Blogging Health Life Music

Habits, Not Goals

Part of this site used to be public, but is now hidden; it’s a list of goals that I have for myself over the long term.

I went and looked at it recently and realized I have achieved 3 out of 5 in one manner or another, but probably not to the extent that I initially imagined achieving the goal. For example, one goal was “have a music studio in my house”. Recording equipment is super easy and cheap these days and I have it for all my music instruments…does that count? I dunno. I say yes.

But in thinking about revising those goals, I realized there was no way to know if I would ever reach them. More importantly, there’s no way to know if I would want to reach them by the time I actually did. That’s what’s crazy to me. I can set a goal to become an astronaut now (hard pass), but on the path towards becoming an astronaut it’s very possible that I could find out I want to be terrestrial biologist or a children’s author or something I’ve not even heard of yet. You just never know where your path will take you. I got to see a talk on this very subject at XOXO last September and I go back to watch it often. Nicky Case is a wonderful speaker and this was exactly what I needed to see at that point in my life:

So instead, I’m focusing on habits. Really, that’s why a lot of goals exist in the first place. It’s focusing on something far in the future so you can figure out the steps required in the near term. Instead, I’m going to try and change some daily habits to see how that moves me towards a better tomorrow, especially since I have no idea what that will eventually look like.

This actually all started with an app install. I saw a list of “must have apps” and tried installing one called Habit Bull. It’s really quite simple. You input the habit you want to build and every day you track either how much you did of that thing (ie. how many minutes did I read) or whether or not you did it at all (ie. Did I read today?). I normally choose the latter as it makes it a very simple exercise. I also started very slowly. I started with a singular goal,

“Did I walk the dog today?”

Obviously that has benefit for the dog, but also for me. It means my head is in the right place. It means I’m not putting my work above all else. It means I’m getting a little bit of exercise for myself. But that simple question allows me to stay focused. I’ve gradually added other things that seem to indicate daily success.

My most recent one was, “Am I working at my bench by noon?” I have worked from home since I quit my full time engineering job 2 years ago (wowsa, that long ago?). While that sounds like an easy goal (it is), it focuses me on not just reading and responding to emails all day upstairs on the couch and instead being near my electronics. The environment helps me focus even if I’m not working on electronics directly. It also makes me do a little bit of work to go upstairs and grab yet another cup of coffee, which means I might get to sleep at a decent hour later that night.

This all hinges on using the app daily, which I’ve been doing pretty consistently. Even if I miss a day, the “yes or no” nature of these habits makes it pretty easy to remember and back fill from memory. Over time, I hope these habits will become permanent, but my priorities may also change. For instance, right now I’m learning my third instrument (piano) but who knows what I’ll want to learn in the future (tuba?). Also, I should mention that the app is not the real thing that’s driving me to do these things, so much as the idea behind them. Had I been a pen and paper person, a simple log book could have driven me to similar levels of success.

Obviously, writing has not been on my list for a long time. I’m not sure it will be any time soon, either. I like the idea of writing and I think it helps my career, but I’m not sure it’s as much of a priority for me. Another on my list is trying to make a video each day for Contextual Electronics, and that would take priority as that’s my main communication medium these days. Regardless, I like the flexibility and the focusing on things I can get done in the short term. It has helped me focus what I want in my life with regards to health, relationships, career and personal fulfillment on a daily basis.

If you see more articles from me though, perhaps blogging made it onto my list.

Image via the YouTube video of Nicky’s talk.


I Got Glass!


I’m not really sure why I hadn’t posted about it here in the past, but it’s true: I’m part of the Google Glass Explorer Program. And last weekend, I went to New York City to go pick up my pair from Google.

I think part of it is I am a little embarrassed about it. I mean, they’re just a bit nerdy, don’t you think? Sure, there’s a slightly “hip” characteristic to them and by themselves they are a beautiful piece of technology; but it’s putting something on my face that automatically showcases that I’m different. Technology usually doesn’t do that. Usually, you need to at least reach into your pocket and show off your new gadget. In this case, not so much. Now you stick what amounts to being a smartphone on your face, the one thing that human brains are really good at recognizing and detecting differences on.

