Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday
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Thinking inside the box
Not a terribly clever heading and i can’t imagine i’m the first to use it for an intro to…
i was invited to tour this amazing facility by the director of CWRU’s Blackstone Launchpad program, Bob Sopko. Launchpad, funded by a charitable organization, exists to help train the next generation of entrepreneurs in Northeast Ohio, and from what i’ve discovered so far they’re doing a fantastic job. Meeting with Bob was a real treat, and while walking around CWRU’s campus chatting with him it’s clear that he is extremely well-connected and knowledgeable about all things technology.
On our way to think[box], we passed through a student lounge where Bob pointed out another Cleveland entrepreneur’s presence – they have their own Melt restaurant on campus. But the bigger news out of the space was the huge touchscreen news hub that we stopped to check out.
For the meat of the tour, Bob showed me around inside think[box], a 4,500 square foot space which serves as a center of innovation for anyone – not just students. The center’s resources are available for use by anyone with a project to work on, providing both space and people “to tinker and creatively invent.”
Inside think[box] is pretty much anything you can think of for creating and bringing a project to market, and before you think there’s some kind of catch, the university has no ownership rights on anything developed inside. Inventors retain intellectual property rights on whatever they create, with a few exceptions (like if you’re working on further development of technology already owned or invented by the university). Users don’t even need to get permission or disclose their work to the university.
The facility does not have any age restrictions either. The website lists guidelines for minors from K-12, and Bob said they’ve certainly hosted young inventors from time to time in the three years that think[box] has been up and running.The coolest thing about think[box] is that they have resources available to shore up whatever side of a project you need help with. For example, if you’ve got your prototype ready but you’re lacking in the artistic department, they have art and design services that can work with you to create logos, packaging and help refine product design. Likewise, there are business and finance specialists, legal advisers, engineering assistance and more.
Essentially, if you have an idea, there’s enough help available to make it become a reality.
One of the stops on the tour was this machine, a laser wood-cutter that was in use by an engineering student. He explained that he was making a ring box for an engagement ring, and bashfully admitted he wasn’t very creative. i disagreed and told him i thought it was really thoughtful, and showed that it’s true what they say about how STEM disciplines ought to be called STEAM. There’s a big push for that in the technology world, and i couldn’t agree more. Engineers, coders and other technology professionals are incredibly creative and it’s important to be inclusive of that aspect. Bob agreed as well, and i hope the romantic engineer took it to heart.
In October, CWRU hosted “Creativity and Innovation: A Live Q&A with Steve Wozniak” and the Apple co-founder visited think[box] to check out the facility. While there, he signed this circuit board mill, just another piece of the amazing array of resources for inventors. Bob mentioned how Everykey’s Christopher Wentz had a chance to speak one-on-one with Woz, who handed him one of his custom business cards. As my college professor and mentor once told us, when someone hands you their card, it’s because they want you to keep in touch with them. Big news for a Cleveland startup!
The list of hi-tech tools inside think[box] frankly had me geeking out. Every few feet there’s another workstation with pieces of equipment heretofore only read about, so it was exhilarating to see all of them right in front of me. But lest you think the space is full of only these sorts of technical gizmos, the place also has both a fully-equipped woodworking shop and metalworking shop.
The area that most intrigued me were the 3D printers think[box] has for use. You can’t 3D print a rock and throw it without hitting news about 3D printers, and if i’m honest i’d never actually seen one in person before.
Think[box] has two varieties of 3D printers as well. A very high-end version suitable for lab use, and some tabletop models from MakerBot. On a side note, Bob mentioned that another prominent 3D printer manufacturer, MakerGear, designs, engineers and manufactures them right here in Ohio! MakerGear – you’re on notice: i’ll be contacting you for a tour soon.
Part of 3D printing that i wasn’t aware of is that sometimes there’s additional material used to make the objects. For example, a piece may require a surface to build material on, so a sort of filler is used to provide that surface. After printing, the piece takes a relaxing acid bath that dissolves the unneeded material.
