Archive for the ‘Tolls/Gadgets’ Category

What the hell even is a “maker?” I made myself a sandwich today for lunch, does that make ME a maker? Well, yes actually. A maker is quite simply defined as anyone who undertakes the project to make something and ends up, well, making something. And yet, the folks who make things have now suddenly been ascribed a new industrial revolution movement, and are touted as the future of entrepreneurship.

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As former Editor in Chief of Wired magazine, Chris Anderson, became so obsessed about it that he left Wired to pursue it in full, and described it in his book “Makers: The New industrial Revolution.”

“In an age of custom-fabricated, do-it-yourself product design and creation, the collective potential of a million garage tinkerers and enthusiasts is about to be unleashed, driving a resurgence of American manufacturing. A generation of ‘Makers’ using the Web’s innovation model will help drive the next big wave in the global economy, as the new technologies of digital design and rapid prototyping gives everyone the power to invent — creating ‘the long tail of things.’”

A lot of the focus in subsets of the maker movement is on robotics, drones, open source design and 3-D printing- some pretty sexy and disruptive product categories. So it all sounds justifiably exciting and worth paying attention to. What is it, then, about that term “maker” that bugs me but also excites me?

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My theory is its ties to the whole nouveau “back-to-the-land movement,” the hordes of hipsters making everything out of reclaimed wood, and the back-to-the-landers farming their parents’/aunt’s/uncle’s/grandparents’ property in the center of the country with no idea how to do it, and online craft markets like Etsy that hawk felt belts but really do more to supply websites like the now-defunct (RIP) than they do to spur a new wing of the crafting movement. That is to say, this maker movement in some ways feels trendy, disingenuous and bandwagon-y. But there’s also a central core of people here who are doing great, innovative, exciting and disruptive things that really required the outlet, and that merit serious attention. Makers and their products can be twee and no longer novel, but they can also be admirable in that folks are eschewing intangible technologies and software in many instances, and going back to making things with their hands and/or, occasionally, they are fusing technology and old arts to create something new that is tangible and noteworthy.
I think it’s the tangibility that I really love about it, because I find myself constantly repeating that quote from “Pretty Woman,” [yes, go ahead, insert eye rolling here] in my head where the character of Edward (played by Richard Gere), disillusioned about the nature of his multi-million dollar business comments, “we don’t build anything, we don’t make anything.” I think this scene and these complaints were prescient. OK, that was going a step too far. But I do think that many people of my generation, ye old Gen X/Millennials, are finding that they are dissatisfied not building anything tangible on the job every day. There is a creative outlet itch that only gets scratched when working on a project where, at the end, the product is something useful, or visible, or three dimensional.
I’m thinking more than usual about this entire movement because this year we are considering introducing a new Makerspace at one of our events in January, tying it into the very closely implicated world of supply chain. Part of the motivation here is to integrate a youthful cultural phenomenon that has a significant output our audience needs to be engaged with and aware of, and part is that we’re trying to shake an industry event in its fourth year up a bit by asking the question, “if the definition and requirements of your supply chain changed completely tomorrow- would you be dynamic, responsive and agile enough to adapt to its new reality?”
If you’ve ever successfully incorporated a Makerspace into an event you managed, or saw a Makerspace that was leveraged particularly wonderfully or creatively I would love to hear about it!


The fallacy that social media platforms such as Facebook provide “two-way communication,” or a “virtual dialogue” is getting a day in the sun today, following President Obama’s “Town Hall at Facebook headquarters yesterday. While on the surface, media enthusiasts and modern-day communications professionals choose to see Facebook as the future of interactive social media due to live streaming capabilities, instant messaging, Q&A mechanisms, and the ability to cull an audience of thousands, yesterday’s Town Hall event proved that nothing beats a physically present audience.

As the SFGate (SF Chronicle) article declared, “Despite the promise that President Obama’s first Facebook town hall would open a new level of two-way communication with his constituents, social-networking technology didn’t add much to the conversation.”

In all, the President answered eight questions, a few of which were asked by the physically present audience of Facebook employees, and ignored hundreds which were posted by the thousands of virtual attendees. As the SFGate article quotes, “Cynthia Spurling posted: ‘What a joke Facebook! So glad you had this town hall for your employees. The Ask Question button is a joke!’”

As a President of the people, and as a politician campaigning for re-election, why would he do such a thing?

Well, how much time do you have? How about:

A)     A politician is always trained to play to the flesh and blood right in front of him or her, because he can see their eyes, their expressions, and he or she is trained to digest that physical information, as an orator, to sway an audience one way or another. But hell, the normal human reaction is to play to the live audience right in front of you, so that’s not saying much.

B)      The physical audience was a group of employees of Facebook, a cutting edge technology company that employs young, top tier people from all over the country, meaning most of them are equipped with at least a bachelor’s degree, if not a master’s. And historically, studies have suggested that a higher level of attained education generally correlates to a more liberal standpoint among Americans.

