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Preview: AMBerman CTO

AMBerman CTO

Thoughts on technology, education, society, and design.

Updated: 2017-10-17T19:46:05.874-07:00


The Digital Freelancer


I've launched a new blog, The Digital Freelancer - I hope you'll take a look!(image)

New Blog: Verdugo City



I've decided to start a new blog - this one will be more personal and a place for me to write about my life, review music, and comment on things that I'm interested in outside my professional life. I call it Verdugo City. I hope some of you will join me there.


A Parting Gift for my Friends at Art Center


I didn't really plan it that way... but what you see in the photo is a 40 foot long high resolution photographic image of Yosemite Valley, displayed on the wall of the campus cafe. Back in the summer, Crista Copp and I saw this remarkable image at SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles, and got to chatting with Eric Hanson of XRez. We thought it would be fun to show it at Art Center, so I made arrangements to display it along the wall of the cafe. It was installed this Wednesday, two days after I left.

Art Center is the kind of place where amazing things appear on the walls, and sometimes you have no idea where they came from or who arranged for them to be there. I'm really happy to think of students, faculty, staff and visitors being surprised and pleased by this striking image. I'm going to have to sneak in and see it for myself while it's there.

(Be sure to click on the photo to enlarge it so you can get some idea of what the image is like.)(image)

Always Choose Your Blog Name Carefully


As of yesterday, I am no longer the CTO at Art Center College of Design - my position was eliminated. Officially, the reason is to reduce costs.

Now I find myself in the same situation as many others - suddenly ejected from an organization where I gave the best of my talents, and I feel somewhat raw and very disappointed. I could write about my frustrations but I'd rather write about what I'll miss at Art Center:

  • the energy, enthusiasm, and talent of the students;
  • the brilliance and commitment of the faculty;
  • the magic that happens when ideas, skill, and technique all come together to make something great;
  • the amazing team in Technology that, on its best days, could create something out of nothing and give 100% to do great things;
  • the everyday determination of the Library to serve the students even when the speed of change and lack of resources made things really difficult;
  • my friends and allies in the administration that understood what was important and never sacrificed integrity for expedience.

  • I've said many times that being CTO at Art Center was the best job and the worst job I've ever had. I know that for me, the good will last and the rest will fade. Nobody can take away from me all that I learned by walking the halls of Art Center with my eyes open and simply looking. My only hope for Art Center is that the faculty and students will have a future that's as good as the one they deserve.(image)

    Ramachandran - The Human Brain


    Now that I'm done complaining about traffic signals, let me point you at the single most interesting talk I heard at the EDUCAUSE conference - V.S. Ramachandran on the human brain. What an amazing guy he is - a theoretical scientist and a therapeutic innovator, a deep thinker and a teacher. Follow this link and skip ahead to about 9:30 for his talk. If you want to gain a deeper understanding of the mystery of how thought and perception work, I strongly recommend this talk.(image)

    1. Press Button 2. Wait for Signal 3. Cross Illegally


    So I've just got back from the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, and I could blog about some of the interesting conversations I had, or a couple of interesting sessions I caught, or enjoyable time catching up with old friends and colleagues and making new ones, but what I want to write about today is bad traffic engineering.

    I stayed in the Peabody Hotel, directly across from the Orange County Convention Center West Hall where the conference was held, and crossed back and forth International Drive several times a day. There's a crossing with a signal and a button - push the button, the light turns red for the traffic, and you can safely cross. At least, that's how it should work.

    Instead, you press the button and wait. And wait. And wait. Until you finally get impatient, look for cars and cross illegally. If you stood there and watched you'd see 10 people cross illegally for every person who crossed with a green signal.

    A few people pay no attention to crossing lights (in Manhattan, few people do) but most instinctively press the button and wait, at least the first time. But the wait is too long - I timed it, about 1 minute and 20 seconds. After 15 seconds with no cars, your foot starts to twitch; after 30 seconds you're looking down the road to see if it's clear; and 10 seconds later you're on your way across. Each time you cross the intervals get shorter, until by the second day you might not even bother to push the button.


