hadn't changed from the Best Buy that I went to when I was growing up back in Texas, but there was one notable difference. 

The area that  got me thinking about bundling was located about halfway back in the store. Sandwiched between the dedicated sales areas for Apple and Samsung there was a single aisle of home automation products. 

I wasn't surprised that Best Buy had these products on display. My last company was developing a small piece of home automation technology so I knew that major retailers were starting to pickup more and more of these devices. The thing that struck me about the display was how confusing it was to quickly understand how all of these things worked together.

A hasty count revealed that there were 15 different brands selling upwards of 40 different products on this single aisle. Many of them touted the fact that they worked with some specific standard. Dropcam told you that it worked with Nest (not surprising given the acquisition this summer) and Peq seemed to work with Kwikset. Beyond that there was nothing about how to get everything working together. I know about the chipsets that most of these products are using and I was still confused about what worked with what. 

Then it struck me - this is how average people are going to be buying, or more likely not buying, home automation products. If by some amazing stretch of the imagination one of my non-tech obsessed friends decided that they wanted to purchase a home automation system they would probably start on an aisle like this one or at an online store with a similar selection. I can't imagine how frustrating this buying experience would be for an average consumer. 

That's when I thought about bundling. From where I was standing in  Best Buy it was pretty clear that the home automation isn't going to take off until there's an easy to use bundled service that does everything. Average people are going to need a fully integrated software and hardware solution - not a mismatched collection of devices running off of multiple hubs and smartphone apps. 

From what I've seen so far it looks like there are two or three major plays (and countless smaller options) for a bundled solution. The first one that I thought of was SmartThings.

SmartThings Hub

SmartThings Hub

SmartThings got their start in 2012 as a Kickstarter campaign and later went on to be acquired by Samsung. Their system incorporates a wide array of devices and they have a vibrant community of developers building new applications and hardware all the time. From what I've tried SmartThings is the best complete solution on the market today. Will and Norm from Tested just posted a pretty extensive review of SmartThings if you want to learn more. 

After SmartThings there's a mishmash of different systems being offered by everyone from Staples to HomeDepot to Lowes.

Home Depot's Wink Hub

Home Depot's Wink Hub

Most of these options are trying to do a combination of working with everything and pushing custom built modules for sensing or control. So far I have been underwhelmed with most of these options, but they are all less than two years old at this point, so there's lots of room to improve. 

No home automation bundle conversation would be complete without talking about Nest.

Nest Protect and Learning Thermostat 

Nest Protect and Learning Thermostat 

Nest was started by a bunch of former Apple employees in 2010. Their first device was a thermostat that learned your schedule and adjusted the temperature accordingly. They went on to launch a smoke alarm and were acquired by Google earlier this year. Right now you can't have a fully realized home automation system with just Nest devices, but I don't think that Google would have acquired them if they didn't have plans to launch a more comprehensive solution down the road. 

I'm convinced that these bundled solutions are going to be the recipe for initial success in home automation. Until there are a few dominant players we'll probably see several startups and large companies trying to start their own ecosystems. Once the dominant players emerge we will see an explosion of startups launching niche devices for home automation systems. Eventually there might be a common standard that will allow companies to launch independent, unbundled devices to satisfy specific needs. 

In the meantime I think that startups that build independent devices are going to struggle with adoption. Customers aren't going to want to mess around with five separate hubs  and eight different apps on their smart phones. Betting on a single unproven ecosystem or integrating with every hub on the market are both equally risky strategies for small companies. We'll need to find a way to hit critical mass with a couple of bundled solutions before the most interesting products will start to emerge. 

excellence

I've never been a stickler for details. A quick glance at my handwriting, the incomplete nature of my homework growing up, or my ill-fated attempts at artistic expression would make this obvious. "That seems good enough" has been my mantra for a huge percentage of my life, and most of the time I was right. I typically do things until they are good enough to just squeak by whoever is reviewing them and no better. Some might call that lazy. Some might call that efficient. I'm not sure what I'd call it, but I probably wouldn't call it excellence. Over the past three years I've been involved with two different things that have started to change my attitude about excellence.

The first thing was my graduate research. Working in engineering research at the University of Illinois (UIUC) puts you shoulder to shoulder with some of the smartest people in mechanical engineering in the world. The professors and graduate students that I interacted with while I was at UIUC were always striving for excellence. My research group in particular was driven toward perfection by our advisor. He was always pushing us to produce better quality work, and it was obvious that he knew what he was doing. Our group consisted of several national fellowship recipients, award winners, and widely published post-docs. Meetings with my advisor were typically hard for me, but I grew more because of those interactions than I have from any other person I have ever worked for before or since. There is almost no comparison between the quality of the work I did at the start of my graduate career and the end of it. I easily packed several years of professional development into just 24 months thanks to my advisor.  I would have grown more if I hadn't been distracted with the second thing that has changed my mind about excellence: my startup. 

