Bill’s Blog

Just sharing my thoughts (which are my own and not those of my employer)

Archive for the ‘innovation’ tag

More efficient solar power

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Once I got the solar powered webcam working, I started thinking about how to make it more power efficient.  Looking at the specs of the inverter, I found it consumers 3W all the time.  That’s a lot of power wasted.  To make things more power efficient, I replaced the inverter with a circuit I built.  It is a highly efficient 12v to 5v switcher.  The picture below shows the near finished product.  It all fit in a box slightly smaller than the inverter.  Now that it is installed, the battery lasts about twice as long.


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September 30th, 2009 at 11:31 am

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Innovation at Google

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This past week I attended the Society of Information Management’s monthly get together at the invitation of my friend Aaron.  The featured speakers were a couple of guys from Google, Brian Kemler and Steve Benson.  Their topic was innovation.  I found the discussion interesting and took a few notes.  Read on if you’re interested.

– True innovation means both technical innovaton and business model innovation.  They said Page Rank was an example of technology innovation while Text Ads on search pages was business model innovation.

– 50% of the employees at Google are engineers.  From what they said I could also add “and doing engineering work”.  I don’t know what the percentage is elsewhere, but I thought this was a great formula for success.

– When they talked about resources, they talked about people and machines.  I found it interesting that they didn’t talk about money.

– Google uses a 70-20-10 model for where they focus.  70% of their resources focus on core businesses like search, ads, and apps.  20% focus on adjencies or related businesses, and 10% of their resources are focused on exploratory type work.

– Flat management structure.  8 layers from bottom to top. (this is flat?)

– Hire for culture fit (one person I spoke with later in the week said he had 24 interviews when he was hired.  I also learned that Larry Page still reviews every single hire before an offer is made.)

– Dedicate time for inovation.  All engineers can spend 20% of their time on anything they want.  Though this guy did say that that 20% time usually means 120% time meaning that a lot of the innovation work is done after hours.  I asked him how they manage the 20% time.  I was met with a blank stare.  He eventually said that they hire smart, passionate people who want to work on interesting things, so the 20% wasn’t a problem.

– Experiment and realize that some things won’t work.  He gave an example of the electrical substation in The Dalles data center.  The power company was going to take a couple years to build it so Google decided to do it themselves.

– Encourage people to act on new ideas

– Big Award culture.  Their founders awards are in the millions (wow!).  They have Executive awards in the several hundred thousand dollar range.  Smaller awards are ~$1500.  They also have spot awards that anyone can give.  These are $175 or so.  One thing he said about the big awards was that they provided good incentive for people to not leave and work for Facebook or Twitter.

– locate engineering centers near the International Colleagic Award Contest Winners (or something like that – think very smart people)

– managers have up to 50 people reporting to them.  They don’t have staff meetings, but instead do weekly snippets.  They are stored in an internal, public db (as is everything at Google).

– TGIF meetings Friday at 4.  The execs answer employee questions.  When the company got too big for this to be done in person, they started a system where employee questions are submitted electronically and voted on.  They most popular wind up at the top of the list.  He said that isn’t always comfortable, as some of the questions can be difficult to answer.

– iterative design, constant improvement.  They release early and release often.  They must have metioned cloud computing and its advantages 100 times during the presentation.  This was one of them.  Cloud computing allows them to add or remove features anytime they want.

– crazy “org” chart.  not top down, expect people to do the right thing.  don’t dictate technology.  can use macs or pcs, ppt or google docs.

– Internally they use search for everything.  They don’t bother to organize information.

– External sites all run gubuntu, GFS, and Big Table (their DB).  This horizonal platform, purpose built hw, and their massive scale is used by all google apps.  Also, there are UI guidelines but no hard and fast rules.

– They talked about customers not being locked in.  They felt they had to earn people’s trust and their business.  They view competition as a good thing.

– Internal tool called Ideas.  New ideas are entered into the system.  Peopl vote on their favorites.  Engineers work on the top ideas.  Many thigns at google seem to work this way.