C)      Facebook HQ is located in California, a very liberal state.  Thus the President is keenly aware that the average person in the room will be more aligned with his own political standpoints and the standpoints of his party. Knowing that, and knowing he can field their softball questions, why would he cater to the wildcard attendees from other states?

Saying all this, you probably won’t believe it, but I should disclose that I am a big Obama fan. I mean, a BIG OBAMA FAN. But this is just common sense. What I find interesting about it from the communication point of view is not the choices that were made by his team to keep him on the “safe” side of rhetoric, but how surprised people seem to be that he basically ignored the online audience.

Yes, we have become a very virtualized population of individuals, often more comfortable with interacting with screens and mobile devices when given the choice between that and a real person. But the actual act of speaking publicly has not changed much. A skilled orator thrives off of the energy he or she receives back from an audience, and the computer, iPad, iPhone, or Android screens don’t offer any love back.

As I’m wrapping this up, I need to mention what a theater professor of mine once said. This has stayed with me every day of my life. He told us, “don’t ever agree to appear on stage with babies, small children or animals. They will upstage you ever time. The difference is their authenticity of emotion, of movement, of reaction. The second you step on stage with them, you have already lost the audience’s attention to their absolutely authentic behavior, which no actor can match.”

How does this correlate to the fallacy of interactivity, as proven by yesterday’s Facebook Town Hall? The same rule, it would seem, applies to “don’t ever agree to attend a webcast or live streaming event if you know there will be people in the room, physically, with the performer or speaker.” As the virtual audience, you will always lose. The physical audience will upstage you every time.

In March of 2011, Pelago, the company known for having produced Whrrl, wrote a mini essay detailing their ideas about a concept they labeled “anti-search.” Anti-search, they claimed, was a movement in search of “serendipitous world discovery,” writing: “Search engines are good at addressing those “high intent” situations, like “where’s the closest Starbucks?” or “what kind of food does this place serve?” or “how are the reviews for this restaurant?”  You know what you’re looking for and it’s easy to express your intent as a query” and continues, “Serendipity is “zero intent” discovery, i.e. when you aren’t actually looking for something, but a great idea finds you.   Between these two extremes are discovery missions of varying degrees of intent, e.g. “I’m hungry” or “I’m bored.”

Which they represented by this interesting little graphic:

For me, this brings up the question, has the deliberate searching and querying of our surroundings via technology– whether those surroundings are natural or unnatural—really precluded the opportunities for actually, well, discovering places and things? Is there a chance that with the proliferation of location aware technologies, and geographic social mobility coupled with mobile internet access, we are no longer actually capable of physically seeing and interacting with what is actually around us? Are we completely incapable of tripping down a little ivy-laden alley and discovering a mural, or a coffee shop, or a funky shoe store without the aid of a mobile device or online coupon website?

According to Pelago, anti-search is comprised of three elements:

  1. “The right data in order to “know” a user.  I.e. user actions like check-ins, the social graph, interactions among users (which I’ll talk about in a second), etc.
  2. The right algorithms.  We need to take all this data and turn it into personalized recommendations.
  3. The right social ecosystem.  This is decidedly the hardest part.  The necessary content and data is locked up in people’s heads and hearts – we need to make it motivating and easy to get that content out, to get people taking the necessary actions to create the data to feed the algorithms that ultimately allow us to provide an amazing discovery experience.” (

But I would argue that the act of discovery does not rule out the possibility that the discoverer will stumble upon something they don’t like, something they wouldn’t have chosen. I would also argue that to prevent each of us from doing so is robbery, plain and simple, of the experience being challenged in our sense of taste. How are we supposed to define what we don’t like about something if we’re never faced with the distasteful something in the first place?

Besides, the word serendipity – in part- refers to an unintended experience. How can you possibly achieve that if your intention is to plug a social recommendation engine full of data to steer you towards intended unintended situations or experiences?

Which is why, with Groupon’s reported acquisition of Pelago, the whole ridiculous ethos of these sites and recommendation engines (which are, at their heart, merely designed to sell you things) has come full circle in a doomed cycle of self-mockery.

This acquisition clearly runs counter to Whrrl’s stated “anti-search” goal of “serendipitous world discovery.”

Case in point: how many among us have purchased at least one Groupon at this point (i.e. are unique Groupon users)? There aren’t any real numbers on that at this point, but it’s safe to say that number is in the millions, given that the number of Groupons bought at the time that this was published was in the 40 million range. Yet how many of us have subsequently struggled to find the time or the energy to use said coupon, or let the coupons pile up until one or two have expired without being used? I’d wager that number is in the high hundreds of thousands, if not also in the millions.

