Week in Geek 1.9.15

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

CES 2015

The three-day long International Consumer Electronics Show wraps up today, Jan. 9, in Las Vegas. The annual show, which started in 1967, has seen product debuts from VCRs to smart TVs and this year, wearable technology was featured prominently, particularly in the area of smartwatches. Last week i previewed the nine teams of innovative CWRU entrepreneurs exhibiting at the show, and i hope to follow-up with them to find out how it went once they return.

In the meantime, highlights from CES show that yesterday’s science fiction is rapidly becoming everyday consumer technology, with marketplaces for everything from 3D printing to robotics and intelligent vehicles. Keep in mind this is consumer electronics – a trade show for things you can expect to see with increasing frequency in our everyday lives.

Everybody’s been dropping the wearables tag when it comes to the hot items at the show. In the smartwatch arena, to me it looks like a lot of the selections are visually run-of-the-mill analog varieties but with some techno-twists to them. Perhaps these hold more appeal for people not yet prepared to embrace the kind of future where we all wear spaceage jumpsuits, and for my money the ones that stood out most are the sleeker varieties, like this one:

MOTA smartwatch

Designed to function primarily as a cellphone, this Bluetooth 3.0 bracelet pairs with your mobile device and has its own speakers, microphone and OLED display. Incoming calls cause it to vibrate, and if the caller is in your contact list, their name will display on the screen. Both Siri and Google Now voice-activation are supported, and there are currently three models available. The G1 and G2 lite both retail for about $80 and the G2 Pro for $90. According to MOTA’s website, you can expect 180 minutes of talktime and 72 hours of standby.

LookSee is another Bluetooth bracelet that seeks to combine fashion and technology. It has an E ink display that reduces power consumption, and the always-on customizable display can be used for notifications like text, photos, clock faces, maps and more.

The most exciting wearables imo are ones like the i.amPULS which makes a distinct point that it is not a smartwatch – it is a computer on your wrist. Growing up in the 80s, my best friend and i used to pretend we were superspies who had gadgets like this. Now, you don’t have to be part of a secret organization (or Inspector Gadget’s niece Penny) to have an untethered computer device strapped to your wrist.

Between wearable wrist computers and tablets, you're ready to take on Dr. Claw and the forces of M.A.D.

Between wearable wrist computers and tablets, you’re ready to take on Dr. Claw and the forces of M.A.D.

Cluing in to this device’s name, it is the brainchild of musician will.i.am, so naturally the promo video on the product website features him and starts off showing how the music capabilities function. The i.amPULS does much more than just play music though. An independent device, it does not require a separate smartphone to sync with, and in fact is itself a functioning phone. Users can also send Tweets, check Facebook, send SMS and emails, manage photos and has built-in GPS.

Still a relatively new market, smartwatches show no signs of slowing down. A fully-functioning computer strapped to your wrist gives consumers a viable alternative to the already diverse options for mobile computing and one that i believe will be well-received. They offer a relatively hands-free experience and all the functions we typically use throughout the day through voice-activation. It’s possible to conceive they may actually replace the cell phones we’re so used to, and i can definitely envision a paradigm shift from a package of home computer-tablet-cell phone to convertible laptop/tablet combo and smartwatch only. It reduces the total number of devices while increasing mobility. Add to that the variety of peripherals with wireless syncing and the movement towards the Internet of Things, and i envision a definite sea change in how we look at our computing lifestyles.

Outside of offering another option to the slate of mobile devices alongside your laptop, tablet and cellphone, another wearable that caught my attention is TempTraq, an adhesive bandage for infants that acts as a thermometer. Equipped with a Bluetooth-connected sensor, temperature is tracked continuously and alerts are made via smartphone. Admittedly, my first reaction to this was a bit wary, because my mind immediately made the jump to proliferation of this kind of technology that could be used to track us all someday. But like all technology, there is the potential for abuse. Overall though, technological advances in medicine used to improve health care are a plus, and expanding technology like this for patient care is a move in a good direction.

In the realm of computing, there was no of shortage tablets, cell phones and laptops. Some of these went beyond what we’re familiar with already and presented innovative hybrid devices that look like they’d be right at home on the bridge of a starship.

HP Sprout workstation

HP Sprout workstation

The HP Sprout is an all-in-one TouchSmart PC equipped with a scanner and cameras – note the plural. Running up the back of the workstation is the Illuminator Column that bends over the top of the display and projects an image onto the touch-sensitive mat. Documents or objects placed on the mat can be scanned in both 2D and 3D, and can be used for onscreen animations or for printout on a 3D printer. It retails for about $1900.

Lenovo LaVie

Lenovo LaVie

The convertible Lenovo LaVie is one of the lightest 13-inch PCs shown at CES, with tough but lightweight magnesium-lithium alloy construction around two pounds. The hinge allows this laptop to function as a tablet, and the Intel Core i5 processor can handle most everyday jobs with high speeds. It retails for about $1300.

XYZprinting's da Vinci Junior 3D printer

XYZprinting’s da Vinci Junior 3D printer

Aimed at the consumer market, this 3D printer lists for about $350 and is designed for ease of use. The device’s SD card slot means users can print directly from an SD card without needing a computer interface, a feature that gives it more appeal as a shared device in places like schools and libraries. Every day, there are more uses and advances in 3D printing that means sooner or later these will be as common and ubiquitous in our homes as any other household appliance. It would not surprise me if, a few years down the road, we’re replacing protein cartridges in these things and 3D printing our dinners.