– budget time not money

– “cool” projects get the engineers

– when they kill projects they kep them alive for the existing users

– they turn features off if users don’t use them

Since you’ve read this far, I’ll give you a bonus.  Later in the week I had lunch at the Google campus in Mountain View.  I was in a small group meeting with Ivan Ernest, the Head of Global HR, Engineering and Operations. There were a few additional things he shared.

– you can put yourself in for a promotion anytime you want, even if your boss doesn’t agree with it.  They build a “package” of peer reviews of your work and have peers who don’t know you make the decision.

– new hires are often brought in as “MTS” – Members of Technical Staff.  After a year or so their peers provide reviews about them.  Then peers who don’t know them decide what level they should be.  It’s a strange culture for sure, though it seems to be working for them.

– Seems like many many things are voted on, or managed by peer reviews.  An example are their quarterly objectives and key results.  They are done bottoms up with very little tops down input.  Ivan said that Google’s approach was to hire the smartest people they could and then ask them what they should be doing.

A final note.  I had lunch in the Google cafeteria.  It is free for everyone, including me.  The food was great, there was plenty of variety, but there was a certain sense of disorganization to it all.  It was a wonderful trip.

Written by bill

March 14th, 2009 at 9:14 pm

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San Francisco Online Community Roundtable

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Bill Johnston invited me to the Online Community Rountable held last night at Autodesk in San Francisco. Since I was in the city attending the Web 2.0 Summit, I decided to stop by. I’m glad I did. This turned out to be a great place to meet fellow online community managers. There were people form big companies like Microsoft and Apple, as well as people from smaller companies like The Well and an online fantasy sports site.

The key topics we discussed were

  • Who in the organization should own community?
  • How to get the rest of the organization involved with community?
  • Community identify and branding

Who in the organization should own community?

There were a variety of opinions. Some thought that marketing should own community, since talking with customers is ultimately a marketing function. There were certainly a lot of people who disagreed with that opinion. Most people agreed that many marketing departments just don’t get community. They still view marketing as telling, rather than viewing markets as conversations.

One interesting idea was to have marketing report to customer support. Not a bad idea if you ask me.

How do you get the rest of the organization involved?

This one was an important topic to me. It was the question I raised to the group. There were some great ideas that came out of our discussion. Here are a few:

  • get them involved with reading the community posts (start slow)
  • add a banner that displays for internal people only telling them who to contact to participate in the community
  • create a structured project and set aside community time. This sounds more complicated than it is. One person said they set aside two hours where engineers answered forum questions. After that time several really liked it and continued to participate.
  • Put your documents in a wiki. The idea was that people throughout the org would be inclined to edit the wiki or to read comments from those who did

Community Identify and Branding

What do you do when the community loves you and your brand so much they start using it in other venues? If you let them, you risk loss of control or worse. If you are a hard nose about it, you’ll upset the community and lose some of that magic fairy dust you’ve worked so hard to get. There were lots of opinions, but everyone agreed this was a hard one.

One very smart company said they asked their community to help them create a logo just for the community to use. What a great idea!

I had such a great time with these folks. I’m definitely up for doing this again the next time I’m in San Francisco.

Written by bill

October 19th, 2007 at 2:56 pm

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Why I like competition

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Take a look at Amazon’s MP3 site.  It’s the first real competition to iTunes.  Why is it so good?

  1. They have a downloader that puts the songs into your iTunes folder.
  2. The songs are priced at 89 cents or less.
  3. There is no DRM.
  4. They’re high quality.  My Bon Jovi album is at 160kbps.

I can’t wait to see how iTunes responds.  No matter what happens, I now have a choice where to buy music!

Written by bill

September 25th, 2007 at 10:16 pm

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Women in Technology

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O’Reilly has been running a series on women in technology.  I just read one from Dawn Foster called “Advice on Careers in Technology for Geeky (and not so Geeky) Women“.   I worked with Dawn  when she was at Intel and I follow her blog, so naturally I was interested in what she had to say.  It’s a great article for anyone to read.

In my first job out of college, I worked for a defense contractor.   There were a few women there, but the majority of them were in administrative (secretarial) positions.  I was surprised when I came to Intel and discovered that my first boss was a women.  In fact, there are a lot of women in technical and managerial positions at Intel.  In my dealings with other technology companies, including O’Reilly, I’ve been pleased to discoved that there seem to be a fair amount of women in high positions.  For example, the VP that I dealt with at O’Reilly was a women.  I hope the opportunities for women in technology continue to grow.

