Recent Blog Posts

You Have To Get Into It
by Brian Cherbak

What is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good –
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

I recently finished my first read of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. Coincidently, I recently started my second read, because there’s certainly a level of comprehension that I missed the first time.

I’ve heard that not everyone who starts the book finishes it. One might say that it’s intellectually involved and requires a lot of careful reading. Many might say it’s boring. And everyone wants to know where the bits about motorcycle maintenance are after page 48.

Actually, I’ve heard Pirsig’s Chautauquas (anecdotal, philosophical life lessons) regarding the maintenance of a motorcycle for years. My dad, who’s never read the book, and who’s been working on machines since he was six,

 » Read more about: You Have To Get Into It  »

How to Make a Tapered Triangular Twisted Tube
by Chet Lim

When we were approached by Adobe to consider the feasibility of making the Ink stylus, one of the biggest risks was manufacturability of the metal housing. It is a unique tapered-triangular-twisted-tube (try saying that five times fast).

After a brainstorming session with the larger project team, several technologies were identified and investigated:

  • Reverse impact extrusion then twist

Issues: Not able to control the uniformity of twist

  • Extrusion then twist

Issues: Not able to have taper, not able to control the uniformity of twist

  • Twist extrusion (like rotini pasta)

Issues: Not able to have taper, vendor for aluminum twist extrusion not readily available

  • Hot gas forming / hydroforming

Most promising solution, able to support the complex shape

In short,

 » Read more about: How to Make a Tapered Triangular Twisted Tube  »

Ink and Slide: Design-led Engineering at its Best
by Steve Myers

If you’re familiar with product development, you know that products are typically designed by designers, then built by engineers. We call this specification-driven engineering: specify what you want, then build it.

Unfortunately this approach is extremely risky. If your vision isn’t exactly what users want, you’ve just wasted a bunch of time and money (perhaps all of it if you’re a start-up).

We worked closely with Adobe Experience Design (XD) using a different approach for Ink, Slide, and Line: design-led engineering. Here’s how we did it:  

1. Starting with Adobe XD’s vision for users, we created a list of prioritized user needs before focusing on features.

We often think of products in terms of features and it’s easy to get fixated with them. Users care about pain points they have, not features. Features follow needs.

Once we had a list of needs the product would address,

 » Read more about: Ink and Slide: Design-led Engineering at its Best  »

Hardware-Enabled User Experience: What Drove Adobe to Make Ink and Slide
by Steve Myers

You might have noticed that Adobe, a software company, just created a couple of very compelling hardware products—Ink and Slide.

If a software company making hardware is a head-scratcher for you, here’s why this is a forward-looking move for Adobe and why you’ll be seeing more hardware from software companies in general:

Creating user experiences that people love and evangelize requires tight control over both hardware and software.

Apple was the first to broadly show the user experiences possible when developing hardware and software together (and went from a reverberating death knell to the world’s most valuable company as a result).

Here’s why the Adobe Experience Design (XD) group decided it was time to make hardware: armed with tablets and mobile phones more powerful than desktop computers of just a few years ago, creatives don’t sit at desks all day anymore.

 » Read more about: Hardware-Enabled User Experience: What Drove Adobe to Make Ink and Slide  »

The Single Transistor Radio
by Chasen Peters

In my spare time between projects here at Mindtribe, I am always looking for something to keep my mind busy. Recently, I have become fascinated with the idea of a software-defined radio, or SDR for short. From a very high level, the concept behind an SDR is to use high speed digital electronics to replace functional blocks, like frequency mixing and modulation/demodulation, that traditionally require the use of high speed analog electronics. The advantage of using digital blocks is that they are easily configured through firmware/software. This approach gives the system a new level of flexibility that has traditionally not been available with a fully analog radio.

However, when learning something new, it is good practice to review the background and why it is necessary. For instance, learning to do differential equations before Laplace transforms. I thought it would be a good exercise to build a simple analog radio in order to gain some appreciation for the advantages of the SDR.

 » Read more about: The Single Transistor Radio  »

Spotting Patterns in C Disassembly
by Jerry Ryle

I’m grateful to Github for many things, but especially for making source control usage “normal” behavior. Perhaps Github’s popularity correlated with, rather than caused this trend, but I’m going to give them this one. Since Github’s advent, I’ve not needed to remind clients and new hires to put code into source control–it has become second nature. As a result, I have not had to patch a binary for quite some time now.

There was once a time when the phrase, “I’ll send you the source code,” found me in a cold sweat, hitting “check mail” in Outlook until the promised zip arrived. I’d be crushed to discover that the zip contained my worst fear: a binary executable, and nothing more. Invariably, I’d receive the, “oh, that’s all I have,” response to my grasping follow-up–hoping they might scrape together some crusty scraps of actual source out of old emails or off of that forgotten shared folder.

 » Read more about: Spotting Patterns in C Disassembly  »

ESD-Compliant Design (it’s not what you think)
by Adam Rothschild

I recently experimented with veganism. I’d been in France for a couple of weeks gorging myself on cheese and foie gras, so I needed a cleanse. While I won’t launch into stories about all the creative things you can do with cashews, I will share one lesson from my vegan foray: I like steak.

I wouldn’t particularly recommend veganism—nor would I discourage it, I actually felt about the same—but I will say that if you want a steak to taste super extra delicious, try not eating animal products for six weeks and then sinking your teeth into a medium rare, perfectly seared wagyu steak at Alexander’s.

So what do steaks have to do with engineering? As it turns out, a lot.

ESD compliance is a Mindtribe achievement that many have coveted but few have achieved. I’m not talking about high-energy electrons wreaking havoc on your silicon here.

 » Read more about: ESD-Compliant Design (it’s not what you think)  »

Signs of Dull Blades
by Sami Shad

Ever hacked away at a metal for ten minutes and made little or no progress? Here at Mindtribe, I recently ran into that pain point when I tried to use a hacksaw vs. stainless steel. The noise I made prompted Chasen to come into the shop and ask if my blade was dull. Since I couldn’t visually tell if the blade was dull or chipped, I took his word, ditched the blade for a new one, and blazed through my stainless steel cut in no time.

That experience made me curious to know of ways to know when a blade is past its usefulness. Noticing a similar pain point for a fellow ME, I decided to blog on the topic. I took to the internet to look for telltale signs of a blade going bad other than a visual inspection of the blade itself.

One way of knowing if a blade is dull is that a cut won’t be as clean as a sharp blade’s.

 » Read more about: Signs of Dull Blades  »

Clear Whiteboard on the Cheap, or Why You Should Always Double-Check Advice from the Internet
by Grace Tsay

We just installed some sliding doors in our workshop:

They looked prime for whiteboard installation.

First we did some research. We wanted something clear and see-through-y, because clear whiteboards are vogue these days. We had 2 options: go with expensive glass or go with an inexpensive clear plastic, such as acrylic or polycarbonate. We decided to do it on the cheap.

Based on advice from this website, we decided to go with polypropylene (PP). We shipped a huge 4’ x 8’ sheet from McMaster-Carr, cut it to size, drilled some holes, and mounted it onto one of the sliding doors.

Problem: After the marker has been up for a couple days, the whiteboard doesn’t erase.

Looking back, we should have bought a smaller piece of PP and tested it before going through the whole trouble of paying for shipping costs and doing all that work.

 » Read more about: Clear Whiteboard on the Cheap, or Why You Should Always Double-Check Advice from the Internet  »

Standing Desk Teardown
by Sravan Mettupalli

At Mindtribe, we’re always trying to improve the way we do engineering as well as the way we work. One of our recent experiments in ergonomics was trying out motorized standing desks. These desks let you change from a sitting to standing position very easily. After using it for a few weeks, I quickly became sold on the benefits. The 2PM slump, often treated with caffeine, was a thing of the past. Pairing with people also became a lot easier because of a changed notion of shared desk space while standing.

Unfortunately though, after a few more weeks, the new desk introduced an ergonomic problem in an unexpected location: my right hand. How does this happen you ask? The controls to raise and lower the desk are two rocker switches which are mounted under the tabletop to the side. To move the desk, you have to hold both switches in the same direction. 

 » Read more about: Standing Desk Teardown  »

A Smart Kegerator: Better Beer Management Through Technology
by Chasen Peters

Given that it is St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it would be fitting to talk about my kegerator. What’s so special about my kegerator, you might ask? Beyond the fact that it dispenses homebrew in a cold, carbonated fashion, not much. In fact, my kegerator suffers from the same deficiency as most other setups: it has no idea how much beer is actually in the keg. This becomes an issue when you have friends over to enjoy some homebrew, only to find that the keg has gone belly up after two and a half pours. So I started to think about an easy way to give my keg some “smarts,” something that would estimate the quantity of beer remaining in the keg.

I started thinking about this after reading a blog post on Engadget about integrating an Arduino into a kegerator with the purpose of “checking-in” beers on Untappd (a social networking platform for the avid beer connoisseur).

 » Read more about: A Smart Kegerator: Better Beer Management Through Technology  »

International Women’s Day
by Adam Rothschild

On this, the eve of International Women’s Day, EDN is shining the spotlight on 10 inspirational women engineers and scientists. We also want to acknowledge our awesome women ‘Tribers! Thank you to…

  • Ashley: For keeping Mindtribe humming with laughter and skill
  • Elisa: For making electrons flow quickly and efficiently
  • Grace: For driving our 3D printer faster than a Formula 1 car
  • Linda: For putting the “quick” in QuickBooks with a smile
  • Michelle: For being an uber-intern with diverse skills spanning galaxies

 » Read more about: International Women’s Day  »

The Innovation Act: Bad for Patent Trolls, Great for Engineers
by Michelle Warner

I think we as engineers prefer to focus on the technical side of the business, coming up with new ideas and solving problems. Or at least I would fall into that category. But occasionally it’s important to look outside our discipline at the systems supporting what we do. And one of those systems is patent law. Most inventors and companies are pretty protective of their ideas and technologies – inventors want their ideas used in the way they intended them to be used. And that’s, at the heart of it, why I think patent trolls make a lot of engineering blood boil.

So, what’s a patent troll? Patent troll is a term used for individuals or companies who acquire a lot of patents and then use this as leverage against other companies. They don’t actually build or create anything with their patents, they just use them to file suit against companies that they find in violation of any patent they hold.

 » Read more about: The Innovation Act: Bad for Patent Trolls, Great for Engineers  »

Geeky Romantic Suggestions
by Elisa Duggan

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I thought we’d make some suggestions for romantic gestures fit for engineers and the people who love them.

Making something is definitely an impressive choice. One straightforward option would be to buy some really nice chocolate and melt it into a geek-themed mold. Remember to pick a theme your beloved is fond of. This Millenium Falcon might be perfect for your Han Solo admirers while these Dalek and Tardis molds might suit your Dr. Who fans. I honestly want them both. Here are some helpful tips on how to get the most attractive results. Or if you want to go full geek, make your own mold! Here’s a nice set of instructions for using Legos to make chocolate Legos. Everybody loves Legos, right?

And continuing the Lego theme, one Mindtriber suggested his and her Lego minifigures.