4K Inspire 1 drone from DJI

4K Inspire 1 drone from DJI

What would a consumer technology show be without drones? That’s right, for just $2900 you can have your very own flying drone with 24fps video capability through its 20mm wide-angle camera lens. For an extra $400 you can get the dual-remote version so one person can fly it while another operates the detachable camera. All paranoia aside, drones are an rapidly-emerging niche for hobbyists who in years past made due with RC planes and those annoying helicopter things that shopping mall demonstrators buzz past your head while you’re walking past. Independent filmmakers will also find these sorts of gadgets useful for getting the kinds of shots they could only have dreamed of without at least a moderate budget.

By the end of the show today, there were more than 3200 exhibitors showing their stuff at CES 2015. If you would like to find out more about the show, Flipboard has a handy CES 2015 aggregate filled with coverage from the show floor. Check back here in 2016 and maybe i’ll be a part of that coverage, too. Visiting CES would be an amazing and a fantastic opportunity to discover and cover great new technology making its way into our lives.

Cleveland – Innovation Hub and all around great place

Back in November, i mentioned how Cleveland is becoming known as a hub of innovation. Just the other day, that idea was again presented by Popular Mechanics in an article called Medicine, Manufacturers, and Furniture-makers turned Cleveland into an Innovation Hub.

Thanks in part to both the city’s resurgence in manufacturing, and the investment in medical technology and research, Cleveland is re-inventing itself and its image from a grey Midwestern steel town into a center where new methods, ideas and processes are being developed on the cutting-edge.

In addition to the great strides Cleveland has made to foster this growth, it’s also one of the top 50 places to visit, according to Travel + Leisure, alongside places like Fez, Morocco; Rotterdam, Netherlands; and Milan, Italy.

The repurposing of historic buildings and return of young professionals to downtown are cited as major reasons for the revival, as well as the selection of luxury hotels for out-of-town visitors.

The Cleveland Convention Center has also made an impact on the city’s success, as it prepares to host the 2015 Republican National Convention. In the meantime, the center has attracted other big-ticket shows like Wizard World – one of the biggest comic book and pop culture conventions in North America…and one that i’ll be covering both here at The Long Shot and, along with entertainment editor Mark Meszoros, for The News-Herald.

Cleveland is also known quite well for the food scene, boasting as the hometown of celebrity chef Michael Symon as well as a host of great restaurants in the downtown area and scattered throughout Northeast Ohio. There’s also established institutions like the famous West Side Market.

On top of all that, Cleveland has an amazing cultural scene, too. The Museum of Contemporary Art is a world-renowned place that underwent an amazing reconstruction in 2012, and the nearby Cleveland Institute of Art’s $75 million expansion is nearly complete. Downtown, Playhouse Square in the Theater District is the largest performing arts center in the U.S. outside of New York.

And, i’m not a sports guy by any stretch, but we got LeBron James back so that’s got to count for something right?

If you happened to watch the video on the Popular Mechanics website, you may have caught the segment where Matt Beyer, director of business development at LeanDog, talked about their role in complimenting established manufacturing companies in Cleveland as a strategic partner and helping them keep pace with the demands of the global economy.

LeanDog has been a great friend to me, too. By visiting their monthly meetups, i’ve not only been introduced to the fascinating world of code, but i’ve made several connections with other Cleveland innovators. This Sunday, Jan. 11, i’ll be on the Software Boat again for Coderetreat, a day-long practice event focused on the fundamentals of software development and design. So be sure to visit here next Friday and read about how that goes.

Producer’s Letter

This morning, i awoke to find that there was a new Producer’s Letter posted on the DDO forums. Executive Producer Robert Ciccolini – or Severlin as he’s known on the forums – gave players a rundown of some of the things we can expect this year for Dungeons & Dragons Online. It would have been cool if they had dropped some of this on me back in September when i interviewed members of the development team, but alas.

ddo_logo

The biggest news in the letter is an update on what we can expect from the adaptation of the Temple of Elemental Evil, a classic D&D adventure making its way to DDO much like the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar did in 2014. Severlin says the temple grounds will be quite large, with lots of danger and treasures to find inside the halls and chambers.

Monster Champions, which so far have caused a huge amount of debate on the forums, will be getting their own collectible system in the form of Mysterious Fragments resonating with magical power. Various agents scattered about the public areas will be interested in these fragments, which players can redeem for scrolls, potions, cosmetic items and even rare pets.

A new class is on the horizon, too. The Warlock is making its way to DDO, bringing their eldritch blasts to the battlefront. New classes are always an exciting time for players to discover new playstyles and multiclass combinations. Personally, i’m most interested to see how (or if) they will implement the various pacts warlock’s make in order to gain their powers. In the tabletop version of D&D, warlocks have pact options with the fey realm, demons and otherworldly entities akin to Lovecraftian elder gods. Colloquially, these resulted in names like feylock and starlock (i don’t remember the slang for the demon pact one – darklock?). When 4th edition D&D came out i made a starlock and had quite a bit of fun with that so we’ll see how it translates to DDO. To be honest, i would have loved to read that they were adding psionics to the mix first, and maybe someday we’ll see them in-game but for now, news of any new class is good news.

