A fake inventor vs. true inventor, Theranos vs. Laser Printer

When you look at Theranos Edison machine it looks a lot like a laser printer size device.

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Watching the HBO The Inventor documentary is a good lesson in not what to do. Elizabeth Holmes in one scene claimed to be an engineer. To me an engineer is a person like Gary Starkweather who is the inventor of the laser printer. Think of what Gary figured out 50 years ago. He said let’s replace the white light copier method with a laser light to rasterize the image. We can print anything a computer would image. In 1970 so many Xerox executives in the copier business argued against the project. Luckily Gary was able to escape Xerox HQ and go to PARC and continue his effort. At PARC Gary was surrounded by people who were inventing ethernet for networking, postcript for graphics and type, mice, and ultimately after the work was done people wanted to print it. With what? A dot matrix printer. ugh. The first laser printer printed 4 million pages in one year at PARC.

Unfortunately, 50 years ago Gary wasn’t considered a hero at Xerox HQ to the point where let’s reward him for his effort. He didn’t own half the company like Elizabeth Holmes. What Gary did do is he persevere in proving every denier wrong that his invention, the laser printer would work. At the same time he built an elegantly simpler way to print leveraging the power of lasers and computer circuits to rotate the mirror and aim the beam.

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A few good links if you are interested in reading more are:

https://natsci.msu.edu/natsci-profiles/gary-starkweather-perseverance-laser-vision-lead-to-printer-innovation/

https://digitalprinting.blogs.xerox.com/2017/06/29/marking-40-years-of-xerox-laser-printing-with-its-inventor-gary-starkweather/

There is a whole chapter in Dealers of Lightning where Gary is the star as “The Refuge.”

If anyone symbolized the gulf separating the inventors of the future in Palo Alto from the Xerox development drones back East, that person was Gary Starkweather.

I never met Elizabeth Holmes, and I can’t think of many who would be brag of knowing her well. I do know Gary Starkweather. We worked together at Apple discussing scanning, imaging, and printing issues. When I went to Microsoft in 1992 I would keep in touch with Gary and we would chat regularly as I was still working on fonts, printing, and imaging issues at Microsoft trying to figure out what Microsoft needed to do to have a presence in the desktop publishing industry. In 1997, in one of discussions Gary expressed his frustrations and I told him why doesn’t he join Microsoft. Made introductions. Microsoft HR was all over it, claiming they bagged a huge win. Which nicely turned into a good offer for Gary to join Microsoft Research. Gary and I chatted when he joined the company and we were both in Redmond. So I know the laser printer story well and what Gary is capable of as a true inventor.

When I realized the way to solve the construction information problem, it reminded me of the challenges Gary had when people wanted to do things the same way they had done in the past. In construction most investments that are called innovative are so many times just digitizing of manual processes to mobile devices. Gary is 80 years old, and as sharp as ever. We chatted and I wanted to see what he thought of the invention that I had. He agreed it was big and good. And I asked if he would be an advisor. Gary said absolutely. Good ideas get better when you get smart people to make input and you listen.

I don’t think in the story of Elizabeth Holmes’s Theranos story she says she discussed her invention with another smart person and they pointed out an area that needed to be addressed.

The huge operations issue for 5G, getting Cloud Operations Staff

I have been in Seattle area for 27 years. And the area is known for being cloudy.

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The top cloud companies Amazon and Microsoft are headquartered here. Google has a large presence. Faceebook too. Seattle has the highest concentration of cloud workforce in the world. T-mobile is headquartered here. AT&T has a large presence in Redmond.

5G requires a cloud-native core. You go to Ericsson, Huawei, and Nokia’s 5G architecture and they all mention cloud. Here is Nokia.