    So what's the big deal? Well, it's actually a pretty dangerous place to cross. The cars are moving fast, and there's a bend in the road that makes it hard to see far. It's easy to step out and see a line of cars or a bus bearing down on you.

    This is so easy to fix! The light should be programmed so if you press the button and their are no cars approaching, it immediately turns orange and then red for the cars and lets you cross in, say, 10 seconds. Of course, this would have required the extra cost of a couple of road sensors, but instead the traffic engineers who designed this crossing (or perhaps their penny-pinching managers) have created a dangerous intersection. Bad design can kill.

    Just to make it worse - Orlando is full of English tourists. In the UK, the crossings have a painted reminder and arrow telling you which way to look for traffic, but the Orlando crossing lacks that helpful amenity - and it would be easy and tragic for anyone from a country where the cars drive on the left to make the fatal error of looking the wrong direction and then stepping out into the street.(image)

    Sometimes, the right people win


    I just got a newsletter from Creaform 3D, the Canadian company that sells the wonderful Handyscan hand-held 3D scanner. We have been using our Handyscan for the last three years, and for many projects there is nothing that can compare.


    Three years ago I made my first trip to Quebec City and crossed the river to the town of Levis, where Creaform's HQ was. As I recall they were in a small complex of buildings with an auto repair shop and a pizza parlor. It was a chilly day in early November, but the enthusiasm of Nick Bourgue, Marco St-Pierre, and CEO Charles Mony (above) was infectious. They knew that they had a disruptive innovation in their hands, literally, and they were ready to take it to the world.

    According to their newsletter, they have been recognized as the 22nd fastest growing company in Canada. Congratulations Creaform! Félicitations! It is great to see true innovation, hard work and commitment rewarded. I'm lucky to have been able to spent a day with you at the start.(image)

    300,000 3D printers by 2011?


    Gartner analyst Pete Basiliere is quoted in Business Week as estimating that by 2011 there will be 300,000 3D printers "on the market". Not sure what's meant by that wording - 300,000 total sold, or 300,000 in year? To put it in perspective, the same story gives Terry Wohler's estimate that just over 3000 were sold in 2007. So a hundred-fold increase in just 4 years? I thought I was bullish on the technology.

    By the way, I heard that one of the 3D printing companies was spreading rumors that Desktop Factory has "closed its doors". Well, I was down there today and walked through the door. It's true you do have to ring a bell, then they let you in, but they are working away and continuing to make good progress.(image)

    A most wonderful clock


    Cambridge (England) has unveiled its new Corpus Clock and Chronophage last month. I was lucky enough to learn about it this morning from one of my co-workers who saw it recently. Please watch the video - it's amazing!

    (object) (embed)

    I'm so impressed with the creativity of people like John Taylor, who can combine analogue and digital engineering with deep thought, drama, and humor. It's deeply traditional and absolutely of our times simultaneously. What a masterpiece! OK, now I have to go back to Cambridge just to see this.(image)

    Sad news - Fabidoo to cease production


    Fabidoo, the custom 3D manufacturer, has announced that at the end of next week they will cease producing 3D parts. According to a letter sent to their members:
    ... for the time being, we will stop selling fabidoos and will accept orders only until Friday, 10th of October 2008, 8pm CEST (German time)!

    Apart from that, almost everything remains as it is. You can still create new designs and comment & rate other fabidoos. Via the fabidoo widget you can still put your creations on other web pages to show your design skills.

    I'm glad the name and concept will live on, and I hope that they can find a way to restart production at a future date.(image)

    How Slow is Slow?


    It's one thing to have a crazy idea - it's another to make it happen. I'm so impressed by people who do. Usually, we call them artists.

    John Cage was one, and he constantly pushed the boundaries - what is music? what is silence? How slow is slow?

    His organ piece "As SLow aS Possible" was debuted in a 29 minute performance. But at a church in Germany, a performance of As SLow aS Possible began in 2000, and won't finish for another 631 years. If you want to hear the next chord change in the piece - an occurrence roughly as frequent as a lunar eclipse - you'll need to get to Halberstadt, Germany by November 5. If you miss that one, you'll have to wait until February, 2009.

    There's no reason to do something like this. That's what makes it so fascinating to me.