I also am a little embarrassed about the price I paid. Contrary to popular belief, when I “won” the #ifihadglass context (with this tweet), it was not a giveaway. Instead, it gave me the ability to go buy this device. At $1500 per pair (plus tax), it wasn’t the most expensive dev kit I’ve ever used (FPGAs, yo), but it’s also simultaneously far and away the priciest gadget I’ve ever bought. In fact, I bought a phone to utilize 4G speeds and get better battery life so I could use Glass on a cellular connection. Price paid for my new (to me, it was used) phone? $250. So between Glass, the ticket to NYC, the new phone and the food while I was in NY (stayed with an old friend, which was great): probably about the same I paid for my CNC milling machine. That’s kind of extreme.

As for the device, it’s really slick. And if you consider it a development platform (which at this price, my brain is insisting I do), then it is quite polished. I’m already on the 7th generation of firmware (XE7) and it will only get better. I enjoy the navigation, the picture taking (with the very wide angle lens) and am looking forward to other apps I’ll be able to put onto it. Hopefully I’ll also get off my bum and develop for it. I have a long list of potential ideas waiting in the wings; mostly my time is at a premium as I hope to get Contextual Electronics off the ground. I say a little bit more about my plans in this recent video I made:

So aside from that, I don’t have much more to say about it. Really it’s about putting them on every day and getting used to wearing them in public. The lower population density in Cleveland means I don’t encounter as many people staring at me on the subway (we do have one here, btw) as I did in NYC. But it also means that fewer people have them around here and when I’m wearing them, I stick out even more than before.  After that, it’s about making stuff to use with them…and hoping other people decide to buy and use Google Glass as well.

Blogging Conferences

Can’t ESCape Wanting To Go

Horrible pun in the title, my apologies.

However, the exciting news is that I will be attending ESC Silicon Valley in a few weeks! I just worked out the details for my trip and will be there from Tuesday, May 3rd until Thursday May 5th.

I’ve been to ESC Chicago and ESC Boston in the past year, but the Silicon Valley version seems to have more seminars, a bigger show floor and more going on in general. That’s to be expected in relation to the relative number of attendees that will likely be there. And of course each time they have a different ESC, some of the courses and people speaking seems to change at least a little to keep up with new technology.

This is exciting for me personally because I’ve never been to Silicon Valley before. Even more puzzling, I’ve never been to the Bay Area or even California before. I’m such a homebody. But I’m looking forward to seeing what’s out there, enjoying the beautiful weather and hopefully seeing some of the local sites.

How did I get the chance to go? Element 14 is sending me as part of their Roving Reporter program. I’ll have video, audio and written updates from the show floor each day. I’m also planning on sitting in for Brian Fuller’s live streaming and interviews from the conference. And of course no trade show would be complete if I didn’t try and record an episode of The Amp Hour with Dave!

My co-conspirator for the recently completed 555 contestJeri Ellsworth–will be there also. Jeri is a keynote speaker on Thursday morning of ESC and will also be a roving reporter. We’ll try and show the conference from an engineer’s perspective and have some fun.

If you know of any must-see places in San Jose, I’d love to hear about them. And if you’re going to be around the conference, let me know! I’d love to hang out and talk or even grab a beer. There’s at least one beer-themed event called “Beer and Boards” which will probably be a good time to hang out and talk about nerdy stuff.

I’ll try and post links here (and definitely on my Twitter account) to the stuff I produce for Element 14. I’m really looking forward to seeing what this Silicon Valley thing is all about!

Blogging Engineering

Burning The Candle On A Third End

Hey Folks!

Because my brain decided I didn’t have enough going on already (and a healthy dose of thinking “wow, that’s a good idea” when Cherish mentioned it to me), I’ve started with a couple other engineer bloggers! I’ve already mentioned it on Twitter, but I thought I should write about it here as well.

The lineup right now is me, Cherish, Fluxor and FrauTech.  But we’re looking for more! If you’re interested, check out the “Write For Us” page on the site and fill out the form there. We have some requirements, but if you’re a good writer and have been doing it for a little while, we’d love to hear from you.