Working at a startup highlights individual contributions. A single person can have a tremendous impact on the quality of the product that the company creates - both for the good and for the bad. Working in a startup environment helped me see that "good enough" isn't all it is cracked up to be. Potential customers and users expect so much more out of their products than "good enough" when you are offering a new product. The crappy work that I did on certain parts of the business negatively impacted our ability to grow in different ways, but at the same time the areas that I strove for perfection in were some of the things that users loved the most about the product. The cause and effect feedback loop for a startup was much tighter than any other place I had ever worked. It's exhilarating when you are hitting the right notes and seeing success and crushing when you are failing and watching things tailspin out of control. 

Both of these experiences have made me value excellence much more in my personal and professional life.  I've learned that effort and intention don't matter as much as excellence when it comes to products. It doesn't matter how hard you try or how much you want the product to be great if it isn't actually great. Excellence isn't enough to win in the marketplace, but you probably won't succeed without it for very long. 

I have a long way to go before I can reach a consistent level of excellence in everything. This blog is an attempt to create a place where I can hone my writing ability. Soon I'd like to run a few other things on the side that I can use to practice other things that I want to excel at in the future. I'm looking forward to improving other parts of my professional repertoire over the next few years so that I can hit the expectations that I have for myself. 

perseverance

I spent the past weekend out in the San Francisco bay area taking part in Y Combinator’s  (YC) Startup School. Startup School is an event that YC has been hosting for the past 10 years. They bring in founders and investors from some of the most successful technology companies and give them each 30 minutes to talk to a room of 1500+ potential entrepreneurs. The talks range from honest stories about failures to funny antidotes. In the past year YC has added startup schools on the East Coast and in London, so they must be doing something right. 

The last time I attended Startup School in 2012 I had just barely started my company. I was wet behind the ears and I thought that I was going to come away from the event with a new understanding of how to run my company. The event was nice, but I didn’t feel like I learned anything actionable. 

This year I’m in a very different place. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons in the past two years. I probably wouldn’t have attended Startup School this year based on my past experience, but I was invited to a dinner the night before and I had a few other contacts I wanted to re-connect with, so I made the trip out to California.  

The lobby of one office building I visited had two solid walls of plants. I wonder if there's a startup that could make a product for that...

The lobby of one office building I visited had two solid walls of plants. I wonder if there's a startup that could make a product for that...

I was pleasantly surprised when a large number of the talks took a different path from those in 2012. Instead of just telling a sugar coated story about going from obscurity to running a billion dollar company the founders were very consistent about mentioning ways they had failed early in their careers. Some of them tried multiple different versions of the same idea before making it work, while others had to jump around from one company to another before they built something that solved a real problem. 

My own experience with my company hasn’t quite wrapped up yet, but I think it is safe to say that the current prospects don’t match up with what I originally wanted. It has been hard to see the company shrink slowly over the past six to eight months. As things have been wrapping up I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why we didn’t win and it has been pretty depressing. I’ve touched on some of those stories in past blog posts and I’m sure I’ll go into more detail here in the future, but for now I think it is safe to say that I’ve been coming to realize that I’m the main reason we didn’t succeed. 

With that realization in hand I’ve been pretty doubtful about my ability to run another technology company. Outwardly I’ve been saying that I am definitely going to start another company one day, but in the back of my mind I constantly question that assertion. Hearing about how others have overcome similar challenges and persevered in the face of failure was incredibly encouraging. It’s was so relieving to be in an environment where failure is not just tolerated but celebrated as a step toward success. 

I hope that one day I’ll be able to share a similar story about going from an initial failure to a big success. But for now I’ll just remember the stories of others and draw encouragement from the fact that I’m not the first person to run a business poorly and survive it. 

P.S. 

There are dozens of people who take fantastic notes at these and publish them online each year. If you’d like to get a better idea of what the talks are like you can check out these great notes or just watch the talks online here

27

I’m turning 27 today.

I had a fairly long blog post written up about my experiences this past weekend, but it’s not that festive, so I think I’ll delay it for a day. Instead I’m going to do a list of the most memorable events of each year of my life so far. This is just off of the top of my head, so apologies if it seems glib or if I missed anything important. 

0-7 Everything more or less runs together here. I'm sure I have memories of this time, but I can't really pinpoint them by year. 

8 Seeing Mission: Impossible,  my first PG-13 movie,  in the theater with my uncle. 

9 Buying a gameboy at GameStop. 

10 Losing my grandpa. Getting sick while seeing Godzilla in theaters and subsequently getting sick at the smell of movie theaters. (This lasted until 2002)

11 Visiting the grand canyon with my family.

12 Becoming obsessed with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2.

13 Breaking my wrist at a skatepark.

14 Teaching two year olds to swim during the summer.

15 Building my first computer.

16 Having my first high school crush.

17 Deciding I wanted to be an engineer while reading books about physics in the Arlington public library.

18 Winning the Gates Millennium Scholarship and matriculating at Baylor University. Possibly studying SAT vocabulary words.  

