everyone can draw

This tweet yesterday from a recent social media friend:

reminded me of something that I learned from another friend some years ago, reinforced by my dear wife and her design colleagues.

Everyone can draw.  (and the corollary: Everyone should draw).

It really is true that a picture is worth 1,000 words AND it is often so much more effective to get your point across with a quick sketch than 15 minutes of hand-waving and fast-talking (although I do practice both of those techniques as well).

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a picture is worth 1,000 words (the person is drawing a person drawing a person drawing on a whiteboard, remember that I am still an engineer at heart!)

My favorite book on the topic is “The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures” by Dan Roam which I have gifted to several of my team members over the years.

In fact, a recent cleanup by the aforementioned dear wife also found 3 copies of this book in our library (for reference, multiple book purchases are considered a no-no, around here… There are also several copies of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” around the house, but they are in different desk and nightstand drawers, so as to avoid easy detection. David Allen also has a great back-story that I heard in an NPR episode some years back, but now I am really digressing, so will save that story for another day!)

At any rate, drawing and visual communication in general – like the snippets of video messages that Polly talks about in her post – are so often much more effective than a whole lot of talking.

In this day and age with palm-held distractions all around, audiences are even less likely to pay attention than they were in the past. A speaker, whether talking to one other person, or to a roomful of people, needs to be concise and focussed. A picture, or sketch, or diagram helps to do that.

I try hard to simplify my presentations and add pictures judiciously, but regularly. A recent exemplar was my “death panel” slides created for a workshop this past August.

Everyone can draw. Everyone should draw. Communicate more, talk less.

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rethinking higher education

A friend of ours has decided to take a stab at shaking up the world of higher education, democratizing the education experience.

His introductory presentation on the topic was given live today at the DLD 2012 conference in Munich for “international agenda setters in Germany.”

The video is highly recommended. Anyone who has ever been to college should watch through minute 12; anyone who has taught at college at least through minute 15; and in fact the whole 27 minutes is pretty inspiring. A great “experiment” that succeeded beyond what the creators ever thought was possible.

They are turning the idea into a company called Udacity (leave off the “a” at the front!).

It turns out that one of the startups I saw last week at Eureka Park at the Consumer Electronics Show has been working on a related set of insights about how students learn, looking to make it easier for professors and more powerful for students. Company is called LectureTools, founded by a professor out of Ann Arbor.

We also have a friend who has invested the past 2.5 years into course facilitation + social networking – two of the powerful forces that Sebastian calls out in his effort. Company is called Simversity founded by “a gaggle of geeky and curious entrepreneurs”. Applies to authors and speakers of all types.

Continued good luck to all three efforts.

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eureka in the tradeshow

With 90 minutes left in the week-long Consumer Electronics Show, I finally managed to get to Eureka Park, showcasing 100 early technology companies – co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Startup America Partnership. A nice example of a private + public partnership around science and technology.

Some of the exhibitors had already packed up after that must have been a long week, but those who remained on Friday afternoon were still excited and energetic about telling their stories. Some products that particularly caught my interest are below.

Surfeasy wallet

SurfEasy has a tiny USB stick that contains an entire web browser, complete with bookmarks and browser history. Plug the stick into a computer Windows or Mac and you can surf with the browser on the stick.

Data is never stored on the host computer and is encrypted through the SurfEasy network while in transit. $60 for the unit, shipping in February.


Modular Robotics has a robot construction kit called Cubelets. This is a Boulder, CO-based company now, but a spinoff from my alma mater Carnegie Mellon University. Apparently the work they did to make it easier to do technology transfer is actually seeing some results (motto “five percent, go in peace”).

There are a total of fifteen different cubes now, including drive, rotate, temperature and motion (distance) detection. A bar graph cube allows “debugging” and feedback. The cubes are in their second test launch, with a new series shipping in April. Since the picture above could well be my family, I hope to get my gang building and imagining sometime soon.