Bob and i talked about 3D printing at some length, and how there’s so many applications for it that we’re only still scratching the surface of with what has been done. He told me about a recent archaeological site where diggers took a 3D image of a fossil and emailed it to a lab thousands of miles away where technicians recreated it with a 3D printer. Applications like that have a huge impact on research, allowing people from anywhere in the world to work together using physical models identical to each other.
At work the other day, one of my colleagues admitted he hadn’t even heard of 3D printers up until about a month ago, and he joked that the next thing you know they’d be 3D printing houses. Of course i had to laugh at that comment – a 12,000 square foot mansion was just recently 3D printed in China!
Mentioned earlier, think[box] isn’t just about the technical work involved in fully creating and bringing a product to market. There tools, resources and people there can help with any aspect of design, creation and the business of invention for entrepreneurs.
As if the facilities think[box] offers aren’t staggering enough, CWRU is working to create an entirely new space for the innovation center. Renovations are currently underway to repurpose a former vault building on campus for a new facility. The new space is going to be 50,000 square feet (about 10 times the size of the existing space!). The $35M project will make CWRU’s new think[box] one of the biggest university-centric innovation center in the world, and according to Bob it will be ready for the fall 2015 semester.Touring think[box] was most certainly an amazing experience and Bob was incredibly courteous and accomodating to take time from his schedule to show me around.
Coming up, CWRU is holding a HackCWRU event on Feb. 6-8. If you’re not sure what a Hackathon is, i’ll let HackCWRU explain it for you:
What is a Hackathon?
Hackathons are marathon long coding parties, lasting between 24 and 36 hours, where you’re invited to build something with a team.
We supply you with a steady stream of food, caffeine, and mentors.
All you need to do is bring a computer and anything else you need for your hack.
You can make any kind of app or hardware project. The world is your oyster. If you can think it up, you can try to make it
My coding skills a far from up-to-snuff and my laptop doesn’t work without the adapter plugged in, but i’m definitely going to try to make this event to see what everyone else comes up with.
In related tech news, my editors at The News-Herald printed my first published technology story today on the Tech page (it’s also online at their website). My conversation with Everykey’s Chris Wentz got some extra mileage and it is very exciting to see that people outside of The Long Shot are interested in what i’m doing here.
The tech editor did mention to me that my enthusiasm makes him feel tired, but discovering and covering all the incredible tech news coming out of my hometown Cleveland only inspires me more to keep at it. My only lament is that there’s so much awesome stuff going on that i can’t cover it all!
If you’re as interested in technology as i am and want to cover some of the exciting things going on, in Cleveland or your own hometown, please drop me a line. Adding your own tech stories to The Long Shot would be terrific, and if you’re interested but don’t know where to start, i can help you with that too. There’s something going on every day in Northeast Ohio!
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Thanks for reading the 14th Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these were the ones that most caught my attention. If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!
If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did:
- High demand for high technology skills continues to build
- This article from one of my colleagues at The News-Herald covered a forum held in December with 60 area leaders economics, education, technology and business. One of the major points discussed was the profession fo coding which, according to labor statistics, pays an average salary of $74,280. One more reason to head over to Codecademy and get started!
- These are the hottest new open source projects right now
- More examples of the collaborative nature of technologists. Sure, there’s competition, but there’s a heck of a lot of courtesy and sharing going on too. Open sourcing allows others to build on work that has already been done, increasing the rate at which technology advances.
- Why the Apple watch is wearable tech’s first make-or-break moment
- It’s no secret that i’m not a fan of Apple products, but i’ll grant them their market popularity. So when their smartwatch drops in April, it will definitely have an impact one way or another. Oddly enough, the photo embedded in this article was flagged as adult content on TweetDeck; i guess anything in that region of the human body is taboo…?