19 Meeting the love of my life.

20 Losing one internship and then finding two others in the aerospace industry in 14 days. 

21 Asking Lisa to marry me in Shanghai.

22 Getting married to the coolest person ever.

23 Getting into graduate school. Winning a bunch of fellowships. Getting a funding commitment for my first company. 

24 Buying our first house.

25 Landing $20k in Kickstarter pledges in 20 hours. 

26 Too many things have happened in the past year to pick one.

Visiting Europe for the first time. 

Shipping PlantLink.

Moving to Boston.

Traveling all over the country.

Selling our first house.

Moving back to Champaign. 

Going on a cruise with Lisa.

Closing down my first company.

 

Thanks to everyone who has participated in my life up to this point. (You know who you are). Here's to a few more years with all of you and many more memories to come. 

excuses

I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about excuses. 

Excuses are everywhere. 

People make excuses for missing the mark in life all the time. Personal commitments, professional responsibilities, academic expectations - all of these things are subject to excuses. Our complex, busy, 21st century lives are replete with possible excuses for falling short of other's expectations. 

I know this because I make a lot of excuses. I don’t know if everyone else picks up on it, but it’s true. 

That's probably one of the most damning things that I could write about myself. Can you imagine answering a question in a job interview about your greatest weakness and admitting that you make a lot of excuses? 

In high school most of my excuses were based on my social and economic status. 

I would have done better on that test if I had more time to prepare, or if I had taken harder math earlier. I would have more friends if I just had more money, or more free time, or if I cared about sports more. I would have gotten into that college that rejected me if I was from a rich family with better connections. Sure, my SAT score was lower than it should be but that's just because I'm a "bad test taker". That would have been fixed if I had been told about all of this earlier. 

In college being an engineering student gave me ample ammunition for excuses. 

I can't be that involved with my church -  I'm in a harder major than those other people. I might not have many friends, but that's just because I'm more responsible and a harder worker. I don't have the time to invest in other people right now. I’m too busy to really investigate every graduate program out there, so I’ll just focus on the ones that are able to fly me out for in person visits.  

In graduate school I made my divided attention an excuse. 

I'm not going to be a first author on a paper before I finish my thesis, but that's not my fault! I'm working on too many things at once to publish any of them. My advisor, my collaborators, or my equipment are all to blame for me not finishing this research fast enough. Besides, I can't focus on research right now - I'm running this company! 

My excuses hit an all time high when I was running my company. 

It isn’t my fault we haven’t shipped yet. That’s someone else’s fault for not checking on ___ before now. The people we are pitching aren’t able to see the amazing potential for this product. No one in the midwest invests in hardware. My co-founders are all part time. I don’t have enough money to properly market this product. Other people should reach out to me if they want to know what is going on in side the company.  This is the first time I’ve ever done this, I can’t be expected to have all the answers! 

Excuses. Some of them are true and some of them I blew out of proportion, but they are all excuses for why I missed the mark in one area or another. But you know what? None of that matters. I’m the person who is responsible for not getting a higher SAT score (not that it matter now, obviously). I’m the reason that I didn’t have more friends in high school or college. It is my fault that the research I was doing during my masters didn’t get published on time for my graduation. Every problem in my business can ultimately be traced back to me. I’m the one to blame for those failures - not anyone or anything else.  

As I enter the next phase of my career at the end of this month I’m going to try something different. I’m not going to make any more excuses to myself. If my company doesn’t sell it won’t be anyone else’s fault. If I have a hard time landing a new job - well, that’s going to be on me too. 

I’ve learned a lot in the past three years running a company. But in the end, If I can take one thing away from this whole ordeal I hope it will be the lesson that excuses don’t get me any closer to the mark. 

I’m looking forward to having less excuses in my life. 

How about you? 

fly me to the moon / 2

I have tracked every flight I have ever taken. I know the date, airlines, airports, names of travel companions, flight distance, cost of tickets, and who paid for every flight that I’ve been on in my life. It’s an odd thing to admit, but I suppose it isn’t any stranger than some of the other obsessions that people have online. The data are mildly interesting individually, but there’s one number that I care about more than any other - total miles traveled. 

I still remember my first flight. I was 17 years old and the flight was from Dallas’ Love Field airport to Houston’s Hobby airport. I was so uncertain about how air travel worked at the time. On the way to the airport I actually called the airline to see what gate my flight would be leaving from because I was worried I’d miss the flight - even though I was arriving at the airport two hours before boarding was supposed to start. Thankfully the woman from Southwest was nice enough to indulge my fears and she gave me great directions to the gate. 

Between the end of high school and the start of college I had the chance to fly a few more times as part of scholarship program events, college recruiting trips, and a free standby flight to LA with a friend. (Oddly enough, three of my first six flights were to LA of all places. I haven’t been back since 2007 though.) For a kid who grew up within a small radius of his house these trips were pretty amazing. I felt like a new world was opening up to me for the first time. I didn’t want to forget anywhere I had traveled, so I started an excel spreadsheet that I’ve kept up to date since 2006. 

In 2009 my lifetime flight total reached a new level when I spent the summer in China. The flight to and from china was longer than all of the other flights I had taken combined. 14 hours in the air is a long time. When I finally returned home I had added almost 30,000 miles to my total. After I finally totaled everything up for the year I couldn’t help but wonder if that would be the high water mark for travel in one year for me. 

