Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Energy Detective - TED5000 Installation and Setup Experience

I recently purchased an energy monitoring device - TED5000 - as an experiment to see if we were to understand our daily energy consumption, we'd take appropriate action to conserve our energy. You know, the whole green and environmental thing that each and everyone of us should care about...

In a nutshell, TED5000 consists two components - one component called MTU connecting to your house's electrical panel and the other component called the Gateway connecting to your router. The company - The Energy Detective - recommends professional installation for the MTU. You can certainly do it yourself but you are taking your life in your own hand. I am too chicken for it. I opted for the pro...

Once installed, the MTU senses the data and sends it to the Gateway via the house electrical wiring. This technique is called Power over Ethernet (POE). POE is a good networking technology until one figures out that it's very sensitive to noises - laptops, printers, compact fluorescent light bulbs, you name it. It took awhile to find an area of the house with minimal interference. Why couldn't TED be designed with wireless technologies - WIFI, ZigBee, or even Bluetooth? WIFI is so ubiquitous and it could potentially eliminate one component of the product... TED, are you listening?

The good thing is that the software came right up after installation hurdles. I didn't have to do anything. I just called up my browser and typed in the URL: TED5000. Kudos for the simplicity here. However, the fun part was yet to come.

I wanted to access the TED from outside of my house. It should be an easy task since all I have to do is to open a port in my router, right. As expected that didn't work... As it turned out, I got a few things networked together: DSL modem > Vonage modem/router > Linkssys router > 5-port switch. So for the geeky folks out there, I got a few NAT (Network Address Translation) running together... This is how I solved it: DSL modem: opening a port > DSL modem: opening the same port with an IP address pointing to the Linksys > Linksys: opening the same port with an IP address pointing to TED (TED connected to the Linksys instead of the 5-port switch). It seemed simple but took me awhile to figure it out. Now I can view my power usage from my iPhone at work. Let the real fun begin!!!

  • Buying a TED: $199.95
  • Shipping: $4
  • Installation: $100
  • Long Ethernet cable: $12
  • Frustration and solving the problem: Priceless
  • Tidying up the installation requested by my lovely wife: Even more priceless

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A year since UlluTek was launched

It has been a year since we launched UlluTek on a shoe string budget. We had a very idealistic vision with UlluTek - an open source hardware company to bring bleeding edge technologies to the masses. We were very close to achieve our vision. However, we learn that hardware - especially a complex hardware - is not for the everyone.

The free software that we used - Weebly for our website, Google Apps for our team members, Google Analytics for our website tracking - continue to be our best option. In addition, LinkedIn proves to be the best way to spread the words. I amazed how little money it took to get a presence.

We are now embarking on a traditional business model - developing products and selling them. What a concept!!! But we have not given up on our open source idea yet.

Stay tune...

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The challenge of media storage

I have a Sony DCR-PC9 camcorder circa 2001. Back then, Sony was touting that DV was the next big media for camcorder. Mind you, this is after we owned a Sony Hi-8 only to have a bunch of tapes that we could not play anywhere... I do like the DCR-PC9 for its user-friendly interface and its compact size. However, Sony decided to use FireWire to download to a computer. Guess what, majority of the new laptops/desktops eschew FireWire in favor of high speed USB. Go figure... Luckily, when we upgraded our desktop, we decided to turn it into a Unix - Ubuntu - machine since I wanted to get to know Unix again. Our desktop does have a FireWire card. It took awhile but I was able to get the video off the camcorder using Kino Video Editor since it has a native FireWire support and export to MPEG. Once I have a MPEG file, Ubuntu lets me burn it on a CD and I was able to play it on my Windows machine. This process gets me thinking... I wonder how much data left hanging out there??? Remember the floppy disk? 3.5" diskette? Zip drive? Jazz drive? Tape drive? CD is on its way to the grave due to the popularity of DVD. What about thumb drive? External hard drive? How could a layman keep up with these changes? Someone might say online storage is the future... This could be the answer but I don't think the process of using online storage simple enough for my father-in-law to use.

Friday, June 12, 2009

We have been busy at UlluTek

For the last month or so, our UlluTek team are working hard on two separate projects. We have already revised our high level design a few times and are now zeroing the Bill of Material (BOM). Users can start download the BOM and block diagrams for one of our projects.

It has only been a little over 6 weeks since we embarked on UlluTek. To me, this is very significant since it'd take months to get to the same spot that we are today under a normal corporate development cycle.

