June 01, 2014
Trakdot - An Internet of Things Cautionary Tale
(Photo credit Craig)
This morning my sister sent me a link to a USA Today story "Ultimate Travel Tech Tools and Tips for Families." She knew I would want to read about the new Trackdot, a wireless luggage tracker for frequent fliers. Trakdot's idea is you put this little battery powered device in your luggage before you check it, and then when your luggage arrives at it's desitation, it sends you a text message saying where it is located. That's nice when it lands the same place you do, and really helpful when it lands somewhere else so you can tell the lost luggage department where the luggage actually is. Because you know they don't know where it is most of the time!
The Trakdot costs $49 with free shipping, and there is a $19 per year service plan to pay for its wireless usage. You can also buy it on amazon.com.
Before I go any further, I have to say that I have not yet ordered a Trakdot. I really could use this product, but I found most of the reviews on Amazon, sorted by "most helpful" were pretty bad. To be fair, the most recent reviews are mostly very good.
And this is the point of my post here. The Internet of Things market is going to be full of very cool, inexpensive and useful sounding technology, and some of it is not going to work very well especially in the early days of the products.
What I saw in the early reviews of this product were typical of many new tech products:
- Poorer than advertised battery life
- Confusing and poorly written documentation
- A human interface that is not obvious to use, requiring the use of the poorly written documentation
- Customer service that is either overwhelmed or doesn't care and leaves the early customers who believed in the vision of the product wondering if they made a mistake being an early adopter
- Lots of mentions in the press and in blogs by people (like me) who did not actually get to use the product before writing their breathless reviews about how great the new technology is or is not going to be
- Poor reviews by actual users who are frustrated and want to warn others away from the product
Whenever there is a gold rush mentality in a market, people rush in, money follows and products get shipped before they are ready because the inventors and investors are afraid that someone else is just about to ship and steal the category. In the early days of the gold rush the press believes the PR machine and knows the public is interested in the newest thing, so the reviews tend to be uninformed and glowing.
I am so excited by the Internet of Things - cheap little computers, connected to sensors and to the internet - and it will bring amazing new devices and services to our lives. But I do hate to see companies get caught up in the rush to market with a product before it is quite ready.
Getting back to Trackdot, and reading the latest reviews on Amazon, I see a company that seems to be trying to get back on the right foot with their product launch. The more recent reviews are almost all positive. One reviewer mentioned getting an unsolicited email from the Trackdot CEO applogizing for the issues the reviewer had and then got them replacement devices. They are getting (or generating) great stories in the press. I love the idea of this product, and the price is right for the frequent traveler. I hope they can overcome the early growing pains, but I know if they can't, someone else is right around the corner with a competing product. Either way, in a little while I'm going to be able to track my luggage and most other important things in my life by cheap little devices.
I am a little cautious about the most recent reviews for Trakdot on amazon, because very few seem to be from people who have ever done a review on Amazon before or are verified purchasers of the product, and they also tend to be just a few sentences long. I'll tell you what. If I get 10 comments on this post, I'll buy a Trakdot and try it out, and I'll write an informed review. Until then, consider this post as a cautionary tale about launching new products in general, and not a product review of the Trakdot product.
(Disclaimer: I have not purchased or tested a Trakdot. I am also an amazon.com shareholder. Because I live in Colorado, I will not get even a few pennies if you click through and buy a Trakdot or anything else from this post. I do my best to be independent.)
May 24, 2014
Boulder’s fifth Startup Week is in the history books, and I want to thank everyone involved, especially the founder Andrew Hyde and his great team of hard workers, volunteers and speakers. This was the first time that I’ve been able to participate fully, and it was just what I needed. In the past I’ve been too caught up in my own business to spend the week hanging out with other people who were just starting their journeys in the startup world. I’m sure I would have benefited from the enthusiasm and great ideas being tossed around if I had made time to go in the past, and I expect I’ll spend even more time with the startup community at Boulder Startup Week next year.
May 21, 2014
Autism and Robots
The CDC reports that 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with Autism, and it is five times more common in boys than girls. The rate of diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to AutismAction.org, has been increasing by 10 to 17% per year. Certainly some of that increase comes from better diagnosis, but my understanding is that it is actually increasing in society for as yet not well understood reasons.