Things more or less quieted down in 2010, but I’ve flown steadily more and more each year. 2014 has been an especially busy year for air travel. I’ve been back and forth to the east and west coasts from Illinois numerous times. The quantifying nerd in me is excited to see that I might just break my personal record for total miles in a year, 29,940, before the end of December. Unfortunately I spread those miles out across a few carriers so I won’t be eligible for any upgraded status next year, but that’s a story for another time. 

My lifetime total milage is closing in on 130k. That’s just about half of the distance from the earth to the moon. At an average speed of around 500 miles per hour I’ve been in the air for just under 260 hours over the past decade of flying. Wolfram alpha tells me that 260 hours is approximately 1/88th the half life of sodium-22, so I have that going for me. 

I know that my numbers don’t even hold a candle to some travelers. Top tier status on most airlines requires north of 100,000 miles. I have consultant friends who reach that level constantly. I’m sure they would laugh at my yearly totals. 

But in the end, I don’t really care about comparing my stats to anyone else. It’s not really a competition with anyone other than myself. Every trip is a new chance to grow, meet new people, and add another mile to my total. Why would I ever want to worry about anyone other than myself if I'm playing that game? 
 

the windy city

I spent part of today in Chicago. I was there for a business meeting with a potential investor. Most investor meetings are more or less the same thing over and over again, so I probably won't go into detail on that right now - but perhaps in a future post. 

Instead I want to talk about cities. 

My family didn't have enough money to travel very much when I was growing up. I mainly spent time in the Dallas-Ft. Wroth metroplex where I grew up with the occasional trip to visit relatives in Texarkana thrown in around the holidays. It was a small slice of the planet to grow up in. I never knew what it was like to spend time in cities around the rest of the country - much less the rest of the world,

I started traveling much more often when I began looking at colleges. I looked at schools around the state of Texas and one on the east coast. My grades were good enough that I was invited out for a couple of all expense paid trips to those schools, so I got to experience traveling to a new city by myself for the first time when I was 18. 

Since then I've visited a lot of cities all over the world. There's nothing quite like stepping out of a plane, train, bus, car, or boat and seeing a new city for the first time. It's especially cool to visit a place with a big enough skyline that you can see the buildings rising out of the distance as you close in on the destination. 

Or maybe instead of a skyline you get mountains. Or a coast. Or a swamp. Or cornfields.  It doesn't really matter what the new city has - you just know that the city and the people who live there will be as different from the other cities you've visited as a mountain is from a corn field. 

Cities make me think. The history that surrounds you in London, the gleaming sky scrapers in Hong Kong, the winding roads of Boston, and the crumbling streets of down town Buffalo all tell a different story and provoke different kinds of reflection. 

Which brings me back to Chicago. When I'm in Chicago I invariably think about beauty, rebirth, and bitterness.

I think about beauty because the city has some of the most amazing buildings in North America. It's no secret that the Chicago skyline is one of the best in the world. The variety that exists in the city - from the Sears tower (or whatever they are calling it this year) to the old Chicago Tribune building  - is a magnificent showcase of beautiful 19th and 20th century architecture. 

Rebirth comes to mind because of the Chicago fire. I've probably visited Chicago fifteen times in the past three years and I have yet to make the trip without the Chicago fire of 1871 coming up in some form or fashion. It's a fascinating story of a city rebuilding itself in the midst of massive destruction. The rebirth of Chicago after the fire made it into the nationally relevant place that it is today.

Finally, I think about bitterness. Despite the amazing rebirth and the incredible architecture I can't help but feel like the entire city has a chip on it's shoulder. Everyone there is quick to tout the great things that are happening in the city, but it always feels like there's an undertone of comparison with the rest of the country. Without going into too much detail I think that the nickname "Second City" has sunk into the collective psyche of the citizens of Chicago to a deep level. It almost feels like the city is constantly comparing itself to the rest of the nation and coming up short instead of resting in the knowledge that it can be unique without having to be the best at everything. 

I can't say for sure if these impressions were formed on my first visit to Chicago, but they were confirmed on my visit there today. I wonder if my impressions will change next time I'm in the windy city? 

 

combo breaker

Yesterday was the first weekday that I didn't blog about something since starting this project. I suppose it is no surprise that I would fail to keep the streak alive forever. Sooner or later I would have a distraction during the day that would keep me from writing.

If I want to form a habit I'm going to have to learn to push through those distractions until writing becomes something I can do - or maybe even have to do - without planning it out. No one has to remind me to grab my cell phone the instant I wake up in the morning to check my email - that's a bad habit that I've formed all on my own.

From what I understand the key to developing good habits is setting large goals but very small tasks. For instance, my large goal might be writing over 300 blog posts in a year, or getting one of my pieces picked up by a major online portal, or perhaps getting more than a specific number of readers. I haven't made a goal like that yet, so perhaps that is part of my problem.

