Fascinated by complexity. Striving for simplicity.

The Next Step.

11th of October, 2012

In my last post I talked about some of the ‘upgrades’ I have begun making to my own personal brand and product concepts.

This is all part of preparing myself for the 30×500 class taught by Amy Hoy.  I found out about Amy, and her online class, via Hacker News.  I started poking around and looking at what others were saying about it.  In a word, wow. I couldn’t find anyone who actually came out and said they were disappointed with the class, but I could find a lot of people who were saying the class was life changing.

So I dug deeper.

After reading Amy’s blog and generally stalking researching her on the Internet, I found her to be an engaging and intelligent person who knew her shit. She has gone through the trenches. She figured out some stuff. She identified the successes and failures inherent in that process.  Then, she shared what she knew.   And here’s the best part: her fee for teaching this class was fairly high and I didn’t care! In all the years I have been charging for my creative services, I always resented when someone questioned why I would charge “so much” even when my work resulted in their ongoing success and growth that wouldn’t have occurred without my direction.

Deciding to take the class, was for me, an easy one. I was ready.

The essence of the class is this:  before you build anything, or waste any money, you have to find your customers. Then you have to heal their pain.  And healing their pain means it’s crucial to understand your customers – specifically, who they are and what they need.

You don’t build something, then go searching for someone to buy it.  I’ve been down that road.  It’s fraught with failure. Yet so many start ups these days do exactly that. Then cry later.

What I am realizing in preparing for the class is this: what I think I know is wrong.

I know that product design and marketing are not mutually exclusive – that’s obvious – but what I am finally learning – through experience – and seeing time and time again in the tech world, as well as the consumer hard goods market, is too many “inventions” without real innovation; without any customer validation.  Products are created and abandoned all the time because entrepreneurs are in love with their ideas and can’t honestly learn what they don’t want to know.  They cling to their unwanted products in the hope that the right niche will simply, on some nice summer day, turn up.

What I hope to learn in 30×500 are the ways I can be brutally honest with myself. I need to break bad habits and get back outside into the field, and find the problems to solve.  Then, fail fast and learn to change my GPS settings when my ideas are wrong.

And do this effectively.

And, just like that, you start moving.

1st of October, 2012

I have no problem admitting that I don’t know something.  I make no pretensions of knowing too much.  But, I do know some things.

Lately, I have been irritating myself with the awareness that I have been stagnating in a shallow bay of complacency. I am unfulfilled with the “maintenance mode” interaction I currently have with my job and life. I mean, it’s nothing emotionally weird or creepy; everyone goes through these stages periodically. I’m not special in that I am, once again, calling myself out for being a lazy fuckchop.  In fact, “lazy” is too strong an adjective to use here; I’m far from lazy.  I’m just tired:

  • I’m tired of crappy products.
  • I’m tired of old web properties languishing in “it’ll do” mode.
  • I’m tired of unfulfilled customers.
  • I’m tired of waiting for new things to show up.
  • I’m tired of mediocre results.
  • I’m tired of expired data.
  • I’m tired of boring user interfaces.
  • I’m tired of sinking in idea mudholes.
  • I’m tired of being unimpressed.

Just… tired. And it’s not that I lack energy!  I have energy. I have plenty of it. The tired I refer to is the mental shrugging you find yourself doing whenever you feel the wave of information/idea/project overload washing over you and you know you need to swim through yet realize it can all just wait until later because, quite frankly, no one gives a shit.

I needed a shot in the arm. A combo of intellectual meth and creative cocaine that would push me past the tiredness of processing new product ideas.

See, for me, ideas are just too easy. There are too many of them and they become annoying. They’re like flies… In fact, I came to the point of  dreading new ideas because ideas without engineering (assessment, design, audience, execution) are nothing more than clutter. They multiply and divide and then they become a ton of tiny anchors that keep you firmly floating in one place, aimlessly bobbing up and down with the current – the here and now – never moving, staring wistfully at the horizon or steadfastly at a landmark on the shore that you can never reach.

Aside: That last paragraph had that gross, pseudo-You Can Do It Consultant Blogger bullshit vibe ‘written’ all over it? Did you catch it?