Written by bill

September 24th, 2007 at 10:31 pm

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Experimenting With Real-Time HD Video Capture

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With dwindling free disk cpace on my MacbookPro, I went looking for alternative ways of capturing video from my HDV camcorder. My guess was that I’d need to buy a 1394 hard drive. Since My Macbook Pro has only a single 1394a connector, I wondered if the bus would support two streams at the same time – one from the camera to the Mac and one from the Mac to the HDD.

I borrowed a friends G-drive. I knew that this solution was more than my budget for this project, but I thought it would give me an idea of what would work. I used iMovie 08 in all experiments.

Experiment #1 – 1394b

The first experiment I did was to capture a 7 minute HDV video with the HDD connected via 1394b. As expected, this setup worked like a charm. The camera was connected to the computer via 1394a and the HDD via 1394b.

Experiment #2 – 1394a

This setup was slightly more complex than the first. Since there is only one 1394a port on my Mac, I had to use the 1394a hub in my Apple Cinema display to connect both the HDD and the camcorder. In this test, iMovie switched back and forth from real-time capture to 3/4 speed HDV capture. In the middle of the test the fans on the computer sounded like a jet engine. Ultimately I was successful at capturing video, but it appeared to be the most taxing of the three experiments.

Experiment #3 – USB 2.0

I was originally only looking at comparing 1394a and 1394b, but for some reason I decided to try capturing video via USB. The camera was connected directly to the Mac via 1394a. The HDD was connected directly to one of the USB plugs on the Mac. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the video capture was successful (and in real-time). This started me thinking…

Extra Credit – Experiment #4

The G-Drive I used for these tests is a work of art. It has two hard disks in a Raid 0 configuration for super fast performance. The success of experiment #3 made me wonder if I could capture video with any USB hard disk. To find out, I connected my own USB drive and tried it one more time.

This particular drive is a Maxtor 250 GB SATA drive inside of an enclosure I got at the local computer store for $31. Again, the camera was connected to the computer via 1394a. The HDD was connected via USB. My 7 min HDV video was captured in real-time.

What did I learn?

  • I didn’t need to spend $150 to buy an external 1394 drive
  • USB is much more capable than I thought

Written by bill

September 6th, 2007 at 10:32 pm

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Why I Love Technology

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While browsing my RSS feeds in Google Reader, I saw a post at  They had a 40% off coupon for the Rockport Outlet store.  I emailed my wife and we made plans to head out to Lincoln City this weekend to use our coupon.

We listened to music on our ipod for most of the trip.  When the little one got a bit anxious, we let her watch a video on the ipod.  While shopping, we used our cell phones to keep in touch and know when to meet up.

Having new clothes was just too exciting for Emily, so we dressed her in her new overalls and took a picture using our cell phone.  We then emailed the picture to a few people and chatted with them via SMS about how much Emily has grown.

How much different would life be without technology?

Written by bill

August 5th, 2007 at 9:02 am

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Mac OSX on my Windows machine?

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How awesome would this be?  Aaron has s slightly different view of how this could work.  I’d rather have an OS running natively, but I’m sure there are a lot of ways this could work.  I just hope Steve Jobs decides he can make money by decoupling OSX from the Mac.  It’s risky, but just might be worth it.

Written by bill

June 13th, 2007 at 10:13 pm

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A social network for fishermen?

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I’m catching up on reading my RSS feeds and ran across this story at techcrunch.

Now I’ve seen everything.

Written by bill

May 18th, 2007 at 9:43 pm

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Rules to live by

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OK, that might be stretching it.� A friend sent me this link.� It’s 33 rules to boost your productivity.� I especially like #1.

Then I found this one by the same guy.� It’s 10 ways to relaxify your workspace.� Too bad I work in a grey cubicle.� His ideas are great – burning candles, fountain, portable fan.� In my office, all three are taboo.

Know of any other good life hacks?

Written by bill

May 9th, 2007 at 11:13 pm

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