That's all well and good, but my small goal would be to write a few hundred words each day without fail. By grinding out a few essays, especially when I don't want to, I'm developing the writing skills I'll need to reach those larger goals. 

So, here I am. Writing again. I realize that writing a blog post about writing blog posts is probably the most boring thing in the world to read about. That's ok though - this record is more for myself than for anyone else. 

 

personal thermodynamics

I'm trying to lose weight. 

Don't worry - I'm not going to turn this into a weight loss blog. It's the thing I've spent the most time thinking about for the past week though, so I figured I might as well jot down a few thoughts. 

I was always a pretty skinny dude growing up. My jeans were size 30x34 from the end of puberty until I was 21. I stayed pretty physically active in high school by running a few miles every day and teaching swimming lessons every summer. By the end of my senior year of I remember thinking that I was in the best shape of my life, but I had no idea how correct I was about that until a few years later. 

I lost quite a bit of weight in China during the summer of 2009. I don't know what the exact numbers were, but I know that I started gaining weight pretty quickly after I got back from that trip. The one memory that really sticks out from that period was having to check a box on my health insurance application saying that I had gained over 50 pounds in the last 12 months, even though I weighed less than 200 pounds at the time. 

Since I got married I've steadily been putting on weight. Thankfully not at the pace I did in 2009-2010, but it has been enough that I'm growing a pants size every couple of years or so. Don't get the wrong idea -  I don't particularly care about my weight or my waist being below some specific number. The main concern I have is that I've slipped into a set of habits that are going to take me to a pretty bad place if I let them continue. 

I've reached the point where I think I need to start taking action. In retrospect I probably should have started doing this long before now. My Body Mass Index is higher than it should be at 27.7 and I don't have as much energy as I'd like to have throughout the day. 

I started a real, concrete plan last week. For the first time in my life I have a fitness and weight goal. I'm aiming for a BMI of 24.9 or lower by the end of the year. It's going to be tough, but I think it will be doable. 

I'm tackling the problem by thinking about it like a mechanical engineer. My body is a relatively simple thermodynamic system. I need to burn fuel (calories) every day. I have too many fuel reserves (fat). In order to reduce my reserves I need to either increase the amount of work that I do to burn fuel (exercise) or lower the amount of fuel I add to the system (diet). Ideally I'd be doing both of those things.

With this approach I don't have to worry about measuring grams of carbs, avoiding processed foods, or cutting out sugar entirely. Those approaches might work for some people, but I just can't see myself pulling anything like that off. Instead I just have to worry about one number - net calories per day. Thankfully there's an app for that..

I've been using My Fitness Pal off and on for a while. It's the best thing I've found to figure out how many calories I have left each day. The have some especially nifty graphs that appeal to the data consuming nerd in me. 
 

Bar graphs! 

Bar graphs! 

The red line is the net number of calories that I can have in a day if I want to lose 1.5 pounds per week. I've been doing ok on most days, but the weekends have been pretty crazy. On the 26th I went out to eat for lunch and dinner, which resulted in the huge spike that day. The really crazy thing is that I attempted to eat semi-carefully at both of those meals, but that's much harder to do when you don't control what goes into each dish. Go figure... 

The other app that I've been using to track my progress is Run Keeper. I love the fact that I can start the app, tell it what exercise I'm doing, and then it will automatically track everything from distance to calories burned. As a cool bonus feature Run Keeper automatically integrates with My Fitness Pal and updates my net calorie count after each workout. 

More data! 

More data! 

This isn't the kind of workout that I would usually brag about, but it's a good example of the data from Run Keeper. The map is much more interesting when you don't run on a high school track... 

Like I said, this isn't going to be a weight loss blog, but I'll probably write another de-brief post once I reach my BMI goal. I'm looking forward to getting back in shape and developing some good habits for the future. 

long term thinking

I can clearly remember when I became a long term planner. It was in December of 2003.  I was reading through a book on quantum physics that my chemistry teacher had assigned as extra credit for our class over the holiday break. I started to fall in love with physics and math in a way that was totally different than any time before in my life. By the time I finished that book I was almost certain that I wanted to pursue a career in the sciences.

I spent the rest of that following spring reading about science, technology, engineering, and math related jobs. I finally decided that I wanted to be an engineer by the start of my junior year of high school. By that point I had read enough that I knew I wanted to get at least a master's degree in engineering. Two more years of high school, four years of college, and two years for a masters was eight years away - but it seemed like my path was set. 

Throughout college that plan shifted around a bit here and there. By the time I graduated I decided that I wanted to get a PhD in mechanical engineering and use that knowledge to start a technology company someday. That probably meant that I needed to work for a few years after I finished my doctorate, so I was at least seven years away from my ultimate goal. I had been working on an eight year time horizon for the past six years though, so what was an extra seven? 

All of that changed when I got to grad school. I started attending some events in the research park at the University of Illinois about technology startup companies by the second or third week of school. It wasn't very long before I started a company of my own as a side project. By the following fall I had to make a decision - was I going to stick to my plan of getting a PhD, or should I quit early to work on my new company? 