- Food buggies to start rolling through Cle streets (and buildings)
- Food trucks evolve right here in Cleveland! Smaller, streamlined versions of food trucks that aren’t restricted to roadways. These little guys will create more jobs and put another notch in Cleveland’s foodie town cred.
- “They’re very cool looking,” says Eric Diamond, ECDI executive vice president for lending. “They have a full working kitchen with a cooktop and plumbing. The idea is you can get into buildings and it’s a lot cheaper than a food cart.”
- Microsoft’s Bill Gates insists AI is a threat
- What would Week in Geek be without a new entry into the increasingly relevant scenario involving complex thinking machines? The founder of Microsoft’s comments are at odds with reps from the company, who had a different opinion to offer this week. Gates said he “didn’t understand people who were not troubled by the possibility that AI could grow too strong for people to control.”
- More on this, that includes references to other leading thinkers like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, in this article from Quartz.
- Out of control AI will not kill us, believes Microsoft research chief
- One of the aforementioned people who Gates doesn’t understand. This guy thinks AI systems could achieve consciousness, but downplays any potential threat to human life.
- He does concede though, that “AI systems risk invading people’s privacy, since they will become capable of making ever-deeper inferences about users by weaving together the mass of data generated by human activities.”
- Having a hard time being human? This app manages friendships for you
- Take all that messy emotional decision-making out of your life and place it in the hands of this app, which gathers biometric data and correlates it with information you input about the people in your life. Based on patterns, algorithms will determine whether you should be spending more time with a certain person or if you should cut him or her out.
- Robots are getting more like us and famous scientists are concerned
- We’re deep into the uncanny valley here. This kinda summarizes a few different articles from this and the last few weeks of Week in Geek’s further reading. For what it’s worth i think i’d prefer my robots to look robotic, you know? Save the tears in the rain for the movies, please.
- Lasers can make water bounce on metal
- Some good ol’ fashioned laser news. Researchers who used lasers to make hydrophilic materials flipped it around so that water is instantly repelled. Pretty nifty high-def slow motion video showing the hydrophobic metal in action.
- The Elio needs only 3 wheels to reach 84 mph
- A slick re-envisioning of the consumer automobile, but i ask you – can it do the driving for me? Get back to me when it can. Self-driving cars ftw.
- Samsung Galaxy Note Edge
- i’m a huge Samsung nerd, and this new mobile device looks perfect to me. My Galaxy Tab is basically an expensive comicbook longbox that sometimes does double duty for Skype. The Galaxy S5 i use now is great, and i’m basically attached to the thing. The Note Edge is bigger, which i like. And the customizable edge looks like a nifty innovate for smartdevices. Fingers crossed that my AT&T Next plan will let me get one of these!
- Office puts chips under staff’s skin
- Workers at a hi-tech office complex in Sweden has RFID chips installed to open doors, control the copier and eventually pay for their morning coffee in the lobby…but who controls the chips, i ask? Kind of cool, but at the same time i wonder if we’re just handing ourselves over to a technocracy.
- Report: Marvel eyeing Chiwetel Eijiofor for Doctor Strange role
- It’s just talk, but the takeaway for me speaks to how Marvel is dominating the superhero film market. THEY GET EXCELLENT ACTORS. Some whispers suggest Eijiofor may take on the role of Brother Voodoo. Personally, i have no idea. Doctor Strange is a character i like, but fringe characters like him are so wide open for interpretation and unusual developments, there’s no telling what the film story may turn out to be.
- The speed of light can vary in a vacuum
- But…but…it’s a finite speed of 186,000 miles/second! Oh, long-held universal truths, we love to shatter you.
- This discover “could change the way we think about one of the constants of the universe.”
- Virtual reality content an offer to airline passengers
- Which begs the question, why even take the trip in the first place? (That’s me being facetious).
- The Cubitat shrinks an entire house into one compact cube
Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.
Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Feb. 6 and i’d love to see you here!
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Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).
Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.
Thanks for reading!