So while I was giving myself all of those dorky pep talks and life-affirming soliloquies, I did what any self-respecting hacker, hustler, or designer would do: I took a hard look at what I was buying, what I was selling, and what kind of deal I could make with myself. It wasn’t that hard.  I took stock. I looked at the crap around me. I did immediate assessments that basically came down to the choice between, “Do I like this?” or “Does this suck?”  I didn’t give myself a lot of grey area in which to work.  It was a yes or no kind of question.

In doing this, I realized that my personal brand space was shitty.  Ideas that were stupid were dumped. Product concepts that had no audience were scrapped. My attitude towards the products and environments that I am surrounded by got a huge adjustment simply by asking, “Is this good enough?”  Nine times out of ten my answer was, “No. This is not good enough.”

I started with my own personal website. My old site had not seen an update in YEARS.  Years!  I’m embarrassed to even admit that. So, I rebuilt that site and you can see it now: http://patryan.com.

Also, I had been sitting on a bunch of domain names that, like a lot of you, I registered in haste in order to protect my incredibly amazing, obviously successful and cleverly crafted namespace.  I had several of these. No, I had many of these. I have a GoDaddy app on my phone so that I can register domain names ON THE SPOT if needed.  As part of my cleansing, I went through those domains and got rid of the ridiculous and the frivolous.

What am I left with?

http://hackershustlersdesigners.com – a nebulous ‘lifestyle’ store selling something that I have yet to define succinctly.

http://mydatabrand.com – a digital agency/freelance design thing.

http://fixthisplanet.com – which I profiled here.

http://workingparts.net – my hardware hacking space. I also have an idea to build something related to ‘Home Management’ at http://workinghomes.net.

http://thingbeam.com – an Internet of Things idea.

http://interflection.com – an art project.

http://industrial-luxury.com – Industrial Luxury Group Inc. is a real company. It’s been a Colorado corporation for a long time.  I have done contract design and build work under this company since 2006. I want it to be the legal entity running blocker for all the other things I do so I am keeping it as a business front that has an EIN number and a bank account  and a Square account and a certificate of good standing and all that.  Everyone needs a front.

So now what?

Let’s get to the point. I have lots of ideas.  And those ideas have now become anchors. These ideas and concepts? They’re empty promises to myself. They’re mockups in keynote, drawings in my sketchbook, project notes in Omnifocus, logos and fonts… but, the one thing they all have in common is, they’re all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Smash-cut to 30×500.

Applied. Accepted. Paid. I’m in.  For me, this is the next step.

I am willing to be wrong about what I know and once I can admit that, then I have a starting point to begin.  I’m ready to cut the anchor line.

The Architecture of Forgetting

3rd of August, 2012

There is a world built around your memories. This world is constructed of the ideas and discoveries you have created in your life.

We engineer our world around these ideas of memory. Our memory informs us and reminds us of who we are. And, conversely, we become our memories.

The process of remembering the things you do are the tools you use to build upon what you already know. You effectively lay foundations of thoughts that memory delivers to you. Minds are built using a mesh of cells and neurons that cement the bricks of recognition into structural planes of self. Communication between humans is conducted via pathways through memory.

It is the past that speaks to the future. You are made of memory.

Grant Merrill had come to the realization that, after wandering through the house in at least three complete, room-by-room passes, he had absolutely no idea where his wife, Angie, had kept the stapler. He had looked in the most obvious and logical places a stapler would be – or should be – stored. He could not recall if Angie Merrill had ever informed him, at some point in the past, where she kept the stapler.

 

Cecilia Dyune was furious again. Today would make the third time in two weeks she would have to call Xfinity and request a technician be sent to the house to adjust the settings on the television in the family room. Once again, she had turned the television on and the picture was nothing but white noise. She thought she remembered the previous cable technician saying something about, “keeping the remote set on channel something or other.”

 

Kim and Rod Aris were arguing about what time they had reserved court number eight for Friday night mixed doubles at the Colorado Athletic Club. They were scheduled to play Mark and Melissa Hughes – that much was certain. Kim had written “Tennis – 6:00” on the calendar, which sits prominently on her desk in the kitchen nook. However, Mark thought he remembered clearly that he had set up the time last week for 6:30.

