Archive for September, 2012


Before it is too late, I should…

September 27, 2012

The electrical engineer thinks I need to design sensor boards so I can build up a dozen prototypes: part selection, schematic, layout, PCB fabrication and assembly.  I should do it soon so I have prototypes to try out and demonstrate to potential customers.

The software engineer thinks I should keep repairing my initial prototype so I can debug the heuristics. I should verify the efficacy of the product before sinking too much time into the idea.

The patent agent wants to know why I haven’t finished the disclosure form, let alone the patent application. I need to do that before I share the idea with potential customers/partners.

The business person thinks I need to refine the idea with a clinical-style study, using powerpoint decks to talk to potential users,  see if the idea needs modification before continuing development (and seeing if they’ll sign up to purchase). If I can’t demonstrate a real market, it isn’t worth doing the rest.

The marketing person thinks I should make a looks-like model (doesn’t matter if it works) and that it should be beautiful, no rough edges, incredibly well-designed. My hot glue and electrical tape prototype is no good; if I can’t make it alluring, no one will consider buying it and any potential market will evaporate.

The subject matter expert is moving to North Carolina and doesn’t have time to have lunch or discuss the idea. I suppose I’m glad that she doesn’t have another thing for me to do. And yet all the work I’ve done for the last few days is in preparation for when I do see her.



Next you take 100k children

September 25, 2012

I’m working on a project that uses I2C sensors and there is an addressing problem with them that is kind of complicated. I sent out a whole-team status report and glossed over the problem figuring the engineers knew what I was talking about and the non-engineers wouldn’t care.

One of the team caught me later and, somewhat abashedly, clearly feeling feeble, asked for clarification.

Oh, no, the problem was entirely in my explanation. So I started explaining how the sensors each had two addresses and since I wanted to use five of the same sensor, I had to get ones with different base addresses, the only way to accomplish that currently is with different vendors though I had some progress this week…

Eyes started glazing over. This was going nowhere fast. But I really want people to ask questions (because I’m not always right) and I want them to understand the answer (or they won’t asked next time). So I switched gears, trying to build on something already known…

Say each sensor is a child. Each child has two hands (as children often do). I need five hands for my project. Therefore, I need three children. Nods, right?

If they all came from the same family, it would be easier, see? I’d know how to communicate with them and it would be the same for each child.

However, every family I know only has one child. Each child behaves slightly differently, speaks a different language at home. It is harder for me know how to keep them all happy. Also, each child is valued differently. It is a pain to deal with, making everything more complicated than it needs to be. It would be better if each child came from the same family and was nearly identical to the others in its family except for, say, hair color.

However, when I contact a family about having a few more children (with different hair), they want me to order in the 100k range. And that is a lot of children.

So… breaking that down… each sensor has two I2C addresses (each child, two addresses). I want to use five sensors, so I need three sensors from different families. The families here are usually vendors (Analog Devices, Freescale, Bosch, STMicroelectronics, etc.). Each one is slightly different than the others in the way they work though they each sense essentially the same thing.

If I talk to a vendor, they are willing to modify their manufacturing process to give me a different base I2C address (different hair color). However, they want me to order a bunch of them (100k of each hair color, err, I2C base address). I’m still building prototypes so that sort of financial commitment is beyond me.




Hosting for the socially inept

September 23, 2012

I went to two parties yesterday. This is twice my monthly allotment so I’m feeling a little oversocialized. Due to the differences in how the events went, I’d like to take this time to rant about hosting parties where people don’t know each other (especially for the socially inept).

As the host, cooking is not that important. Talking to your BFF is not that important. Fussing with this or that is… let’s see…. not that important. The highest priority of the host should be to pawn the guests off on each other. Given your guest list, you can even think of some of the connections ahead of time.

“Oh, have you met Kershohsdaf? She’s in the same field as you are.”

“Let me introduce you to Uoweirj. He’s interested in the XYZ as you’ve mentioned before.”

If you can make them amuse each other, then you can do all that other stuff without wallflowers growing. Especially for the stand-around-and-chat parties, the host can’t be the center of attention; they’ve got too much to do. Introducing people helps a ton. Another method of clearing the walls is to give shy people jobs so they have a good reason to talk to others.

“What I need you to do is take this to everyone and tell me what they think of it. If they like that, we’ve got more but if they don’t we’ll switch to another bottle.”

“I’m afraid Ldsofai and Jsdfa don’t know anyone here. I know you don’t either but I’m hoping you can introduce them around. They are so shy on their own.”

The best a host can hope for is to make people talk to each other. If the partygoers can find new people to talk to on their own, even better. And as an attendee, you have to be willing to use social ploys to keep thing going so your host doesn’t have to baby you through everything. But for that, do as I say, not as I do.

At the BBQ event yesterday, sponsored by my college alumni association, the host said hello, asked if we enjoyed the aquarium, pointed us to the snacks, and resumed her previous conversation.

I grabbed a water and stood on the periphery of the group near the snacks. Then I got bored (and uncomfortable, like I was eavedropping) and went to look a the pictures C and I had taken before we got there. Then, feeling chilly and sunburned and useless, we left. We didn’t talk to anyone else. I thought it was because everybody else was talking to each other. After we’d left, C pointed out that they were all in groups of two or three so they probably weren’t talking to each other either.

It shouldn’t have been hard to start conversations. Most of the people had been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium that day. Most of the people had all gone to the same college (though not in the same years). Most of the people had science or technology jobs. Some had been whale watching that morning.