 » Read more about: Geeky Romantic Suggestions  »

Tools We Use: SolidWorks Workgroup PDM
by Sami Shad

At Mindtribe, our Mechanical Engineers use SolidWorks Workgroup PDM to manage 3D CAD files for our clients and internal projects.

SolidWorks Workgroup PDM is one the most useful software tools available to SolidWorks users whether you’re on a small team or just working individually. Its main purpose is providing a central vault for storing files and handling version control. Computers crash, and when that happens, nobody wants to lose work. Checking files into a vault computer makes sure we don’t. Using SolidWorks Explorer to access our vault, we can look at previous revisions of drawings without ever having to start SolidWorks. We can also roll back our parts to previous versions if needed, so we don’t have to worry about breaking designs as we try to improve them.

Another benefit of storing files in a central location is that anyone can access them. If we’re collaborating on a project,

 » Read more about: Tools We Use: SolidWorks Workgroup PDM  »

The MVP Approach for Home Projects
by Elisa Duggan

Last year, for my daughter’s second birthday her father and I decided to give her a sand and water table. We had spent many hours watching her play with the sand and water table at the CuriOdyssey Museum at Coyote Point. Their beautiful table has two pans, each quite large. The upper one drains into the lower one which drains into a reservoir. The water in the reservoir is pushed through a UV water filter before it is pumped back to the top. Another awesome feature for their table is that the rate for pumping changes based on how much water is flowing into the reservoir. So if the children dam the water flow, then the pump slows to a trickle. If the water is flowing full force into the reservoir, then the pumping happens at full force. We wanted to recreate this table for our water-loving child.

 » Read more about: The MVP Approach for Home Projects  »

A Partial Solution to Kivy Event Handling
by Jerry Ryle

Modern hardware products rarely stand alone on islands of utility. Today’s useful products are connected to people, to the web, and to one another. To test and demonstrate this connectivity while we’re developing hardware, Mindtribe frequently creates test applications that simulate other parts of the ecosystem. These applications usually require graphical user interfaces.

We have evolved our GUI application prototyping toolkit from C++ in Windows MFC through C# with Windows Forms, tinkering with Qt, dabbling in Objective C, and jumping into Python for cross-platform development. Lately, we’ve been trying out Kivy, an “open source Python library for rapid development of applications that make use of innovative user interfaces”.

In surfacing for air from our deep C firmware programming to play with Kivy, we rediscovered the closure/lambda/currying classes of functionalities that higher-level languages provide.

 » Read more about: A Partial Solution to Kivy Event Handling  »

DRY Documentation: Meet Pandoc
by Ian Macartney

Documentation can often be a headache. It takes time to write, can quickly go out of sync, and is often required to be in multiple formats. Developers will keep a readme in some simple text format but then need to author a “.docx” file or similar for easy consumption by clients or coworkers. To make matters worse, you often need that documentation in multiple formats. Say you want to host the code on a website (and want the documentation in html), github (and thus prefer a Markdown file), but you also need an .odt or .docx version to show off to less technical users, or for offline viewing?

One solution would be to do everything in plain text (.txt) files. It will render correctly and somewhat reasonably in the mentioned situations, but you lose images, formatting, readability, and arguably some credibility. Alternatively you could keep multiple versions,

 » Read more about: DRY Documentation: Meet Pandoc  »

MindTribe Holiday Suggestions 2013
by Tom Hsiu

Here at MindTribe, we understand that two perennial questions are ever-present during the holiday season: what gift to give your favorite technology/science/hobby enthusiast and what to do with family and guests. So as a public service, we are sharing a short list of some of our random favorite things and activities. We hope that these help spark useful ideas for you and yours.

Green Laser Pointer for Stargazing

Did you know that you can reach up and touch the stars? Among us astronomy buffs, the advent of relatively inexpensive green laser pointers has been one of the best new tools in recent memory for sharing the wonders of the night sky (along with hand warmers). You can actually point to an object in the night sky quickly and with no confusion. It appears that the green line of light ends at the star or planet in question.

 » Read more about: MindTribe Holiday Suggestions 2013  »

Capacitive Touch – Live from our EE Team Sync
by Adam Rothschild

Every Thursday, the MindTribe EE team has a weekly team sync meeting. Once a month we do a “spotlight” at the meeting, in which one of our EE’s talks about an electrical engineering concept in depth. At the last meeting, we live-blogged Brian’s presentation on capacitive touch. Here we go.

Brian has recently been investigating capacitive touch. He’s primarily been looking at Cypress’s CapSense offering to make an “X-Y” touchpad. For today’s demo of the technology, we’re using a Cypress CapSense dev kit with 5 CapSense buttons and a slider.

Here’s some of the nitty gritty from Brian’s talk.

In general, there are two types of capacitive sense: self-capacitance and mutual capacitance. Our CapSense dev board uses self-capacitance, which relies on a change in capacitance with respect to ground–one side of the capacitor is connected to ground, the other to a copper pad. Mutual capacitance has both sides of the capacitor connected–one is used as a transmitter,

 » Read more about: Capacitive Touch – Live from our EE Team Sync  »

Companies We Love: Proto Labs
by Mike Ho

As much as we love our new 3D printer, there are still prototypes that call for the low-to-mid-volume bounty of rapid injection molded parts. One company that’s stood out in this space is Proto Labs, both for their speed (parts in as little as a day) and for their impressive quoting system (upload a model to get a detailed insta-report with prices, design recommendations, and even an animated 3D simulation of how plastic will flow into your mold).

On top of that, Proto Labs is also great about providing tips on designing for injection molding, as you can see on their website and YouTube channel. If you skim through a few of these videos, you might notice that they feature some very elucidating sample parts, which Proto Labs actually sends to its customers as design references. What I’m getting at here is that Proto Labs gives us awesome free toys.

 » Read more about: Companies We Love: Proto Labs  »

The Truth About Subpixels
by Timothy Van Ruitenbeek

One of our recent projects used a 4.3″ LCD screen with a 480×272 resolution for an embedded device (similar to this one). The original industrial design specification included adjacent red and blue regions, which looked great on a monitor, but led to some undesirable side effects when displayed on the real device.

You might think of a pixel as a colored dot, but in an LCD panel the pixels are made from a combination of red, green, and blue dots called subpixels. Here are the subpixel elements from a single bright pixel on a dim background:

This arrangement of subpixels can cause issues when you try to display solid red and blue areas side-by-side.

If the blue area is on the left, you can see a brighter, magenta-tinted border where the blue region from one pixel combines with the red region from the adjacent pixel.

 » Read more about: The Truth About Subpixels  »

Lessons Learnt From Breaking Things: Wrist Activity Trackers
by Sami Shad

Here at MindTribe, we are always tracking the latest technology, especially when the technology is tracking us. Wearable technology is very hip right now, so we decided to take a close look at one type of wearable – the wrist-worn activity tracker. There are many good reviews of trackers on the web, but we wanted to cut some open and take a look for ourselves. For our study we looked at five trackers: Jawbone Up, Nike+ Fuelband 2, Misfit Shine, Fitbit Flex and Basis B1.

The core function of all of these devices is to measure your activity, usually the “steps” you take throughout the day. Since this is done with an accelerometer on your wrist, we anticipated a lot of false positives in our step count – other wrist motions showing up as “steps.” We found that all of these devices do a pretty good job of filtering out other activities,

 » Read more about: Lessons Learnt From Breaking Things: Wrist Activity Trackers  »

Onboarding at MindTribe
by Sami Shad

Sami: So what happens when you join MindTribe? You might be asking this question if you decided to apply to one of our full-time positions. To help you out, here’s what Ian and I (as MT’s newest full-time employees) worked on in our first couple of weeks here.

Our first project at MindTribe was to build upon an internal project called Corgi. Corgi is an internal development platform that deserves a blog post on its own, but the idea for us was to get familiar with the environment and toolchain at MindTribe while working on a short project. Ian, tell me more about Corgi.

Ian: Corgi, at its heart, is akin to Arduino; A central board is programmed via USB and can interface with many peripheral boards (adorably named “pups”) that can be plugged in to provide special functionality. In our case we had a peripheral RGB LED,

 » Read more about: Onboarding at MindTribe  »

What MindTribe looks for in new Electrical Engineers
by Mark Shughart

With campus recruiting season underway, the MindTribe engineers are gearing up to look for some new members to join our team. With project teams usually including around 1-3 EEs, much will be expected from our new hires, so our hiring process needs to be crisp. Currently, our team is refining the interview process to make sure we get the right engineers for MindTribe.

As a company, MindTribe takes on a variety of projects from a variety of industries. This means we engineers must be able to quickly become versed in a new problem and be ready to work on addressing parts of that problem. Many different skills come together to be able to do this well, and we try to screen for all of those skills, but this blog post will concentrate on the essential technical skills the EE team looks for in our junior hires.

A fundamental understanding of circuit theory is essential.

 » Read more about: What MindTribe looks for in new Electrical Engineers  »

Technology Highlight: Advanced Metal Forming
by Chet Lim

With advances being made in the metal forming industry, let’s review a few of the latest called 1) tube hydroforming, 2) tube hot gas forming, and 3) sheet hydroforming. The two tube forming processes have allowed for forming of hollow metal tubes into shapes previously not possible with traditional methods. These processes are being used in the industry to make things like automotive frames, faucets, and bike parts. Sheet hydroforming, on the other hand, allows for fast prototyping with low tooling costs.


To understand these metal forming technologies, it is convenient to first understand a similar plastic forming technology called blow molding*. This process is how typical plastic PET water bottles are made. The plastic is first formed into a parison** by injection molding, then inserted into a bottle-shaped mold before pressurized air is used to force the outside of the bottle against the inside of the mold.

 » Read more about: Technology Highlight: Advanced Metal Forming  »

MindTribe’s Productive New Team Member
by Chet Lim

We now have a new 3D printer! We went with the Objet24, which seemed like a good balance between cost and performance.

A few uses that we were able to find for the new printer in just the first few weeks:

  • Internal spacer component for a cosmetic functional prototype
  • Form factor exploration on an iPad accessory product
  • Mechanical assembly check before sending parts out for machining
  • Assembly fixture for alignment of label on a cosmetic prototype

The printer has already saved us significant time, as we are able to get functional parts within hours as opposed to the days required for machined parts.

Have you used a 3D printer for work or for personal projects? What other creative uses have you found with your 3D printer?

 » Read more about: MindTribe’s Productive New Team Member  »

Made By Bot
by Jerry Ryle

My first relatively-successful attempt at designing and 3D printing something large-ish with the MakerBot is the red “splat mug” now featured on our mug wall.

Printing larger stuff is hard because the build plate needs to be level and flat over a large area & leveling the build plate is difficult. It took me 3 tries before the plate was level enough for the entire “splat” area of the print to adhere. And even then, because my build plate isn’t perfectly flat, I had to make some on-the-fly leveling adjustments to get a solid first layer.

Once the first layer was down, the rest of the print proceeded well. There are still two remaining problems:

1. Somehow, my design is still being sliced with a very slight angle to it. If you look at the “splat” area, you’ll see a noticeable step in it.

 » Read more about: Made By Bot  »

LDO or Buck?
by Elisa Duggan

Recently during a brief overview for the team, I led a discussion about different power supply topologies. One of the questions that came up was:

“How would you choose between an LDO versus a buck regulator?”

