Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Game Changer in Document Camera Industry: HoverCam X300

The HoverCam is a game changing document camera. What's a document camera, you ask? Do you remember the OJ Simpson trial when Judge Ito said, "Put it on the Elmo." It's a camera mounted on an arm used in courtrooms, classrooms, video conference rooms and meeting rooms to show large-screen, live images of documents and 3-D objects when connected to a projector. In many classrooms around the world these have replaced overhead projectors. Ten years ago, the products cost $2,000 and up and had trouble displaying text clearly when showing a full-sized document. But in recent years, the image quality has improved and prices have dropped to the $500 range for some models. Schools have been buying them by the thousands.

Fast forward to 2010. With the advancement of CMOS technology and a decrease in camera component costs, an innovative company based in San Diego, CA has brought to market a high-resolution document camera that sells for $199, which has Elmo and other document camera manufacturers (and their dealers) shaking their heads in disbelief. (Full disclosure: I found the HoverCam product so attractive and the company's CEO Ji Shen so intriguing that I'm consulting the company to assist it reach the next level.

About the HoverCam: it's a high resolution (true, 3-mega pixel) document camera and scanner with no competition in the $199 price range. The company's aim is one in every classroom. From what I observed at the ISTE education technology conference in Denver at the end of June, teachers were crowding around the booth and buying units from the show floor. "We're now seeing large follow-on orders from schools," said Mr. Shen. For all the schools and districts that haven’t been able to purchase document cameras in the past the HoverCam presents an opportunity.

The technology involves a 3-mega pixel CMOS, USB camera. The camera is HD 720p compatible, so the images are surprisingly clear. (An example taken with the camera is an image of the New York Times at left.) Power is supplied by the USB cable (i.e., no separate power cord required which is convenient). The HoverCam must be connected to a computer to be used. It’s Mac & PC compatible. Each unit is also a scanner. A key to the HoverCam's appeal is proprietary software which allows the user to easily zoom, switch resolutions, switch between “presentation” mode and “scanning” mode and allow one touch recording of voice & video.

In addition to the $199 X300 product, Pathway Innovations & Technologies, Inc. (maker of the HoverCam) has also designed two higher price, higher value-added products. One is the Kudos 3 ($259) , which incorporates 2 cameras and allows picture-in-picture viewing and “head shots.” Kudos is ideal for use as a webcam with Skype, distance learning applications and recording videos with a talking head inserted inside the document image. The other product is the X500 ($279), which is a 5-megapixel scanning camera. According to Mr. Shen, this unit has fantastic image quality and is great for scanning (because of the very high resolution). He said some schools are also buying it as a “document camera” – although in the case of the 5-megapixel camera, the refresh rate is relatively slow at less than 10 frames/sec (whereas the X300 with the 3-megapixel camera has a “fast” refresh rate so live images are smooth).

Mr. Shen says he dreams of designing a "consumer version" of a document camera for the masses that he calls an "office camera" or "OfficeCam." Although he won't disclose any details publicly at this time, except to say that his company will make an announcement at the 2011 CES Consumer Electronics Show and that the OfficeCam device will incorporate the multiple funtions of scanning, presenting, video conferencing and more into one unit.

In summary, the HoverCam X300 key specifications are: high-resolution document camera, USB 2.0 with UVC, portable, 2lbs., UXGA resolution, active pixels 1,600 H X 1,200 V, 720p High Definition video and audio recording, built-in microphone, image capture, built-in lighting, 0-360 degree image rotation, 2X digital zoom, image scanning, contrast control, brightness control, adjustable resolution from 640 X 480 to 2,000 X 1,600, Mac & PC compatible, 25 frames/sec refresh rate in VGA mode and 12 frames/sec in 720p high definition video mode.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Voice of Civil Discourse for 35 Years: City Club of San Diego

The City Club of San Diego celebrated 35 years of fostering a "Dialogue of Democracy" yesterday evening with a tribute to its founder George Mitrovich and a concert by John McDermott held at Point Loma Nazarene University. Paying tribute to Mr. Mitrovich were Judge Stephen Reinhardt (U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit), Richard Reeves (the Presidential Biographer and former New York Times correspondent) Leon Williams (retired member of the San Diego City Council and the County Board of Supervisors) and Bob Brower (the university's president) each of whom credited the organization for being much needed voice promoting civil discourse during controversial times.