Maybe I was already socially feeble from going to the aquarium and interacting with people there. Still, I’m kind of embarrassed that we didn’t talk to anyone. I mean, I did re-load business cards into my wallet in hopes of meeting people. But they were talking to each other. I didn’t want to interrupt.

This is somewhat a couples’ problem. If Jack and Jill come to a party and are too shy to introduce themselves to others, they will talk to each other, thereby making it hard for anyone to come talk to them. It is even worse if one half of the couple is less excited about meeting people.

At the second party, I went solo. I had to interact or look like a complete loser.  My host there was more helpful, spending a little time making me comfortable and then doing the big group name-only introduction (sadly, those don’t tell me who I might be able to chat with). There were lots of other solos there.

Even so, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen refilling the water jug, feeling like an idiot, particularly after I hit shoals in the conversation (Hint: “So, what do you do?” is not always a safe conversation starter. Sigh.)

Fish not swimming together


Morning rituals

September 20, 2012
I am a creature of habit, I didn’t realize how much until I considered the things I do each morning. Some mornings have minor deviations but even Sat and Sun usually have this pattern.
  • Wake-up
  • Cuddle a bit with C
  • Roll out of bed
  • Grab sweats and yesterday’s shirt from floor
  • Bathroom
  • Weigh self bemusedly on scale that is half deconstructed (I wrote part of the software; it is a test unit)
  • Wash hands
  • Dress
  • Free dogs from their crate
  • Herd dogs into backyard
  • Turn on coffee maker
  • Open door for dogs, find shoes and go with them
  • Deep breaths and stretch until both dogs return, admire sun rising and plants blooming
  • Open door, dogs come in and run to their feeding locations
  • Pet whichever dog was slowest (usually Bear but not always)
  • Feed dogs
  • Add water to the pets’ water bowl
  • Tell cat to stop eating dog food
  • Wash hands
  • Look at time, think about what to do with morning
  • Get mug, fill partway with water, take vitamin
  • Start coffee brewing into mug
  • Get food bar
  • Take coffee and food bar to desk
  • Get started


Dreams vs. goals

September 12, 2012

In a romance novel I once read (seriously, even with this intro, it is going to be a good, insightful post) (really (probably))…

Let’s start again.

In a romance novel I once read, the heroine is a well-connected woman. Plus, she’s a nice human being. So when another person says they’ve always wanted to write books for children, our heroine moves heaven and earth to get proto-author the right contacts into editing, agents and children’s publishing. The proto-author then flakes out completely.

Because the proto-author didn’t want to write children’s books, she wanted to talk about how someday she’d like to write children’s books. It was a safe dream but it was not a true goal.

(I’m a little worried at this point because two friends who  occasionally read my blog have said they’d like to write children’s books. This is not about them. This is about my neurosis, not about anyone else. Not even Phil. Who, as far as I know, doesn’t want to write children’s books.)

Ok, let’s switch away from children’s books into something that may get me into less trouble. But, really, I promise, there is a unified point.

When C was serious with the band, a neighbor of ours joined for awhile. But he didn’t ever practice. He couldn’t remember the words to songs he wrote. I actually liked his voice but he just wasn’t serious about the band. And as they started to have gigs, the neighbor’s lack of dedication was a frustrating barrier for the whole band. See, the neighbor didn’t want to be in a rock and roll band, he wanted to talk about being in a rock and roll band. His mental model was not only dad, provider, husband, handyman, etc. It was also “singer in a rock band”, it made him feel cool; C’s band fed that image. But it was a dream and not really a goal.

I worry that part of my personal mental model is “mad scientist inventor” but I don’t have the oomph to do it. I like reading and watching television and going to the beach and hanging out with my friends and sleeping and exercising (and working on projects, shipping software).

I’ve been thinking about dedication as I work on this prototype for my infant product idea, trying to figure out if my project will survive and how. Do I have what it takes to see it through? Forget that…I’m too afraid of the answer, let’s try a smaller chunk: do I have what it takes to build a prototype for my own personal use and for demonstration purposes?

When I work on other people’s products, it is easy to identify the work involved and motivate myself to get it done (ahem, cash is a nice motivator for me as is the “done” finish line). But with my own project, somehow I believe that is I just wish hard enough, it will magically be complete.

That hasn’t been working so I carved out some time to work on it as a project. (My rates are really quite reasonable when I work for myself.) Today, I hit a limit of my tools that showed I have compiled my program and downloaded it 100 times.  Some of those were dumb, formatting tweaks to printfs but not all of them. This ridiculous milestone  represents a lot of work, a lot of time spent with my butt in the chair thinking about this product. Sitting here, reading datasheets, putting hardware together, learning to crimp cables, drawing schematics, buying beer and sushi to bribe people into helping me, and writing code, it really is a lot of work and not nearly done.

And still I fear that this may be a phase, something I’m excited about but only because it is new and shiny. And when something else shiny comes along (or this bauble loses its gleam), well, I’ll drop it in the gutter.  I don’t know the path ahead or if I’m really on any path. Or if I want to be.

I don’t know if this is just a dream or truly a goal.

Funny, as I finished this post, I just got a call from a past client. They want me to do something for them. They pay pretty well (and on time). It will be just a few weeks of work. I just managed to carve out time from current clients to have time for my project. But it would be a lot of money to work for these clients which would give me the freedom to work on some other future idea. It is an easy job. So shiny.