With an LDO design, voltage is lowered by turning excess power into heat. So if you need 1A out at 3V, you will need to input >1A at whatever your Vin might be. For example, if Vin is 5V, you will be looking at an efficiency of <60%. You’ll have to put in over 5W of power to get out 3W, losing >2W to heat.

LDO’s are going to be preferred for small power requirements or when Vin is very close to Vout, e.g. 3.3V -> 3V. They also tend to be physically smaller and less complex with fewer components. While a well-designed buck power supply can meet any electrical noise requirement you may have,

 » Read more about: LDO or Buck?  »

Innovative Hardware from a Software Company: How’d Adobe Do It?
by Steve Myers

You might have heard about Adobe diving into the hardware scene this week with two new product explorations.

Mighty is a cloud-connected, pressure-senstive stylus, and Napoleon is a digital ruler and template tool bringing the efficiency of old-school drafting tools to tablets. Both address the fact that after decades of digital design tool evolution, designers still ditch them in favor of pen and paper for an important part of their creative workflows—sketching and natural drawing.

Mindtribe led development of both Mighty and Napoleon.

Mighty simulates a pen-and-paper drawing experience on the iPad as a high performance, pressure sensitive stylus. It’s also cloud-connected, to enable copy-and-paste across devices (say, from your tablet to someone else’s phone) and instantly pull down your personal content and preferences from the Creative Cloud to wherever you are.

Napoleon hearkens back to the drafting table era by allowing you to quickly draw straight lines and basic shapes,

 » Read more about: Innovative Hardware from a Software Company: How’d Adobe Do It?  »

Engineers: Are You Killing Collaboration with PowerPoint?
by Steve Myers

We use PowerPoint on a regular basis. So why did we have this quote on our wall?

We agree with the instead of thinking part and hashing things out at the table. We’re not saying PowerPoint is bad.

Unfortunately for collaboration on engineering teams, though, it often is.

We engineers like to optimize, we like to have rational arguments ready to support our points of view, and collectively we’re not the most extroverted bunch in the world. When encountering a challenge, we can withdraw, think about the problem on our own, then approach others with a carefully crafted argument.

When we need to interact with someone else, this often means creating a presentation and calling a meeting to discuss an issue, rather than talking it through with others in real time.

 » Read more about: Engineers: Are You Killing Collaboration with PowerPoint?  »

MakerBot Replicator 2X Initial Impressions
by Jerry Ryle

My personal MakerBot Replicator 2X arrived yesterday! I set it up last night and was printing within about an hour of unboxing it. Here are two test prints of pre-sliced designs that came on the SD card.

Some initial impressions:

  • Overall, the Replicator 2X is awesome and very fun.
  • Out of the box, it’s almost ready to go. You remove some zip ties, install a handle on the lid, plug in the cords, load the filament, apply Kapton tape to the build plate, level the build plate, and start printing from models on the included SD card. It took about an hour, with the build-plate taping and leveling being the longest setup step. The shark and the traffic cone each printed in under 1/2 hour.
  • While easier to use out of the box than a build-it-yourself printer,

 » Read more about: MakerBot Replicator 2X Initial Impressions  »

MindTribe Hack Day!
by Grace Tsay

Recently MindTribe held our very first hack day!  We took a day off to build a drawing robot inspired by the polargraph.  It was an opportunity for us to work together as a company, working on a single project (we usually split up into smaller, disparate teams for our client projects).  Also, it allowed to us to flex our interdisciplinary engineering muscles and take on different roles: electrical engineers masqueraded as mechanical and some ME’s took to firmware.

empty line

Lessons learned:

- Chant “minimum viable” all day long.
That’s what carried us through to completion.  Jerry repeatedly mentioned, “If we can just get it to draw a straight line, I’d be pretty happy.”

Steve also added, “Asking ‘Is this minimum and viable?’ as a group was far more effective than simply asking that question to only yourself.

 » Read more about: MindTribe Hack Day!  »

Fox Tail for Thought: Has Good Design Gone Too Far?
by Steve Myers

Some of you might be familiar with Chris Bangle. He revolutionized car design in 2001 with the BMW 7 Series (you can thank him for any car designed after that with a crease in the metal–car design the decade prior roughly followed that of a bar of soap throughout its useful life).

He spoke at Stanford recently and shared an interesting thought related to how we as engineers work with designers, and how the process of making things is just as important as the thing itself. His comments are likely to resonate with any engineer who has been involved in building high-touch objects of design, whether they be physical or virtual. I’ll skip you right to the comment:

For those of you not involved in product development in the last decade, Apple popularized making stuff pretty “at all costs”–meaning you’d better have a darned good reason if you’re an engineer saying something is impossible.

 » Read more about: Fox Tail for Thought: Has Good Design Gone Too Far?  »

Building on Legos
by Mike Ho

This photo of a retired Lego mold sparked a lively discussion at a recent MT standup. The mold supposedly birthed 120,000,000 bricks over its career – an astronomical output considering that many sources claim Lego tolerances in the microns. Chet was impressed but a bit skeptical (imprestical?), since injection-molded parts typically have tolerances more in the range of +/-0.15 to +/-0.05mm. But everyone agreed that producing a billion parts per year that can each fit with any other part ever produced is an astounding feat. And they all snap together with just the same amount of force! But wait, Tom interjects, some of the Hsiu clan’s ancestral Legos don’t fit quite as well as newer pieces! Naturally, this left Mike no choice but to Google the unlikely phrase “ancestral legos,” eventually learning that not only can Legos survive across generations, they’re even used by some as an investment vehicle.

 » Read more about: Building on Legos  »

The Factory Floor Tour
by Mike Ho

Andrew “bunnie” Huang (of Xbox hacking and Chumby fame) recently completed a four-part blog series about manufacturing in China. It’s a great window on the work that goes into ramping up a factory for mass production and demystifies a lot of the ???’s between “Design Product” and “PROFIT!!”

The Quotation (or, How to Make a BOM)
On Design for Manufacturing
Industrial Design for Startups
Picking (and Maintaining) a Partner

 » Read more about: The Factory Floor Tour  »

The Useful Underbelly of CES
by Mike Ho

MindTribe’s brave volunteers are back from CES, mostly detoxified, and just about finished digesting that last buffet brunch.

Much has already been written about the gradual demise of CES, its increasing bloat, and decreasing relevance. After all, the public can only absorb so many breathless announcements about giant TVs and Android tablets before it all becomes an incoherent blur. But CES still serves an important function in the industry – supporting the success of products that will be shown at next year’s CES.

While CES is ostensibly about, well, Consumer Electronics (the finished products being shown on the main floor), a significant part of the show is devoted to Producing Electronics (the parts vendors and manufacturers behind those products). Many demos and deals take place in back rooms, but one universally accessible facet was the International Gateway, tucked in an unassuming back corner of the Venetian.

 » Read more about: The Useful Underbelly of CES  »

Can Apple Bring Home Hardware Manufacturing?
by Mike Ho

Two big interviews with Apple CEO Tim Cook yesterday – one with NBC and another in Bloomberg Businessweek. Cook dropped the announcement that Apple is bringing some manufacturing back to the U.S.

It’s not known well that the engine for the iPhone and iPad is made in the U.S., and many of these are also exported—the engine, the processor. The glass is made in Kentucky. And next year we are going to bring some production to the U.S. on the Mac. We’ve been working on this for a long time, and we were getting closer to it. It will happen in 2013. We’re really proud of it. We could have quickly maybe done just assembly, but it’s broader because we wanted to do something more substantial. So we’ll literally invest over $100 million. This doesn’t mean that Apple will do it ourselves, but we’ll be working with people,

 » Read more about: Can Apple Bring Home Hardware Manufacturing?  »

What You're Really Measuring
by David Palchak

Jack Ganssle writes great articles for Embedded Systems magazine.  This particular one investigates exactly what effect probe selection has when using an oscilloscope.  Ever wonder what justifies the $1k+ price tag of some probes, when they look like little more than a piece of coaxial wire stuck into a plastic handle?  This article can teach you, but you must be willing to learn (also, read).

 » Read more about: What You're Really Measuring  »

Kickstarter's New Rules Not So Great, Actually
by David Palchak

Kickstarter, the wildly successful crowd-funding website, recently posted some new rules for projects listed under their Hardware and Product Design categories:

I am a professional electrical engineer. I work for a product design company. The team here at MindTribe and I have designed dozens and dozens of consumer electronics and medical products. And I can tell you that these new prohibitions for Hardware and Product Design projects, however well-intended, are terrible.

In every single product I’ve worked on, renderings and “smoke and mirrors” demonstrations (i.e. simulations) are some of the very first things we focus on creating. As many critics of the new rules have rightfully pointed out, humans are highly visual creatures, and in many instances it is the form of a product that initially captures our attention. The aesthetic of a product is critical to its success.

 » Read more about: Kickstarter's New Rules Not So Great, Actually  »

Engineering is Not Product Development
by Steve Myers

I spend my fair share of time helping clients understand what’s so broken about traditional product development for technology products.

The more experienced the audience, the easier the task. If someone has lived through developing an innovative technology product or two, heads nod and we’re completing one another’s sentences in no time.

For the less experienced, it has been helpful to stand back and share my perspective on why product development has evolved the way it has for technology products.

I recently discovered a piece of that narrative I had been missing, and one rooted all the way back to engineers starting their careers fresh out of school.

Engineering is Not Product Development

When engineers finish their academic training, they’re ready to go out in the world and engineer things. Engineering is, after all, about wrapping science with a whole bunch of additional constraints to create something that lives free of the life support system of a lab.

 » Read more about: Engineering is Not Product Development  »

"The Best Programming Advice I Ever Got" with Rob Pike
by Jerry Ryle

I can’t agree more with this advice.

Debugging by thinking is as important an educational tool as it is a development tool. If you’re used to jumping into the debugger right after you compile, try something different: As soon as your program exhibits unexpected behavior, step away from your computer. Formulate a hypothesis that might explain why your program behaves the way it does. Return to your computer only after you have a hypothesis. Don’t open your debugger just yet. If possible, try giving your program a different input and predict the results according to your hypothesis. Don’t open the debugger yet. With the additional information and your hypothesis in mind, go back and read your code. See if you can find the problem or refine your hypothesis to blame a specific module or function. If you think you’e found the problem, try fixing it and repeating.

 » Read more about: "The Best Programming Advice I Ever Got" with Rob Pike  »

Rise of the Machines (in the non-apocalyptic sense)
by Mike Ho

The New York Times recently reported on A Hardware Renaissance in Silicon Valley. Indeed, hardware innovation is finally flourishing as software did, driven increasingly by a wave of small startups (presumably with colorful furniture and Costco-stocked pantries). A confluence of trends is contributing to this new boom:

  • Falling component costs due to economies of scale and technology advances
  • Rapid prototyping accelerating development
  • Companies like Apple and the Maker community generating talent and passion for hardware
  • Increasing availability of funding from V.C.’s and new sources like Kickstarter

The article also claims that “[a]lthough the hardware is not manufactured in Silicon Valley, it is being conceived, designed, prototyped and financed here.” But even that is starting to change, as companies like Google are starting to look toward local manufacturers for tighter integration and improved quality.