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Chatting with a friends and family we have made the observation that it is extremely hard to hire cloud operations staff. If you want to learn and be trained you go to Amazon, Microsoft, or Google. And many go to multiple. Then you look for whether you want to go to a startup and try that path or be a free agent go where is the top money and build up your resume. In this plan do any of these people say I am going to spend 5-10 years working on my resume then I am going to work for a Telco. No. Every Telco has failed with its own cloud services. What would lead an educated cloud expert to think going to a Telco will be worth their time. Seems riskier to go to a Telco than going to a startup.

Now some of you may disagree with this view. That’s OK. The problem is there are lots of cloud people who have no plans to even look at a Telco cloud operations job. So the Telco is faced with the option to retrain its existing staff for cloud operations which is being done with SDN, NFV, and VNF. Yeah try to figure out what that stuff does and how it fits together. :-) And it requires system level skills as a service based architecture is about how all the pieces work together.

On top of that the number of 5G radios deployed will grow a magnitude or more to support the latency, throughput, and range issues of the new spectrums.

If you listen to the 5G hype you think it is right around the corner. The problem is cloud operations staff will severely limit rollouts at scale.

What got me started working on Construction Problems

My dad was a Civil Engineer and worked for CalTrans. So as a child I was exposed to being a survey monkey holding the stick in the backyard as my dad word survey fence lines, drainage, concrete pours. My dad taught me trigonometry when I was in 3rd grade. At the time I didn’t think that my dad wanted me to be a civil engineer too. When it came to deciding what I wanted to be and study my choice was Industrial Engineering where skills in science, mathematics, finance, and operations came together. 4 years at CAL. 26 years at HP, Apple and Microsoft where I could use the IE degree. Don’t know what I would be doing if I was a Civil E. Maybe working on construction.

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My first exposure to data center issues came when i met Mike Manos over breakfast and he wanted me to work for him. And that got me started working on data center issues that needed to be communicated. This is when I was developing the media role. Next i met a general contractor executive who was working on the first eBay data center and they needed help on the media strategy. This is when I got an inside look at how a GC worked. Taking trips to HQ, sitting in meetings, listening. And figuring out that this a completely different world where words meant different things. Or what the GC considered technical leadership was not in the world of technology.

One example is when the GC was excited to show its integration with Sharepoint and Office products. I told them NO. This is eBay. The data center team is anti-Microsoft. It is about open source software. What’s that? OK. Talk about the building problems you are solving, but don’t say Microsoft. Got it.

After I felt like I learned enough at the GC I switched to work with eBay as a consultant for Olivier Sanche. Olivier passion for green data centers is where we spent a lot of time, and we chatted about his going to Apple his dream job and asked me what it was like to work there.

Going to conferences I met all kinds of GCs, AE, commissioning companies, electrical, and HVAC companies blogging about how they fit in green data centers. While doing this i was understanding each of how these pieces fit together. Next it was the real estate companies and developers. With a picture of how the all the pieces interact including servers, networking, software, Cloud, IOT, AI, ML. etc I could see the problems.

Things like why Lean Construction doesn’t work near as well as as how Toyota Way impacts Toyota. Revit should be the big enabler for BIM, but when you dive down deep into how the Revit data format works you find critical flaws. Stuff that are like the file format nightmares in the Mac OS and Windows OS which is part of what I got exposure working as a project manager on System 7 and program manager on Windows NT.

Just like the GC who wanted to talk about technology to sell how good they are, the issue is people don’t see the right problem to solve.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were phenomenally good creating Apple and Microsoft because they prioritize the right problems to solve.

I can thank Mike Manos, the eBay data center GC, and Olivier Sanche for getting me started to understood construction. The nice thing is working on solving the construction problems has expanded what I look at beyond data centers. Navigating getting PR approval to discuss projects is not easy. It is what I used to do as part of a media strategy. So talking about projects that are over 8 years old is what I can do for now.

What I can do is write about general issues not specific to any current project.

Adding the other stuff to construction and wireless

Making construction information system works requires wireless. Well you can try it without wireless and you will not get far. To get wireless to work there is a lot of details you need to work on. Like how do you divide up the wireless Internet connection between the different users and their devices.