So someone tell me how that’s not intent or a deliberate attempt to make the time to go somewhere and use something that was purchased with that specific intent in mind. It’s not serendipity, it’s a scheduled appointment to go spend money at a pre-determined location.

At the risk of sounding like a complete luddite, the next time someone wants to indulge in a little “serendipitous world discovery,” I would honestly recommend that they go for a walk in their neighborhood- no headphones, no phone- just them and the buildings, parks, animals, and people around them.

October 19, 2010-

This last week a number of well-respected analysts and research centers released reports discussing the pervasive dominance of “post-PC devices.” Specifically the discussion is revolving around mobile phones, smartphones, tablets and e-readers. The Pew Research Center released its report on “gadget ownership” which demonstrated the overall dominance of cell phones in the U.S. Technology market. Pew surveyed 3,001 American adults and decided upon the “key appliances of the Information Age.” Those which came out on top were cellphones, PCs, e-readers, and Mp3 players.

Gartner and Forrester also threw their hat into the “buzz” ring. Gartner released its own report Friday which proclaims tablets the new cellphone. In the study Gartner reports that tablet sales have reached 19.5 million units this year and estimated that tablet sals would increase to 150 million units by 2013. In fact, Carolina Milanesi, a research vice president at Gartner, claims mini notebook computers “will suffer a “strong cannibalization” as the price of media tablets” drops nearer to the $300 mark.

In their report, Forrester chose to address head-on the new era security concerns that companies and consumers will experience as society continues to adopt these post-PC devices. In its report, Forrester discusses the additional security companies will have to implement for mobile devices commonly now used both at work and at play.

Yet as these respected analysts hail the new post-PC era, tablets and e-readers are still exploring the new hazards of a post-PC world. Just this week the New York Times posted an article which discusses the temperature control problems for Apple’s iPads and compares it to Amazon’s Kindle. Or, as the New York Times wrote it, “It seems that some iPads do not like direct sunlight, saunas or long walks on the beach.” And with the iPhone 4G’s antenna challenges earlier this summer, it’s clear that we’re nowhere near having worked out all of the kinks even as the mobile device market continues to innovate and we adopt their emerging products.

October 08, 2010-

MTV and Foursquare are being recognized by Mashable as one of the most creative social media campaigns of 2010 for their efforts on the first-ever cause-related badge: GYT. In September of this year, FourSquare and MTV partnered to launch the GYT campaign, which stands for “Get Yourself Tested.”

The campaign seeks to promote STD testing among young adults by offering them the GYT badge of courage for checking in at an STD clinic. As reported on Mashable, “The Foursquare partnership encourages people to follow MTV on Foursquare, check in after getting tested and shout “GYT” to their followers. After doing so, users will earn the GYT badge, and thereby make it known that they’re taking control of their sex lives. Those who score the badge will also be entered to win a trip for two to New York City, as well as backstage passes to MTV’s 10 on Top.”

Despite the offer of a trip and backstage passes, one would think that the still-widespread cultural stigmatization associated with STD testing would keep users away from this campaign. Yet the campaign has achieved a solid amount of success, with more than 3,000 GYT badges awarded since the campaign was launched a few weeks ago.

The campaign is most definitely a vital first, and a great example of how geo-location technologies may help non-profit organizations all over the world to mobilize and support positive causes. It remains to be seen how many non-profits are able to capitalize on the success of this particular campaign, and use location-aware technologies to aid in the struggle to promote their own causes.

October 04, 2010-

How does technology play a role in keeping the Chilean miners both psychologically and physically fit?

As modern day technology consumers, many people around the world have integrated their technology use into their ritual of daily habits. For example, studies have shown that at least half of us turn on our computers first thing in the morning, even before we use the bathroom or drink our coffee.

Technology has so ingrained itself into our daily rituals that it is now considered vital to our mental survival, and has factored highly into the list of amenities currently being proffered to the 33 Chilean miners who have been stuck a half-mile below the surface of the earth since August 5th, after an enormous rock slide impeded their exit from the mine.

As Newsweek noted in a recent article, the miners are against an incredible number of odds as a result of the harsh underground living conditions, “To survive, they must endure constant 90 percent humidity, avoid starvation, battle thirst, guard against fungus and bacteria, and stay sane enough to safely do the work necessary to aid their own rescue.”

However, this is not your traditional mining disaster. The 33 Chilean miners are being treated to a modern-day approach to human survival. That means the miners are able to have their laundry done, three hot meals a day and occasionally ice cream.

As Newsweek has reported, the rescue effort’s lead psychiatrist, Alberto Iturra Benavides, is implementing a strategy which leaves the miners “no possible alternative but to survive” until drillers finish rescue holes, an operation whose completion date is estimated for early November.