 » Read more about: Rise of the Machines (in the non-apocalyptic sense)  »

Lunar Homes Printed Here
by Elisa Duggan

If you’re reading this blog you are probably familiar with 3D printing. With home printer kits costing as little as $500, many of our children will grow up thinking that whatever CAD they dream up can simply be printed to become part of their games and adventures. Well this explosion at home is part of a larger manufacturing revolution. Additive manufacturing is poised to change the way we build. Recently the start-up Made In Space won a NASA contract to create a 3D printer that could be used in space to build things that are needed in space. Currently if something breaks on the space station the astronauts have a long wait for a replacement. I know I’d be pretty bummed if my coffee pot broke while I was up orbiting the Earth. Well worry no more, just print a new coffee pot. USC professor Behrokh Khoshnevis is working for NASA on a project to build lunar structures –

 » Read more about: Lunar Homes Printed Here  »

Kickstarter is showing a Better Way to do hardware innovation, and EVERYONE should be taking note
by Mike Ho

It may very well be that people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. Unfortunately, with hardware products there can be a year of development standing between an initial idea and the final unveiling. That’s a pricey gamble, especially for innovative, trailblazing products where the ideas tend to be more hit-or-miss. Not a problem if you’re a visionary of the generation, but not everyone can consistently descend from the mount, arms brimming with assured success and your name is Steve Jobs.

This is the traditional product development cycle – come up with an idea, dispatch engineers to the bunker, and a year later ask, “sooo… who wants one?” Kickstarter turns this on its head by asking the big question upfront. And if the answer is yes, that’s when you hit the GO button (possibly with a flying champagne cork).

 » Read more about: Kickstarter is showing a Better Way to do hardware innovation, and EVERYONE should be taking note  »

What is a flame?
by David Palchak

Back in March of this year, actor and writer Alan Alda issued a challenge in an editorial for Science Magazine: explain what a flame is to an 11 year old.

The winner of the challenge was announced recently as Ben Ames, a Ph.D. student studying quantum optics at the University of Innsbruck, Austria.  The video created by Mr. Ames is nothing short of incredible.  It’s been a long time since I was 11 years old, and I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge since then.  However, it’s fair to say that I was learning something new for 95% of the time that I spent watching Mr. Ames’ winning entry, and the other 5% of the time my 11 year old self was thoroughly entertained.

Chances are you have reached your current state as a mature adult without ever fully understanding what a flame is. 

 » Read more about: What is a flame?  »

Obstacles to Innovation Within Large Organizations: The Invisible Engineering Perspective
by Steve Myers

Innovation is notoriously challenging within large organizations. We work closely with firms like IDEO and McKinsey who have spent years helping break down the innovation-preventing barriers.

To attempt to summarize everything that’s been said about innovation would be like sweeping sand off the beach.

I’d like to share some observations from a perspective most people don’t see—from inside an engineering team tasked with developing innovative technology products.

This perspective is so rarely seen due to the chasm that typically exists between executive and engineering teams. Who’s asked how to solve the innovation problem? Not the engineering team.

For you business folks, consider this a peek through an engineer’s glasses at a few of the challenges developing innovative technology products specific to large organizations.

Hire aligned engineers, not just engineers.

In addition to basics like personality and ability to work with others,

 » Read more about: Obstacles to Innovation Within Large Organizations: The Invisible Engineering Perspective  »

CEOs: Check Your Communication Channel with Engineering
by Steve Myers

At MindTribe our teams meet every week to plan their work for the week. Every stakeholder—from customers to the executive team—has a chance to provide input once a week.

The idea is that once all the voices are heard, the team can identify the highest priority work for the week. Then the engineering team is never more than a week off of working on the most important things.

After a recent meeting, the engineering team was working hard to respond to some new input from the executive team. Having visibility on both engineering and executive levels (while the engineering team did not), I could see how hard the engineering team was working, but how much the team appeared to be spinning their wheels to the executive team.

Once we identified this issue we actively resynchronized everyone as quickly as we could. But it reminded me how often communication channels from the CEO to an engineering team go totally unchecked.

 » Read more about: CEOs: Check Your Communication Channel with Engineering  »

Engineering Grad? What I Wish I Knew!
by Steve Myers

You’ve ordered your cap and gown, or you just walked and got your engineering degree?

I’d say congratulations, but well done is more like it. Congratulations implies there was some degree of luck in place of all that hard work!

With so many engineers entering the uncharted territory beyond school this time of year, and having worked with quite a few engineers just out of school over the years, I thought it might be helpful to share a conversation I wish I could go back and have with myself when I was in your shoes.

“Look Steve, here’s the deal…

Remember when you were finishing up that lab report at 3AM and got totally stuck? You had spent hours poring through your books, notes, and anything you could find online, and still no luck. The answer must be in there somewhere,

 » Read more about: Engineering Grad? What I Wish I Knew!  »

Product Development is Broken
by Steve Myers

This is the way most technology products are developed. You start with a product vision.

You write a development plan, including development time and cost.

However, when making something new, there are unknowns.

Since none of us has a crystal ball, assumptions are made to address the unknowns.

The development plan is complete. However, there is almost always intense pressure to release the product sooner. The development team resists, but ultimately acquiesces and agrees to an accelerated schedule–if some additional assumptions are met. The more aggressive the schedule, the worse and more numerous the assumptions become.

This plan is given a green light and the development team gets started.

Early in development,

 » Read more about: Product Development is Broken  »

Engineers: We're Growing, Are You?
by Steve Myers

MindTribe’s been busy. After twelve years of developing technology products the way most everyone does, and finally convincing ourselves of the inherent flaws with that approach, we’ve been hard at work with a way to develop successful, innovative technology products more effectively.

This has been a lot of work. It’s easy to come up with engineering and product development approaches that sound good. Achieving results with actual teams and products is much more difficult.

As we’ve been validating and evolving our method the past couple of years, we’ve been more focused on proving out our core approach than growing our team, to ensure our team is aligned with the approach that has emerged and so we’re confident we’re adding the right people going forward.

I’m happy to report that we’re ready to grow. Our team is aligned. We’ve validated our core approach. We’re working with clients in close partnerships to build successful,

 » Read more about: Engineers: We're Growing, Are You?  »

A Message to CEOs: Not Developing the Technology Products You Want?
by Steve Myers

You or your organization is tasked with building an innovative hardware product. Maybe it’s a standalone hardware product, or maybe it’s to support a software-based or online experience. It doesn’t matter—the point is that you need an innovative user experience unlocked by both hardware and software.

You’ve either tried and failed to develop great hardware, or you have a bad memory of it—team burn out, product late to market, resources blown on products that weren’t successful, innovation diluted. Furthermore these results were not in your control. You weren’t sure exactly what was going on with hardware and why it was taking so long, or why you wound up with the product you did.

If that experience was with a start-up, you know the repercussions of not getting a product right, developed late, or spending all your money on the wrong product. Within a large organization, you know how painful it can be and how much political capital is burned when the organization rallies itself around a product that isn’t released on time,

 » Read more about: A Message to CEOs: Not Developing the Technology Products You Want?  »

Getting back mbed
by David Palchak

It’s been a while since the mbed was introduced, and I haven’t personally taken a look at it since I bought my first unit a couple years ago. One feature of the mbed that initially dissuaded me from using it more around the office was the online IDE and toolchain. I once had a quick, two week prototyping effort totally thrown off schedule when the mbed website went down for a compiler upgrade on exactly the wrong day.

I was just checking out the mbed again recently, and I’m happy to report that the libraries (the most powerful feature of the mbed platform) fully support offline compilation! A number of compilers are supported, including several free ones. The mbed team has put together a nice set of instructions for migrating your existing mbed projects to an offline tool chain. And, if you’re like me and prefer to use a fully-featured IDE,

 » Read more about: Getting back mbed  »

Aha Moments
by Adam Rothschild

Ever wonder what the recipe is for an “aha” moment? Jonah Lehrer’s new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, lays out the newest science on the subject. I find his concepts fascinating. The next time you need inspiration or have hit the proverbial wall, instead of staying buckled to your chair and trying harder, take a walk, take a vacation, take a nap. Finally, a scientific explanation for why the best ideas are created at the water cooler or in the shower.

I find truth in these concepts, and I find they jive with MindTribe’s method for product development. “Traditional” product development effort can’t handle the inevitable paradigm shifting moments that happen in the middle of a project. MindTribe’s method can.

Of course, it’s not all about taking walks and showers. Mr. Lehrer also introduces the concept of “grit”. “Grit” is the 10,000 hours of post-idea work and persistence it takes to actually make the “aha” 

 » Read more about: Aha Moments  »

Can We Get Those Prototypes in Green?
by Mike Ho

NY-based Harbec offers a range of injection molding and rapid prototyping services. But along with the typical stable of CNCs, laser-sintering stations, and molding machines, Harbec has a very non-standard piece of equipment – their own wind turbine.

Harbec is becoming a leader in green manufacturing, showing not only that it’s possible, but also that environmental sustainability can yield significant economic benefits. They’ve received several awards for their efforts and are aiming to become completely carbon neutral by 2013.

Now if only we could actually use their services without having to fly parts across the country!

 » Read more about: Can We Get Those Prototypes in Green?  »

Hunting High and Low for that Superhero Project Manager?
by Steve Myers

If you’ve ever been responsible to develop a technology product, chances are you know the elusive superhero project manager when you see one. Managing budgets, communicating schedule, leading teams that seem magically functional, hitting milestones–things may not always go perfectly, but the development effort is charging ahead and more good stuff is happening than bad.

Though dazzling when you have a superhero, to be reliant upon finding this type of person when you don’t is risky. For one, finding the exact mix of domain experience you need along with the emotional intelligence and type of personality needed to perform the non-technical aspects of that role is rare. It’s also somewhat theoretical–just because someone’s a perfect fit for one development effort doesn’t mean they will be for another. You could be looking for someone who by definition doesn’t exist.

Furthermore, even having a superhero has downsides. Superhero project managers often step in,

 » Read more about: Hunting High and Low for that Superhero Project Manager?  »

Travel Tools Review: MapsWithMe iOS App
by Alan Laursen

I’ve only traveled abroad with an iDevice a couple of times, but each time I have done so without data roaming. With data goes one of the more handy tools on the phone (especially when in unfamiliar ground), Maps.

Getting around on a recent trip to China, where I can’t even ask for directions, was especially daunting. Thankfully, there are people out there creating an open source alternative to Google Maps (check out The best part is that these maps are useable and downloadable by anyone.


That’s where MapsWithMe comes in. It’s a free app for the iPhone that lets you download map packs (also free) for anywhere in the world. You download the map for where you are going when you are on wifi and then head out. Features are limited. You only get an overhead view of the map and the ability to center on your GPS coordinates (which worked while I was on the cell network).  » Read more about: Travel Tools Review: MapsWithMe iOS App  »

Sometimes it *is* all about the blinky light
by Tim Prachar

This is a great story of an amazingly innovative solution to a difficult and expensive problem.