CurrentWorks showed two power receptacles with USB ports. The units replace standard wall outlets, either adding ports alongside your outlets or replacing a pair of outlets with ports. They are just finalizing their UL listing and plan to ship late this month. Retailing for $25 and $40. Could definitely cut down on the clutter of adapters and wires around our house. Nice, simple idea, well executed.

Scrible goes back to software solutions with an annotation toolbar for web pages. It combines a browser-based app with a backend service that stores annotations and notes on top of regular web pages. Clearly I haven’t been keeping close enough tabs on where web development is going, because what they are able to do with HTML5 on a iPad overlay toolbar is amazing – no app install required.

Several months ago, I did overhear someone on a plane telling his seatmate about all the amazing things that can be done with HTML5. Perhaps I should listen more closely what is discussed by people on long airplane flights.

Follow the instructions for iPad or other browser and give it a try. Another solution powered by the cloud.

Interesting that the Washington Post managed to see a completely non-overlapping set of companies in Eureka Park.

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consumer + cloud

Yesterday I got a chance to talk with Allen Bonde from The Pulse Network about how consumer technology and devices connect with cloud and enterprise technology.

The lines are being blurred in multiple ways.

We talk about combined experiences like the iomega cloud edition units – updated here at the Consumer Electronics Show – that connect to our EMC Atmos storage for local and cloud backup. A topic with wider implications as I discuss in a previous blog entry.

Allen and I also discuss how the improved user experiences from consumer products are making their way into enterprise and business technologies AND how enterprise expectations like reliability and permanence are being brought to consumer experiences.

Finally, we talk about examples from the CES show floor that blur the lines with connected device experiences. For example the Verizon collaboration with Seagate demoing a hard drive with 4G LTE connectivity.

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invisible keys, usb, lasers and biscotti

Three of the cooler ideas and products I saw this week at the Consumer Electronics Show.

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Boogie Board – writable e-paper – write or draw notes, erase at the touch of a button. $40 for the basic version, $130 for a larger one that also saves to PDF. Replaces 50,000 post-it notes.

Invisible Keyboard allows typing on a touch screen without the keys actually being visible. Four locations on the screen combined with predictive word matches brings back screen real estate. Indeed, why would the QWERTY layout – designed for another era – be relevant in the world of touchscreens?

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This design holds the world record for fastest text message.

biscotti TV phone (like the biscuit) is a small biscotti-shaped device that mounts on top of your HDMI television and turns it into a video phone. Calls are made via Google Talk, with video on the far side either to another TV + biscotti unit or computer or smartphone.

Their data sheet and web site includes the tagline “created by a team of lovable scientists in Texas” and their booth display was easy to understand and the personnel friendly, plus they were giving away actual biscotti biscuits.

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Finally, a Swiss army knife with death ray laser! (well, death-by-PowerPoint laser pointer, plus USB stick). As seen in the absolutely huge Swiss army knife booth. Available online, for example here.

This also allows me to mention the Swiss army knife company, Victorinox as one of the rare companies with a great sense for customer experience. We have had several pieces of their luggage for a number of years. Each piece comes with a lifetime warranty for common types of damage. We bought these pieces in part because of this warranty, since we are tired of regularly having to throw away items that are designed for a short lifetime. We have put easily several 100 thousand airmiles on the suitcases and have had one of them repaired under warranty three times. We simply took the suitcase into the local luggage store where we bought it and they took care of the repair for a small $10 service fee. We had the repaired suitecase back within 8 days all three times. The third time, they actually sent us a new unit for free (!) because the repair would have been too extensive. Highly recommended.

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it takes a village – to protect your data

Yesterday afternoon I stayed around for the final panel session at the Storage Visions 2012 conference, taking place alongside the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and it turned out to be probably the most exciting and controversial session of the two day event.

The title of the panel was “Don’t Lose Your Life: Making, Saving, Sharing and Protecting Family and Business Content” which led to a spirited discussion among the panelists and the audience. What became clear during the session is that this is far from a “solved problem” – as anyone who has any amount of stored digital data in their home well knows.

