Net-Zero Energy House

Today, I had a wonderful opportunity to explore the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Net-Zero Energy House.


As its name implies the residential home makes as much energy as it uses. 


It is run by one of NIST’s 7 laboratories, the Engineering Lab’s Energy and Environment Division.


The 2,700 square foot home is super-insulated and hyper-energy efficient.


It runs on only 12,000-13,000 Kilowatt per year compared to a typical home that guzzles 40,000 KW. 


You can see the array of solar panels on the roof and there is a two-way exchange of energy to/from the grid as available/needed. 


There is also solar thermal water heater. 


The home simulates a family of 4 living there cooking, bathing, watching TV, etc. 


There are 600 sensors inside the house that monitor everything. 


The garage maintains the computers and controls for the research. 


Overall, I was very proud to see the wonderful scientific research being done here. 


It was truly impressive and good for the nation and the planet.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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How The Election Makes Me Feel

3 Stooges

Ok, this picture sums up my feelings about this election pretty well.

Wait is that the candidates or the way I feel?


Like the Three Stooges, the pathetic behavior of the candidates is completely crazy and outrageous. 


And who’s worse–corrupt  and scandalous or big mouth and offensive? 


We all have have our opinion, but maybe both types leave us dumbfounded and scratching our heads, and even not wanting to vote for either, at all. 


At this point, I think we are all probably somewhat embarrassed that this is the best our country has to offer.


With everyone hating on both candidates, but desperate to save their slice of the American pie, the put-downs, fights, and contempt have gotten completely out of hand. 


There is ZERO problem-solving going on, and we are in ridiculous mode, while the rest of the world spins out of control in the hands of terrorists, demagogues, as well as our global competition out there capitalizing on our incredible stupidity. 


I can only imagine the rest of the world watching our election play out–watching us–and thinking how did we ever get to be the superpower of this world? 


This is the tipping point for our country.


We brought so much greatness to the world, but what is left when we get to the point of candidates that no one can trust, let alone stomach. 


I think all we can do is pray that G-d sends an Independent candidate with true integrity and promise that everyone can really respect and rally around, and not have to settle for either bad or worse. 


A country that is 80% negative about its direction is called imploding and obviously that does not bode well for us or upcoming world events. 


Folks, this is going to take a miracle! 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

State Of Education

State Of Education.jpeg

So here’s a sign at on the miserable state of education in America. 

“Develop Your English Skills For A Career In The Federal Government”

An advertisement in downtown, Washington, DC.

It’s amazing that we can’t assume proficiency in basic English skills.

Again, forget perhaps more challenging fields of the present and future such as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

We can’t even assume proficient English language skills for the Federal government in the Capital of this great country. 

Certainly, would understand the need for people with specialized foreign language skills for domestic positions as intelligence analysts and various overseas positions, but English???

There are more advanced degrees and certifications out there than over before, but are people really any smarter or ready for successful careers, life skills, and survival in modern-day America and the broader world. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

From Memorization To Thinking

From Memorization To Thinking

Our education system continues to suffer as we rank somewhere between 17th and 20th globally.

This means that our economy will assuredly suffer in the future from the global competition that strangles us.

Some prominent experts in the field, like Walter Isaacson, say that innovation occurs at the intersection of arts and humanities meeting science and math–and I really like that.

Personally, this inspires me to think about whether education reform is perhaps focused too much on the teachers, tests, and core curriculum, and less on changing the way we are approaching education in the first place.

For as long as I can remember (i.e. even when I was in school way back when), we based our education on lots of memorization–multiplication tables, periodic tables, vocabulary, history, and much more.

For those with great short term memory, you could do very well to memorize, spit it out, and forget it, so you can start all over again with the next great wave of facts and figures.

The emphasis on memorization of basics, is important in getting a foundation of knowledge, but seems to me to come at the expense of critical thinking and problem solving skills.

From my own experience and watching my kids in school, I often see boredom at raw facts, and excitement and self-satisfaction at figuring something out.

Yet, too often students are asked to do rote memorization and test accordingly, rather than really think.

You can’t memorize innovation, but rather you need to be able to apply learning.

In this day and age, where facts are but a Google search away, memorization is less important and real analytical, reasoning, problem solving, and communication skills (all anchored in solid core values) are more relevant to our national and personal success.

Yet, have our school caught up with this?

Unfortunately, it seems most have not, and perhaps that is one reason that many of our preeminent innovators are dropouts–from Steve Jobs to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, Ted Turner, etc.

Will we ever get away completely from memorizing the basics? Certainly not. Do we need to spend so much of K-12 education and even college years playing instant recall? What a waste!

The best experience that I remember from my younger daughter in school was her activities in the Ethics Bowl, where schools competed in analyzing ethically challenging situations and arguing the merits of the various sides. They learned to think and articulate their reasoning and conclusions and that is the best education that I can imagine.

Until we stop using education techniques from the dinosaur age–memorizing species and trying to recall where the eggs are buried, I fear we are doomed to subpar educational performance–in a boring, memorizing, and non-thinking way.

No wonder the kids want to develop the next great iPhone app and use their textbooks as a handy-dandy booster seat. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Lansing Public Library)

Government Shutdown – Rush Hour

Government Shutdown - Rush Hour

Today was Day #1 of the Federal Government Shutdown.