    You can read about it at the Long Now Blog - always worth a look.

    Apparently, this piece didn't make it into the popular canon - doesn't even sell a recording of it.(image)

    Getting it Right Before Going to Market


    Somewhere in the last 15 or 20 years it seemed to become a business axiom that getting to market fast is more important than getting the product right first. "Get it out there, grab share, and then you can fix it in version 2.0" - maybe it wasn't really Microsoft that invented the concept but they sure seemed to live off it for a long time. So it's pretty interesting to see that there are companies that refuse to follow this trend and instead try hard to make version 1.0 pretty good.

    One of them, of course, is Desktop Factory, which I've written about frequently - they could have gotten a lot of press and attention by shipping product last year - but it wouldn't have been a GOOD product, and they would have had dissatisfied customers. They are working hard, with shoestring budgets, to get it right, and then ship.

    Another example arrived in my email today. Gridiron Software has been demoing their new concept workflow program "Flow" for at least a year - in fact, I think I first heard about it in mid-2007. Here's the message I got today:
    We've just returned from IBC in Amsterdam and Photoshop World in Vegas, and the response to Flow is better than anything we could have imagined. First off - THANK YOU. Your interest is proof that Flow is a much needed product in your workflow, as well as that of your peers. So you may be asking - where the hell is it?

    I wanted to send you a quick update on where we are with the product. Flow is completely new. Nothing like it has ever been built before. With new technology comes new challenges. We also understand how you work, and that you need to depend on RELIABLE technology to get through your day to day work.

    Flow is meant for Creative Professionals. This is not a hobbyist tool - its meant to enhance the fundamental workflows that allow you to essentially put food (amongst other things) on the table. What I am getting at is - Flow will NOT be flaky; it MUST be technology you can depend on. The response to Flow is proof that it is just "that" important.

    Therefore - I wanted to let you know that although we are not far off - we are not yet there. We are holding this product to a higher standard of quality than ever before, and will NOT put it in your hands until we believe (along with our private beta testers) that it can stand the test of real-world, high stress production. Over the coming weeks, I'll send another status update with a more concrete timetable.

    In short - I firmly believe that Flow will live up to your expectations (and more) once it is cooked. Until then - please be patient and understand that I and my entire crew are literally working round the clock to give you a product you can depend on, along with technology that just might change the face of the creative computer desktop forever.

    GridIron Software Inc.

    I applaud them for working hard to get it right, and having pride in their product. I hope it pays off for them.(image)

    Desktop Factory Field Trip Shows Huge Progress


    If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I'm fond of Desktop Factory, a local start-up vying to be the first to bring 3D printing within the reach of a new generation of hobbyists and educators. I got a chance to make a brief visit to their office/lab in Pasadena a couple of weeks ago, and was very pleased to see the tremendous progress they are making. To the left you can see Brian and Cathy from Desktop Factory on the left and right, and David from Art Center in the middle.We got to beta-test their first generation printer late last year, and while it worked reasonably well, there were several issues: a tendency for the machine to clog; rather poor resolution; and difficult-to-remove support structures. They now have a new version with a redesigned-imager that makes a big difference on the first two problems - the new imager is under the plate in the photo - and revised software that's made the supports much easier to remove. The change to the imager was small and simple and like most engineering innovation obvious once someone thought of it.The part shown here was printed from a file for a "real" part in a prototype of a product under development by another Idealab company. There's a little bit of post-processing here - the machine has been "flamed" with a torch - but this is a serious, working part. Last year's model could not have produced anything this nice. The Idealab partner was able to use this part and save about $1000 they would have spent having it made by a service bureau.Here's a before-and-after comparison - the first test part produced with the "old" imager and the second with the newest machine - and it's easy to see a dramatic difference.They still have work to do to turn this prototype into a product, and they still have to find financial backing - but I am more optimistic about their prospects than I have been in quite a while. They have proven that the basic concept is sound and that it can produce real, useful parts that can be post-processed in a reasonable amount of time. Their printer has gone from being a proof of concept to a real working prototype - let's hope that a product will be on the market six months from now.(By the way, click on the photos to see them in higher resolution.)[...]