The Vale of Twilight and Shavarath are getting updates and new adventure packs in line with the level cap raise to 30. The more powerful and dangerous Vale will also introduce an update to the classic, beloved Greensteel equipment system. i say beloved because the items are very powerful and useful, but i can’t speak from experience because despite playing DDO since 2006 i have yet to acquire a single piece of Greensteel equipment. One day i hope to at least get that Trap-the-Soul heavy repeating crossbow made, but for now i just have the blank sitting in my vault.

Speaking of the level cap raise, players who reach the new cap of 30 can expect additional feats and power, as well as construct new weapons and treasures. That last part intrigues me the most, as i hope this means they will update the Cannith Crafting system to include all the prefixes and suffixes available on random lootgen, and maybe even allow us to craft clickies…? Here’s hoping.

Finally, there are some new festivals planned for 2015 including a mimic-themed event where players hunt down the diabolically disguised creatures, and a new seasonal festival hinted to be Halloween-themed. A later forum response from Severlin confirmed that “the mimic hunt is actually one of the fun things we have planned for our anniversary,” Severlin wrote. “I believe the Mabar items are still planned as rewards for the mimic hunt. We want to have an entirely new festival around the Halloween time, and that would also include appropriately themed items.”

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Thanks for reading the 11th 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 and technology stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did:

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Jan. 16 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

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).

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 1.2.15

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

2014 Annual report

The closeout of the year brought along many changes in the world at large and for me personally. Several of those changes occurred right here. The Long Shot got a brand-new look, and WordPress added new formats for creating posts and viewing stats. They also provided an artfully-done 2014 Year in Blogging Report that you can check out yourself if you’re so inclined.

Highlights of the report, for me anyway, included an analogy between The Long Shot and a New York City subway train that holds 1200 people and would need to make six trips in order to carry all the people who visited the site this past year.

Not surprising at all was the fact that my busiest day by a huge margin was just a few weeks ago on Dec. 13 when Week in Geek got Stuckmannized – also the most viewed post of the year. i’d like to think it was due to my sublime writing skills, but really it’s because the fella i interviewed has an enormous following and graciously helped promote the article. That being said, writing narrative interviews is my favorite kind of post to work on and going into 2015 i hope to do more of those. i’ve got a few of those in the pipe, including one that the TOS fan in me is geeking out about already.

Worth mentioning though are some other notable posts from the year. One of them is a prime example of how important SEO is to generating traffic, and the other is exciting because it comes from a contributing writer, something i hope to see a lot more of in 2015 and beyond.

CWRU at CES 2015

It seems that i’m starting to make at least a little bit of a name for myself in the Cleveland technology scene, as a press release came to my desk a few weeks ago from Bob Sopko, director of Blackstone LaunchPad at Case Western Reserve University.

Bob was excited to let me know that he, along with students and alumni from CWRU, would be showcasing their inventions and entrepreneurship at the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Jan. 6-9.

Nine teams will travel to the exhibition that draws over 150,000 visitors from around the world, with two of the teams making a return visit after introducing their concepts at last year’s show.

One of the returning teams is Everykey, the brainchild of CWRU students that is a Bluetooth-enabled wristband which stores the ever-increasing number of passwords we use throughout the day with our smartphones, tablets and computers. Further developments will enable the stylish accessory to grant access to physically locked items like doors, cars and bike locks as well as plans to integrate other systems like home lighting.

everykey

Everykey wristband in one of seven available colors

“Everykey removes the stress and hassle of losing keys and forgetting passwords, while providing even better security than what consumers currently have in place,” Christopher Wentz, CEO of Everykey and 2013 CWRU grad, said. “Our product uses military grade encryption, allowing only you access to your personal property and accounts. Like a credit card, you can instantly disable your Everykey if it ever gets lost or stolen.”

On their website right now, you can preorder your own Everykey for $25 less than the retail price, which is only a modest $100 to begin with. The device works with Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android and iOS as well as Chrome, Firefox and Safari. The rechargeable battery life holds an impressive 30 day charge, and the device itself is water-resistant, with Bluetooth Low Energy and a customizable range up to three meters.

Everykey originated in an entrepreneurship class taught by Walt Sokira at CWRU in 2012. Sokira was so impressed by the idea that he invested capital in the project. Since then, Everykey has been well-regarded in publications like The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch and Digital Trends.

The Kickstarter for Everykey shows that they surpassed their $100,000 goal and funding is now closed. The tiered rewards for pledging included some impressive stuff from regular access to all updates, an Everykey developer circuit board and early access to Everykey SDK all the way up to an exclusive visit to their office to have their chief designer create a custom Everykey wristband for you. Most backers pledged in the $50 range, which netted them an Everykey at half price, with planned shipping in March 2015.

This to me is another example of some of the fantastic technology innovations coming out of my hometown. Everykey is definitely something i’m putting on my wishlist, especially since more and more, accounts prompt you to change your password so often – i can’t remember them all!

The other returning team is Carbon Origins, a CWRU student technology think-tank focused on solving hard technical problems in electronics and aerospace. Their first product – Apollo – is a tiny embedded sensor development board capable of measuring and recording temperature, pressure, humidity, ultraviolet, infrared and visible light, audio intensity, three-axis accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer and GPS.

