Is the auto industry approaching a tipping point?

imgresAs you can tell from the abundance of blog posts about Tesla both on this blog and on the internet at large, many of us are interested in what Tesla has going on. Much of the interest on my part is focused on the new technology that is transforming how we drive. It has become clear recently that the industry is fighting these changes on every front. This seems to be the standard response to new ideas, (think digital music and the fight that nearly killed the music industry).
Not being an expert on the automotive industry I was surprised to find out that several lawsuits have been filed at the state level to block the direct sale of Tesla vehicles by Tesla to consumers. While I never really gave much thought to whom I was really buying a car from, it turns out that it wasn’t directly from the car manufacture, it was from an independent dealer.  A few Google searches later and it was clear that the independent dealership model is protected by state law. While I understand how this law came into existence, is it time for a change?  Tesla seems to think so, are they right? We’ll soon find out!

Two weeks with a Jawbone UP band.

imgres-2In early 2012 I had the pleasure of attending TEDMED, if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a healthcare conference that focuses on innovation. Part of their misson is also to be socially conscientious, this corporate initiative ended up causing the swag bag to have coupons for things instead of the the actual items. One could debate the carbon footprint of shipping things versus me carrying them home in my bag with me, but I won’t do that today.  One of the items in this very nice bag was a coupon for a Jawbone UP band. The UP band is a 3D accelerometer shaped as a bracelet, used to calculate daily movement. I can understand Jawbone’s idea, give their new personal heath product to a group of vocal, influential and tech centric conference attendees to test out. This premise while sound at the time, backfired somewhat due to the problems that Jawbone had manufacturing these devices. Fast-forward to February 2013, I come home one day to a FedEx package, did I order something? I certainly didn’t remember ordering anything(but that’s not that unusual)… I open it and there staring back at me is a black UP band. It took me a few minutes to remember why I had one of these on my kitchen table, but it all slowly came back to me. Being the gadget freak that I am, I decided to give it a try to use it for two weeks to see what I thought.

The setup of the band was pretty simple, after downloading the UP app, I plugged it into my smartphone’s headphone jack . The app found the band and asked me some setup questions about my weight, height and gender, and that was it, it was ready to use.  The UP has some nice features besides being a fancy pedometer. It can also wake you up in the AM, with a subtle vibration, within a predetermined window you specify. It can monitor your sleep quality and time spent in bed. It can also remind you to get up and move around if you are inactive for a predetermined time.  These features are nice additions that most of the other products in this space don’t offer.

After using it for a few weeks, I can say I like it. It has definitely changed my activity level in a positive way. I like being awoken by its subtle vibrations and I can say being able to quantify my sleep habits has shown me that I sleep less than I think I do… I would like to see a web presence for my collected data. As it is currently setup, the data only resides on my smartphone. I think a cloud store of the data would be a welcome addition. Another negative aspect of the band is the small cover for the headphone jack, it is a terrible idea. I predict it will be lost within the next few weeks, once that happens it will be very uncomfortable to wear… Overall the UP is nice, however I’m not sure it can out shine the many competitors that have entered this space within the past year, only time will tell.

Can a 3d printer make molecules or even custom medicine?

3dlabThat’s just what Lee Cronin aims to find out. The idea of 3d printing has been in the mythology of science fiction for years. The most iconic probably is the Star Trek replicator. This twist on the idea consists of taking the atomic building blocks of a molecule and putting them together not through chemical transformations alone but through a combination of physical and chemical manipulation. The developers of this technology are calling it making an app out of chemistry. Ultimately the end goal is to allow anyone with the printer to make their own custom medicine, how great would that be?  It’s one more innovative use of 3d printing technology. There is a short Ted Talk that describes this work by Lee Cronin, it’s a good watch and linked here.

3 months with a Nest thermostat made me a believer

imgresI have been using a Nest Wifi enabled, internet connected, thermostat for about 3 months. Three of the coldest months ever in the NY area. I can say that I was a skeptic about their cost savings claims, but I wanted the ability to control the heating in my house from the internet.  I took the plunge and installed them in my home. The first noticeable change came about a week from installation. I realized I was never cold in my home. With my original thermostats, I had a tendency to keep the temperature relatively stable at 65 degrees. I never set a schedule and infrequently lowered or raised the temperature due to my comfort.  I guess you could chalk that up to laziness…. Sometimes that meant I was too hot or too cold and sometimes just right. With Nest, I followed their instructions, and basically I set the temperature to my comfort whenever I was in the house. In a few days, Nest had learned what temperatures I liked and at what time I liked them. Nest had also figured out when I was in the house and when I was not, allowing the temperature to drop the an “away” mode that saved on energy. One weekend morning after getting out of the shower I noticed that I was very comfortable even though I was still a little wet. Nest had figured out that on the weekends I get up a little later and it keep the temperature a little hotter a bit longer than normal, very nice Nest! As I became accustomed to Nest tailoring the temperature to my every whim, I began to think that I was probably using more energy than I ever had. Previously, I’d rarely touched the old thermostat and I was always cold in the winter, surely being comfortable all the time had to cost more… It turns out that I was wrong. One of the added features of the Nest thermostat is a monthly email describing how many hours you are heating your home per month. I had actually decreased my usage each month as the system had become more in sync with my habits. I also checked my energy bill from the same time last year (I know, not apples to apples due to weather) and it was roughly 15% less this year versus last. I for one am sold. I plan to continue to monitor for efficiency but from a comfort standpoint I’m very happy!

Do classrooms benefit from more tech?

imgresI recently read a post by David F. Carr from Information Week, entitled “Classroom technology faces skeptics at research universities.” His detailing of a study done and published in the January edition of the Journal, Science, Technology & Hunan Values. Basically, professors at top universities don’t like being told to use technology in their classrooms, and they also feel in most cases that the technology does not add any value to the education.  While I can see both sides of this argument, and even though I am somewhat of technophile, I can freely say tech isn’t always the answer. However, I can’t image that interactive tablet textbooks or apps like LeafSnap don’t make a huge difference in actual learning, at any university. Is this a case of technology being used for the sake of technology, or does technology in the classroom make learning better? From what I can tell it’s probably a mix of both.  Some professors commented that they were forced to put notes online when and an emailed Powerpoint (also a type of tech BTW) or simple paper copy would suffice.  I can see how that may come off as tech for the sake of tech. On the other hand, I would have loved a reliable place I could look when I missed class, so that I could catch up on notes and assignments. I would probably have missed class a lot more, I guess that’s a vote for remote learning! I’m interested in your thoughts on this, on either side of the arugment…