Mr. McDermott shared poignant, personal stories from old and new worlds dealing with war, immigration and family life framed by moving ballads accompanied by harmonists Jason Fowler and Brian MacMillan on acoustic guitars.

"The City Club has gained national standing due to its ability to conduct open discussions of local, national, and international issues," according to Vice President Joseph Biden. "Public figures from all across the country and the world have come to speak at City Club events, proving that it's one of the finest public forum organizations around. By engaging the public in civil discourse, The City Club has been able to further improve society by getting people to think about the real issues -- the ones that will greatly affect our future," stated the Vice President in a letter to the group.

A high school social studies teacher at the concert said he attended a City Club sponsored discussion on Health Care Reform last year that attracted a boisterous crowd from both sides of the political spectrum. "I was impressed with George's ability to keep the audience under control," he said of Mr. Mitrovich's charisma and oratorical skills.

The next City Club event is scheduled for Sept. 14th, a luncheon with Jack Conway, Kentucky Attorney General and candidate for the U.S. Senate. On October 23, City Club is sponsoring a talk by Joe Matthews with a focus on California's troubles: "California Crack Up: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It."

For additional information, the organization's website is

George Mitrovich

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bill Walton's Got His Game Back

What a long strange trip it’s been, and to hear Bill Walton recount the adventure, he recites it in prose, as a poet from the beatnik era, with quotes from Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Neil Young. What a long strange trip it’s been. From high school standout, to UCLA basketball star to MVP of the NBA, able to give that car to his father as he vowed he would as a kid. From the thrill of victory, to the agony of crippling back pain, not able to get out of bed, ready to throw in the towel, no desire for the next game, with thoughts of leaping from the fatal heights of San Diego’s Coronado bridge. Then, the miracle of surgery that stitched his back together, then mobility in a wheel chair, to a walker, to a cane, and now, playing the next game, helping amputees play sports, helping others get ready for their next game. Bill Walton’s got his game back. What a long strange trip it’s been. Can you believe he was a stutterer, and now as he speaks to the San Diego Software Industry Council, he warns it’s almost impossible to stop once he starts talking. The one thing that stops him this evening is a Grateful Dead reunion concert, which he will not miss, “Driving that train….”

Here are some takeaways from the evening’s talk. Walton invokes the teachings of John Wooden, including the pyramid of success (poise, confidence, condition, skill, team spirit, self-control, alertness, initiative, intentness, industriousness, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, enthusiasm) and "failing to have a plan is planning to fail." The importance of how you put on your socks (Wooden’s first lesson to new recruits to avoid blisters). The fundamentals of life, drilled into him from Wooden, and how those may have saved Walton when he needed something to hang on to. Wooden never had set plays; he never called timeout. He drilled, drilled, drilled, prepared, prepared, prepared, then let the young men play their game. (Lesson: If you’re a manager, train your people and let them do their job.) If you're not the biggest, think how you can use balance and quickness to your advantage. And last, the telephone calls from Walton’s closest friend during his dark times, with the reassuring message that “you can make it.” (Lesson: If you have a friend who’s down, calling is appreciated.) “The important things are health and family,” says Walton. “Everything else is just stuff.”

Friday, April 16, 2010

5 Minutes With Leo Lee, Founder of "Leadership Builder"

(Leo Lee is the founder of Leadership Builder, a non-profit group based in San Diego, CA whose mission is to develop leadership skills among its members. The organization sponsors bi-monthly networking events with featured speakers. Below are excerpts from an interview with Mr. Lee in April, 2010.)