Data gleaned through Apollo was originally used after a rocket crashed, and scientists strove to learn the reason why. Like most innovations, this singular use was expanded upon and has found a home in applications ranging from robotics and drones to wearable computing devices.

Apollo is about as big as your thumb, with a trackball control and 128 x 64 pixel 0.96″ OLED screen and is equipped with an onboard microphone for audio recording and streaming.

The Apollo device from Carbon Origins

The Apollo device from Carbon Origins

The remaining teams traveling to CES 2015 have varying goals for their presentations, like high-tech home maintenance, health monitoring, aviation and rocketeering, or to use the latest manufacturing technology to make high quality toys less expensive.

All of the projects are supported by think[box] – CWRU’s center for innovation that provides space, equipment and training. Anyone is invited to use their resources to tinker and creatively invent, but especially CWRU students, faculty and alumni. Right now, think[box] is housed in 4500 square foot space but $35 million in renovations are in the works for a 7-story, 50,000 square foot facility to make one of the largest university-based innovation centers in the world.

“Think[box] is where our students and faculty can, on their own, take those ideas in their heads and get them in their hands – that is, to actually go from concept to prototype,” Jeffrey Duerk, dean of the Case School of Engineering, said.

Blackstone LaunchPad also helped teams through mentorship of their startups and development, assisting in securing funding and taking ideas to market.

“We look forward to our expanded involvement in the world’s largest display of innovation and discovery,” Bob Sopko said. “As a major research institution, we will be involved for our second year in a row, expanding from two to six booths (between 75427 and 75437 Tech West, Sands Expo, Level 2). Our students and alumni are excited to be demonstrating, selling and actively looking for partnerships.”

Last year, the Case School of Engineering was the only university organization exclusively showcasing student startups at CES, and now in their second year attending the expo, CWRU is tripling its presence.

Remaining teams that will be at CES 2015 are:

  • SpiroSano, which helps patients with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, COPD or cystic fibrosis, track their activities and episodes around the clock and share that data with their doctor to improve treatment. Doctor and patient create and control a personalized disease management toolkit using SpiroSpano’s platform.
  • Doppler Yoyo, one of several competition-grade and collectors-grade yo-yos Spartan Yoyo Works creates using 3-D printing at a fraction of the standard production price. The yo-yo is made of a single material and achieves a high moment of inertia by changing the geometry in ways that would be impossible without 3-D printing.
  • Event 38 Unmanned Systems, which designs and builds mission-specific, unmanned fixed-wing and multirotor aircraft systems and optical sensors as well as drone data post-processing solutions. Event 38 systems are used primarily in agriculture and surveying.
  • 360×360 Selfie Stick, patented in 2012 by CWRU alumnus Joshua Wang, of Taiwan. With a telescoping handle and a camera bracket that can swivel in any direction, the stick provides the distance to take “selfies” of large groups or to provide different angles or more background in photographs. The stick can also be used to take photos over walls, around corners and in hard-to-reach places.
  • Hema Imaging LLC, which helps homeowners and professionals use thermal, or “heat map,” imaging to uncover unexpected temperatures associated with common household problems, such as faulty circuit breakers, sealing losses or ductwork and water leakage. The HemaVision helps homeowners identify and diagnose problems by automatically highlighting abnormal temperatures, locking onto scenes, calculating power dissipation and cost, and making statistical maps of significant temperature changes.
  • And last but not least, you may remember this Cleveland tech innovator from Week in Geek a few weeks ago – BoxCast, a company that has developed a plug-and-play broadcast box, within the display of Osmisys, an electrical engineering technology firm. The Boxcast product allows anyone with a camera to conveniently stream standard and high-definition live video to the company’s cloud-based service for retrieval at any time and from any location.

To stay up-to-date with these creative innovators and their presentations at CES 2015, like CWRU’s Blackstone LaunchPad on Facebook, follow @LaunchPadCWRU on Twitter and keep an eye on #CES2015.

You can be sure i’ll follow up with as many of these folks as I can after CES wraps.

Code Retreat

Beginning coders and experienced alike are invited to sign up for the Post CodeMash v2.0.1.5 Coderetreat on Jan. 11 from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the LeanDog Software Boat in Cleveland. LeanDog is the sponsor for the event.

Coderetreat is an intensive practice event focused on software development and design fundamentals. Co-facilitators Charlotte Chang and Carl Shotwell bill the event as an opportunity to get away from the pressures of ‘getting things done,’ noting that the format has shown to be an effective way to improve skills. Developers can improve their ability to write code that minimized the cost of change over time, by practicing basic principles of modular and object-oriented design according to the event’s description.

There’s no specific coding language required, so attendees can work in their preferred language setup. Event organizers do ask for open-mindedness though, with the possibility of experimenting with other languages.

In addition to sharpening your coding skills, Coderetreat is a great place to hone your social skills too, and get introduced to peers.

Expertise as a coder, developer or programmer is also not a requirement. Beginning programmers are welcome, but are asked to have a basic understanding and skill – the event is about coding after all. It is an opportunity to learn lessons and values for everyone including experts. If you’re an experienced coder or thinking about getting into it, this Coderetreat is an excellent opportunity to expand your skills and pick up new ones, so check it out!

Thankfully i’ve been plugging away at Codecademy so i think i qualify for the “basic understanding” part of it. If you attend, stop and say hello – i’d love to hear from you! i’ll be the guy who barely knows what he’s doing.