As for me, hopefully posting there on a schedule (a requirement) will get me back into the swing of posting here. If not, you can always read some of my stuff over there or just listen to my nasally voice on The Amp Hour. Hope you enjoy the new site!

Blogging Conferences OSHW

I’m at the Open Hardware Summit!

I’m spending the day at the New York Hall of Science. It’s amazing. The venue is perfect. The swag from the OHS people and sponsors is so cool. I’m completely smitten with everyone here. I’m kind of reverting to a childhood state I’m so excited.


Well, because this feels like the beginning of something much much bigger than me and that I get to watch it unfold in front of me. And participate, that’s key as well. And since I looked for a while for people online and failed and new get to sit in a room with 200 people that do hardware, it gets me excited. These are my people. My nerdy, awesome people.

Don’t get me wrong, open source hardware has been going on for a while. This is not new. But this is getting bigger and from chaos we are seeing order emerge. The open source hardware standard will be worked on and released at the end of this conference. You can view the 0.3 version on the Open Hardware Summit page.

I’m writing this mid-way through the day. We’ve already heard from Limor Fried from Adafruit and Gerald Coley from BeagleBoard. I can’t wait to hear more and hope to post them all here soon.

Blogging Digital Electronics

I’m on EETimes!

So I’ve been at ESC Boston since Monday, both as a participant and as a writer. It’s been a really cool experience meeting a lot of people in the technical writing field and a lot in the publishing industry (as well as those in the technical side of things, of course). And today for the first time, I was published in EETimes on the EELife section. Check out a couple of my articles, linked below.

Any comments can be left here or on the specific article pages.

Blogging Conferences

A September Update

So it’s quite apparent I haven’t been around posting too much. The date on the last post makes that pretty obvious. I have been doing some fun and exciting things though!

First off is The Amp Hour, a new electronics podcast/radio show. We just completed our 8th episode yesterday and it seems to be going well! We were very lucky to have much of Dave Jones’ wonderful community at EEVblog make the jump over and listen to us. It’s nice to have a strong base of listeners to start with and we appreciate everyone of them (I appreciate you doubly if you happen to read here as well!).

Next, I’ve been reworking my electronics lab at home, building up my gear holdings and working on some new projects. It’s been really fun, if not time consuming. All of the time that used to go towards bugging you with blog updates seems to be eaten by that activity. I know there will be lulls in the future, so I’ll try to blast out some ideas I’ve had rattling in my head when that happens. I’m really interested in a topic we discussed on The Amp Hour known as “The Creative Economy”. Basically the idea that so much equipment has become such a commodity that the only true value to add to products and services will now be based on how creative you are. It’s already started and it will only become more apparent.

And lastly, on the same note as above, I’ll be attending the Open Hardware Summit coming up in NYC. It’s right before the Maker Faire (which I won’t be able to attend unfortunately) and should give me and everyone reading this even better insight into the thing fueling much of the creative economy: open source hardware. The few days prior to OHS, I’ll be at ESC Boston doing some freelance work for EEtimes (on their EELife blog section). I’m looking forward to that as well. It was a direct result of going to the ESC in Chicago, which I’ve written about on here a few times.

So that’s it for now. Talking, doing and writing. That is my life. And I enjoy it. And I hope to share more of it with you soon, so please hang on.

Blogging Life

Oh StumbleUpon

I love StumbleUpon. If you don’t know, it’s a site that gives you random sites to visit at the click of a button. It’s been around for a while now and it will ruin your afternoon or evening if you’re not careful. It’s also sent more than one visitor to this site before and hopefully exposed them to some analog engineering topics.

Anyway, I’m also a user of SU and have noticed a trend on the “Electrical Eng” side of things:

It’s amazing. I love Tesla as much as the next nerd out there, but never have I seen such a recurring instance of hero worship. I suppose this many years on, the man deserves it.

So if you have a few minutes or hours to spare, click on over to StumbleUpon, check out some (ok, many) sites about Tesla and kill that productivity of yours!