 

Greg Perrells was beginning to think the worst. He had combed the jobsite for what seemed to be close to 45 minutes or an hour looking for his brand new, 14 oz Stiletto® titanium framing hammer. He remembered using it last in the second level bedroom that faced west. However, during that time, he went to the roof to assist Mitch Riley with some plywood decking; he probably had the hammer with him at that time too, he thought. Greg had bought the hammer only a week ago. The realization that he had misplaced it somewhere in this place made him seethe with anger at himself for being so careless.

 

As Natalia Neuhaus put away some laundry in her son’s dresser, for really no apparent reason, she recalled an incident in elementary school (Richmond Elementary, Richmond, VA) where Andrew Jacobs had given her a key to a storeroom near the teacher’s lounge. He told her that she could use the key to gain access to that particular storeroom and that it housed all the candy and prizes for the upcoming Halloween carnival. She did not use it; instead, she gave the key to her friend Annabel (whose last name she had forgotten).

 

***

The Pathology of Entertaiment

20th of July, 2012

 

Early media response to large-scale, high-intensity crisis events takes on a role of urgency and speculation that creates a vocabulary of “surprised assumption” that effectively sustains a public’s suspense while feigning journalistic packaging wrapped in carefully crafted non sequitur. This results in the frustrating amalgamation of information and marketing which elevates the incident out of its original context and into the realm of “Crisis Product.”

EEWeb Featured Engineer

19th of April, 2012

I am happy to be EEWeb’s Featured Engineer this week! The list of engineers that EEWeb has profiled in the past is incredibly impressive and I am honored that I was chosen to be included.

I have a fairly non-traditional engineering upbringing that really grew out of a need to know more about the details around the art projects I was working on at the time as opposed to finding a “career” working as an engineer.  I didn’t know I wanted to be an engineer. The desire to dig deeply into the structure and design of higher-order projects was really the only way I convinced myself to go back to school and learn the field.  I doubt I would have had the discipline to completely submerge myself into the math, physics, chemistry and circuit classes when I was younger and just out of high school. I was too much of a partier, way too social and too disorganized. I feared those subjects at one point. Working in the real world with real problems opened the door to the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in my work.

What ultimately led to my desire to learn was a need to know.  The need to know was driven by the truly honest feeling of enjoyment I felt while creating exciting work as an artist.

It’s a great time to be involved with not only engineering and tech but art-making as well.  When you create mashups of Art and Engineering you solve User Experience problems.  Humans are the ultimate audience;  they respond immediately to changes – good and bad – and, in the process, inform those of us who build things how to do better.

Welcome to Nomadic Services.

4th of January, 2012

Check this out:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/01/04/144636898/a-man-a-van-a-surprising-business-plan

I see this solution as something that will become more and more relevant in the upcoming years: location-based, mobile service businesses.  I am not referring to services like plumbing, electrical, or carpet cleaning.  We understand how that works. We have also seen it happen with food.  Food comes to us now in the form of hip and stylish food trucks willing to set up next to where their customers are.

We have mastered crossing the time and distance domain with networked connectivity.  What we still have yet to do is bring immediate response to problem-solving.  It still requires a call or an appointment, a trip in a car, or a FedEx package.

Think of all the brick and mortar services out there that can become mobile.  What “wires” are keeping them fastened to a foundation now?

Now, think of all the services that don’t have an established brick and mortar model or a web-based model, such as the Chinese Visa service illustrated in the article link above.  I think, wow…

Welcome to the new, Site-Specific, Nomadic Services world.

 

An Idea: 32-Bit Peace of Mind…

1st of December, 2011

Published on: Dec 1, 2011

I have an idea that I have been thinking about since this summer. I had a pretty decent backyard garden this year and one of the main sources of stress for me was the constant watering logistics.

Because my backyard landscaping changes each season and my garden will vary as well, I need a versatile and customizable watering scheme that I can adapt easily.  This prevents me from installing an in-ground, automated system. I like the ability to direct hoses (either attached to sprinklers or drip lines) to certain areas and control the amount of water these zones receive.

I would also like to be conservative in my water usage but not so miserly that my plants and flowers are constantly dying of thirst.

I invested in a commercial water timer that I was able to set for watering 4 different zones. It worked pretty well for the most part. It looked like the setup below:

It got me through the summer but the problem I had was the futzing this thing took.  And, if it rained, you had to manually run out and hit a Rain Delay button that would skip the watering cycle for that period.