Learning to code

Speaking of Codecademy, i’ve earned 8 badges and 41 points so far, although i have yet to fully complete a skillset (i’m 85% done with the first one though).

My recent experiences there are worthy of their own post, which i’ll work on during the next couple of days. Imagine that – more than one post in a week! In the meantime, check out a couple of the 30-minute exercises i worked on. Still haven’t discovered a way to embed the work directly into a post, so you’ll have to just follow the links:

  • Sun, Earth and Code – simple animation work (although you wouldn’t think so from the amount of lines of code!
  • Earth and Moon – variation on the above using cooler images

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Thanks for reading the tenth (!!) 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 and technology stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did. Naturally, there’s several year-in-review and looking-ahead sorts of articles to start the list, and beyond that some useful tips, intriguing experiments and…drama from the world of hi-technology?!

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Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Jan. 9 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

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).

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 12.5.14

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

Simplicity is the key to brilliance

This expression is credited to influential martial artist Bruce Lee, who expounded on the idea is his book “Tao of Jeet Kune Do” where he presents his philosophy. He may have been discussing his perspective on martial arts, but when he writes that “there is freedom from mechanical conditioning, there is simplicity. The classical man is just a bundle of routine, ideas and tradition,” his outlook is evident through other arenas as well – in this case, after speaking with 2014’s Coolest Tech Startup winner Gordon Daily, founder of Boxcast.

NewBoxCastLogo_smarter

 

Gordon, along with Toby Maloney, Boxcast’s PR and marketing vice president, invited me to see their operation and took time to sit down with me and explain a bit of where they came from and where they’re heading. The enthusiasm both Gordon and Toby display is clear to see, and not just because of Boxcast’s exponential growth since launching in May 2013 to become a leader in their industry. Gordon’s eyes bright up most when he talks about how, in our increasingly connected world, he is able to offer something that allows people to share experiences that matter on a personal level, as well as give brands struggling to show their relevance the opportunity to share their stories.

Boxcast provides these opportunities through, well, a box. Designed with a core principle of user simplicity in mind, the device takes all the complication out of livestreaming, giving individuals the power to share extremely high-definition video instantly on any digital platform – a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone – through an easy to manage plug-and-play interface. The only setup required to begin streaming your event is plugging a video recording device into the Boxcast unit and logging into Boxcast’s content management site, and that’s it.

The dashboard offers additional features for users, too, providing links to share through social media as well as embed codes, and Boxcast archives content for its users as well.  They also offer easy to use pricing systems for those who wish to charge for content access, with Boxcast handling all credit charges and cutting a check to creators who utilize the option.

“Content is what we provide the frame for,” Gordon explained. “We want to allow a brand to emanate from within.”

To that end, the physical look of Boxcast’s device recently underwent some design changes, trading its utilitarian, durable black box about the size of a thick cellphone for a transparent shell. The choice echoes Gordon’s sentiments that it’s not the box that matters to those wishing to share their experiences – it’s what comes from within.

From their office at Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport, Boxcast employees work in a large, open space, pouring their energy and passion into continuing the upward growth of this Cleveland-based company. Although the units themselves are manufactured elsewhere due to the need for specialized electronic equipment, the offices do have their own workshop, a sort of tinkering area replete with circuit board prototypes and the like that Gordon showed examples of to me. i threw in a quick comment about Moore’s Law for some computer science cred but i think it flew in under the radar.

The idea for developing this technology grew from Gordon’s days as a freelance web designer after earning his master’s degree in computer engineering from Case Western Reserve University and going on to Rockwell Automation where he worked on mission-critical technology. One of the clients he and fellow designers did work for was a funeral home, which asked if they could come up with a way to let people who couldn’t attend services view them remotely.

Fortunately, Rockwell gave Gordon a paid leave of absence to pursue the idea, which he saw as having much greater potential. And thanks to organizations like JumpStart, GLIDE and North Coast Opportunities Technology Fund who provide advice, mentorship and funding for innovation, Gordon got his startup off the ground. Since then, the company has followed an exciting growth pattern. A large map in the office shows Boxcasters spread out across the U.S., and content has been viewed through the device in over 170 countries. Another break came for the company this past May, when it signed a deal with ESPN Cleveland to livestream high school football events. Because of the Boxcaster’s ports, sportscasters are able to plug scoreboards directly into the device as well, which interprets the data directly onscreen.

For an example, Gordon showed me a clip from a local high school football game’s final moments, where a pass slipped from one receiver to another before a player firmly controlled the ball and made a last-second touchdown to win the game.  It’s these moments, he explained, that make it worthwhile for him. Not just highlights from Superbowls and Big Ten games, but those at more local, intimate levels that family and friends can share when they couldn’t be there. And thanks to additional services Boxcast provides, content is archived for later retrieval.

And the possibilities continue to grow. Gordon and Toby both realize the vast potential for more and creative uses for the Boxcaster, driven not only by in-house development but also by feedback from users. One of their associates showed how easy it can be to create an impressive setup using only his laptop and a multi-channel hub, explaining that for example one could connect several video recording devices and run them all – essentially a mobile broadcasting station about the size of carry-on luggage.