A New Comment System

I was reading about the latest WordPress 3.0 release, yet another step forward in open source software. I was eager to try it, so I updated last night. But the more interesting thing in the midst of my reading was a program also by the folks that make WordPress; more specifically, I was reading a sarcastic essay written by Matt Mullenweg, creator of WordPress. He was writing about how comment systems were in serious need of an update and was pushing for the comment system implemented in IntenseDebate. So I gave it a shot, and that’s what’s running the comments now.

To be honest, I’m just playing catch up; but we’re also reaping the benefits of a more mature comment system (the article was from Aug ’09). I like it so far! Here’s how I think people on this site can take advantage:

  • Reply directly to comments made by others — No more calling out names, now it’s a hierarchical format that shows your reply directly below theirs.
  • Login is easier — IntenseDebate let me create a Facebook app; not that I wanted to for personal gain, but now you can use Facebook to login to the comments here if you like. I won’t take your info, I really don’t want it, I promise. You can also login with Twitter, IntenseDebate, or it will just pull your photo in if you happen to use Gravatar (another Automattic creation, the same people that do WP).
  • Subscribe to comments — I usually “set it and forget it” when it comes to commenting on sites. Once I’ve dropped off my two cents, I usually don’t care to stick around and refresh or I completely forget I commented somewhere. The comments subscription is easy and won’t overwhelm your inbox. Plus you can reply back to any replies you get through email.
  • Voting — I don’t want this site to be a popularity contest, but sometimes you see a comment you really like. Now there’s a up/down arrow next to comments you think are really good so they’ll rise to the top. Similar to a reddit or more relevant ChipHacker. I like the “democratic” view of commenting–just because you’re the most recent doesn’t mean you should show up first. Even if you’re not planning on commenting, take a minute to click on comments you agree with.
  • CommentLuv — This is a plugin that will pull your latest blog post title into your post automatically. It’s a simple way to show what you’ve been writing about even if you don’t want to write “PLEASE LISTEN TO ME AND VISIT MY SITE” in every post. I doubt that anyone on the internet ever does that kind of thing though. With this new plugin, it’s no big deal.
  • Sharing — I really don’t think many people are submitting my posts to social media sites, but this is also integrated as a plugin (previously it was a plugin at the bottom of the post, not in the comments). If you feel the urge, I encourage it! (no pity submissions, please)

The whole point of Matt’s article was building community. While I don’t expect people to visit a site that I named after myself everyday, I hope that this new tool will help others interact when they see an interesting tidbit on here. I mean, people still read Joel’s thoughts on software, and he doesn’t even have comments! See? I’m one step up already!

Hope to hear from you in the comments, especially if you have other ideas for better interaction. Let us know if you like the new system!

Blogging Conferences Digital Electronics Learning

ESC Chicago and Sensors Conference and Expo, Day 2


What a whirlwind day. I started at 7:30 am and I ended at 10:30 pm, my mind still reeling. I was talking Beagle Boards and Agile processes in the morning and discussing the media (with the media) and visiting hackerspaces in the evening. But the best part about it? I felt like there were a lot of people around me that cared about similar stuff to what I do.

I am lucky enough to work with some of these people as well. But the nerd population in Cleveland isn’t at the critical mass that occurs at conferences nor at hackerspaces. So yesterday was a great opportunity to converse on some of the topics I love with people who were interested to hear it (in person of course, I realize there are many great people who “listen” to me on this site…thanks!).

The theme I kept finding throughout the day (or perhaps was seeking), was figuring out where the communities are and why hardware engineers (or even embedded engineers) don’t seem to congregate in one place. This started in the morning talking to James Grenning, a consultant and coach on Agile methodologies; I got talking to him and found that many of the same issues I’ve seen in trying to find analog communities, he has also seen in the embedded community. “Where are they?” we ask. “Why doesn’t there seem to be as much involvement online from the electronics community?”. James specializes in bringing Agile to the embedded community; easy to find people to speak with about the Agile part, less so for the embedded folks.