May 13, 2014
Denver Mini Maker Faire
I still remember discovering Make Magazine, Issue 2 in early 2005. It looked like a big Readers Digest for hackers (the good kind) and makers. At that time I'm not sure if "maker" was a word, but if Make Magazine didn't invent it, they certainly did their part to popularize it. A maker is a Do It Yourselfer with a techie bent. They might be artists, hackers, engineers, or people who just like to take things apart and put them back together, probably in a different way than how they started.
As Make Magazine launched, they also created Maker Faire which in its first year had over one hundred makers exhibiting all sorts of projects, and in 2012 they drew 120,000 people to the event. I've always wanted to go out for Maker Faire, but while doing Gold Systems I never felt like I had the time. In hindsight, that was silly, but now I intend to make it out there. (ha, get it?)
On May 3rd and 4th of this year, there was a "Mini" Maker Faire held in Denver, and as part of the work I'm doing for 6kites, I got to go with my good friend Marty. While it wasn't huge, it was a lot of fun. The best part was seeing all the kids running around, excited to see and get their hands on all the projects. It gave us hope that young people will want to get involved with engineering. Local Boulder company Sparkfun was out in full force teaching kids how to solder and assemble different kinds of fun electronic kits. I'm really impressed with Sparkfun and want to make it out to their facility tour some Friday afternoon. It will be like the Celestial Seasonings tour for geeks, hackers and makers. Be sure and check out their website at sparkfun.com
So here are some photos of the Mini Maker Faire. If it looks like fun, there will be another one in Fort Collins on October 5th, call the NoCo Mini Maker Faire.
There were many robots of all sizes. Here is one from, I think, the Berthoud Robotics High School club. Marty and I got to drive it around and try to pick up and throw a ball with it.
Here are a couple of amazing R2D2 replicas
Note the sign at the Denver Mad Scientist Club table
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was there, doing some amazing science demonstrations. In this one, they were showing how a supercold piece of metal could be made magnetic, as long as it was cold. I believe he was pouring liquid nitrogen onto the metal. It was better than magic.
Not everything was electronic. There were also quite a few artists showing their work.
Last but not least, perhaps the busiest place during the show was the Sparkfun area. Again, these people do a great job getting kids of all ages learning and playing with electronics.
There was so much more, but this is enough to get you thinking about what you missed. For a list of all the companies and individuals who displayed, check this link.
May 01, 2014
The Internet of Things, and my new thing
My last blog post was November, 2013. A lot has happened since then, and that’s a major understatement. Since then we shut down Gold Systems - I’m not ready to tell that story, or even to say how hard it was to write that just now. That’s for another time when I’m ready to tell the story. But rather than just be quiet until then, let me tell you what’s going on right now.
My good friend Steve gave me a Raspberry Pi in December, and with the help of my other good friend Marty, I got lost in connecting my little computer to the world and learning to write code again. It was thrilling to be back to my roots, working with Linux and actually learning how to connect sensors of all types to my little computer. It was refreshing to not be working in a Microsoft world, and I formatted the disk of my last PC and loaded Redhat Linux on it. (My wife just pointed out that she helped. She knows Linux better than I ever will and I'm grateful to have in-house tech support.) I had been making the move to Apple for some time, but for development I’m really enjoying playing with Linux. And it hasn’t crashed once.
In March I had a chance to go to Adelaide and Sydney Australia to be a mentor at the ANZ Innovyz START technology accelerator. This was my second trip to work with Janna Mathews and the great group of people in Australia, and it was just what I needed to get me thinking about what’s next for me.
While there I spent time with entrepreneurs who are working on 3D printing applications, Internet of Things projects, a game studio and several working to help educate people in entrepreneurship, technology and more. Between the Raspberry Pi, what I learned in Australia, and my fascination with computers that connect, sense and interact with the world, I realized that my next thing would be very different than what I was doing at Gold Systems.