Generally, as engineers we want to get to the root cause of a problem, and fix it at the source.  EMI is a classic example of that – find the source of the noise and squash it there rather than build elaborate shielding.  But sometimes, that’s not an option, much like the rocket in the article.  Sometimes, the best solution is to accept the noise and work around it.

The classic EMI workaround is the spread-spectrum clock generator.  Some call it a cheat, some call it a magic bullet. And I call it situation-dependent.  And they are less than the $5 NASA spent to fix the $100M rocket.


*Credit for this title goes to a departed good friend of mine,

 » Read more about: Sometimes it *is* all about the blinky light  »

CES 2012 – Armageddon Year?
by Tim Prachar

According to the Mayans the calendar comes to an end this year.  Does this mean the world ends?  Probably not.  But maybe they were thinking of CES.

This year CES was like others prior in that there’s a constant barrage of new products on display, and an even greater number of products that were there the year before, but they’re still trying hard to push them out to distributors.  Some things like the cap bill-mounted television (AKA TV Hat) never seem to die despite the fact we’ve never seen one in the wild, other than on the Ellen DeGeneres show.

Gadgets flooded the show, but innovation seemed to be less present than before.  Perhaps the Mayans saw this coming, that the path of innovation would someday reach this moment when the really big inventions were all done, and we were left with the corner cases. 

 » Read more about: CES 2012 – Armageddon Year?  »

Leadership for Engineers, Part I: Getting the Most Out of the People Around You
by Steve Myers

I recently realized that as our teams face the myriad challenges inherent with doing new things, and engineering innovative technology products, that I suggest one thing more than any other: that we provide leadership.

After some discussion, the question inevitably arises: “What do you mean? Exactly?

My tendency is to provide a suggestion specific to the situation at hand. Don’t underestimate the value of your point of view–clearly express what you think is best. Or better understand what’s driving that decision you disagree with. Or do your best to leverage that person’s strengths and keep the big picture in mind. Stuff like that.

However, this is such a powerful concept I’ve wanted to generalize a response so people can see its applicability on a daily basis in nearly every situation,

 » Read more about: Leadership for Engineers, Part I: Getting the Most Out of the People Around You  »

An Engineer's Experience at MindTribe (refreshed)
by Chet Lim

Now that we’ve settled into our new office and are expanding our team, I thought it’d be a good time to refresh some thoughts about some of the unique aspects of being an engineer at MindTribe:

1) Ability to explore outside of your core expertise

At MindTribe we have electrical engineers who use Solidworks, mechanical engineers who also wear the project management hat, and software engineers who have degrees in mechanical engineering. It is a one-of-a-kind company that encourages its employees to be multidisciplinary. MindTribe believes that breakthrough ideas for technology often come when paths of different disciplines cross, thus we place a high value on engineers who are well-versed in different disciplines. A wide breadth of perspectives benefits our clients, who have to consider the big picture as well as day-to-day priorities.

2) Our awesome new office in downtown San Francisco!

 » Read more about: An Engineer's Experience at MindTribe (refreshed)  »

Unpacking Moving In
by Steve Myers

We moved into our new office last weekend and we’re pretty excited about it.

Why? There are many reasons, but the most important is that it supports the way we want to work.

We’ve been developing a method of doing engineering and product development over the past year dependent upon real-time collaboration amongst our team and with our clients.

Our old office became a limitation. Our desks had distinct divisions. It was difficult to roll over to a teammate to look at his or her screen, or sit together and work in real time. The entire space was broken into separate rooms, which made it difficult to be immersed in whatever was going on with your team at a given time.

Though still cluttered with blue boxes and monitor stands (where’d the monitors go?), here’s a sneak peek at our new setup.

 » Read more about: Unpacking Moving In  »

Try *this* with your fancy new iPhone 4S camera!
by Tim Prachar

Many have written about the new iPhone4S’s camera, and how it might displace quite a few point-and-shoot models.  Still, there are some things it can’t do, or you wouldn’t want to do with it.  This is one.

This throwable panoramic camera is an exciting example of how to take rather basic technology (cameras and accelerometers), and make something innovative.

Reading about this cool device (it’s on my Christmas list) tied into a conversation we had at lunch today as we contemplated the world inside a modern dishwasher.  (yes, we’re engineers)

What if you could put a camera like this inside a dishwasher?  What would that experience be like?  Now let’s extend that to some of the obvious places such as using this ball in a soccer match.  The ball’s eye view could be an interesting one, and maybe best viewed on your 3D television or in IMAX.

 » Read more about: Try *this* with your fancy new iPhone 4S camera!  »

An Interview with Woz and Jobs — from 1979
by Tim Prachar

UPDATE (Nov 15th): The IEEE newsletter can now be found here, and the article begins on page 21.  Many thanks to the authors and the interviewer, Robin Bradbeer.

In the most recent issue of IEEE Consumer Electronics Society Newsletter (Fall 2011) you’ll find two articles from Practical Computing April & May 1979: one is an interview with Steve Wozniak and the other with Steve Jobs.  I believe this issue of the newsletter went to press before the announcement of Steve’s death.

The articles are quite interesting as they tell a story so common to the companies that MindTribe encounters.  For those of us who’ve been in or around the computing industry since the 1970’s, it’s especially interesting to see how certain technical decisions took form, and how they led to the predominant architectures we work with today

Reach out to your IEEE member friends for a copy of the newsletter,

 » Read more about: An Interview with Woz and Jobs — from 1979  »

MindTribe is Moving to San Francisco!
by Steve Myers

MindTribe is excited to announce that as of October, our new home will be 25 Kearny St, Suite 200, in downtown San Francisco!

Why the move? The lease for our office in downtown Palo Alto expired this year and a move was triggered by a number of factors.

For one, MindTribe has been doing engineering and product development in a non-traditional way over the past year, requiring a high degree of collaboration amongst our team, our clients, and partners. Whether it be working alongside one another pair engineering, or having a client or partner work alongside us in our office, or a place to have informal stand-up meetings within our workspace, our current office layout was inflexible and did not support the degree of collaboration we require.

Though we’ll be farther from some clients, partners and friends in San Francisco, our product development method requires working closely and iteratively with industrial design and user experience firms.

 » Read more about: MindTribe is Moving to San Francisco!  »

What's All This Electrosmog Stuff, Anyhow?
by Tim Prachar


From time to time new words are coined in the tech world, and some stick like glue while others evaporate like old political jokes. And often these terms are formed not by the tech community, but by those outside of it. Enter Electrosmog.

I’ve spent years (decades, actually) dealing with EMC, EMI, EFT and other RF-centric compliance terms, but most of those aren’t very exciting acronyms and thus don’t gain much emotional traction. I cringed when I first read the word electrosmog, feeling that disdain that comes when someone uses a term that sounds catchy, but just doesn’t fit as exactly as an engineer wants. But after a while it’s come to grow on me. Not because it’s accurate, but because it helps explain a very scientific topic to a general audience.

At first I thought this term was describing something that came out of a Toyota Prius.

 » Read more about: What's All This Electrosmog Stuff, Anyhow?  »

Tim is Wrong About My Pull-Up Bar
by Josh Newth

I recently purchased a pull-up bar to get chiseled in preparation for my photo shoot in the MindTribe Christmas calendar (he’s kidding, I hope – Ed.). Tim, our director of Electrical Engineering, took a look at the contraption and concluded the load is borne solely on the door trim (the thin strip of wood that runs around the edge of the door), a design choice of which he disapproved. This didn’t seem quite right to me, and it nagged enough to get me out of bed early Saturday morning to figure it out.

As an aside, whenever I think about the way my parents looked on the day I informed them I needed a 5th year at my very prestigious, very expensive university to complete my engineering degree, I have no problem whatsoever getting out of bed early Saturday to do math. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Here is a graphic showing how the Iron Gym hangs in a doorframe.

 » Read more about: Tim is Wrong About My Pull-Up Bar  »

Personal Projects: Compressed Air Rockets
by Mike Ho

Tom, MindTribe’s project manager and resident Awesome Dad, is constantly building new toys to delight his kids. Consequently, one fringe benefit of working at MindTribe is occasionally getting to play with said toys, which are no less delightful for big kids. Recently Tom brought in his compressed air rockets, which we eagerly fired into the skies above the local Trader Joe’s parking lot.

For simple paper tubes, those rockets flew amazingly high. Sometimes it was difficult to track their flight until they were well on the way down (which made us appreciate that the rockets were 100% crumple zone). Tom noted that the launcher is essentially an air cannon and that he’s a bit apprehensive of his kids realizing the launch angle doesn’t always have to be 90°.

From Tom:

The plans are from Make magazine, and you may have seen them at Maker Faire if you’ve been.

 » Read more about: Personal Projects: Compressed Air Rockets  »

Forgotten C: The comma operator
by Jerry Ryle

Comma operator?! Isn’t that thing just a separator? Nope. It’s occasionally an operator. And it can do this:

int i = (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5);

Know what that does? It evaluates the constants 0 through 4, discards the results, and then evaluates and returns the constant 5, which is assigned to ‘i’. Why is that useful? It’s not. The evaluation of the constants is probably optimized away by most compilers. But, the comma introduces a sequence point, so you can do disgusting things like this, ensuring the order of evaluation:

int i = (a2d_init(), a2d_fetchvalue());

I don’t care how expressive you are—don’t ever do that. Just know that you CAN do it and that doing it makes you a bad person.

Other, more kosher, but still questionable uses include loops:

for (i = 0, j = 256; i <  » Read more about: Forgotten C: The comma operator  »

Wolfram|Alpha Adds New EE Features
by Mike Ho

A new entry in the crowded world of online resistor tools, Wolfram|Alpha recently expanded its functionality to fulfill all your ohmic needs.

Check out the results from these queries:

Without a graphical interface, it might not replace my utilitarian mainstay, but it’s always nice to add new arrows to the ol’ engineering quiver.

 » Read more about: Wolfram|Alpha Adds New EE Features  »

An Adventure in Ring Making!
by Geoff Nichols

In trying to imbue a ring with value worthy of the lovely lady I planned to give it to, I had to dive deep to determine what I valued. I knew it wasn’t money, and I was a little turned off by jewelry. So after much deliberation and many long rides (I do my best thinking 3 hours into a 5 hour road ride), I ultimately realized that I value experience. To maximize the experience of this ring, I knew that, as much as possible, I’d have to make it with my own two hands.

OK, now what? I really didn’t know a thing about jewelry making, but with a “can do” attitude and the hubris of an engineer, I jumped right in. As you can imagine, my first attempt really didn’t work out. I made half-rings and silver mutants but only ONE ring out of 10 or so tries.

 » Read more about: An Adventure in Ring Making!  »

Do Engineers Fear the Known More Than the Unknown?
by Tim Prachar

They say that we fear what we don’t understand, but I wonder whether engineers have this flip-flopped, as many of us seem to fear what we do understand.

On a recent high-volume consumer product, we were faced with the task of detecting insertion of a user’s magnetic key. The mechanical team proposed their best solution: a simple contact switch. The electrical team proposed their best solution: using induced current in a sense coil. Curiously, each group thought the other group’s solution was the better choice.