    Large Machinery Comics present...


    (click on the picture to visit the comic)


    Best... Warning Stickers... Ever!


    We just received our new Haas CNC Router. It was quite a job getting it in place - it was just a bit bigger than the one we had measured, so it actually required cutting holes in the corners of a couple of walls to get it into the shop. (We really did "cut corners"!)
    When we have the machine up and running I'll post some photos, but what really caught my eye (in a figurative sense) were the warning stickers. This ain't some backyard consumer piece of junk, no - this is a world-class body-destroying machine! It can poke your eyes out, crush you, snag you, I mean you name it and this thing can do it. How awesome to work in a college with equipment like that!
    I will definitely be in another room when they turn this sucker on.(image)

    "Anything that can be personalized will be personalized"


    That's the name of Sivam Krish's new blog. Sivam's a Singapore-based entrepreneur who launched the custom 3D building for consumer site Sivam's an interesting guy so I'm expecting his blog will be worth following. Welcome Sivam!

    For a nice example of the maxim that's the title of the blog, take a look at Now if you're like me, you can design some really ugly shoes! But at least they will be yours alone.
    (object) (embed) (image)

    At least spam doesn't need to be recycled


    In my job I get to sign off on spending money, which means that technology companies vie to get my attention. What's amazing to me is how badly some of them do it. I don't particularly want to pick on Sun, which is a company that I have some affection for, but the latest mailing I got from them and CDW was so extravagantly wasteful that I feel compelled to comment. (Maybe compelled is a strong word, but it's an easy way to pad my blog!)
    It came in the form of two identical FedEx packages, which I had to sign for - I guess because the contents are so valuable. Note that both addresses are identical - it's not even like there were two variations on my name - just two identical mailing records side by side and hence two "urgent" packages.
    What was the important message rushed to my attention? That Sun sells servers! And you can run Linux or Windows on them! (And even Solaris, if you still care.) (This has been true for, what, 4 years now? Should I be worried that they are just now getting around to telling me?) AND if I go to a special site, I can get a FREE GIFT!

    Wow, they got me now! A FREE GIFT! But there's no room in the elegant and expensively printed piece that I now own two copies of to tell what my FREE GIFT is, I have to go to the web site. So I took a look - it's a carabiner with a digital clock and a compass! Just as soon as I have the time, I'm going to get me TWO - after all, I got two invitations, didn't I? Beats that $5 Starbucks Card, the tee shirt, and the kite I got last year!

    At least when I get spam in my email box, it's just one click to discard it! What a pathetic waste of resources....(image)

    9/11, 9/12, and other man-made disasters


    I'm not big on going out of my way to observe 9/11 - of course we can't forget, and I'm especially in awe of the many to acted with selfless bravery on that day, and I feel pain for the loss of the families. But I've been so depressed by the political uses that have been made of that event, it make me want to ignore it. Then little things creep into my consciousness....


    Like yesterday, when two trains collided in Los Angeles and at least 25 people died. It's hard to imagine the violent moment that occurred when two trains, both going about 40 miles per hour, ran into each other head on. Trains just aren't supposed to do that.

    I heard today that one of engineers may have sent a text message to a friend a minute before the crash. We'll probably never know for sure if that was the reason he ran through a red signal, but I hope it will be additional motivation for me to keep my hands off my iPhone while I'm driving. I can only imagine how I'd feel if I killed someone in my car because I was reading a text or an email - shame on me for ever doing it!

    And the abstraction of a horrific event like 9/11 - or the much smaller but no less violent deaths in the train accident on 9/12 - is brought home when you're reminded that behind the numbers are real people and real families. I was very moved by Phil McKinney's blog post about the Falkenberg family who died on the jet that plowed into the Pentagon. It sounds like the new memorial there - a bench for each person who died - is somber, appropriate, and humane.

    I shouldn't need reminders like this that life is precious, but somehow I do. We never know what the next moment might bring, so we've got to do the best with the one's we're given. There are thousands of little tragedies every hour, and if it's your family it's just as important as a big one. And if it's you, you may never know...