That was probably the most difficult decision that I've ever made. On one hand I had a phenomenal opportunity to get an incredible education from one of the best engineering schools in the world. On the other hand I had the chance to move my career timeline forward by five or six years.

I wrestled with the decision for months.  Ultimately,  the thing that helped me make the decision was a passage in Clayton Christensen's book How Will You Measure Your LifeI won't re-print it here, but the basic essence of what resonated with me was the concept of having an emergent career strategy instead of a set path. He writes about how if you are in a career stage where there is a well defined goal - becoming a partner at a law firm, being promoted into a management role, making VP of a division, etc - it is a good idea to follow a set path to your goal. You'll be more likely to reach your goal if you have set milestones to compare with your own progress. 

On the other hand, if you have a more loosely defined goal - like becoming the founder of a technology company - it is best to adopt an emergent strategy. Emergent strategies allow you to evaluate opportunities as they arise. I think another common analogy would be navigating with a compass instead of a map. 

Once I settled on an emergent strategy for my career I felt a huge amount of pressure melt off of my mind.  I decided to take the chance with my company and stop graduate school after I finished my master's degree. 

 It is funny to look back on my career planning journey from 2003 until today.  I almost feel like I knew more about my future then than I do today. In reality I guess I've never known what I was going to do next, but it was easy to fool myself into a false sense of security through my planning. 

I don't know what the future holds, so I'm still working with an emergent strategy for my career at the moment. It has served me well for the past two years and I expect that I'll keep going in the same direction for at least a few more years.

inevitable

Inevitability is a daunting concept for an entrepreneur. Inevitable things are typically bad.  Stress is inevitable when you start a company. You will inevitably lose sleep. Rejection is probably the most inevitable thing that you will encounter. Other inevitabilities are just as bad. I don't know anyone that looks forward to death or tax season. 

But what if inevitability could work in your favor? Are there things that you can bank on happening that can benefit your business? Inevitability is at the core of the largest markets and the most successful businesses in the world. Inevitability is going to lead to some of the largest innovations in the 21st century. If a business is capturing any measurable part of one of these markets they have the potential to make a huge impact on the world. 

Hunger is inevitable. 

People have to eat. Everyone needs nutrition. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor - you have to put some calories in your body every once in a while to survive. It's no wonder that agriculture, food production, and other nutrition based businesses are such a huge part of the economy.

Walmart is arguably one of the largest companies in the world thanks to this inevitability. Monsanto has become one of the most controversial companies in the world thanks to the way they interact with this inevitability. Weight Watchers became a billion dollar company based on people who over react to hunger.

Housing is inevitable. 

We need structures to shelter ourselves from the elements. Right now the common solutions to housing in the United States are apartments and houses. There are a few hybrid options out there, but by and large we've settled on those two options. I wonder if there is a third option? 

AirBnB is one of the current darlings of Silicon Valley. They were able to disrupt the temporary housing market by creating a market for rented spaces in homes and apartments. Where's the AirBnB for more permanent housing? 

Transportation is inevitable. 

Humans need to move around. Barring a far off future where the singularity occurs and everyone uploads their brains to the internet,  people will always need to go from one place to another. Global transportation encompasses everything from airlines to car companies to public transit to cargo ships.  

There have been relatively few radical advances in the transportation space in the past fifty years. Elon Musk's hyperloop was highly hyped among tech circles last summer, but so far nothing has come beyond the initial proposal. 

Energy is inevitable. 

Pick any inhabited place in the world and you'll find an energy economy. Everyone needs energy - from one dollar per day subsistence farmers to multi-billion dollar corporations. There's a reason that the most valuable company in the world is typically an energy company.

Despite this ubiquitous need we have only seen marginal advances  in renewable energy sources since the 1970s. Nuclear fusion has remained fifty years off for decades. Fossil fuels are pretty obviously not a long term solution. What's the solution to the energy problem? 

Communication is inevitable. 

I'm writing this blog post for two reasons. First, I want to get my thoughts outside of my head and on to something more permanent. Second, I want to communicate with other people. Everyone wants to be heard. The most extremely introverted people I've ever met still want to have a connection with other people. Google rose to power by organizing the world's information so that it was easier to find the things you wanted on the web, which in turn made it easier to communicate with people who wanted to hear your message. 

Lately it feels like the revolution in communication has been focused on impact over quality. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and most of the other social networks out there force you to distill your thoughts down to their smallest  most fleeting versions. I appreciate the brevity, but surely there is room for far deeper communication between people.  

Governments are inevitable. 

This one might be more controversial than the other items on this list, but I think it is worth considering. Large groups of people have been organizing for thousands of years. The government that matters most to you could be your city council, your state senate, or the federal government. That institution has some amount of power over your life. They will inevitably exercise it in a way that you don't agree with at some point.  How can we use technology and business to impact governments for the benefit of everyone? 

I don't have a go-to company to point to in this space, but it is worth noting that giant companies like Lockheed Martin and Booz Allen are often asked to complete projects for the government beyond defense and intelligence. Are those really the companies that we want creating our government infrastructure?