When shopping for a high-security lock recently, I had the choice between electronic and classic dial-type combination solutions. The market has overwhelmingly moved to the keypad electronic solution, but my gut told me I should go with the mechanical solution as it would be more reliable. After much Google-research, it was clear that my gut was wrong and that the electronic locks are just as reliable,

 » Read more about: Do Engineers Fear the Known More Than the Unknown?  »

Thinking Outside the Digi-Key Box
by Tim Prachar

Earlier today, I recalled a prescient conversation of the mid-1990’s that I had with a procurement person about how engineers select components. There in our San Jose R&D office on Brokaw, deep in the belly of Silicon Valley, she felt that engineers she worked with would only design in a component if they could order it from Digi-Key. With such a rich world of options out there, why, she asked, would otherwise good engineers trap themselves in the Digi-Key box?

Well here we are over 15 years later, and the answer is obvious. Digi-Key realized that the fastest way to get engineers to use them was to make the selection and ordering process easy. Digi-Key provided engineers with the links they need, and the late-in-the-day shipping deadline allowed them to design during Happy Hour and still have presents by 8am the next morning from the friendly brown truck.

 » Read more about: Thinking Outside the Digi-Key Box  »

EE Loses Two Heroes
by Tim Prachar

There’s been a huge upset in the force. The two great EE legends of circuit design are no more, with the second one passing Saturday as he left the memorial for the first. A sad time in Silicon Valley to be sure.

Jim Williams and Bob Pease represented the core of great electrical engineers, and their many articles endeavored to spread that deep knowledge outward for all to share. Bob in particular was quite diverse and presented interesting points-of-view on numerous topics ranging from VW repair to hiking in Nepal to measuring femtoamperes. His works are worthy of reading to all EE types. Look here and other places for his writings.

 » Read more about: EE Loses Two Heroes  »

Name that Diode
by Tim Prachar

In a recent interview, one of the tasks for the candidate was to give the diode names for various schematic symbols. Some were easy and others were a bit more obscure. And to make matters more interesting, there are multiple symbols for some. Below are a few examples, but know that there are many more not mentioned here.

In Baby’s First Diode Book you just get one diode, this one:

All it does is conduct one way and not the other. That’s easy. And to a first order this gets one through a lot of design problems. In the discipline, we call this the “ideal diode”. Alas, that’s vastly oversimplified and overly limiting. And you can’t buy one.

Turns out that the diode world is quite rich and complicated. Let’s introduce some of the family members, roughly in order of reverse obscurity.

 » Read more about: Name that Diode  »

Is My Cell Phone Giving Me Cancer?
by Tim Prachar

Much noise has been made in the press recently about the WHO’s addition of “mobile phone use” to its list of things which it considers can possibly cause cancer. Lawmakers in San Francisco are likely excited by this as the city has been trying to pass ordinances requiring cancer warning stickers on cell phones.

But do they cause cancer? And what did the WHO really say?

Let’s start with what the WHO actually did and said.

There were no new studies performed, but rather this was the result of a 31-person team’s review of past studies. The category they added mobile phone use into is called “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. Note the use of the weasel-word “possibly”. Also, pay attention to the other items on this list, which includes 266 items (Group 2B) such as coffee, nickel, and talc-based body powder.

On their “known carcinogen” list (Group 1) is alcoholic drinks,

 » Read more about: Is My Cell Phone Giving Me Cancer?  »

Breakthrough Products Breaking Your Back?
by Steve Myers

How many times do you have to experience something painful to learn a lesson from it? It generally depends on how painful it was. But what if it’s not as simple as leaving your wallet in a cab and never doing that again? What if the situation is so complex that you’re struggling again and again but not sure what to change?

This describes many of our clients developing innovative technology products. It’s a painful process, but the challenges involved conspire to induce the same pain over and over again.

At MindTribe, we have opportunity see development of perhaps a dozen products every year. By integrating with our client teams, we not only see the world through their eyes, we feel their pain. Since the factors involved are seemingly complex, we too only recently gained some clarity with what’s going on.

Crystal balls do not exist.

 » Read more about: Breakthrough Products Breaking Your Back?  »

Check it out: Test-Driven Development for Embedded C
by Jerry Ryle

Pre-ordered long ago, my copy of “Test-Driven Development for Embedded C” by James Grenning finally arrived.

I’m super-excited because a good primer on the topic is long overdue—in fact, a coworker and I were contemplating writing one ourselves. Within days of that conversation, this popped up for pre-order on Amazon.

I have a few chapters left to read but, so far, it’s exactly what I was hoping for. Grenning starts out with a brief introduction to TDD, explaining the need for it, but doesn’t dwell here for too long. He likely assumes that anyone motivated enough to read this book has felt the pain of a Debug-Later Testing approach. Very quickly, he jumps into the example of an LED driver written in C. He walks the reader through the details of writing tests, watching them fail, and then making them pass.

 » Read more about: Check it out: Test-Driven Development for Embedded C  »

The Open Source Hardware Spec and Why Should You Care
by Jen Costillo

Several weeks ago, the initial full release was made of the OSHW specification. The Open Source Hardware spec is the first attempt to start an open source revolution for hardware. At first glance, it is not terribly interesting. It has a lot of information about licenses and definitions about what must be included to be OSHW compliant. If you are like me, were expecting something more technical and meaty. You are hoping for pin outs or a platform specification, not the mention of documentation that must be written. After reading it, I moved quickly onto other things not thinking about the possibilities.

A few weeks back I revisited it. I thought about why this is important and how it could affect professional hardware people (EEs, MEs, and FWEs). Honestly, I struggled because I wanted the reasoning to have immediately tangible technical merit. I read a few blog posts that pointed out the current issues with trading designs and what that might mean for hobbyists where tools are not standardized and tool costs matter heavily for design adoption and permeation through the community.

 » Read more about: The Open Source Hardware Spec and Why Should You Care  »

Taking Game Interaction to the Next Level
by Jen Costillo

As many of you know, we have had a window front display in our Palo Alto office for a long time. Passersby could dial up with their cell phones and control a simple classic arcade game.

It’s 2011 and we are taking it to the next logical conclusion: Body enabled control, Kinect style. Simply step up to our window, place your feet into the chalk foot prints, and wave to wake up the system.

Naturally, our readers will ask how I did this. Leveraging the open source software work found on Kinect Hacks (.com), I found that you could easily add mouse control to any Windows(tm) system by installing Kinemote. The install was easy using the directions.

However, like many new open source projects, particularly for this new device, there are shortcomings. I couldn’t easily leverage the “directional pad”

 » Read more about: Taking Game Interaction to the Next Level  »

It’s-a ME
by Mike Ho

The release of Nintendo’s newest portable system, the 3DS, is just days away, and I can’t wait to get a hands-on look at… how they designed the battery cover. Wait, what?

Volume 3 of Iwata Asks, a series of interviews conducted by the CEO of Nintendo, presents a roundtable discussion with the mechanical engineers behind the 3DS. Across six text-heavy, meticulously footnoted pages, the ME’s proceed to geek out over everything from the virtues of in-mold labeling to the difficulty of snaking three flex cables through a hinge to, yes, the novel battery cover design. This is a delightfully improbable piece of marketing – improbable because the general public does not care about the minutiae of overmolded buttons and draft angles, delightful because the engineers are so darn enthusiastic anyways.

In the world of consumer electronics, technology and industrial design typically claim center stage.

 » Read more about: It’s-a ME  »

Lean Startup Fun is a Click Away
by Jen Costillo

Experimental Game Play is a great example of rapid prototyping with immediate group feedback- the basic tenets of lean startups. The site has gone through a lot of change over the years but many good things have come out of this place. A notable example is World of Goo, which is now available on the Wii and other consoles but started as a PC demo called Tower of Goo back in 2006. I spent many hours playing it during my MBA finance class.

The overview of the site is:

“We’re a group of indie game developers, running a friendly competition every month. The rules: Make a game based on the month’s theme, and don’t spend more than 7 days. New games posted at the end of every month.”

There are some interesting ideas about innovation here:

  1. Do it once fast;

 » Read more about: Lean Startup Fun is a Click Away  »

Personal Projects: Parking Reminder
by Mike Ho

Curse you San Francisco, you’ve bested me for the last time! At first, I took it in stride. “You caught me fair n’ square,” I thought as I clicked the payment button with a mirthless chuckle. The second time was far more difficult to accept and may even have involved slightly quivering, balled fists. “C’mon, I live right there. I… I thought we were friends!” A few months and seven painful parking tickets later, I came to the only logical conclusion – I’d have to compensate for my financially-crippling inability to remember street cleaning days with a mix of circuitry, firmware, and blinking lights.

Thus was born my most recent personal project, the Street Cleaning Day Parking Reminder Device (SCDPRD). Many MindTribers, inveterate engineers that we are, have appropriately nerdly projects that we work on in our spare time. It’s delightful (though regrettably rare in general) that so many of us here share the experience of working on something at home,

 » Read more about: Personal Projects: Parking Reminder  »

Start Off the New Year Right with Office Hours
by Jen Costillo

We received many submissions for our first Office Hours session held on December 9th. We had a difficult time selecting among some very interesting and innovative ideas. However, everyone learned a lot from the day.

Now we are ready to do it again. The next dates are January 13th and 27th.

So use your vacation time to think up new ideas and innovations and sign up with us to get you started on the right path to making them a reality.

 » Read more about: Start Off the New Year Right with Office Hours  »

Design of the Decade Awards
by Mike Ho

With the hectic pace of the holiday season, it’s easy to forget that this isn’t just the end of the year – we’re rapidly closing in on the end of a decade.  The Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) not only remembered, they also handed out sparkling awards to celebrate the most significant designs of the past ten years.  MindTribe is proud to have worked on two gold recipients for the Design of the Decade: Pure Digital’s Flip Mino and Aliph’s Jawbone.  It was highly rewarding to play a role in executing the design visions for these groundbreaking products.  Congratulations to all the winners!

 » Read more about: Design of the Decade Awards  »

Eureka Moments: Do They Have a Mind of Their Own?
by Adam Rothschild

With the birth of our new Office Hours program, we’ve been thinking a lot about where new product ideas form. We frequently see trends in technologies—people coming to us independently with similar ideas or wanting to employ similar technologies.

Are we really the ones who create our ideas, or does technology itself push us in certain directions? Why is it that certain technology breakthroughs seem to surface at the same time in different places?

There’s a fascinating new Radiolab podcast that discusses these questions. You can check it out here.

 » Read more about: Eureka Moments: Do They Have a Mind of Their Own?  »

Rapid Prototyping with the mbed
by Josh Newth

At MindTribe we assist clients wherever they are in the product development cycle, from early concept to manufacturing in China. Frequently, clients need a quick proof-of-concept design, so we are always on the lookout for tools that allow us to work faster and more effectively. Recently I stumbled onto a great prototyping microcontroller called the mbed.