    (Photo my Mr. "O",, used under Creative Commons license.)(image)

    The Rosetta Disk


    Awesome article by Kevin Kelly about an awesome project - a very long term backup of a significant portion of the world's linguistic knowledge. If I had a spare $25,000 I'd snap up one of those disks in an instant... but I'm not sure where I'd keep it. (I guess if I had a spare $25,000, I'd have a place to keep it too.)(image)

    HP's Customer Experience Group


    Phil McKinney of HP, who engineered the HP purchase of Voodoo PC and launched the HP Blackbird 002 gaming machine, has put together a new "Customer Experience Group" headed by Susie Wee from HP Labs. A recent article in Business Week describes their apparent experimentation with customization - and alternatives to - Microsoft Vista. Most people don't realize that many HP laptops already come with a media-player mode that boots Linux - allowing you to play a CD or DVD with a quick boot and more battery life. I've gotten to know Phil and he's a visionary and an innovator, so it's going to be very interesting to watch HP and see what they can do.(image)

    Happy Birthday, Print is Dead!


    One blog I always read is Print is Dead. Jeff Gomez usually has something interesting to say about the present and future of publishing, and he has a nuanced view of the role of print, despite the provocative name for his blog. Anybody who can publish a book called Print is Dead clearly has an ironic sense of humor. The Print is Dead blog is celebrating its second birthday. Congratulations Jeff, keep writing.(image)

    Twitter and Facebook and Ambient Awareness


    My friend Spleeness pointed me at an excellent article in the NY Times about Twitter and Facebook, and why it's so appealing to get small and frequent updates from people about what they are doing. The article explains very elegantly why something that sounds so stupid when you haven't done it actually seems to fill a deep social need.

    I've been familiar with the way this works in Facebook but this article motivated me to finally try Twitter (as amichaelberman, in case you want to "follow me"). Life is a sequence of moments, and the sharing these moments - profound, trivial, and inane - enables us to stay connected in a world where the people we care about are distributed across the globe. I think these are real connections and they are here to stay.(image)

    Welcome Back to School


    The man on the left is my father, Art Berman. The year is 1953, and he’s an 18 year old college freshman, posing with his roommate Stan.

    Just 8 years before, he watched his dad die of lung cancer and I can see the sadness in his eyes that never left him. Mysteriously, my Dad has decided to escape from the Bronx and he’s found himself in Yellow Springs Ohio. The two guys standing along US 68 make me think of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.

    In three more years he’ll be married, and in four years a father. I’ll be there at his graduation. This is as free as he’s ever going to be. In less than 45 years he’ll be gone, and now Antioch College is gone too. But at this moment the road stretches out ahead and the path is unknown to him.(image)

    BB King's secret fantasy



    I picked this up from the blog Knowing and Doing, written by Eugene Wallingford and always worth following if you have any interest in computer science education - one of my past lives. According to an interview, BB King wishes that he had been able to go to college to become... are you ready... a computer scientist! He would have to have been one hell of a computer scientist to make up for what the world of music would have lost.

    I guess about 50% of the people I know that work in technology harbor a secret or not-so-secret desire to be musicians.... Most of them, including myself, are just not good enough at it. There are so many amazing musicians out there! So it's a little reassuring to know that one of the great ones wishes he could do what I do. If we could only swap lives for a week! BB, drop me a line, I'll give you some technology lessons and you can teach me a few licks.(image)

    My love/hate relationship with lawns


    For anyone who lives in a climate like mine in Southern California, a lawn makes no logical sense. We steal water hundreds of miles away and pump it here so we can dump it on our lawns and watch it evaporate in the high temperatures and low humidity of summer. I know I'm supposed to hate lawns.

    We've recently come close to finishing a seemingly-endless remodeling project, and of course as we rebuild the crushed and abandoned landscape around our house we're looking at low-water, native plants - which I do really like. But there was one section by the side that was completely bare, and while we figure out what to do long term, we decided to go ahead and plant grass.... and it looks so nice! So cool, so green, so alive.

    Someday maybe I'll give up my lawn. Then I can try to give up the other Los Angeles extravagance, driving alone in my car.... In the meantime, it just looks so nice!(image)