The participants introduced a variety of devices and services that help consumers and small businesses protect their valuable data. Panelists were from ioSafe (nice box, survives tornadoes!), LaCie (fast, fast, thunderbolt!), HitachiGST (wireless!) and SugarSync (protect and sync!).

I should also note that my colleagues at sister division iomega also have a device and service solution, recently upgraded, that is compatible among others with the Atmos cloud storage platform that I work on.

At least two of the panelists promoted the idea in their intros of combining multiple approaches to safeguarding your data – having a device in your home to which you do direct backups of your laptops and other digital devices, and in addition a remote service “cloud” layer that provides additional protection, perhaps for a subset of critical data and media items.

This is where it began to get tricky and the discussion became energetic.

Since most home and even most small business connections to the Internet are relatively slow, and often asymmetric (download much faster than upload), there are practical difficulties to putting “everything” into the cloud. A second concern was how to deal with the reputation and will-they-stay-in-business risks of depending on a remote service of any kind.

One of the panelist contended that any established cloud storage service would be able to be more diligent and apply more sophisticated technology than any consumer could in their own home – even those of us in the geekerati. This led another panelist to note that ultimately, an individual needs to be responsible for their own data, because the data being stored will not be as valuable to anyone except the creator of the data.

There was also a question from the audience about migrating data between storage devices and migrating across storage formats as technology evolves over time. This is a topic of much discussion and investment by – for example – the Library of Congress and has multiple technology angles.

All this discussion leads to a concept that might best be called personal stewardship of your data. Regardless of the care that a company takes in building their devices and backing them with warranties or insurance polices; and regardless of the technology and systems and experience in place at service providers, the person with the most invested in your personal data is you and your family (or small business).

So the question becomes not primarily “who do I trust” for each part of the technology, but goes back to an ease-of-use and ease-of-understanding of what the various technologies on offer actually do. This means there is yet another barrier to consumers making informed technology decisions – they need to be able to reason about ease of use, costs, and “deployment” of the technologies they choose, but also about what happens to their data in the medium- and long-term as “threats” and technologies evolve.

I was reminded of a story told by Cathy Marshall of Microsoft in a keynote at the FAST 2008 conference about user studies she had done of people’s strategies for home archiving. That full presentation and video are online at the USENIX FAST site.

The story she related was of a user who at the top of the interview responded with a confident “Yes” to the question “Do you have a strategy for backing up your data?”. After some discussion about what type of data the interviewee had, and what it meant to her, Cathy finally asks “What is your backup strategy?” and the woman opens her desk drawer and pulls out a newspaper clipping of an article describing how to do backups from a PC onto CD-RW disks. The woman has not actually bought a CD-RW drive, has not bought any media, and has not done any backups, but by clipping the article she figures she has the problem “mostly solved”.

Many of us are probably chuckling at this, but how many of us – even the geekerati – can truly say that we have thoroughly vetted and tested regularly (smoke detector batteries at daylight savings time!) our strategy for protecting our family data and memories?

For those of us spending time this week at CES in Las Vegas promoting various technology directions, how many of us have considered how consumers might reason about their long-term plans and how a given gadget or piece of technology will fit into their lives for 5 years or 10 years or the lifetime of their children?

I believe this is a more comprehensive view on the user experience of digital data than what is usually taken today. As commentators talk about the “megatrend” around this CES of a changing focus from devices and gadgets to software and services, this type of long-lived user experience will become more and more important to consider.

I think it is a problem that it will take a technology “village” to solve.

Best wishes to everyone for a good show this week – whether you are here on the ground or watching and reading along at home.

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hello world!

Welcome to my blog on WordPress.com. I intend to use this site to talk about and link to stories that I experience in both the online and offline world. Given my background, many articles will talk about data storage and technology, but perhaps I will cover the occasional non-geek topic as well.

This is the first official blog post on the site, but I like the wordpress ability to publish entries for a date in the past. Since I discovered cool things even before I created this blog, I will take the liberty to back-date blog entries to the dates the events described actually happened. Ah, the power of the Internet!

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