There are probably more things that could go on this list. Healthcare, education, and clothing come to mind almost instantly. But in the end, I'm trying to encourage myself (and perhaps you, imaginary reader) to think about a different level of probability. Isn't it time that we start to make inevitabilities work in our favor? 

fall

Fall is a bitter sweet season for me this year. I'm looking forward to the cooler weather, apple and pumpkin pie, beautiful leaves, and all of the other things that people enjoy about the season. On the other hand, I'm sad to see the summer fade away. The summer of 2014 has been one of the most difficult summers of my life and it doesn't feel like it is coming to an end in the way that I had imagined at the start of the season. 

I started the summer off by moving to Boston. My company had been accepted into a startup acceleration program called Bolt. Bolt is specifically aimed at hardware companies. They are one of the few groups in the country that has been focused on that space. It was an exciting development that felt like the start of a great chapter for the company. 

We were supposed to stay at Bolt from May until around November or December of 2014. Our company was focused on entering a new market for our product and preparing for a new round of fundraising. As part of that process I put my house on the market in Champaign and my wife started looking for a job in the Boston area so that she could join me out there.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan at first. We had a ton of interest from other companies and potential customers. My house sold quickly. My wife had several interviews with great companies in the Boston area by the middle of June. I was quickly falling in love with the Boston area and it seemed like a place that I could live for the foreseeable future. 

One month later everything started to slowly unravel. It started when we decided that we wanted to extend the amount of time our company had to raise money.We began looking for a way to sell off our consumer product so that we could focus on the commercial product. That process looked incredibly promising at first, but one of the potential deals fell through at the last minute and sent our team into a bit of a tailspin. This resulted in yet another change of focus for the company. That process is still ongoing, so I won't go into very much detail at this moment. 

The result of that change is that I moved back to Champaign IL to attempt to broker the sale of our consumer IP to another startup. The company is no longer pursuing the commercial market we were focused on at the start of the summer.  We've gone from a team of six working out of a fabulous office in downtown Champaign to a team of three working out of a cool incubator in Boston to a team of one working out of a cubicle.

It has been a humbling and difficult summer for me. I learned a lot of lessons about what not to do at a startup. I've gone back and forth between feeling like I was on top of the world to feeling like a total failure more than one time. The intensity and frequency of the emotional swings was unbelievably intense by the time I moved back to Illinois, but thankfully that has settled down over the past few weeks. 

 I wish I had a great ending to my story, but I'm not there yet. One day I'm sure I'll look back on this summer and reflect on all of the lessons I learned, but for now it just feels like a mess without an end. Here's hoping the ending comes soon and has a surprising positive twist. 

every day

I feel like a wildly inconsistent person right now. The past three years have been full of change, uncertainty, and a general feeling of not knowing what happens next in my life. It has been good for me to have less certainty in my life during this season, but some of my daily habits have suffered as a result of the chaos. 

I'd like to get back to some of the things that I was doing consistently back in high school - before my schedule went out the widow during my freshman year of college. Even though high school was probably the most miserable four year time period in my life I managed to develop some solid habits that helped get me through the struggle. I think those habits would serve me well again now that I'm back in another uncertain time in life. 

Writing 

I need to write more consistently. In high school I was writing in a journal every night. My writing wasn't very good, but at least I was practicing the fundamentals daily. I got to the point that when I had to complete scholarship essays I could bang out a final draft in around 24 hours. That came in very handy when I had to apply for the Gates Millennium Scholarship during my senior year. I ended up getting one of 1,000 scholarships and had my entire undergraduate degree paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

As my career has progressed I find myself doing more, not less, important writing. It's time to get back in the habit of writing so I can take advantage of those kinds of opportunities more regularly with less stress. I'll probably try to write in this blog daily for the foreseeable future. 

Reading 

I read ferociously in high school. My typical routine involved visiting the library once per week and checking out one handful of books. (For me a handful is equal to around 1100 pages of  hardback books - it's literally just the number of books that I can fit in one hand) I'd finish those books and then read another handful the next week. 

I haven't read like that in years, thanks again to the amount of hours that I had to put in to studying during college and graduate school. Now I'm starting to visit the Champaign library regularly and I am re-discovering my love of books. Ideally I would read about 100 pages per day, but I'll probably have to work up to that over time. 

Exercise 

I was running three miles per day from my sophomore year of high school through my freshman year of college. I'm not sure why I was able to be so consistent with my running for such a long time. I assume that having a very small number of friends and no driver's license probably helped. I think I weighed around 150 pounds when I moved to college. 

Eight years later I've managed to put on 60 pounds and I can barely run a full mile before I get too tired to continue. Last summer I started doing a little bit of biking each week, but that didn't last me through the long cold winter here in Illinois. This summer I began going for runs at the MIT track and field facility that was five minutes away from my apartment in Boston. Now that I'm back in Illinois I'm trying to run at high school tracks, but I'll need to find a new plan once it gets cold in November. 