The Boulder entrepreneur community is a wonderful group of careing individuals and many have contacted me and spent time with me. I am very grateful to you all, and I realize I am just getting started on reconnecting. In particular, Herb Morreale, an old friend and the CEO of 6kites, spent time with me and we had many great conversations about entrepreneurship and what opportunities exist today. We realized we both believed that what’s being called “The Internet of Things” could in fact be “The Next Big Thing.” Herb invited me to spend time at 6kites and to help set up the 6kites Labs, so that I could research and experiment with new technologies while keeping an eye open for how this could be a new market for 6kites. I am having a great time looking at the technology and opportunites, and I'll be doing regular blog posts now about what I'm finding. If you are an entrepreneur involved with IoT, I'd love to hear from you.
I just got back to Boulder from a trip back to Kentucky where I attended a board meeting for the International Bluegrass Music Museum. We’re building a new museum as we’ve outgrown the old one, and I’m helping the board to look at new ways to display the artifacts and engage people with the music, and that even ties in a bit with the work I’m doing with Herb and 6kites. Museums have moved beyond static displays and the experience is changing rapidly. It’s an exciting and busy time for me even though I don’t really have “a job” at the moment. I’m looking forward to seeing where the 6kites project goes and figuring out what I want to do next. Perhaps something that ties together my love of music, technology, the Internet of Things and flying . . .
Stay tuned, there's more to come . . .
November 11, 2013
ANZ Innovyze Start Summer 2014 Program
In July of 2012, I was fortunate to be invited to Adelaide, Australia to be a mentor in the first class of start up entrepreneurs in the ANZ Innovyz START technology acelerator. I had a great time, made some new friends, and hopefully gave some of my entrepreneur experience to the group.
The program is going strong, and is now taking applications for the next program. Applications close November 25th, 2013 so get to it if you are at all interested. There actually is a strong Boulder-to-Adelaide connection with quite a few mentors from Boulder making the trip over, and at least one group from Boulder who was selected and participated in the first program.
Entrepreneurs from all over the world will be considered.
August 21, 2013
Sailing an Alien Sea now available at the Tattered Cover
If you've ever visited Denver, and you love books, you've probably been to the Tattered Cover Book Store. When I first moved to Colorado I had never seen a bookstore like the Tattered Cover and I spent many hours in the old Denver store looking at, and buying, so many great books.
They now have three stores, one on Colfax, one in lower downtown and the third in Highlands Ranch. If you haven't been, I have a reason for you to go - my wife's book, Sailing an Alien Sea, is now in stock at the Tattered Cover. I think we're going to go down to Denver this weekend just to see it for ourselves! Don't worry, if you buy the last one before we get there, we'll try again next week.
Seriously, it's a really good book and it is getting great reviews. Out of respect for the Tattered Cover, I won't say where you can find those reviews right now, because if you're going to buy a book this weekend, go to your local book store and give them some love. If you don't live in Colorado, that's OK, your local book store can order it. That's Sailing an Alien Sea, by Cindy L. Gold, ISBN-13: 978-0988520004.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book to review, and most weekends the author buys me breakfast. If she gets famous, (how many authors get rich after all?) I could possibly benefit from her success. Mostly I'm just really, really proud of her ability to tell a great story. The book is fiction, but it is loosely based on two people that I admire greatly. One more disclaimer, the book is not about aliens or sailing. It's a metaphor. It does however show Santa Fe in a very different light than you might get from the Santa Fe Tourism website. I hope one day they forgive her for that. And because the book uses terms that you might not be familiar with unless you are from Santa Fe, such as Arroyo, Toolies, and Zozobra, Cindy has provided a glossery on her website here: http://www.cindygold.net/?q=glossary
July 23, 2013
Celebrating 22 Years with 22 mile run
On June 21nd, Gold Systems celebrated our incorporation twenty-two years ago! Now let me tell you a story about how I ended up running twenty-two miles from my house in Gunbarrel to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain to celebrate the occasion.
Sometime during the dot com boom I was sitting in my backyard with my friend Herb Morreale and we were talking about the difference between companies that give it all they've got for a year or two and companies that take the longer view. From my backyard I can see a few mountain peaks, and I said to Herb, "See that green pointy looking mountain? We couldn't possibly sprint to that mountain from here, but I'll bet we could get there eventually under our own power if we picked our route, planned a little and didn't kill ourselves along the way." It was something like that anyway.