“Basically, anyone can be their own TV station,” Gordon posited, noting that in the past, providing the kind of streaming service and options available by using the Boxcast device could cost many thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars and a hefty investment of manpower. But now, thanks to this innovation, livestreaming in impressive HD costs about $500 for the device, plus a reasonable monthly fee similar to a cellphone plan and based on viewership (comparatively, the Boxcast is cheaper per view than a per-call plan).

Speaking again to the simplicity, Toby stressed that the ease of use is one of the most applauded features of the device, relating a story about one of their customers – a pastor – who streams his church’s Sunday services. Not a tech guru by any means, he simply plugs in the box, logs in to his Boxcast account, and everything else takes care of itself. That’s one of the key factors to Boxcast’s success – penetrating markets where people don’t have strong tech backgrounds, but allowing them to participate in the forward tech movement nonetheless.

It can’t get much easier than that.

More than anything, though, my takeaway was that Boxcast was another terrific example of the kind of innovations taking place in my hometown, and both Gordon and Toby agreed. Although they grew up in other states, both attended Northeast Ohio colleges and were happy to discover that the city’s emerging identity doesn’t match the old perceptions many held about the former butt of many jokes. The city now attracts top-notch talent from across the country, as well as investors of substance who want to see Boxcast and other technology-driven businesses succeed.

“We want to be a Cleveland winner,” Gordon told me, and from what i’ve seen, they already are.

Pairing up for success

Last night was the first Thursday of the month, and you know what that means – the monthly meetup at LeanDog. Since there was no preplanned speaker for the December meetup, event organizer Joel Byler arranged a Project Night for Ruby developers to bring their projects and pair up with their peers, brainstorm new projects or simply seek advice.

leandog logo

The turnout for this meetup was similar to my first trip to the floating LeanDog offices, around a dozen people who for the most part spent the 6-7 p.m. social hour helming their laptops and diving into their work.

One of the attendees, Brendan Malloy, is a freelance programmer who brought his project, Reports For Trello, and took time to speak with me at length about his work as well as explaining some programming basics to me. Thankfully, he was incredibly patient with my questions and general lack of knowledge about the vast world behind the technology we use every day, likening the path through coding to a stroll through a forest.

“You may feel like you’re just wandering, seeing things and maybe getting lost, but you’re always moving forward and getting somewhere,” he told me, explaining the code doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it might seem. “If you know English, you’re already halfway there. It’s just logical construction.”

Brendan, who previously worked with animation with an eye towards becoming a forensic animator, these days works as an independent artist and web developer. He created Reports for Trello – a time-tracking tool using the Trello API – because he loves using Trello but didn’t want to have to change interfaces or workflow to manage his time.

Trello itself is a free, web-based project management application with a very user-friendly interface that allows for slick, visual organization of any sort of project through the use of boards, lists and cards that can be shifted around as needed. Brendan’s contribution allows for tracking the movement through these projects by securely analyzing Trello’s archived history and generating easy-to-understand reports.

If i’m honest, i’d never heard of Trello before speaking with Brendan, but it looks like a very useful tool for just about anyone who needs a little organization. Since its free software, i’m certainly going to check it out and see what it can do for The Long Shot. And since Brendan’s Reports for Trello adds a nifty time tracking element to the work done there as well as adding members to cards to see how when and for how long someone was attached to a particular task, it looks like a homerun for maximizing the organizational power of Trello. Plus, its available on mobile devices as well, a great benefit for working on the go.

Before pairing up with some of the attendees to get some real work done, Brendan asked if i’d built my own website, which i admitted with chagrin that i had not. However, if i come to enough of these LeanDog meetups, i might just learn how to do that. The world of coding and programming certainly fascinates me, and i’d definitely enjoy the opportunity to talk shop with these folks on a more capable level. To that end, a quick online search turned up Codecademy, a free online resource that teaches how to code interactively. There’s likely no shortage of similar resources out there, and for all i know it’s far from the best, but hey – it’s a start! At the very least, thanks to these meetups, i have a better understanding of things like Ruby so i’m not a complete noob (still pretty close though).

One familiar face at the meetup that i didn’t speak with last time was Matt Case, a DevOps contractor currently working as a site reliability engineer at a Lakewood startup called Decision Desk. Through their platform, schools can accept and review college applications. To date, Decision Desk has had 147,805 applications with over 700,000 files submitted and over a quarter million reviews performed – pretty big numbers if you ask me. Matt heads up the Cleveland Area DevOps Interest Group, another great networking opportunity for those looking to keep up to date in this field. He’s got years of experience in web and mobile app development, systems administration and automation, and related security so, a good contact to make in the field.

Before wrapping up the evening, attendee David Huff took me even deeper into the rabbit hole Brendan introduced me to by letting my peek behind the curtain at several projects he’s working on. Prefacing our conversation with my almost complete ignorance of the topic, i asked him about the very basics of website construction: where to enter code and how to deploy it.

David explained that really, any text-based software can be used to do the actual entering of code, even something as simple as WordPad. There are, of course, more specific applications tailored to coding language that offer features like color-coding and tools designed to better organize your work.

As far as deploying what you’ve created, David introduced me to Heroku, a cloud-based platform service that supports several programming languages. With decades of experience, David is proficient in multiple programming languages but, as he put it, “there’s always something new to learn,” adding that meetups like this are great because even the most brilliant people in the room are approachable and all you have to do is ask.

