posts tagged with the keyword ‘learning’

2014.01.19

EXPERT

Back in 2009 I took this photo of myself with EXPERT written on the whiteboard behind me. I had no grandiose scheme when I took the photo. It was taken at the office of z2 Marketing, in the conference room. I’ll admit, part of the reason I took the “EXPERT” photo had to do with a (slight) jab at people who were declaring themselves “experts” at the time. The photo gets used a lot when someone posts an article and needs a photo that depicts an expert or expertise.

When the photo is used, people who know me tend to tell me about it, which is nice, as it’s fun to track the usage of the photo. Of course I really do like to get credit for my work, so if you use it, please credit it properly, because I am also an expert in Creative Commons.

The most recent use is in an article titled The Death Of Expertise. (It’s an interesting article, go read it!)

Now, as far as being an expert, I like to say “You are an expert at your own experience”. This goes back to 2006, when we had one of the first meetings about BarCampMilwaukee. We were discussion session topics and someone said “Well, I’ve installed Linux a few times, but I’m no expert at it.” I then pointed out to the person the fact that he was an expert to anyone who had never installed Linux, and that sharing your own personal experience is an important part of teaching and learning.

Through the years of helping make unconferences happen, and getting involved in Milwaukee Makerspace, and in publishing this blog, I’ve come to understand just how important it is to recognize that you need be willing to share the things you know, even if you don’t think you know enough, and you also need to be accepting of others when they don’t know everything, because really, no one does. No one is an expert in all things.

Through the open sharing of knowledge, and the willingness to accept that no one is a expert (while we are also all experts) we can all end up learning more than we ever would on our own.

2012.04.26

Maker Business - Lessons Learned

This one goes to 11! While there are Ten Rules for Maker Businesses, and I covered them all, what I didn’t do was a full-on follow-up post. So here it is.

Just as a reference, my first post was on February 20th, 2012, and today is April 26th, 2012. So that’s just about two months.

And here are the 10 rules, which I’ll address individually below. (Each one links to the original post on the subject.)

1. Make a profit.
I’m happy to say I did this. It took about a month and a half to sell 10 units, and after all was said and done, I believe I hit the 2.3x rule. There were some miscellaneous costs in there, but even with those, I did alright. This is important because if you don’t make a profit, it’s difficult to consider continuing. As far as how much my time was worth, I think I did OK. Not great, but OK. I’m convinced that with increased efficiencies things will improve.

2. It takes lots of cash to stay in stock.
I kept my stock low, which kept costs down, and helped ensure I didn’t have overstock just sitting there. Sales were slow at first, and when that happens you get a bit worried. You start to think about sales, or discounts, or something. I stuck with it and didn’t do any of those things, which turned out fine. Actually, I got lucky in that I had 4 orders in a two day period, right after I wondered if I’d ever sell another unit.

3. Buy smart.
I bought just the right amount of components to build 10 units with no real leftover. This worked out well, except in the case where I got really picky about quality. Buying larger quantities can help lower the shipping costs, but that doesn’t always work, and sometimes buying in bulk is just too costly.

4. Basic business rules still apply.
No problem here… I felt confident on this one, and there were only very minor things I had to deal with business-wise.

5. You get no leeway for being a maker.
I’ve not needed any leeway yet (fingers crossed) as all of the customers have been awesome, and I’ve done my best to be awesome to them. You know, there’s only been 10 customers so far, but it’s been close to 100% pleasant. The only issue I had was with people who are interested in the product, exchange a number of emails with me, and then I never hear from them or receive an order. It’s not extremely disappointing or anything, but just a little bothersome.

6. Be as open as you can.
I’ve been pretty open, maybe not as open as I could have been, but since this whole adventure was based on a pretty open blog post, I think we’re good with this one. I did re-write the code a little bit mainly to make debugging a little easier, and I should probably push that code out, but honestly that’s probably not a huge deal as there’s code out there that works fine right now. I’ve also been sure not to bet the farm on this one product, which is why I’m keeping the production run small. If the opportunity disappears, it won’t affect the business much.

7. Create a community to support and enhance your products.
With a small user base and a simple product, there hasn’t been much need for a community. If one magically appeared I’d support it, but I probably don’t need to run out and force one into existence.

8. Design for manufacturability.
As mentioned in my post, I didn’t design for manufacturability, but now that I’ve done some “manufacturing” I’ve come up with ways to make things easier. This is really just applying better manufacturing techniques next time. I managed to get a properly sized hole saw, which means no more filing, which will speed things up. Win-win!

9. Marketing is your job.
Doing the marketing was fairly easy and I didn’t need to get too aggressive. I’ve got a lot of experience with branding, marketing, writing, photography, and building web sites… and that’s what I did. I first built the store, and then shortly after that I got my Etsy store. The Etsy store was definitely a good idea, as it accounted for almost half of the sales.

10. Your second most important relationship is with your package carrier.
While I learned a lot about shipping, not all of it was fun, but hey, I’ve got shipping down pretty well now. I’m sure there are ways I could improve things, but so far I’ve not been annoyed enough to investigate them. I was disappointed to discover Etsy doesn’t allow you to require a phone number for orders, since FedEx seems to require a phone number for shipping. (Yes, I could enter my own number, but I’d prefer to have the customer notified if there are delivery issues.)