Towards the end of the day, I had the opportunity to talk to the folks at Element 14, a new engineering community site. I had heard about them earlier in the day; they were on the conference floor giving away iPads and the usual conference swag.  How does a “community” site have the money to attend a conference though? I later found out that they are a subsidiary of Premier Farnell, one of the top 10 electronics components distributors and recent acquirers of the EAGLE CAD program. As of right now, I’m underwhelmed with the site itself (NI uses the same interface and it’s not all that friendly to the eye nor the user), but not necessarily the content. It seems to have some involvement right now, but not the levels that I really desire (I’m hard to please!); I do like that they have qualified “experts” on hand, but haven’t taken a good enough look at them yet to judge how “expert” they might be (assuming I could even tell something like that). I will keep an eye on Element 14 though, because of one of their innovative programs: linking manufacturers to customers. They offer beta services, as in finding and requesting feedback from users on a range of products. In terms of value a site can have for both the user and the sponsors, I believe this is a strong one.

Next I got to meet Karen Field, the head of the new EETimes community, EELife. While this site hasn’t been released yet, the article I saw on it looked like a fancy implementation of a location to share info with other engineers. In fact, it may have been a little too fancy–the release of the site was pushed out from its proposed date. Still, I’m hopeful that the site could actually bring people together. EETimes has a great following in print and online; if there’s one place that people might think to go to first, EETimes might have the name recognition to do it.

Here’s the thought that keeps irking me though: the corporate world isn’t great at “social”. It doesn’t help that engineers aren’t quite social creatures by nature. Sure, some companies use social media to their advantage, but a lot more are using it wrong.

I got a chance to talk to Jason Kridner about why this might be. Jason is one of the many passionate members behind the Beagle Board group, a high powered open-source hardware board based on the TI OMAP processor (though Jason explained that the Beagle Board is a separate entity in every way from TI). When I asked him why communities such as the Beagle Board developers come together, he stated it simply and succinctly: “They unite behind a common purpose”. In the case of the Beagle Board, it’s about having a high power processor on an open platform (possibly contrasted with a slightly simpler Arduino board using an AVR processor, also on an open platform). And the community shows; there are many open projects you can pull down from the GIT tree and start immediately on your Beagle Board. The ones that excite me most are the DIYdrone types of projects.

At the meet and greet later in the evening, I started talking with some conference attendees that also happened to be members of the local hackerspace. They invited me to attend one of their weekly meetings at their location. The Pumping Station 1 (PS1) hackerspace/makerspace has been around for about 2 years now and is one of the only in Chicago as of now (more are forming). It was great seeing this area of shared tools, DIY projects and a general atmosphere of collaboration, for no reason more than these people wanted to make stuff in their spare time. And one of the things I found most interesting is that many of the projects going on at the space were embedded projects! The desire to have things talk wireless almost demands that you start to delve into low level code and be able to get your device talking to another device. So while I came to learn about the broad range of sensors and embedded devices this week, I ended up finding the lower-end (in terms of system complexity) but used for unique and intricate implementations (they had built their own MakerBot to CNC parts right there in the lab…amazing!).

So what was the conclusion to my small quest for finding community among the different factions of the electronics industry? There isn’t one general location or place to gather. And possibly for good reason. It’s more like a democratic republic in that way, where members get to vote with their feet. Say a platform really starts to bog down and no one is developing on it anymore. People aren’t tied to it because the “community” is locked in; instead they just pick up and move platforms. “Don’t like the PIC anymore? Switch to an OMAP! OMAP too expensive? Switch to an AVR!” So perhaps the real need is instead an active listing of where to find all these different communities, in whatever form they take; message boards, blogs, video tutorials, anything and everything–as long as the list stays current, it will be valuable. In fact it would be much more valuable than trying to pull in every single person into one platform.

I didn’t come to these two conferences for this purpose. I could have looked for it at home while browsing the web (I’ve done that before too). But in the midst of walking among many smart people and many products made by other smart people I’ve collected hints. Where to look and who to talk to in order to find the most people interested in technology, in whatever form or level of complexity it may take.