Since our team is all virtual, we are using Google Sites for our discussions and intranet. It is working out better than I expected. We have had several internal polls for our team to vote on various stuff and they all went very smooth.

I continue to be amazed with so much free and accessible services out there. It helps to keep our overhead low and we should be able to pass on significant saving to our customers.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Value Proposition

Value proposition is probably the trickiest work that a product manager would have to do. Recently I worked with several colleagues on the value propositions for their products and it was fun.

Good value proposition should be a simple one sentence describing the product and compelling enough for readers to take the next step. Yet, it should not be too laden with jargons, "warm and fuzzy feeling", or full of big empty words… Tangible results in one sentence.

I wrote about a process to come up with a value proposition a couple of years back in this blog and now looking back, I don't think it has changed that much. Here's the pictorial view of the process:

The process is simple:

  • Market segments: which target market segment(s) that the product will serve
  • Key Product messages/statements: these are the benefits that will solve customers' problems
  • Features: this is how the product will solve the problems
  • Competitors: the main competitors in the target segments
  • Competitive Analysis Differentiators: the product's differentiators deriving from the product's strong benefits that competitors do not have

Of course, you can always "word smith" it to make it fit your product and your company brand strategy. Also, what I have found is that the competitive piece is best for your sales force and the rest is the key value proposition for your customers. Here are the two examples that I found:

  • Weak value proposition: "ABC Corp. is the premier B2B portal for small businesses looking to grow" – very subjective (premier of what) and did not deliver tangible results to its customers (growing businesses how)
  • Strong value proposition: "XYZ Corp. is the exclusive provider of patent-pending project management software for paving contractors, saving US contractors over $34M in 2005" – Market segment is paving contractors; Benefit: saving contractors $34M; Features: patent-pending project management software. It has all the elements above plus a differentiator: patent-pending.

I welcome comments and suggestions to make this process better.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Update on UlluTek

It has been interesting to get an open source project off the ground... Everything that I learned in the MBA school is pretty much tossed out of the window. We have a high level mission "creating simple products to accelerate the adoption of complex technologies that we love" but outside of that, it has been a constant change.

Ultimately, we want to make UlluTek a commercial success. However, we want people to adopt cool technologies as well. It's a balance between opening it up our design and a desire to get cash flow. In a way, I think it's very refreshing. We get to communicate EVERYTHING that we do to the public. If we were behind schedule, everyone knows... No need to spin anything.

In additon, I get to test out the social media channel - specifically with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I am seeing that our traffic to the website spiked after each status that I posted on these websites - another proof that businesses can really get closer to their customers through social media. Let's see how the visits to our website improve if all of our team members utilize their own social network.

For now, we are getting more team members to join us through connections that we know. We want to give the public more useful products to play with soon. Please come and visit us at UlluTek.

Friday, April 24, 2009

An Open Source Hardware Project - UlluTek

I recently launched UlluTek, an open source hardware project, with a few engineer friends. Over the years, we discovered that there are many simple and useful hardware products that are not built because companies deem that they are - well - too simple and the ROI did not justify it. ROI strikes again!!!

Since we are bootstrapping the project (no venture capital firms in their right minds would invest in an open source company nowadays), we have to figure out the cheapest way to get the website up and running. To my surprise, there are so many options to choose from. I settled on a few tools to start:

  • Web creation and hosting: Weebly - I was able to setup the site in less than half an hour. I registered the domain with Weebly and got 50-user Google Apps Standard Edition. I got 6 users up and running in less than 15 minutes.
  • Instant Messaging: even though Google Apps comes with Chat application, we chose Skype since it gives us a better conferencing capability. Besides, I am already using Skype to call my family in Vietnam and loving the service.
  • Wiki/Forum: I have not picked an application yet but WetPaint looks very interesting. Ning is in the running as well.
  • Code revision: I am going to use LaunchPad for code depository and revision.
  • Drawing: I am using Inkscape for homemade logos and other drawing needs. Inkscape has tons of tutorials on the web so it was very helpful learning the tool.
  • 3D Drawing: Google Sketchup fills this need although Inkscape has some basic 3D capability as well. Sketchup is a lot more fun and my 8-yr old son loves to play with the program.
So for now, I have enough tools to get the project up and running. My engineering friends are still looking for a low cost CAD tool. Any recommendation out there?