What purpose does your group serve that is not met by other organizations?

Mr. Lee: The group is a networking group for mid-level executives that focuses on leadership development to help members become better leaders to achieve a positive impact on their working environment.

What's your vision for the group?

Mr. Lee: Helping managers create a good working environment where people are engaged, respected, encouraged and excel.

What's the biggest obstacle you face in achieving the goals?

Mr. Lee: Transforming people. We're trying to change managers from a technical focus to a leadership focus. Leadership is not reserved exclusively for a few charismatic men and women. It is about you and me bringing forth the best from ourselves and others. When the leader in everyone is liberated extraordinary achievement happens.

What's the most interesting or surprising thing you've seen from your involvement with the group?

Mr. Lee: At our last meeting, a number of community leaders and company executives attended. What surprised me was the whole senior management team from one company attended. The CEO, the CFO and the COO. That was an encouraging sign about the value of our program.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

Mr. Lee: I'm a trained scientist. I used to compete in the annual ballroom dancing competition in Las Vegas with 5 other couples and performed at charity events.

(The next meeting of the group is June 15 and will feature Greg Lucier, CEO of Life Technology, speaking on "Developing Executive Leadership: What It Takes to Take the Lead.")

Friday, April 2, 2010

Management Wisdom From Ken Blanchard & Garry Ridge: "You Have to Have Heart"

Management guru Ken Blanchard and Garry Ridge, President & CEO of WD-40 Corporation, who teamed together to write Helping People Win at Work, shared some of their management wisdom to a leadership forum in San Diego on Thursday evening. Reflecting on the recession's dark times, Blanchard advised the audience, "As the leader you need to be the bearer of hope."

According to Ridge, at most companies only 29% of the staff are engaged in their work. Observed Blanchard, "Without your people, you're nothing." Blanchard said he'd like to see a "Fortunate 500" list off of companies that are financially sound, have a great relationship with their people and care for the community.

Blanchard recalled the darkest times of the recession at his own company as demand for consulting services dropped in 2008. The company met with employees to look for ways to reduce expenses without layoffs. "You have to view your people as your business partner," Blanchard said, noting that a good leader has to be a "servant leader." On this Maundy Thursday evening, the night Jesus washed his apostles' feet, Blanchard said Jesus was an example of a servant leader.

"None of us is as smart as all of us," said Blanchard, noting that subordinate staff are capable of coming up with better ideas than the boss, adding that he enjoyed watching the new TV show "Undercover Boss."

"There are a lot of CEOs out there with no guts," Blanchard said. "You have to have heart." He acknowledged there may be a time when a reduction in force is necessary; if so, it should only be done once (as Machiavelli advised) and the CEO needs to wrap his or her arms around those who remain.

Blanchard said he's the "Chief Spiritual Officer" of The Ken Blanchard Companies and leaves a three-part daily message for his employees:

1) Who to pray for. Blanchard said he believes in the power of prayer and he'll remind his staff to pray for sick and recovering employees.

2) Praise for someone. Blanchard said it's important to accent the positive and to reinforce the power of positive thinking.

3) Inspirational message, sharing with others something he learned.

On the power of positive thinking, Blanchard recalled at a golf school the predictable results when a student hit the ball into a bunker and said, "I can't hit it out of the sand." He suggested with practice and a positive attitude of "I love sand traps!" that a golfer can learn to hit good shots from the bunker. It's the same way when you tell people "they're fabulous" and when you greet someone as if they're the most important person in the world. Positive reinforcement is more effective than negative.

At WD-40, Ridge said the company refers to employees as "the tribe" which implies continuity. He outlined an effective way of doing "performance evaluations" by having each tribe member write down what they do and reviewing the list monthly with their manager. That way, there are never any surprises, and people understand what they need to do. "As a manager, my job is to help you get an A, not to grade your paper," Ridge said.