Deleting a meeting in Outlook 2007 without cancelling
by David Palchak

Sometimes you have team meetings on your Outlook calendar that you know that you will not attend because you’ll be physically or mentally somewhere else, for example Borneo.  You don’t want these meetings on your calendar, or else your iOverlord will  cheerfully interrupt your pristine vacation with a reminder of the soul-crushing task you can look forward to at that same time next week.  Solution: delete the meetings from your calendar.  The fabric of space-time wrinkles, though, if you are the organizer of a meeting, and you expect the rest of your team to work diligently while you’re reclining against a gum tree sipping an absinthe cocktail watching the sun set.

The wrinkle occurs because Outlook 2007, unlike previous versions, requires a meeting organizer to send out an update if the organizer removes the meeting from his calendar.  This means that if you, as a meeting organizer, remove a meeting from your calendar,

 » Read more about: Deleting a meeting in Outlook 2007 without cancelling  »

Reading between the words
by Elecia White

I like putting things together. But I like taking them apart a little more (which explains my workbench). Words are different, though; I really enjoy writing so it was a little odd to have a discussion about pulling apart the MindTribe tag line:

Engineering Moxie

When I heard this initially, I liked the sentiment- a product design firm needs to have some moxie-tastic confidence to still be around after the slump of the last few years. I didn’t give it much thought until I started working here.

I was too narrow in my thinking. I’m not certain how it came up but another MindTribe engineer said the tagline as

Engineering Moxie

As though he was saying that we make moxie possible; we build an environment that lets out clients’ moxie. I opened my eyes to the possibilities.

Deconstructing the phrase,

 » Read more about: Reading between the words  »

Where does it all go?
by Adam Rothschild


Trash, throwing things “away”, and the end of a product’s life.

The Beatles, in their classic Eleanor Rigby, ask, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”

I’d like to ask instead, “All the lonely products, where do they all go?” As product engineers at MindTribe our job is to create—to generate, to make. But the making is only the beginning of the story. What ultimately happens to our creations after they live happy, productive lives? In the end, where do they all go?

As I started to ponder these questions, another inspirational figure came to mind. William McDonough is an architect and designer, and author of Cradle to Cradle—Remaking the Way We Make Things. He is a supreme badass on novel ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle (and he’s not exactly a lightweight when it comes to sustainable architecture,

 » Read more about: Where does it all go?  »

Products (and Companies) We Love: Rickshaw Bagworks
by Josh Newth

2009 was a tough year. The economy wasn’t (isn’t — ed.) so hot. Companies that weren’t dying were hurting. I was laid off in April and bounced around some before landing my dream job at MindTribe. So when they told me that (in addition to giving me a job) I was going to receive a custom-made messenger bag, it felt like Christmas!

Steve, MindTribe CEO and San Franciscan urbanite, was passionate about this SF outfit called Rickshaw Bagworks, so the whole company made the CalTrain ride to visit Rickshaw where we ate pizza, drank beer, and designed our bags.

And that’s the first awesome thing about Rickshaw.

Local: Connecting Asian manufacturing with San Francisco custom craftsmanship

Like most industries, “soft goods” have been transformed by manufacturing in Asia. As the Rickshaw site explains, the inner “chassis”

 » Read more about: Products (and Companies) We Love: Rickshaw Bagworks  »

Products We Love: Mini Gumstick Camera
by Nick Evans

I recently purchased a miniature camcorder to play around with. It is an interesting little piece of equipment. First of all it’s tiny. It’s about the size of those 5-packs of gum like Juicy Fruit or Doublemint comes in. The video it takes is not too bad either. It shoots at 720×480 at 30 frames per second, and the color and general picture quality are pretty good. It uses a Micro SD card for storage and can plug directly into a USB port for downloading. The really surprising part though is that it was only $14 shipped.  Really, that’s not a not a typo.  It’s $14, and that includes shipping! At this price it’s practically disposable.

I purchased mine for use in an RC plane since it’s so small and lightweight.  Also, it’s so cheap that if it gets smashed or lost,

 » Read more about: Products We Love: Mini Gumstick Camera  »

Captain, can I use my iPad now?
by Tim Prachar

Ah, today we all basked in the glow of the iPad, Apple’s most recent entry into the world of consumer gadgetry. Though there was much to delight in about it, we noticed that the Airplane Mode setting was conspicuously missing from its feature set. As a result, lucky iPad owners will need to either individually turn off the Bluetooth and WiFi radios, or simply turn the whole iPad off when in-flight.

Well, of course this touched off the whole debate about the use of electronic devices in the plane. Do they really interfere with the navigation instruments? Or, is it a conspiracy to force you to use the ridiculously expensive ($1-2/min) air phone service. It was amazing how passionate people were on their positions.

Let’s take a moment to survey the situation a bit. It’s tricky because both the FAA and FCC have things to say about this one.

 » Read more about: Captain, can I use my iPad now?  »

Products We Love: EyeClops Night Vision Goggles
by Alan Laursen

This toy was an instant sensation in the MindTribe office. These goggles, made by JakksPacific, use a camera sensitive to infrared light coupled with IR LEDs to give the user surprisingly good night vision.

We tore through the packaging and got testing right away. The bathrooms are the only rooms here at the MindTribe office without windows or skylights and can be made pitch-“can’t tell if your eyes are open or closed”-black as a result*. Turning on the night vision goggles in this dark space is like turning on a headlamp—that is, when you’re looking through the small LCD in front of your right eye. The view through this display is clear and bright enough for you to get a good sense of what’s around you, although depth perception is a different story and running is a definite No-No. A quick look in the mirror shows that the LEDs mounted to the front of the device are putting out a good amount of IR light (there’s even a “high beam” mode where a second bank of LEDs are lit).

 » Read more about: Products We Love: EyeClops Night Vision Goggles  »

Hacking the Sony XEL-1
by David Palchak

The Sony XEL-1 television is a technological marvel.  Released in 2007,  this 3mm-thin OLED beauty boasts an incredible 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio in a laughably small 11″ form factor.  Nevertheless, at the time it was released the panel in the XEL-1 was nearly twice as large as the next commercially available OLED panel, and it represented a major leap forward for Sony.

Organic LEDs (OLEDs) provide several advantages over other display technologies such as TFT LCDs.  Each picture element, or pixel, in an OLED is actually a very small LED emitting monochromatic light.  This means that when a pixel in an OLED displays black, zero light is emitted.  In contrast, the pixels in a TFT LCD operate by selectively blocking light that is emitted from a CCFL or LED backlight.  When a TFT LCD displays black, the pixels block the backlight, but only partially.  The light that gets through causes the display to appear lighter and,

 » Read more about: Hacking the Sony XEL-1  »

On Espresso – Part I
by Nick Evans

Ah, coffee. What a great friend it has been. It’s been there countless times to wish me a good morning, to keep me company on a long road trip, or to stay up with me late at night studying. It’s seen me at my best and my worst. All I do for coffee is spray it with scalding water and throw it away when I’ve had enough.  (Between you and me, I don’t know what it’s getting out of this relationship.) But, it’s always been there at my side when I need it most.

Lately some of us here at MindTribe have had a fascination with coffee, specifically with espresso.  We not only enjoy drinking it, but making it is always a fun little experiment too.  Like so much that we do here, making espresso is very much both an art and a science.

To make your typical pot of drip coffee requires nothing more than some hot water,

 » Read more about: On Espresso – Part I  »

Products We Love: Lotus Elise
by Steve Myers

If you hang around the MindTribe lounge long enough, in addition to becoming current on the latest Internet memes, you’ll hear passionate sales pitches from one of us to another.

You’d swear a royalty check was involved, or that we’re selling one of the thousands of products in that picture.

In actuality, great products are an inspiration to us. We know they’re the result of a talented team successfully forging it’s way through a jungle of thick vegetation, quicksand, and wild beasts conspiring to steer the team toward the Land of Mediocrity.

I wouldn’t be the first engineer to claim that the team behind the Lotus Elise successfully navigated this jungle, coming out the other side nearly unscathed. If an engineering team ever wore out their Rocky Theme Song cassingle during the traverse, it must have been this one.

 » Read more about: Products We Love: Lotus Elise  »

Poking Around with Multi-Touch: Building MindTribe’s Multi-Touch Mobile Reference Platform
by Alan Laursen

The iPhone was the breakthrough product that introduced multi-touch—the ability to manipulate a touch screen interface with multiple fingers at once—to the average consumer. Along with the popularity of the iPhone came the realization that this new technology could make a user interface more flexible and more intuitive than previously possible. As such, MindTribe has seen a surge in companies looking to incorporate multi-touch interfaces into their products.

While the tools needed to implement a multi-touch interface are increasing in availability, they are still not established enough to be in the hands of every company’s engineers or contract manufacturers, and product technologies and offerings are rapidly evolving from week to week.

Some of our clients see the addition of multi-touch as an avenue to differentiating themselves, some see a means of creating new user experiences, while others seek insight in determining whether multi-touch is feasible for their product.

 » Read more about: Poking Around with Multi-Touch: Building MindTribe’s Multi-Touch Mobile Reference Platform  »

Mechanical Prototyping Processes: What to Use and When
by Troy Edwards

Here at MindTribe, our product design team works with clients who have varied schedules and budgets. To best serve their individual needs, we use a variety of prototyping methods to create mechanical models for review. Sometimes the parts are used for engineering purposes, and other times the parts are purely cosmetic for interdisciplinary design reviews. Understanding the pluses and minuses of each process allows us to minimize time and budget while achieving the design objectives. Below is a short summary of the processes we use most often for small quantities of mechanical parts.

Stereolithography (SLA)

How it works: SLA is an additive prototyping process in which parts are built layer by layer from the ground up. The process begins by raising a platform up to the top of a pool of UV curable photopolymer resin. A squeegee wipes a thin layer of photopolymer across the top of the platform (about 0.004” thick).

 » Read more about: Mechanical Prototyping Processes: What to Use and When  »

Five Materials Worth Watching—A Distraction
by Lori Hobson

MindTribe has an orb in the office that we need to stop watching. The orb glows red when the NASDAQ drops, glows green when it rises, and pulses when the index’s movement exceeds 4%. Lately, its perpetually pulsing red light has been making me feel as if a hooker moved in to the next row of cubicles. Ironically, the orb can’t be reconfigured to monitor something more optimistic than tech stocks because—in a true sign of the times—the Web site that supports it is now defunct.

The Orb Glows Red When the Market Is Down – Lately, We’ve Needed a
Distraction from Its Bad News (photo credit: MindTribe)

In an effort to watch something other than the markets, I asked our MEs and friends for some material innovations that are fun to think about as a diversion. The dream team came up with five materials that are fascinating enough to distract you momentarily from your 401K.

 » Read more about: Five Materials Worth Watching—A Distraction  »

The Secret Link to Marketing Breakthrough Products
by Lori Hobson

Silicon Valley’s Coolest Invention May Be Its Design Community

“Designed by Apple in California,” it reads. It’s July 11, and I am coddling a new iPhone.

It’s not designed in America. Not designed in the US. It’s Designed in California. What is it about the Bay Area and our product design community? It’s not just Apple. We have attracted a startlingly disproportionate number of the world’s best industrial design and product development (ID/PD) people to our little pocket of shoreline. Perhaps history will recognize this West Coast Design community as more influential than the mass media or academic institutions appear to notice. Sometimes we can’t get our clients to acknowledge our role at all, let alone put it on their product label. Still most of the successful companies here recognize that this community plays an instrumental role in bringing their technology innovations to market.