Let’s go through this example. I’ll be using my home business network as an example. I have a 150 mbps Comcast business connection. I have 7 WiFI access points in three different buildings all tied together into a wireless controller. Why a WiFi controller? Because that is how I get the performance data from each of the wireless access points and can see the wireless connections to each device.

Before that is an open source router, pfSense. On pfSense you can run traffic shaping.

Traffic shaping is a bandwidth management technique used on computer networks which delays some or all datagrams to bring them into compliance with a desired traffic profile.[1][2] Traffic shaping is used to optimize or guarantee performance, improve latency, or increase usable bandwidth for some kinds of packets by delaying other kinds. It is often confused with traffic policing, the distinct but related practice of packet dropping and packet marking.[3]

When I first turned off traffic shaping the test to see how well things work is how well did my son’s xbox games play. He was beating his friends playing a range of games, because my son now had a dedicated bandwidth so he was not dropping packets if the network was being hit by other high traffic loads.

Most consumer solutions WiFi will maximize speeds for a given user to allow speedtest numbers to be as high as possible. When I run a speed test I’ll get numbers below the 150 mbps limit as the traffic shaping software manages how much connection any one device can get and makes sure there is capacity in reserve for higher priority uses like VOIP or video calls.

This is just one example of the other stuff to discuss to make wireless work in construction.

Time to change what I write on this blog, semi-retiring the media role

I haven’t been writing on this blog as much as I have in the past. I resist the urge to switch to Twitter, Facebook, Medium or other publishing platforms.

This past week an executive at one of the big data center companies was promoted to a VP of technical communications. I reached out to congratulate the executive as it has been a pleasure to see him rise at the company.

Having the media role I have made great friends in the industry like GigaOm. Many of the other data center and technical publications. But, I have been getting bored of the data center news. I started writing about Green Data Centers because no one was discussing the topic. Now all the big companies Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and even Amazon have green initiatives as part of their data center efforts. No one talks about PUE because it is already a standard metric to measure efficiency of electrical and cooling systems.

During the break from blogging I have gone back to what I really enjoy. Solving tough problems. Writing about green data center was a tough problem. Now it is easy. It is boring, but at the time of figuring out how to write about a technical issue it was a challenge. When I started it was hard to get an answer to how much power was used by the cooling system. How much was is used by the cooling system. What drove me is the problems that it was hard to get an answers.

So what am I focusing on now? Two things. Construction processes and Wireless.

10 years ago I worked extensively on the eBay data center and GC Skanska. At first I was hired by Skanska to work on marketing and public relations issues, and they quickly found out that I knew way more technical knowledge. Spending 26 years at HP, Apple, and Microsoft being an industrial engineer working on quality control, manufacturing, distribution logistics, procurement, OEM program management, peripheral product development, System 7 software development, TrueType, Windows program manager, Interactive TV, Windows Technical Evangelism, Windows Server program management, and Systems architecture gives me a broad background to dive into almost any area I choose.

What I found phenomenally interesting is how a GC worked. After working with Skanska, I spent lots of time talking to friends at Turner Construction and gradually understand the world construction and how it worked. And I would talk to friends at Syska and CH2MHill. Many of these conversations would be ones at the conference hotel bars or hallways of the conference. With these conversations I figured out there was a need for a better construction application. The insights of building a construction mobile application with backend AWS infrastructure is a longer post that is complex to explain and probably put most of you asleep. I know when i tell my family the story they go to sleep.

But out of that boredom, realized that is mind numbing hard to do. There is something that needs to be done to make it easier. And that led me to wireless and what could be done.

I hope to write a lot more that I semi-retired the media role and I will write about construction and wireless.

Note: when I first wrote this post I said I was retiring the media role, but after reflecting a bit it is more like semi-retirement. It is no longer a focus to be a media person. I can still do it. More as a hobby. I am spending more of time as an engineer which is what I have done more of my life. Focusing on media gave me a chance to focus on the challenges of communicating.