Meditation 

Reading scripture and reflecting on it should be a much bigger part of my life. I'm more content, better at communicating with others, and happier when I spend time meditating in the mornings. This is one of the disciplines that I have been the most inconsistent on in the past eight years, but it might be one of the most important. Recently I've started setting aside a few minutes in the mornings to read and reflect instead of checking in on what happened online while I slept. So far it seems to be going well. 

Solving Problems 

I'm an engineer. I've been one since before I knew what that word meant, and I've only become more of an engineer over the past several years. I've got two degrees in Mechanical Engineering (the best kind of engineering, let's be honest) and I made it through that work load by enjoying the rush that I got whenever I solved a problem. 

For the past year I've been mainly focused on solving business related problems at my startup. Those problems are interesting, but there's something special about solving a problem that has a specific, numerical answer. I've started doing a little bit more programming through sites like HackerRank. I'm also working on some side projects (see yesterday's blog post) that have specific problems to solve. Hopefully I'll have more to share on that front soon. 

So that's it. I'm going to work to be more consistent at reading, writing, exercise, meditation, and problem solving. Here's to discipline. 

 

side projects

I consider something to be a side project when it is unrelated to my main professional focus and takes more than a day or two to complete. It's an arbitrary definition, but it works for me. That means that re-wiring a light fixture or helping decorate the apartment isn't a side project, but building an artificially intelligent laster pointer for my cat is a side project. Got it? Great. 

The scope of my side projects ranges from tiny to more ambitious. PlantLink is probably the side project that I've spent the most time on since the summer of 2011. It more or less ceased to be a side project after the Kickstarter campaign was a success in January of 2013, but before that it was something that I was doing on nights and weekends during graduate school. 

Left: Still a side project. Right: No longer a side project. 

Left: Still a side project. Right: No longer a side project. 

Other side projects that I've started have been more or less abandoned over time. One of the projects that I enjoyed for a few weeks was building the aforementioned laser pointer for my cat. I got as far as an initial proof of concept before losing interest, but I'd love to get back to it again someday. 

This past spring I started work on a chemical sensitive QR code. The basic idea here was to create a practical use for QR codes beyond simple url embedding. I thought that if you took a chemical sensitive ink and patterned part of a QR code with that ink you could make a sensor that would communicate machine readable information upon exposure. Again, I got as far as the initial prototype before moving on to other things. 

The proof of concept before (left) and after (right) exposure. 

The proof of concept before (left) and after (right) exposure. 

Recently I've started two side projects that have almost encountered a similar fate.  

The first one was this website. I've been wanting to start a personal website for several months, but most of my attempts were embarrassing to say the least. I let me desire for perfection get in the way of just getting the first result out there. Since you are reading this post that means that I managed to get my website off the ground. It's currently a shell of what I want it to become, but I think it is a nice starting point. 

The second project is more similar to the other projects I described in this blog post. Right now I'm calling it physical copy-paste. Before you ask, yes, I am aware of the fact that digital copy and paste got their names from physical actions. But this is more like a 3D copy and paste than the old 2D process. Basically I'm thinking of a way to integrate a 3D scanner and 3D printer into an art instillation so that people can copy sculptures from one physical location to another using digital files. It's still a rough idea, and I think other people have done similar things, but I think it would be a fun way to introduce a non-technical audience to the potentials of rapid prototyping. 

I don't know if I'll ever move any of these three projects beyond their current states, but it seemed like a waste of effort to not document them at even the most basic level through this blog post. Maybe I'll spend some time wrapping up a few of these things later this fall. They'll make interesting blog posts if nothing else. 

blog 6.0

I've used a variety of blogging platforms since 2004 or so.

My first attempt at a blog was via the now defunct xanga.com. Sadly (or not so sadly - high school Eduardo was pretty lame) all of those posts are lost to the ages now.

The second blog that I started came through blogspot. The posts that I wrote there were few and far between and didn't have much of a theme. I was still in college and I didn't have the time or the desire to keep up with a blog.

I took a short break in the middle of that blog to write a few posts via facebook notes due to the great firewall of China during the summer of 2009.   

When I started graduate school I took to the web to write on the up and coming tumblr platform, but I quickly lost interest in that blog after a few months. The content was slightly better than before, but still nothing worth sharing beyond my immediate friends and family. 

Most recently I've tried to craft some higher quality entries over on Medium. Medium has been far and away the best experience I've had writing a blog. One of the posts I wrote received almost 2,000 views. It's not a lot for the internet, but it was a lot for me. Unfortunately, medium changed the way that posts are internally discovered, effectively making it impossible for one of my posts to generate that many views again without a home grown audience.

Now I've finally reached the point where I understand enough about building a website that I feel comfortable running one for myself. Yes, it's a Squarespace template. But I still have more control over the content and code here than I would have on any other platform short of raw HTML. I'm excited by the prospect of having my own site. It'll be great to have a place to call home on the internet. Someplace that I can document my projects, share my thoughts, and point people toward when I meet them. (Having my own domain for email is nifty as well)

I'm planning on shifting all of my writing and project documentation to this site in the future. If you have any interest in keeping up with me this will be the place to find new information... for real this time.