One of the examples he showed me was an app he’s working on for a boy scout troop that helps manage their finances. The request for such a tool came from a friend of his, and much like the development of the Boxcast device, it really is a great example of how technology often emerges and develops through a specific need that blossoms into wider application possibilties.

In a similar way to my first excursion to LeanDog, i was most impressed again with the way these folks take the extra time and effort to connect with each other and share ideas. Recently, i read an article about a movement to change the perception of STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to STEAM, adding art/design to the conversation. This STEM to STEAM notion in a nutshell seeks to expel the idea that STEM work is devoid of creativity, something i also feel is an important distinction to make. We’re always hearing about how the U.S. needs to up its game in these areas, but often it seems presented in a way that shuts out the creative aspect of it. On a local level, i’m seeing the truth of this at every event i attend and each person i speak with, who show a startling amount of creativity in what they do.

In addition to basic aesthetics of the work – the desire to create a visually-pleasing outcome whether it’s an application to monitor finances or a device to livestream high-definition video – people working in STEM disciplines display extraordinary creativity in simply coming up with new ideas, problem-solving and seeing beyond the borders of their projects’ specific focus.

Further reading

Quite a bit of exciting science, technology and pop culture news crosses my path throughout the week, and since i don’t always have the time to devote to these topics that i’d like, i thought sharing a list of links might be worthwhile.

Here’s my list of what i found most intriguing this week:

Think about it

Think about it

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Thanks for reading the sixth 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!

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Dec. 12 and i’d love to see you here! i am making headway in connecting with Chris Stuckmann whose terrific videos keep me entertained and informed – i would love to speak with him about his work and life and share it here.

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also be appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 11.7.14

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

New ideas afloat at LeanDog

leandog logo

Proliferation of technology and consequently the systems that run it is nothing new. The ubiquity of software applications is such that we tend not to think too much about how they operate and who does all the work to make them run. But the truth is, there’s a legion of programmers, coders and developers out there making sure our technological lives enjoy smooth sailing, and they’re not all clustered in places like Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Seattle.

One of them – LeanDog – calls downtown Cleveland its home port, the renovated stern of a 120-year-old boat docked near the national historic landmark USS Cod. The unique offices of this tech firm are home to craftspeople with a passion not only for creating quality software, but also for coaching and educating others in their trade.

The front of the LeanDog boat, with Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum across the water to the left.

The front of the LeanDog boat, with Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum across the water to the left.

On the first Thursday of each month, LeanDog hosts a meetup open to the public and geared towards those working in technology as a way to network, share ideas and learn about new innovations in their field. They’re also part of a greater Cleveland-area meetup scene which holds events pretty often, so there’s plenty of opportunities for both those already working in the industry as well as people who might just be starting out to socialize with others who share their passion and pick up some tricks of the trade in this constantly evolving field. Meetups typically see 10-20 visitors, with higher numbers if there is an expert speaker. The meetups sometimes feature coding exercises for attendees as well.

On Nov. 15, LeanDog is hosting all all day Code Retreat for example, focusing on software craftsmanship with network practice, tests, pairings and other exercises.

Entrance to the LeanDog boat. Inside they enjoy a terrific view of the Cleveland skyline including the beautifully-lit Terminal Tower. But it was rainy and dark so i couldn't get a good photo of that. My bad.

Entrance to the LeanDog boat. Inside they enjoy a terrific view of the Cleveland skyline including the beautifully-lit Terminal Tower. But it was rainy and dark so i couldn’t get a good photo of that. My bad.

Nathan, one of LeanDog’s Ruby developers, greeted me in the company’s studio space, a subtly nautical-themed room where the craftspeople do the bulk of their work. The wonderful workspace is comfortably appointed with blue and green chairs  backed with mesh reminiscent of a ship’s rigging, decorative portholes in the wall frames on which painted octopus tentacles wound around, and dominated by a giant ship’s wheel. He was excited about working there as a web app developer, which he said was a very cool place to work and a great business to be in.

As another guest pointed out, so much in the industry changes so fast, with whole new frameworks releasing sometimes as often as every two weeks. So these kinds of events are great to help keep up to date.

One of those people just getting started, who visited the Nov. 6 meetup was Derek, who got into application development on his own and came to the event to see what it was all about. By the time things were wrapping up, he’d spoken with several people and got their business cards, laying the groundwork for his own network in the field.

Joel Byler, an Agile software developer at LeanDog, took point for the evening, welcoming me and thanking me for coming to check it out. He encouraged me to make myself at home and have some pizza that LeanDog provides free for attendees, and who was i to refuse his hospitality? Before the start of the evening’s focused discussion, Joel showed me how they livestream the event on Boxcast – another Cleveland-based company that allows anyone to stream live HD video. The video from the Nov. 6 meetup is online for anyone interested in seeing what the night’s focus was all about. Joel also showed me around the studio a little bit and explained the idea of LeanDog’s “information radiators,” which are all the various points that act as hubs for projects, ideas and so forth. These can be as simple as whiteboards with sticky notes attached, to a live queue of coding recipes, maintained by an in-house app, that lets the team know if anything requires attention by highlighting the item in red (if everything is running smoothly, all the items are green).

Attendees of the LeanDog meetup in the training room listen to the speaker of the night.

Attendees of the LeanDog meetup in the training room listen to the speaker of the night.

