Friday, February 27, 2015

Blue Black White Gold and RIP

"You're out of your mind, Bones! The clearly... blue... and black!!" - Kirk
"Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor not a fashion designer, but the dress is clearly white and gold"
- McCoy
"Light enters the eye through the lens—different wavelengths corresponding to different colors. The light hits the retina in the back of the eye where pigments fire up neural connections to the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes those signals into an image. Critically, though, that first burst of light is made of whatever wavelengths are illuminating the world, reflecting off whatever you’re looking at. Without you having to worry about it, your brain figures out what color light is bouncing off the thing your eyes are looking at, and essentially subtracts that color from the “real” color of the object."
- Spock
RIP Leonard Nimoy
(and thanks for the explanation Jay Neitz, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington.)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Creating Long Term Engagement with Outreach

The outreach engagement in service to the community starts with a project:

Institute of Technology, Student Project with JBLM’s Fisher House

Historically, military families traveling to Madigan Army Medical Center at JBLM who wanted to stay at nearby Fisher House had to download, print, and fax, or scan and email necessary information forms to Fisher House for verification before being able to reserve their stay. The process was slow and difficult for families who were often traveling and did not have access to the technology they needed to be able to return the forms quickly. Families can now submit their applications online thanks to a team of UW Tacoma students who built online useable forms and a supporting database for Fisher House.

The project was an assignment in Andrew Fry’s “Managing Technical Teams” course in University of Washington Tacoma’s Institute of Technology calling on students to directly make a contribution to the community utilizing technology.

Though I go into the course with several projects in my back pocket that will meet the requirement of "Making a Contribution to the Community Utilizing Technology" ( a mantra in the class) my initial push is for the student teams to find the projects themselves.  It is an opportunity for them to help an organization they have an affiliation with or support for.  An example is that in college when I acted a a philanthropy officer I worked to raise money for the American Diabetes Association, as my father had the disease.

The most successful teams in the course are usually driven by a project manager(s) who has a personal interest in the success of the effort.

Such was the case for the group of students who gave themselves the team name of Altruistic Technologies.  They have the matching T-shirts to further embrace their identity.  There work on the Fischer House was one of the prime examples of how a student team can make a difference to a non-profit.  The Foundation explains their service such:

Fisher House Foundation is best known for a network of comfort homes where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment.
These homes are located at major military and VA medical centers nationwide, close to the medical center or hospital they serve. Fischer Houses have up to 21 suites, with private bedrooms and baths. Families share a common kitchen, laundry facilities, a warm dining room and an inviting living room. Fisher House Foundation ensures that there is never a lodging fee. Since inception, the program has saved military and veterans’ families an estimated $235 million in out of pocket costs for lodging and transportation.

At the end of the quarter the team presented the results of their project and announced that two of the students would continue the work through internship.  The next quarter another student on the team took to baton and carried on the work to a ninth month of service.  Today I found out that four students will be next up in created a phase two for the Fischer House as part of their Senior Project.
This all caught the attention of three star General Lanza, who came by yesterday to recognize the great work that these students were part of.  Congrats team Altruistic Technologies Branden Hiatt (Retired Sergeant First Class),  Chi Sennhotz (Army Veteran),  Xiaoju Bin,  Kyle Veldhuizen,  Sung Lee,  Saurabh Singh and Nick Kravchuk

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tacoma Means Business on Business Matters

During the month of December I am featured on the program Business Matters talking about "word clouds" in the Tacoma Means Business segment.  In this segment, I am particularly ill dressed and my hair is quite disheveled.  My fault of course as I took time off from a rather busy week of classes, work and family activity to record the segment.

I generally do three to four segments a sitting, so I believe I am representing myself as somewhat slovenly for the months of Oct through December.  I just wrapped up four more last week so at least I will be in a nice jacket with a reasonable hair situation four the first third of 2015.