Pictured here is rush hour in Washington, D.C.

In terms of raising revenue to pay down our national debt, solve challenging problems facing our nation, or increase our global competitiveness–I am not sure how this gets us there.

With around 800,000 people sitting at home or in Starbucks waiting to be recalled to work, about the only good thing you can say about the furlough is that it was easy to get a seat on the Metro.

Sad, but true. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

At The Speed Of Innovation

Mars_explorer

Here are three perspectives on how we can speed up the innovation cycle and get great new ideas to market more quickly:

1) Coordinating R&D–While competition is a good thing in driving innovation, it can also be hinder progress when we are not sharing good ideas, findings, and methods in a timely manner–in a sense we are having to do the same things multiple times, by different entities, and in some more and other in less efficient ways wasting precious national resources. Forbes (10 February 2012) describes the staggering costs in pharmaceutical R&D such that despite about $800 billion invested in drug research between 2007-2011, only 139 new drugs came out the pipeline. Bloomberg BusinessWeek (29 Nov 2012) notes that for “every 5,000 to 10,000 potential treatments discovered in the lab, only one makes it to market” and out of the pharmaceutical “valley of death.” The medical research system is broken because “there ultimately no one in charge.”  The result is that we are wasting time and money “funding disparate studies and waiting for researchers to publish results months or years later.” If instead we work towards our goals collaboratively and share results immediately then we could potentially work together rather than at odds. The challenge in my mind is that you would need to devise a fair and profitable incentive model for both driving results and for sharing those with others–this is similar to a clear mandate of together we stand, divided we fall. 

2) “Rapid Fielding”–The military develops large and complex weapon systems and this can take too long for the warfighters who need to counter evolving daily threats on the battlefield. Federal Computer Week (19 July 2001) emphasizes this point when it states, “Faster acquisition methods are needed to counter an improvised explosive device that tends to evolve on a 30-day cycle or a seven-year process for replacing a Humvee.” There according to the Wall Street Journal (11 December 2012) we need to move to a model that more quickly bring new innovative technologies to our forces.  The challenge is to do this with reliable solutions while at the same time fast tracking through the budgeting, acquisition, oversight, testing, and deployment phases. The question is can we apply agile development to military weapons systems and live with 70 to 80% solutions that we refine over time, rather than wait for perfection out of the gate.

3) Seeds and Standards–To get innovation out in the hands of consumers, there is a change management process that needs to occur. You are asking people to get out of their comfort zone and try something new. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek (17 December 2012) on an article of how bar codes changed the world–it comes down to basics like simplicity and reliability of the product itself, but also seeding the market and creating standards for adoption to occur. Like with electric automobiles, you need to seed the market with tax incentives for making the initial purchases of hybrids or plug-in electric vehicles–to get things going as well as overset the initial development expense and get to mass development and cheaper production. Additionally, we need standards to ensure interoperability with existing infrastructure and other emerging technologies. In the case of the electric automobiles, charging stations need to be deployed across wide swathes of the country in convenient filling locations (near highways, shopping, and so on) and they need to be standards-based, so that the charger at any station can fit in any electronic vehicle, regardless of the make or model. 

Innovation is the lifeblood of our nation in keeping us safe, globally competitive, and employed.  Therefore, these three ideas for enhancing collaboration, developing and fielding incremental improvements through agile methodologies, and fostering change with market incentives and standards are important ideas to get us from pure exploration to colonization of the next great world idea. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Here, There, Made Where?

With so much of U.S. manufacturing activity going abroad, it is almost hard to believe that there is still a store in Elma, N.Y. called “Made in America.” According to the Wall Street Journal (23 November 2012), it’s true.
The store is 6,000 square feet and has sales of about a million dollars a year.And as their name says, they only sell goods that are completely made in the U.S. of A.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find lots of items there.

Forget literally anything electronic or that runs on a battery. It doesn’t exist.

Fashion clothes, also – go somewhere else.

Even if you are looking for a simple electric can opener, this won’t be the place.

How about some tea bags – Made In America has found that while there is still some tea made here, the bags aren’t. So it’s no longer stocked there.

However, if you are looking for simple things like socks, candy and greeting cards – this store may be the place for you.

Reflecting on this, I remember hearing Joel Osteen speak about how with pride, every country labels their goods, “Made In…” (wherever).

Osteen compared it to us human beings, the children of G-d, and how he imagined that even we have a label, or mark, on each of us, that we are made by our Great Creator.

Osteen said that it doesn’t matter how we look on the outside, that our Creator takes great pride in each of us – in what’s inside.

On one hand, it is deeply troubling that there are less and less “things” that we can label “Made in America.” However, perhaps we can still take pride, as G-d does, that what’s on the inside of us as a nation is what is truly valuable and inspiring to the rest of the world.

While high tech and hot fashion is no longer necessarily made here, the dream of human rights, democracy, freedom and creativity for all is still very much our own.

We still have that label – those values are “Made in America” and we’re lucky to have them.

That said, let’s get our American manufacturing engines working again, so we can compete effectively in the global marketplace, not just on ideas, but on hard products as well. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Hollywood PR)