Also, when I went on vacation, I really had no way of knowing if one of the valves you see above, the grey things that the hoses are attached to, and were made of plastic, hadn’t just blown open and water was filling up my backyard for a week.  Even if it were, the only way to have stopped it was to call a neighbor to run over and shut off the whole system.

There should be a better way.  I liked the concept, but I needed better monitoring and the ability to control this unit remotely.

I came up with the WaterWorker: an urban garden water controller.

So, briefly, the WaterWorker will interface with a valve system that allows the user to set up and control a home-based garden watering system. The chipKIT will be responsible for controlling the user-programmable times for ON-OFF with the added feature of a web-based interface for remote user control and monitoring.  It is not meant to be part of a permanent installation like an in-ground sprinkler system.  WaterWorker is an all-in-one unit that attaches to a standard hose bib one would find on the exterior of a typical home or apartment building.

The system should identify moisture levels in the environment so that water is applied only when needed and automatically shut off during rainstorms or other non-optimal watering conditions (i.e. high wind or outdoor functions).  It should also report total water usage over time. These features will conserve water yet still allow for healthy lawns and gardens.

Ideally, the power for the controller and valve system will consist of commercially available, off-the-self parts that can be purchased from any local hardware store. The electro-mechanical system should consist of simple solenoids that one might use for an automatic sprinkler system and that could be powered using a solar panel mounted on the roof or in the yard of the homeowner.

A fail-safe routine should be implemented to counter a system malfunction that would allow water to run continuously if unchecked.

 

I’ll keep you posted.

A Design Process. Part 2.

25th of October, 2011

In my last post, I explained why I start any design process with a 3″ x 5″ index card and some notes or sketches.

In this post, I take those initial designs to the next level.

I am still working on paper at this point. I still have yet to turn on a computer during this phase.  However, if I have determined that an idea or concept needs to be explored further and taken to another design pass, I use either a Design Notebook or an Engineering Notebook for this step.

Briefly, they look like this:

Notebooks

Fancy huh?

These are special notebooks though… don’t be blinded by the ostentatious glitz that these notebooks exude.  Behind those stark, black covers are incredibly important tools for design work.

I purchase these notebooks from a company called Scientific Notebook Company.  These are laboratory or research notebooks, specifically manufactured for the purpose of creating legal documentation of research or design work.  Am I doing such work? Sometimes.  But the key here is that these are beautifully constructed and reasonably priced.  And, for what they offer, I feel it’s an important step in any creative or design work, irregardless of whether or not you need legal proof that you are, in fact, the originator of an idea or product.

Mostly, they are just fun to draw and write in.

Now, if you look at snco.com’s fairly minimal site – no fancy HTML5 or CSS3 here – you will quickly see that they can imprint ANY title on your notebook as well as add your company name or logo for an additional charge.  Pretty cool.  I can also attest to their reliable order process and quick shipping.  An easy company to work with. A+++ GREAT SELLER. WILL BUY FROM AGAIN!

I also like  that you can get them in different page configurations too.  In the Engineering Notebook, for example, a typical page looks like this:

They can include blank pages for drawings and sketches as well.

May I suggest you take a look at these notebooks for your own work.  They definitely help you organize your thoughts and ideas.  And, if you ever come up with something you may want to patent someday, you’ll be set.

A Design Process. Part 1.

23rd of October, 2011

I have been thinking about design process recently which has forced me to consider my own process.  Over the years, I have tried and maintained many different ways of beginning a design project.  Of course they all begin with an idea but after that, how do I get that idea out of my head and into the workflow?

It all begins with a piece of paper for me. And a pen or pencil, or a marker or paint.  It rarely begins on a computer.  The computers come last.

I thought I would post a simple series on the design process tools I use in my own work.  Your process might be radically different from mine but this one works for me.  I am always interested in individual creative process. I like hearing about the tools people choose to use.  I’m a fan of sites like, The Setup.  However, in my case usually, the computational brute force is almost the last piece in the puzzle for creating.  For the kinds of projects I work on, there is a lot to figure out before an idea is even close to being finalized on a computer.  And of course, some ideas don’t even need to be worked on at the hardware level. They just need to be figured out.

So, what do I do?