I started doing the segment back when it was called Economic Gardening about five years ago.  They changed the name when it became clear that too many people thought it was a gardening segment.  I can imagine viewers writing in to complain about the decided lack of plants.  At that time it was on a rotating basis with other industry experts.  In all I have probably recorded about 35 or more segments to date thanks to producer David Gordon putting up with my winging it half the time.

What is funny is that I never have thought about it much, other than I enjoy doing them, but when I was younger there was nothing more that I wanted than to be a television reporter.  My first few years of working were with KIRO television in the news room as a floor director/chyron operator.  I then went to the film room (yes, we would run film to be shown on television and I would trim down the movies and shows to fit the time period) and eventually worked for PM Magazine for a while.  My first company out of college was a video production company before I changed careers and went into the field of software and application development.

At this point I am simply happy to be able to do what I love.  Teaching, connecting people, organizing conferences and entrepreneurial events, raising a family and occasionally showing up on Channel 12 in the South Sound on Business Matters, hosted by Mike Wark.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Opening of the Tacoma Art Museums Newest Wing

It is just a stunning November day in Tacoma and after grading a few mid-terms I decided to head out over the to the opening of Tacoma Art Museum's new wing which was housing the Art of the American West: The Haub Family Collection.  But first, I had to find it.

I was hopeful that this kindly prospector might be able to help me get my bearings.  Even, though it was clear to me from the sign post that the seasonal Polar Rink would be open over at Tollefson Plaza the remaining destinations seemed more like upcoming attractions.  He looked up from his gold pan and stared.  Finally he said "blue cross" or "blue blanket" or "blue blanket cross". and went back to work.

Then I spotted it.

On the exterior of what was in fact the new wing of the museum was an installation, which on closer examination was stacks of blue blankets crossing each other and attaching themselves to the wall.

I entered into the Tacoma Art Museum after being given a wristband which would allow me entrance to the Haub Collection at 12:30pm.  I grabbed one of the free mini cupcakes and tossed it back like a shot of whiskey.  With a little time to spare I went through other exhibit halls.

I found a group of Daffodil Princesses who had undoubtedly come for the very same opening I was attending.

I entered the gallery at 12:30 and it was fascinating to me and the many others who had come to the opening.

There were many stunning pieces in bronze, in watercolor and in oil.

As I left, knowing I would return again, I noticed the princesses having trouble with their vehicle, so I stopped to help before heading along my way.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Microsoft Development Once Again Comes to Campus

Last year I met Jeremy Foster from Microsoft and asked him if he could come down to the Institute of Technology and do a presentation on mobile application development on the Windows mobile phone platform.  We decided on a "brown bag".  Brown bags are one hour presentations given during lunch for whoever is interested in sitting in.

We didn't know what to expect but it went very well.  Forty five students attended, and all of them had intelligent questions and enthusiastic discussion between attendees and presenters.  So much so that Jeremy and I agreed to bring him back for a longer period of hands on work with mobile development which ended up being the "Build a Mobile App in a Day" event that was attended by about 200 students and members of the community.

Now we have the third visit and this time we are covering multiple platforms for development including Azure, mobile apps, web development and more.

I just kept it to student invites with a couple special outsiders brought in, and the attendance is easily over 120 for the day.  Once again, great technology discussion, development and execution being demonstrated on campus.

The presentation slides can be found at

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Say Hello to the Savannah Plant

My office plant is 21 years old.  I know this because it is the same age as my oldest daughter Savannah, with whom it shares a name.  My daughter had the name first of course, and I didn't name the plant until a few months later.

When my wife had our first child, I did not want to bring flowers to her room because at the time I was worried about her allergies.  Instead I brought a baby plant in a very small container.  The drive home with the human baby in the back of the car was nerve racking to me and like first time fathers, I was a bit overprotective.

Not so with the plant.  It came home with us along with the balloons and flowers and other well wishing items in a box or possibly even in the trunk of the car.  It sat in our home for a while before I eventually took it with me to my office in Pioneer Square, Seattle.  There is sat by my desk, in many ways ignored.  It started to grow its trunk, a spindly little thing.  Then one day I came back from lunch and found it doubled over, unable to stand up due to dehydration.