WD-40, the maker of lubricants, Lava Soap and a dozen other products, also avoided layoffs during the recession and has positioned itself for one of its strongest years ever. In stark contrast to the average company, Ridge said 93% of the WD-40 tribe are "engaged" and passionate about their work and 99% say "I'm treated with respect and dignity."

The speakers suggested those interested in studying leadership could attend a monthly public lecture at the University of San Diego School of Business or consider enrolling in the Master of Science in Executive Leadership (MSEL) program, which uses a curriculum developed by The Ken Blanchard Companies. Ridge was one of the first graduates of the MSEL program 10 years ago and several WD-40 tribe members have attended for continuing education. "The program changes lives," said Blanchard.

The discussion was sponsored by Leadership Builder, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspire, nurture and enhance members' leadership capacity to serve their family, organization, and communities, according to Leo Lee the group's founder.

"The essence of this book is," said Ridge holding up a copy of Helping People Win At Work, "Talk to your people." The WD-40 CEO suggested executives behave like the TV character Detective Columbo: "Always ask questions."

(Readers, what do you think: Is it a senior manager's role to lead with "heart" and "inspiration"? Or, to strictly manage processes, numbers and the bottom line?)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Internet Sales vs. Channel Sales

In recent discussions with channel managers and internet marketing managers I've heard divergent points of view I'd like to open to public debate. According to the rules of internet marketing driven by analytics everything must be measured and all marketing expenses must be justified. This is also true for off-line marketing but measurement is not as precise. The beauty of e-marketing is that all internet touches are traceable -- pay per click, on-line ads, e-mail campaigns, downloads -- except when prospects buy your product or service off-line after learning about it from an e-marketing campaign without indicating the source.

Purchasing on-line is convenient for consumers and individual corporate buyers, but what about larger sales? That's where proponents of channel marketing and the direct sales team argue sales agent involvement is necessary for closing enterprise deals. Critics of the channel say reseller sales reps are just order takers that undercut pricing and reduce the company's gross profit margin. Channel defenders argue that the trusted adviser of a good reseller has the ear of technology buyers and can extend the publisher's/manufacturer's reach, assisting the vendor accelerate sales. Does this sound like Republicans and Democrats arguing about public policy?

Below are some questions that arise. What are your thoughts?

* Is it appropriate to keep spending marketing dollars on internet campaigns to the point of negative returns (because the real sales resulting are greater than that measured since some customers purchase off-line)?

* How do you effectively enforce minimum advertised pricing by resellers? How do you enforce MAP pricing if you use distributors? Should resellers' sales prices be higher than the manufacturer's on-line price?

* Is it effective for a manufacturer to state it has the lowest on-line price to encourage customers to purchase direct from its website?

* If you have effective on-line sales, should resellers even be allowed to sell your product on-line? Should customers only be allowed to purchase on-line direct from the manufacturer/publisher?

* What is an appropriate balance between e-marketing and channel marketing?

* If you believe resellers are order takers, what's the lowest acceptable margin you can offer?

* If you believe resellers help you sell your product, what's an appropriate margin to provide to encourage them to sell your product?

* How do you measure the effectiveness of your channel marketing expenditures?

* How do you determine the indirect impact of a manufacturer's e-marketing activities on channel sales?

Of course the first response to all of those questions is, "It depends." In my opinion the internet marketing team, the direct sales team and the channel sales team working together have important roles to play. How does your organization balance the roles and the allocation of marketing resources between the three?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

CES Roundup

The 2010 CES exposition has come to an end. The show will be remembered for a plethora of 3D displays, e-readers, pocket projectors, apps, phones more powerful than computers, and more.

Entering the main hall you walk right into an impressive LED HDTV flat panel display from LG. All the household name electronics companies are showing them, and then some, including Chinese manufacturers you've never heard of with displays that aren't that bad (when compared to what was commercially available 5 years ago). But from what I saw, Samsung stole the show with a display so thin (try to find it in photo at left) you can hardly see it when looking at it from the side. Sleek as the edge of a sword.