I carry with me – pretty much at all times – a small, leather pencil bag that was given to me by a friend many years ago.  It’s simple, sturdy, and compact so that I can keep it in a backpack or on my desk.  It contains a whole variety of writing instruments I like.  More on “writing instruments” in a later post if I am motivated.  Probably not.  What I like to write with and what you like to write with is so subjective and personal that blogging about it becomes a pointless endeavor. What’s important is that I have what I call, “pencil ideas,” “ink ideas,” “grey-scale ideas” or “color ideas.”

Anyway, as mentioned, it begins with a piece of paper and in this case, the paper I choose to start working on is 3″ x 5″ blank index cards.  So my entire, initial design phase begins with these two components:

Pat's Design Stuff

That little pencil bag holds a LOT of stuff:

Inside a Sketch Kit

Why index cards?  Why not use a small notebook or sketchbook?  Don’t the cards get lost or dropped all over the place?  Good questions all…

I use index cards for an initial idea pass because they are fairly disposable for my quick thoughts on a problem.  When I have a big blank, permanent page in a sketchbook staring at me, I get intimidated by that permanency.  It scares me.  I begin to hold back and edit my ideas in my head first.  Who wants to mess up that nice, $20 sketchbook with a notion or a thought bubble?  Not me.  I have, over the years, learned that starting with that kind of commitment to an idea is stifling.  I hate wasting my sketchbook real estate on a notion or an inkling.  That’s where my note cards come in.  They’re the stunt double for the next level of ideation. (I had to get that damn word worked into this post somehow.)

I don’t like rubber bands.  So I keep my stack of note cards bound with a big clip.  These work better than stretching a rubber band around the deck.  Two reasons: rubber bands break and they take longer to put on and take off than the steel clips.

Card Deck

And that’s it.  The beginning of a process.

Secret Sangria

29th of July, 2011

The product.

Want to make a drink that will win friends and influence people? Then may I suggest you mix up a batch of Secret Sangria at your next meetup, hacker convention, work party, wedding or bbq.  Guaranteed points scored. Hugs and backslapping will ensue. (After awhile…)

Ready?

The first thing you have to do is go get the ingredients: (This is for 2 or 3;  if serving a big party, simply do some math and error on the generous side)

1 bottle of wine. Not expensive. Ten to twelve bucks max. Red. (white wine sangria is for smurfs and fairies.) No brand is mandatory or required at this step. You can go big, but your friends will wonder why you just ruined a good bottle of wine on sangria.

1 bottle of Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon. This is 80 proof GNS (Grain Neutral Spirits).  You can go to 100 or 125 proof if you desire but if you do, be prepared to have people throwing up in your bathroom later.  Now, if you can’t find moonshine or GNS you can opt for vodka.  Vodka and wine DO mix and once you get over that shocker you will find yourself spiking your wine with vodka on a regular basis.  For some wines, this actually improves them.

1 bottle of Cointreau

1 Orange (a real orange)

1 Lemon (a real one)

1 Lime (not the green plastic squeeze thingy)

Sparkling water. For this you can use just about anything fizzy but I highly recommend Le Croix Sparkling Water. Cheap and good for you. This also has the added benefit of keeping you and your guests hydrated during the event, minimizing the damaging effects of the alcohol the next day. Bonus shot!

Here we go:

Step 1

Step 1

Cut up oranges, lemons and limes into thin slices. Throw into a glass container or large barrel.

 

 

Step 2

Step 2

Add the wine. Pour the whole bottle in.

 

Step 3

Step 3

Add the fuel. Use approximately 1 part moonshine (or vodka) to 4 parts of wine. That’s about 6 oz if you’re being all precise, but I use about 8 oz. (Not that I am not precise, it’s just that I am not too worried about precision.)

 

Step 4

Step 4

Add some Cointreau. If you are making a batch with one bottle of wine, use 6 to 8 shots of Cointreau.

 

Step 5

Step 5

Pour over ice in a large wine glass or plastic cup.

 

Step 6

Step 6

Open a can or bottle of your favorite sparkling water.

 

Step 7

Step 7

Fill the glass to the top.

 

Step 8

Step 8

Take a few pieces of fruit out of the pitcher and cut them up and throw them in the drink.

 

Step 9

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

And, I’m going to call that a blog post. Have a nice weekend!