I was going to toss it.  I had more pressing concerns like running a company then worrying about being an abusive plant owner.  Erin, one of the project managers would occasionally tsk tsk me and water it, but that was about the only care it got.

So I was about to chuck it when the irrational me stopped me.  "This is the plant you brought your wife when you had your first born child!  This is "The Savannah Plant!".

Don't name your plants.

Someone in the office had gone for Chinese food and had brought back some chopsticks.  I took a string, propped up the plant and tied the chopsticks to the trunk to stabilize it.  Then I watered it thoroughly.  I was impressed with how after only a couple of days of care it began to show some strength. 

I kept that plant with me and it began to grow taller than I expected it.  For goodness sake it started to look more like a tree.  The closest thing I have found to identifying it is a ponytail palm.  Pretty soon it was about three feet tall and took up a bit of space in my office.  I had to change the container to a bigger more accommodating size twice over.

Then I took it back home with me when the company was sold and I moved on.  I placed it in my home office where it continued to grow, but with an uneven amount of sun and a lot of bulk.

I would keep turning it as it grew toward the window light, and it lost many of the lower branches.  I knew I couldn't plant it outside but it was looking pathetic with only a few palm leaves on the top.  It had reached around seven feet in height.  The final straw came when someone noticed the spiders making there home in the few branches at the top and even in the trunk below.

That Fall, around ten years ago I lost the argument with myself.  Savannah plant or not, it had to go.  Like ripping off a band aid, I jumped from my desk and grabbed it by the trunk (avoiding the spiders).  I roughly carried it out with me out through the back yard.  I swung it hard enough to dislodge the current pot it resided in, I broke it in half and chucked it onto the pile of yard waste, trimmings and broken tree branches that would wait until Spring before being hauled off.

I stayed away from the bone yard by the side of the house that Winter, and it wasn't until Spring that I borrowed the truck to haul the materials away.

When I turned the corner of the house with the intent of cleaning out the side yard I had to stop and look for a few minutes.  The broken trunk of the tree remained bare, but from the root ball the plant had continued to grow.  It looked a bit like it did when I first brought it to the hospital on Oct 15th, 1993.

I went into the garage and found a suitable pot for it's size.  I replanted it and took it to my first office at the University of Washington Tacoma.  It has had two transplants since then.

It is back to four feet tall and probably needs a new pot.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"What is the Married Name of my Middle Sister" and the Virtual Scavenger Hunt

About 10 years ago I was thinking of how to create an assignment that was both an examination of search tools and hopefully a lot of fun.  I also wanted to open their eyes to how much personal information was available on the web.  So for my class Living and Working in a Virtual World I put together a virtual scavenger hunt.  Back in 2007 I wrote about it here on this blog.

I have been conducting the hunt once or twice every year since, depending on when I am scheduled to teach the course.  Each year, as search technologies and specialized sites such as Redfin, Expedia, Amazon and Facebook further dominate our lives, the items on the list have gotten easier to find and retrieve.  And as for personal information, the default seems to be that it is freely given without any worry.

Where once the hunt would take an entire class period, with only one third of the items found by much the participating teams, it now takes only about one hour for several of the teams to find them all.

And I have tried to make them more difficult.  Some are items from the first hunt, which by virtue of being dated have become more difficult to find.  But there is one in particular that I want to mention.

Item number 19 on this years hunt reads.  "What is the married name of my middle sister?"

Think about that.  These students only know me as their professor, with only my name and affiliation with the university as a starting point.  They need to be able to find out about my family, the order in which they were born and who they married.  All in about 5 minutes, as it is the last item on the list.

Remember when "What is your mothers maiden name?" was a common password check?

This year of the ten teams participating, four gave me the married name of my youngest sister and two gave me the name of my eldest, with only one team succeeding in finding the married name of the middle sister.

You may not be shocked, you may be concerned, but for the most part, in the present day you should at least be aware.