My point was that we were both in businesses where it seemed like we were running a series of marathons rather than one fast sprint. That idea always stuck with me and I reminded people at Gold Systems that to last we needed to sometimes conserve our energy and not burn out along the way.
Later I figured out that the mountain is Sugarloaf Mountain. The peak is about twenty-two miles from my backyard and it stands 3,655 feet higher at 8,917. It's one of our smaller Colorado mountains. About three and a half years ago I started running after reading the book "Born to Run" and the idea of actually running to the top of that mountain started to get more real with every mile I ran.
Just a week or two before the anniversary of Gold Systems I decided it was time to do it. I was in good shape, and it would fall on a Friday so I could run to work in the morning, get a few things done and then take off for the summit after our company Bar B Q.
(Click on the images below to see them full size)
Friday morning arrived sunny and hot, but I was excited to get on the road.
My first view of Sugarloaf after leaving my house came at about mile three. I remember thinking it looked a long way away. I knew I could run the distance but I wasn't as positive about the climb with the heat, but I figured I could just keep going even if I had to walk and I would make it. The photos below make it look a little farther away than it appeard to me then, but not by much!
I arrived at Gold Systems and had a problem to deal with, so that distracted me from the big part of the run head of me. We had a nice Bar B Q around noon where we grilled out hamburgers (beef and vegi) and hot dogs. I had a hamburger and chips and then of course had to have an anniversary cupcake. I wondered how that would sit in my stomach later.
After a few more emails and congratulations to everyone, I hit the road again. The heat hit me and I realized I was going to have to be careful with water. I had a small backpack with water and Gu, and I expected to be able to fill up at Eben G Fine Park towards the end of the Boulder Creek Path.
The Boulder Creek Path is always nice and I used the time to reflect on twenty-two years at Gold Systems. I can't even guess how many people have helped us get to this point. Year ago I calculated that we had created over 1,000 years of employment and it is well beyond that now. So many people have been a part of this and it has gone so far beyond what my co-founder Jim Fudge and I imagined in the beginning. I appreciate everyone who's worked here, and all the friends, partners and customers who kept us going all these years. It hasn't been easy, and it hasn't always been fun, but it's been a great accomplishment by everyone involved.
I remembered to stop for water at the park, but it was overrun with kids, and the line for the water was just too long. I reasoned that I hadn't drank that much and though I got a quick drink, I didn't fill up my pack. We have a saying at Gold Systems - "Lessons will be repeated until learned."
The Boulder Creek Path starts climbing up alongside Canyon Boulevard and I was suddenly out of the shade. I wondered about finding another water stop but didn't want to add even more miles to a run that was looking big enough already.
This is what it looked like for the couple of miles that I was on Canyon. I was worried about getting through the tunnel since there is only the smallest of sidewalks, but I picked my time and sprinted through when there were no cars in sight. I made it to the other end just before a car came around the bend. Sometimes even when you are running a long distance, you have to sprint, so it's best to have some reserves in the tank for the occasion. Same as in business.
I also had to jump from one side of the road to the other quite a few times over the next two miles. The shoulder was OK, but it wasn't consistent on either side. Minor course corrections are to be expected.
The cars rushing by helped to make the time pass quickly and I was on Sugarloaf road in less than 20 minutes after leaving the trail. That's where the real climb begins, and thankfully there were some clouds to keep some of the sun off of my head. In just another 20 minutes or so I had climbed (slowly!) up enough to have a good view of the canyon and Boulder Creek below. This was starting to get real.
From Sugarloaf Road to Sugarloaf Mountain Road it is 4.7 miles, and it is steep uphill all the way. I ran as much as I could and walked when I needed to, but I kept going. People driving uphill in cars would wave, as would people on bikes flying downhill. I only saw one guy riding uphill and an hour later he passed me on his way back down and seemed really surprised to see me still going. He said "wow!" as he zoomed past, and that one word carried me up the next couple of miles. Whoever you are, thank you!