What’s more amazing than even the basic services of laundry and hot meals is how technology has been able to play a vital role in their daily rituals and the quality of their survival a half-mile down. MSN reported that each weekend the miners have been able to communicate with their families via video chat for nearly eight minutes per miner. Also, as Newsweek reported, “When the miners do get moments to relax, they can watch television  — 13 hours a day, mostly news programs and action movies or comedies, whatever is available that the support team decides won’t be depressing.” Dramatic television and movies are barred, and the news they receive is being censored. The censorship is performed on the miners’ behalf, allowing them only positive and escapist entertainment- nothing too serious or grim.

Interestingly, though television and movies are allowed, personal music players are not. The reason given for this is that they tend to “isolate people from one another.” The rescue operations feel that the most important thing the miners can do is to be there for one another and be united in their efforts to survive. Personal music or game players would impede that effort. Newsweek reports that the lead psychiatrist on the case, Iturra, has proclaimed “What they need is to be together.”

There are, of course, some restraints for what technology may reach the miners. At this stage in the rescue efforts any and all technology must be able to fit through the incredibly narrow holes (approximately 3.19”) which are the sole means of communication and transport between the surface of the earth and the miners.

To continue following the efforts to rescue the 33 trapped miners in Chile, including the possibility that they might be rescued as early as late October check out these links:

September 22, 2010-

Hegel famously proclaimed that “history is a dialectic,” that is, a dialogue between people who may hold differing views, but who seek to accomplish a basis of truth by debating together. In other words, history has no discernible truth, but more closely attains the overall goal of “truth” through discussion from all of the voices of history and their personal accounts of what happened.

This quotation of Hegel’s is often cited in the context of discussions about the literary canon, or the “western canon,” as some refer to it. The term “Western canon” is used to denote the selection of books, music, art and general cultural that have most influenced the shape ofWestern civilization and culture over time.

As demonstrated, a simple search on Wikipedia for either of these terms will tell you much about what they are. However, Wikipedia doesn’t explicitly tell us is that it is also holding the record of how the modern canon is determined, and how the truth of history is being determined by the myriad of voices which contribute to it everyday.

A recent Bits blog from the New York Times mentioned the trail of edits that the Internet provides to anyone who is looking for it. James Bridle, founder of BookTwo is particularly interested in what the future of literature holds, but also how that discussion is playing out and how we can track where the discussion has been. In one of his recent entries Bridle points out that although an article on Wikipedia may tell a specific story, the edits show a process of opinion, correction, and the potential biases of each writer. In this respect Wikipedia, and every constantly updated website represents an archive of evolving information over time. What interests Bridle is the offer of two distinct stories: one that is front-facing to the reader and one that reveals the behind-the-scenes editing, writing and creative process.

To illustrate the point, Bridle selected the topic of the Iraq war as an entry in the Wikipedia canon and had all of the history of the entries surrounding the Iraq War published into physical volumes. In his entry, Bridle writes, “This particular book — or rather, set of books — is every edit made to a single Wikipedia article, The Iraq War, during the five years between the article’s inception in December 2004 and November 2009, a total of 12,000 changes and almost 7,000 pages.” Bridle notes that the entire set comes to twelve volumes, which nearly approximates the size of a traditional encyclopedia.

Which brings us to the favorite comparison of Wikipedia and your parents’ Encyclopedia. Is one or the other more reliable? Who gets to decide what is a part of the overall Western canon? Shouldn’t we all be alarmed by a process in which a child may be permitted to contribute to an online encyclopedia which many now claim is an expert source?

In fact, Bridle’s point reminds us of a standard strategy employed to defend the credibility of Wikipedia and its process against its would-be detractors. The strategy is to cite a story central to the process under which the Oxford English Dictionary was compiled in the 19th century. Simon Winchester’s book, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary details a Jekyll and Hyde story of the brilliant but clinically insane Dr. W.C. Minor who provided thousands of entries to the editors of the OED while he was committed at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. In other words, if a mad man may contribute significantly to a tome of the English language which is still very much the authoritative text today, why can a perfectly sane pre-teen not contribute to the modern canon of information about frogs, Major League Baseball, or global warming?Should we be preventing anyone from contributing to the ever-evolving conversation about what is truth and what is history?

As sites such as Twournal –which offers the Narcissistic boon of publishing your very own Tweets through time in print form– begin to proliferate, each of us can possess our very own piece of the modern web canon, whether in print or online. As Twournal describes itself, “Over time tweets can tell a story or remind us of moments. In 20 years we don’t know whether twitter will be around but your Twournal will be. Who knows maybe your great grandkids will dig it up in the attic in the next century.”

That means that each of us now has access to print a credible-looking book of our own (often misspelled) musings and meanderings as representative of history, according to us. Yet in the absence of a forum in which people can engage with our Tweeted observations, there’s no real dialectic. It therefore seems safe to conclude that Hegel would have preferred Wikipedia to Twitter, or to your Twournal.