RonAmok!

The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.
Feb 7, 2013

Crashspace-LA Storefront

For the past year, I’ve wanted to visit a hackerspace–a physical location where inventors of all ages gather to share equipment, knowledge, and experience. I got my opportunity two Saturdays ago when I visited Crashspace in Los Angeles.  I attended the eLeCTRONiC WeAraBLes Meetup as a member of Epson America to help product manager, Eric Mizufuka, demonstrate Epson’s Moverio BT-100 transparent display glasses to those who might want to incorporate the platform into their own projects.

Crashspace-LA consists of a small storefront located on Venice Boulevard in Culver City, California. Its meeting room held about fifty people, who had self-organized themselves into three groups: those who sat on folding chairs, those who sat on an old couch, and those who stood along the walls. Latecomers peered into the room through two open doors that lead to the sidewalk.

The attendees included parents, teachers, students, entrepreneurs, recent college grads and old, crusty engineers like myself. And although our interests varied wildly, the reason for our attendance remained the same–something that Annika O’Brien, founder of the LA Robotics group, explained perfectly.

“I need other nerds to nerd-out with.”

Illuminode.net dress demonstration.

After quick introductions, attendees were encouraged to demonstrate projects. One-by-one,they showed their work. Rich demonstrated his “hug-o-meter,” a jacket lined with conductive sensors that sent signals to multi-colored LEDs. Others had stitched Arduino microcontrollers into swaths of fabric…and in one case, a hat. A representative from Illuminode raised the bar by demonstrating commercially-available, LED-laced garments, that were programmed to interact with each other, changing colors based upon variables such as proximity and the relationships.

Rich shows off his "Hug-o-meter."

At this point in the meeting, my expectations had been met. I was among inventors demonstrating whimsical applications. But my experience changed when Frank took the floor to demonstrate his latest wearable technology project.

Sleepless in Los Angeles

Frank explained that he hadn’t slept much since he heard about the tragic death of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, who died of injuries inflicted when he was rammed by a suspected drug-running boat.  Although Frank had never met the Chief Petty Officer, he felt the loss personally, leading to many long nights trying to find a way to avoid this type of death in the future.

Dressed in sweatpants and a white T-shirt, Frank stood in front of the crowd revealing material after material that he was testing to build a new type of helmet. Frank’s interest in safety didn’t just begin in December. He was issued US Patent in September 2011 for a Damage Resistant Aircraft.

Frank shows off some helmet materials.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at the intensity of Frank’s motivation. The night vision demo brought by Epson was also inspired by a tragic news story. Conceived while watching news footage of rescuers trying to find Hurricane Sandy victims, its inventor set out to develop a wearable device that switched between night vision and clear glass depending upon whether a rescuer was looking into dark or light spaces. The inventor achieved his goal by mounting an infrared camera with infrared transmitters onto the Moverio BT-100 platform.

As Eric demonstrated the night vision application, Annika O’Brien recognized a potential solution to a problem that she had been thinking about for a while. She told the group about a friend who suffered from Face Blindness, a condition that inhibits sufferers from being able to recognize other people’s faces. Annika asked if a combination camera+Moverio+facial recognition software might be able to help those with Face Blindness identify people as they approached.Trying on the night vision glasses that were built upon the Epson Moverio BT-100

The Makerati

I sat there admiring these fascinating people who represented a new breed of inventor: The Makerati. Rather than toiling individually in dank garages and basements, the Makerati work collaboratively through websites, chat rooms, coffee shops and hackerspaces.  Driven by interest, desire, and caring, they willingly invest their own time, money, and deprive themselves of sleep in order to make a difference in the world.

I’m looking forward to spending a little more time with them.

awesome_august_cover

Last August, I wrote a post called The Value of a Retweet, where I performed an analysis of a NewBlue, Inc. marketing campaign that offered 1% storewide discounts for every retweet that the company’s messages received. Through the power of “the internets,” my analysis found its way to Lisa Girolamo, NewBlue’s VP Marketing, who left a comment on the post. That comment initiated a little online discussion between Lisa, me and reader David Jacobs, who wondered if NewBlue, Inc. would be willing to share the results of their campaign. Long story short, Lisa agreed; I exchanged contact information with her; and we entered into a series of interviews.

Although it has taken much longer than I would have liked, I am pleased to announce the release of my most recent case study called “Awesome August: How NewBlue Inc, used social media to increase sales and add new customers during its slowest month of the year.” Please feel free to download the case study and share it with your friends.

Lastly, I’d like to thank Lisa for her time, candor, and patience as this project dragged out much longer than I had expected.


Last week, Paul Gillin wrote a blog post called Lemmings with Microphones, where he questions’s the value of large-scale journalistic investment in covering both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. He argues that with the state of today’s communications technologies, 15,000 journalists spending $30 million are not needed to cover the event. Gillin, who has been chronicling the collapse of the newspaper industry since March 2007 in his  Newspaper Deathwatch blog, questions the mass media’s use of their precious business resources.

The blog post got me to thinking about the changes in how live event coverage is changing in lieu of the digitalization of content and the socialization of networks responsible for distributing that content. Back in the 1960s & 1970s, coverage of a NASA rocket launch required expensive communications networks, thousands of people, and millions of dollars to deliver the event.

But no longer.

Today, the average person with a smartphone can broadcast remote video–live, for the cost of their data plans. Through services like Google+, they can broadcast live video for the cost of their monthly Internet access charge. By virtually eliminating the cost-to-broadcast-barrier, the power to tell your own story has been wrestled from the grips of the few and placed into the hands of many.

Take NASA for example. In 2012, they don’t need mass media to tell the full story of Curiosity. With the ability to broadcast live Martian images directly to anyone with Internet connectivity, they are no longer beholden to the limitations of prime-time, drive-time, or late-night television programming.

It’s time for companies to consider the communications technologies available and the stories that they want to tell through them. One of my favorite examples is Digikey’s Another Geek Moment videos. Digikey is one of the largest suppliers of electronic components. It’s using modern communications technologies to demonstrate products to the company’s highly technical audience. Another Geek Moment demonstrates the power that resides at the fingertips of every corporate storyteller.

For example, consider the following video of a rocket launch. It essentially delivers all of the content that the mass media did for the Apollo rocket launches with one main difference. Rather than requiring thousands of people and millions of dollars, it was created by two guys, a handful of off-the-shelf-parts, and a cell phone.

The video has everything: multiple camera angles, a “Cape Canaveral” (the launch site), and a “Mission Control” (the remote launch site). Check out Texas Instruments MSP430 Launchpad.

Times have changed. Affordable communications technology is available for your company to tell its own stories. The question is whether or not it’ll choose to use them.

Apollo 9 Photo used under Wikimedia Commons