I've seen a lot of interesting things on the roadside as I've ran, but finding a telephone jack on the side of the road seemed surreal. How many phone lines have I touched in twenty-two years? And what does it mean that this jack is just sitting here on the side of the road? It probably fell out of a truck, maybe on its way to the dump. Times are changing.
Most of the rest of the way up Sugarloaf Road I ran on the road, with quick hops to the shoulder when I imagined that a driver was texting as they made this drive to Boulder for the ten thousandth time. By the way, I was wearing my Fivefinger shoes all the way, until I got to the trailhead and changed into trail shoes for the last rocky mile.
Finally I came around a curve and saw Sugarloaf Mountain for the first time since I was East of Boulder. It was great to see it looking so big, but it was still a ways off and the clouds were getting darker. I was also starting to worry about my water supply, like you do when you pass a gas station on the Interstate with an 1/8th of a tank of gas and an untrustrwory gas gauge.
Around 4:30 in the afternoon, I got to my last turn. I had a good map and a cheat sheet of the turns and milestones, so I knew I was getting close and that I could finish it when I turned on to Sugarloaf Mountain Road.
And then right about here, on the last few miles to the trail head, I ran out of water. When I say "trail head" that's where most people park their cars to begin the hike to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. I was expecting a friend to be there with a bag I had put together with water, food, and my trail shoes for the rocky last mile, so I wasn't worried when I ran out of water. I also figured I could go back a mile or two and knock on the door of a house or cabin and beg for water if I needed it.
Unfortunately my friend missed the turn and went about 10 miles on down the road. Lucky for me there was a guy there packing up his ATV and he gave me a couple of bottles of water, so I sat on a rock and enjoyed being off my feet until my friend found his way back to the trail head. Although it still looks like a long way to the top in the photo below, it was only another .68 miles.
It was a nice walk up to the summit, with great views on all sides.
If you click on the photo below you can see my starting point that morning way off in the distance. Maybe you can, because I couldn't see my part of the county much less my house, but it's out there somewhere.
I expect I'll always remember this run, and I hope it always inspires me. I had run the Colfax Marathon a month before and barely finished, and it was on flat pavement. A lesson here is that things can and often do get better. I could have convinced myself not to even try the Sugarloaf run based on that marathon experience. This should have been a harder run, but it wasn't. Probably because I wanted this one so bad and I really did enjoy the experience of doing something that I had only imagined might be possible years before. Or maybe it was just a different day and because I tried, I did it.
This run was really a tribute as much as it was a test. Thanks to my wife Cindy (who has a new book for sale! :-) ) She still doesn't know why I would do something like this but she still supports me. And I'm talking about both the company and the run. Thanks to Jim for suggesting we start a company way back when, and thanks to everyone else who has worked here or been a customer or who has just dropped in to help when needed. This run's for you!
July 13, 2013
My Wife, the Author
May 16, 2013
I've flown 152,820 miles since 1-13-09
According to tripit.com, I've flown 152,820 miles since January 13, 2009.
I'm a big fan of tripit.com. If you travel at all, you should check it out because it is the very best way I've found to organize travel information such as flights, hotel reservations and rental cars. When I book a flight, I get an email from the airline. I then forward that email to email@example.com and it magically puts it into my intenerary for that trip. Same thing for other reservations. Then while I'm traveling I can use the web or a mobile device to look and see where I need to be next. It's even smart enough to tell me if a flight is delayed and it will suggest alternate flights. They also make it easy to print a paper copy, just in case the electronics fail, and you can easily email your travel plans to other people.
This afternoon I was planning a quick business trip and I noticed that Tripit also keeps track of total trips and miles flown. Here are my stats since I joined Tripit January 13, 2009.
That's a lot of miles, even though many people fly a lot more than I do. This year I've done a lot of customer visits and a couple of personal trips. In the past four years and four months, I've flown the equivalent of a little more than six times around the world, at the equator. Again, I know people who fly way more than me, but I was surprised at just how many miles I've flown. I wish I knew how many miles I've flown in my life! United says I've flown 555,171 miles just with them, not including all the flights that they didn't credit me for, so maybe the total is a million or more. Wow, I've probably flown more miles than I've driven!