 » Read more about: The Secret Link to Marketing Breakthrough Products  »

Designed by Apple in California
Mindtribe’s Interactive Exhibit
by Jerry Ryle

What Engineers Do If You Give Them a Dial Tone

Someday, Mindtribe’s headquarters will be made of interactive masonry. Each brick will be molded from recycled consumer electronics and in-mold decorated with a high-resolution OLED display. Thousands of bricks will cooperate with distributed intelligence to celebrate your importance as you pass by. Depending upon your mood—as determined by your expression, posture, gait, and temperature—our building might inform you of your portfolio performance, challenge you to improve your mixed martial arts, or lift your spirits with kittens that frolic after your shoelaces. Someday. To tide ourselves over until that day, we’ve installed a 65″ plasma television in our front window and have written an interactive game you can play with your cell phone.

Mindtribe’s New Interactive Exhibition on University Avenue

A spare time project, this game reminds passers-by that Palo Alto is still home to quirky technologists who delight in the anachronism of an 1980s-style tetromino arcade game made marginally playable with DTMF over cellular networks.

 » Read more about: Mindtribe’s Interactive Exhibit  »

Early Evidence the Designers Accord Is Working
by Lori Hobson

A Question of In Mold Decoration and Recyclability

Skeptics beware. Last week, MindTribe encountered direct evidence that the Designers Accord is actually having an impact. An engineer and I were meeting with a vendor. I won’t lie. Our primary focus was in exploring some issues that might help achieve the design intent of our client’s ID team, not any altruism for the environment. Late in the discussion I asked, “So how recyclable is this stuff?”

The fascinating part of the vendor’s answer was not that he didn’t know – he didn’t. The part that was stunning is what this veteran sales rep said. He shot me a glance and said, “That is only the second time that I have been asked that. The first time was yesterday.”

The rep was an in-mold decoration (IMD) supplier who is well known and well liked within our ID/PD community.

 » Read more about: Early Evidence the Designers Accord Is Working  »

IMD on our HP notebook
A Drool-Worthy Process for Rapid Prototyping of Metal Parts
by Lori Hobson

Direct Metal Laser Sintering Meets Formula-1 – Next Up Product Prototypes?

At my house, it’s not enough to love great products and every detail of how they were made. That fact is obvious to anyone who’s seen my less-than-interested daughter hold her ears and run out of the room screaming at the first peep of conversations involving “machining” or “part line.” Product design infatuation was clearly part of our marriage vows, along with brewing strong coffee, making soufflé, and having and holding until the end. But those who know my situation best know that a keen love of motorsport was also part of the pre-nup. So when Formula 1 starts using a new method of rapid prototyping in metal, well, the pairing of the two topics—racing + product—seems almost cause for a celebration where I live, or at least a multi-hour discussion of the method’s potential over dinner with our equally obsessive friends.

 » Read more about: A Drool-Worthy Process for Rapid Prototyping of Metal Parts  »

Mini-USB is dead. Long live Micro-USB!
by Jerry Ryle

While digging through one of our many boxes of miscellany, we recently stumbled across a perplexing cable that seems to connect 1975 to 2000. Perhaps the ferrite bolus actually houses a small flux capacitor that reduces conducted tachyon emissions.

Googling the model number (494488-01) yields less-than-helpful descriptions such as “a 1m cable that connects your 26 pin pc card to a device with a 50 pin centronics connection.” Though I don’t know why this cable exists, I would wax reminiscent would it allow me to dump an “a.out” to a Centronics line printer for the sole purpose of harassing the local admin.

In more useful cabling news, the USB-IF has quietly taken the “the strong step to deprecate the Mini-A and Mini-AB connectors in order to minimize the number of cable combinations required to support the various product interconnections and minimize marketplace confusion.”

 » Read more about: Mini-USB is dead. Long live Micro-USB!  »

As a Matter of Fat
by Lori Hobson

Design, Materials, Process, and Greater Values in the “Thick” of the New Year

It must be January. Everyone in America is doing one of three things: writing IDEA entries, attending CES/MacWorld, or getting in shape. Since our product development community is busied with the first two, maybe we should take a break and consider the issue on the minds of most other people this month.

Outside of our industry, massive numbers of Americans make a resolution to lose weight every January. Apparently these are non-binding resolutions since about 1/3 of this population remains not just overweight, but obese. (Centers for Disease Control)

About 33% of Americans are obese according to CDC

By contrast, the ID/PD community appears under-represented in the fat part of the bell curve. Maybe an obsession with form keeps the vast majority of our ilk svelte.

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15 Reasons Why We Work at MindTribe
by Lori Hobson

Engineer New, Cool Things While Other People Attend Corporate Meetings

New product development is not for everyone. In fact, it is hard to find that rare individual who is extremely smart (clients don’t pay for help they could find anywhere), more motivated than a home seller on a fault line in the Central Valley, and simultaneously insane enough to sign up for an exceedingly high level of responsibility on projects of such variety that the only unifying elements are (1) they involve technology and (2) no one has ever tried to make them before.

It makes MindTribe a very different kind of place. While it is not the job for every engineer, the people who are here love their jobs. I asked our team, “What is it about this place?” Here are 15 slightly censored reasons why we love to work here:


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Good Morning, Vietnam!
by Lori Hobson

Vietnamese Manufacturing Emerges as an Antidote for What’s Ailing China

Quick, name a consumer electronic product not made in China. Unless you named a pre-production prototype or an individual part, you are probably mistaken. Over the past dozen years, China has become the destination for low-cost contract manufacturing. These days we assume that even modest volume consumer electronic projects will wind up in China. MindTribe now provides Mandarin lessons to our engineers so our team can communicate better with our Chinese counterparts.

But just when we were getting comfortable with what to eat, where to stay, and how to move around places like Shanghai and Shenzhen – that is, to the extent one can get comfortable with things like thousand-year egg or breakfast squid, hotel porters who dress like matadors or gondola drivers, and van drivers who think the sidewalk is a car pool lane – China seems to be outgrowing its place in the global economic order.

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This Holiday Season We Could Be Dying (Literally) for Those Low Cost Gadgets and Goodies
by Lori Hobson

U.S. Manufacturers’ Responsibility for Safety in the Global Supply Chain

Terrorists might want to attack our families, but naïve U.S. manufacturers seem to be beating them to it. People armed with a grudge and explosives are pretty scary, so we take every precaution allowed under the Constitution (cough) to keep them out of the United States. Yet, as supply chains have become more complex, we treat each of the growing number of potentially lethal product failures as if it is an isolated freak of production.

Now some product developers who have earned their stripes getting things made overseas are imploring other U.S. companies to become more responsible for their offshore operations. I know because these guys have implored me to blog on this topic. They spend a good piece of their lives “babysitting” products at Asian manufacturers, and they are raising a flag for the companies who still pretend it is ok to throw things over the wall and wait for a container of shrink-wrapped packages to show up.

 » Read more about: This Holiday Season We Could Be Dying (Literally) for Those Low Cost Gadgets and Goodies  »

So Now What? The Next Turf for Technology
by Lori Hobson

At Stanford in the early 1980’s, I had a seminar course that largely anticipated the ways we would adopt, adapt, and even abuse technology over the coming 20 years. Today, many of the ideas dreamt about in that class have emerged as the backbones or sore throats of the tech economy. But what is more fascinating are the musings we had that are still out there waiting for the next batch of Jerry Yangs, Jim Clarks, and Jeff Hawkinses to make them come to life.

If I learned anything in the class – and I eked out an A+ – what we have to look forward to is even more enriching than what has already been solved.

Computer Science 1 had a reputation for being less than rigorous. Perhaps it was an odd choice for a senior who had advanced a bit beyond the entry level in the discipline.

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Embedded Security by Chaining Trust
by Jerry Ryle

Microsoft wants to sell you Xbox games. Microsoft does not want you to turn your Xbox into a very cheap, general-purpose computer, because that is not conducive to Xbox game sales. Similarly, Verizon wants to sell you phone service. Verizon does not want to sell you a cheap, cutting-edge cell phone if you’re going to use it with another carrier. When manufacturers sell commoditized hardware products at a loss to enable higher-value services, they want to ensure that consumers use the devices for their intended purposes. We are beginning to see industry standard security practices that attempt to keep control of embedded devices in the hands of their manufacturers. One such practice is establishing a “chain of trust” amongst all software that runs on a device. To understand the chain of trust and the motivation for implementing it, let’s first look at what types of hacks threaten services by allowing consumers to use loss-leader devices for unintended purposes.

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Digital Signatures
Unboxing Adobe Flash for Prototyping with Devices
by Jerry Ryle

Adobe Flash provides a powerful suite of multimedia tools for rapid user interface prototyping. Its flexible timeline and movie clip concepts allow designers to quickly capture and test complex interactions. Its ECMAScript-based ActionScript language extends the graphical workflow, allowing for procedural and event-driven designs that would be difficult to execute with Flash’s timeline tools alone. ActionScript is a mature, Object-Oriented language that is even capable of tasks such as basic video processing. However, Flash is far from a complete application development platform. By design, a Flash movie is trapped inside the Flash player—there aren’t many ways in which it can interact with your hardware. Flash is intended for the web and, as such, it has all of the security-related limitations one would expect of an environment that hosts potentially malicious software. Because Flash is otherwise flexible and ubiquitous, one might wish to circumvent these limitations so that Flash may act as a rich UI layer for hardware demonstrations.

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Software: Plugin Development for the Optimus Mini Three Keyboard
by Jerry Ryle

After taking apart our Optimus mini three keyboard from Art. Lebedev studio, we thought it might be fun to write a plugin for the Configurator software. We discuss that effort here, so if you would just like to download our plugin for the Optimus Mini Three, you can find it at the end of this article.

Art. Lebedev’s Configurator offers a very simple DLL-based C++ plugin API. The company provides one simple plugin example that exercises most of the API’s features. The API header and example plugin source code can be found here.

A Configurator plugin is simply a DLL that exports just one function: Create(). This factory function instantiates a class of type OptimusMiniPlugin via new and returns it. Configurator then works directly with this object through a few virtual public methods defined in the OptimusMiniPlugin class.

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Teardown: Optimus Mini Three Keyboard from Art. Lebedev Studio
by Jerry Ryle

The Optimus-103 Keyboard captured the imagination of the geek community with its 103 OLED keys capable of displaying user-programmable, context-sensitive information. This yet-to-be-released product first appeared as a 3D rendering and its mystique has kept myriad forums alive with discussions of display technologies, power requirements, OLED life, and cold fusion as an alternative to USB power for warming your coffee mug.

As skepticism grew regarding the feasibility of a consumer-oriented 103-key OLED keyboard, Art. Lebedev Studio surprised us with the accelerated release of the Optimus mini three keyboard. With only three keys, this “preview” is a long way from a full-sized Optimus-103 Keyboard, but it gives us a chance (okay, an excuse) to play with an OLED-based product.

We ordered our Optimus mini three keyboards from ThinkGeek, our favorite geek outlet for geek outlets. The packaging consists of an outer paperboard box with the product captured in a molded fiber insert.

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