Branching out.
I did make a modification to the product… I decided to offer The (Bare) Button for sale, based on a number of people asking for it. I ended up getting an email from a guy who wanted the bare button, we agreed on a price, I got one ready to ship, added the order page… and never heard from him again. Luckily I didn’t really invest much (besides a little bit of time) into this diversion, because I’ve yet to make a sale of The (Bare) Button. Still, it’s an easy thing to offer in the store, as it’s just the button without the case, so I can easily keep it in there for the DIY folks.

In conclusion, the experiment went well, I learned quite a bit, and I made a profit! I’ll keep this going in small manageable quantities and see how far it goes. I’m trying to be realistic in this endeavor and I know that it’ll probably not be any sort of huge money-maker, but if it keeps going as it has been, I’ll be pleased.

Oh, and if you know anyone who needs a button… :)

2011.07.14

Arduino Uno

Here’s a terrible photo of an Arduino Uno…

Diavolino

And here’s a terrible photo of a Diavolino…

Seeeduino

And here’s a terrible photo of a Seeeduino…

These are three terrible photos! I mean, they aren’t terrible terrible, but they’re not great. I could spend a few minutes with each one explaining what I don’t like about them.

We needed a good high resolution photo of an Arduino Uno for a project at the Milwaukee Makerspace, and I said I would quickly snap a photo and get it online, so I did.

I feel like 80% of the quality of these shots are due to the equipment. I used a Nikon D3x with a Nikon 28-70mm f2.8 lens. That’s a great combo. I also used our Elinchrom studio strobes, which are also very nice. I shot tethered to a 21″ Apple iMac, which showed the images on a large colorful screen as they were captured.

Honestly, with all of that stuff in place, anyone familiar with a DSLR and lighting could get a pretty decent shot.

When I use words like “terrible” and “decent” they are, of course, subjective. There’s a whole scale for applying those words. One photographer’s “terrible” is another photographer’s “awesome!”

Besides, these are more “technical” photos than “beautiful” photos. There’s not much style to them. But these also fall under the category of Product Photography, which is worth discussing…

Photography is an interesting thing, because there are so many different disciplines, and so many different subjects. I know some guys who only shoot beautiful women between the age of 18 and 25, outdoors, on sunny days. (Or so it seems.) Other people I know shoot landscapes and nothing but landscapes. Well, HDR landscapes actually. That’s all they do… and that’s all fine, but it’s not product photography.

None of the three photos above would be good examples of product photography, and I’ll explain why:

  1. The items are used.
    If you’re shooting a product, it should be brand new, fresh out of the box, never used. Used items are not the same as clean items. Do you know why? It’s because…

  2. The items are dirty.
    Once an item gets used, it gets dirty. It gets worn down. It gets fingerprints, and smudges, and dirt, and scrapes, and doesn’t look very nice. Yes, you can clean things, and we often joke about the fact that 75% of product photography involves cleaning things, while 15% involves taking pictures. The other 10%? That’s for cleaning it again.

There’s also a number of tricks when shooting products, as opposed to portraits, or landscapes, or beautiful women. Don’t get me wrong, each thing has its own tricks, but they are often different tricks. Actually, they mostly have to do with reflecting light, or blocking light, or basically controlling light, in different ways.

But if you aren’t shooting products for a client, but you are shooting things for your own purpose, like documenting projects, you might find it helpful to learn more about product photography.

And when I say learn, feel free to learn in your own way. If you can assist a product photographer, that would be good, but if you can’t, then study good photos, figure out what you like about them. Learn to control light. I’m not ashamed to say that some of the photos of things that I’ve taken that I really liked, I ended up shooting 30 different versions, all with slightly different lighting. That’s just how I do it. Take a shot, move a light. Take a shot, move a reflector. Take a shot, place a black board directly overhead instead of a white board. Take another shot. At some point after you think you have enough shots, stop. Review them later on a large colorful screen and pick the best one.

Trial and error is still an effective way of learning something… In fact, it may be the only way to learn something.

2010.11.05

Cat

Being involved with technology may have tainted my opinions for the past 30+ years, but it seems like now more than ever, there’s this push to make thing easier to use… maybe it’s always been this way, but the last few years (perhaps fueled by the iPhone/iPod) it’s been all about making things easier, and I find it slightly annoying.

Matt recently talked about ease of installation explaining that there may be (gasp!) 4 steps involved in installing an application. How does anyone even succeed at such a Herculean task? 4 steps! It’s a wonder we all don’t just stick our heads in the oven and turn on the gas. (There’s probably too many steps involved.)

For people that just want to “use” software, I suppose they do want it easier, I mean, who wants to spend the time to learn something when there’s cat pictures to look at.

My point is, while it’s good to simplify things, and make things easier, you may still need to do some work… and that’s OK. In fact, it’s a good thing, and should be encouraged. I wonder if brain surgeons bitch about “how hard” brain surgery is, and wish that it were easier, and someone would come up with a better way to do it that just required pushing one button or performing less than 5 steps.

I had to learn to use a lawnmower, and a screen press, and how to drive a car, and gift wrap a box (I’m still learning that one) but the point is, you still have to learn things, and if you have to learn how to use an iPhone, or an iPad, or a computer, or any piece of technology, I think that’s fine. Things will advance, but we still have to learn. Compare programming a VCR to programming a DVR. We are making progress, but yes, you still need to learn.

By the way, do schools teach kids how to learn yet?

(See Also: The Dumbing Down)

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