A perfect storm in technological developments, the popularity of the movie Avatar and the need for manufactures to "keep up the Joneses" has lead many companies to develop 3D displays. A SONY representative said the cost will be similar to what you would pay for a non-3D set. Expect to see these on the market in time for World Cup soccer matches this summer -- if not sooner -- as broadcasters are announcing a line up of 3D programming. At SONY's booth I viewed FIFA soccer matches in 3D, which were impressive. I also looked at a PlayStation baseball game in which, as a batter, you feel you're up at the plate at Yankee stadium. (Samsung even showed a 3D display which did not require wearing those funky glasses.) So, if you thought you had just purchased your last TV, think again.

I came of age during the last century with ambitions of leaving my descendants a library of great books. I suppose the analogy would be a music aficionado who loves vinyl records. I've finally been won over to the concept of e-readers. And for newspapers (which I do not include in my great books collections) an e-reader with a large screen makes perfectly good sense. The most innovative e-reader device I saw at CES is made by Plastic Logic and called QUE. The device (and screen) is made from plastic. There is no glass cover. It's thin. It's lite, with a larger display than the Kindle. The larger display allows for more natural reading of newspaper content and to manage (and save) all kinds of documents.

SONY Electronics unveiled a personal, touchscreen wireless device for accessing information at various points throughout the home called dash(TM). According to SONY Product Manager Katie O'Brien, the San Diego based product team is especially proud of the dash as SONY's U.S. side took the initiative to develop it. You could have one in the bedroom to function as a clock and provide realtime weather and traffic information; one in the kitchen for accessing recipes; one in the living room to access fun sites like Twitter and Facebook. Why not just use a computer? Because, according to the SONY representative in the booth, there are times when you want to access information quickly without booting up a computer, and when you're in "relax" mode, not "computer" work mode. Dash provides wireless networking and free access to Sony's Bravia Internet Video streaming platform, which supplies YouTube, Pandora personalized online radio, and Crackle's mix of online originals and videos from the Sony Pictures vault. There are a 1,000 apps available for it and more on the way. The device is priced at $199 and should be available in April.

I was impressed with the improved stabilization technologies SONY showed for its hand held recorders. As a sometimes winemaking blogger who uses old-fashioned, hand held video to demonstrate winemaking and horticulture techniques in the vineyard, the SONY cameras would eliminate much of the jerkiness.

The most impressive demonstration I saw was during Qualcomm CEO Dr. Paul Jacobs' keynote address when cardiologist Dr. Eric Topol, chief medical officer of the West Wireless Health Institute, used a mobile phone to transmit ultrasound views of his beating heart live on stage. The advances in diagnostic and monitoring capabilities of personal medical care devices are impressive. The new devices will allowing monitoring of vital signs from remote locations resulting in improved delivery of medical services, improved health and saved lives (not to mention potential cost savings). Dr. Jacobs also shared the stage with Lenovo's CEO who demonstrated a new class of smartbook computer based on Qualcomm's chip technology named Snapdragon (giving "Intel inside" a run for their money). Qualcomm has staked out a position as the leader in mobile wireless connectivity for 3G networks, with design expertise in modems that provide better power management and better wireless performance with carrier signals. The company is now scoring design wins with traditional computer manufacturers such as Lenovo, HP and others. All of this innovation will lead to better mobile experiences for consumers.