Before things got underway in LeanDog’s training room, the group of attendees trickled in, most of them setting up slim, sticker-adorned laptops as reflex actions. They way they fell into easy conversation with each other – whether they knew each other already or not – reminded me fondly of my own experiences at the comic shop. People who are shy or reserved are friendly, chatty and comfortable in their element. They talked about not only programming and technology as you might expect, but also the Browns, their wives and kids, the last rock concert they went to. You know, just like regular people. One guy related how he’d modified his satellite dish into a television antenna, while another told how they’d used some quick-thinking and a 3D printer during the boat’s christening a few weeks earlier, when Mayor Frank Jackson came to help celebrate. When the mouse controlling a moving monitor stopped working, someone took it apart and 3D printed a sort of holster for the thing, jury-rigging a way to control the monitor using the guts of the broken mouse. How’s that for innovative quick thinking?

Here’s a video of the boat christening event put together by Bill Synk from the USS Cod submarine:

If i’m honest, i barely understood what everyone was chatting about during the 6-7 p.m. social hour. They shared stories of programming, research backgrounds and the like, and i immediately realized “oh, that’s what it’s like for other people when i’m talking to friends about comic books!” It also struck me though, that this is what sets people apart in any situation – these are the people who go the extra length to network, learn new things, meet new people and keep up to speed on what’s happening in their industry. They go to meetups, summits and symposiums, and ask each other what tech they’re using and how.  And people like these folks sure do a lot to make the world go ’round. Their clients are pretty much everyone and they do their best to stay on top of their game.

Focused discussion

Josh Schramm led the discussion, which covered AWS OpsWorks, an application management service. He prefaced his talk by letting the crowd know he’s primarily a Ruby on Rails developer and how OpsWorks saved his world because it was a different sort of work than what he primarily does, but allows him to include that sort of service in his repertoire. From what i understood, Ruby on Rails is a web application framework, which is a slice of the entire application, and OpsWorks is what governs that entire application.

Josh works at the IT consulting firm Level Seven, and framed his presentation both as an overview of OpsWorks for those unfamiliar, as well as a brainstorming session of sorts in order to collaborate with the other guests on ways to improve his use of it. This sort of dual-purpose presentation is what stood out to me as the best part of meetups like this. For an industry which experiences such frequent growth and change, even those on the forefront can benefit from the input of their peers, and again showcased how folks like this are real go-getters.

In case you missed the link to the Boxcast earlier, Josh also shared his slideshow presentation which i’ve also included below if you are curious about OpsWorks. As a layperson, much of what he talked about was over my head. But to the credit of Josh’s speaking and presentation skills, it wasn’t so far above that i was completely lost. He actually made it sound quite accessible, something he told me afterwards was his goal. Originally, he thought the crowd would be primarily developers who were already familiar with the sort of tasks OpsWorks is designed to tackle, but made some adjustments to account for the different levels of people who came as well as those who couldn’t make it and would watch the livestream.

Josh’s slideshow was crisp and clear, and his talking points were understandable, witty and humorous. The way he broke down OpsWorks into four structures (stacks, layers, apps and instances) and explained each one with screenshots of the UI went over well with the group, and he was very astute in his responses to the various questions lobbed his way throughout the talk. During the wrap-up he gave thoughtful bulletpoints of OpsWorks good and bad aspects, and during the talk my mind kept wandering to Derek, who i imagined was probably soaking up all he could. It seems like OpsWorks offers a great jumping-on point for developers because of how it integrates several parts of application management under one umbrella, and also because Josh explained how his firm’s established clients experienced improvements after migrating them to OpsWorks. Newer clients, those setup with OpsWorks from the start, were running smoothly as well, so i surmise that it makes some clunky parts of the job easier to manage.

At the end of the night, i spoke further with Joel, who again thanked me for coming and encouraged me to visit their other meetups, which i definitely intend to do. i’m still just getting started in the crazy world of technology journalism, and if this event was an indication, there’s a huge, exciting universe of this stuff all around that i am looking forward to discovering more of. Joel was also very cool to take my information and pass it along to LeanDog President Jon Stahl, who is out of town right now. He thought Jon might be amenable to giving me a proper tour of the boat and speaking more about LeanDog, which for me would be totally awesome. So, thanks for everything Joel! It was a real pleasure and honor to visit, learn more about LeanDog and have an introduction to this fascinating world you inhabit.

Thanks also to Josh for his presentation, and to all the other guests who took their time to share a few words with me. Special thanks to Derek for being a self-starter who showed up to make some connections and i am happy it paid off for him. If anyone else out there is a programmer, developer, coder or otherwise, or thinks they’d like to be, i definitely encourage you to check out meetups like this and others in the area (or whatever area you live in – i’m sure this is not something happening only in Cleveland). There’s avenues out there for you and every other person hoping to move forward with their dreams and aspirations, you just need to take that first step.

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Thanks for reading the second Week in Geek addition to 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 this was the one 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! In fact, Josh Schramm himself (speaker at this event) dropped a little tidbit that i plan to follow up on which lies more on the pop culture spectrum of the Week in Geek, and it’s another Cleveland-centric thing which makes it doubly cool.

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Nov. 14 and i’d love to see you here! Week in Geek will also be appearing alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs starting very soon (as soon as the digital content manager returns from vacation).

Thanks for reading!