After Nokia's CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo had insulted iPhone users at its recent annual shareholders' meeting, I was about ready to write Nokia off as a company doomed to follow the route of Motorola and lose its dominant position in handsets. Now, I'm not so sure. The Nokia keynote for me was the most surprising (and inspiring), as Kallasvuo shared the stage with the company's chief anthropologist, Jan Chipchase, a cultural ambassador who has more frequent-flyer miles than the CEO studying consumer behavior in remote villages in Africa, India and Asia. He's also a great photographer. Here are sample questions pondered by Jan and his team: How is it in homes without electricity people charge their mobile phones? How do people who can't read and write navigate mobile phone menus? How can a matron managing a one-room house in an Indian slum save money with beggars constantly coming to the door? Nokia's and Jan's approach exhibited a certain degree of humility -- what moral right does Nokia have to intrude in peoples' lives to conduct this research, they ask. I think Nokia is asking the right questions and the company is involved in activities to improve lives, such as providing e-mail accounts to 5-million people last year who previously had no access to e-mail, and mobile banking services to billions of people without access to bank accounts. Although Nokia has largely failed to make a significant impact in the U.S. market, we must remember that the U.S. represents just a small percentage of world population.

Now that all major electronics manufactures are producing intelligent, network capable devices, how is the average person supposed to get everything working together and controlled? Control4 has a vision of the networked home with all devices controlled from one remote, one switch or even your phone and is on its way to developing an ecosystem of partners to realize that vision.

This is the 3rd CES show for Microvision, which continues to generate excitement with its $500 pico projector not much bigger than an iPhone. The projector is the world's first to incorporate laser technology and specifically a green laser developed by Corning Incorporated which allows for true, saturated colors, uniform image and an image that is always in focus even as you move the projector closer then farther from wall or screen. According to Microvision staff, the projector is now shipping in Australia and Spain. "We could have sold 100,000 of them at the show," said Director of Communications Matt Nichols, but the company has been confronting serious supply constraints on key components (Corning is having some troubles delivering the green laser in mass quantity). How useful is a 10-lumen projector? One of the company's fans I met at CES told me that if he was stuck at an airport and wanted to watch the big game he'd much rather see it projected on the wall than on his phone's tiny screen. As a technology company, Microvision has opportunities to embed its unique technology into numerous devices including mobile phones, computers, e-readers, game players etc. By itself, the projector continues to generate considerable buzz and received a "Last Gadget Standing" award at the annual CES gadget shootout by that name as selected by an online audience. Having Dr. Evil of Austin Powers fame in the booth also drew attention. (Rumor has it that Dr. Evil is looking to turn the laser based device into a weapon.) I suppose a market for the 10-lumen projectors is those 300,000 developers in China writing software apps for Nokia phones. Microvision could sell a projector to each one to demonstrate their software directly from the mobile phone.

Of course, on the other side of the projector front Texas Instruments, inventor of DLP projection technology, is not standing still. Samsung seems to have leaped ahead of Microvision by demonstrating a mobile phone integrated with a DLP projector. And, Samsung's Korean-based rival LG also unveiled its prototype version of a projector phone incorporating TI's DLP technology.

Optoma -- a traditional projector manufacturer -- showed a projector slightly larger than Microvision's, LG's and Samsung's (though still micro enough for most applications) based on a brighter DLP engine that outputs 50-lumens, a bit more practical for presentations, while neighboring 3M showed an upgraded version of its LED projector that's now ramped up to a whopping 15 lumens. (Folks, 15 lumens is not very bright. Either you need to show it in a dark room, or, you need to have a small image size -- granted th at the small image is going to be somewhat larger than your mobile phon e display.)

BlackBerry is taking a different approach, developing a device called the BlackBerry Presenter that allows users to connect wirelessly to a bright, conference room projector to make Powerpoint presentations on the go. This would seem to be a more practical direction for business and education use.

While looking for hidden gems in the China Pavilion I stumbled across APPO showing a micro projector they claimed was 100 lumens. The product, however, is in need of serious industrial design and lacks the cool factor shown by other manufacturers. As one of the original projector guys, these minuscule wannabees bring back memories of lugging around the world's first VGA projector in 1992 that output 100 lumens and weighed 35 lbs. I lost a gallon of sweat each day carrying "The Luminator" through Tokyo train stations during hot summer months demonstrating it to partners and customers. Life is good when your projector fits in your pocket. Is also your phone. And your vacuum cleaner.