January 2007

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January 5, 2007 F #

Back from Christmas...

... and it feels like two different worlds. Dropping back in with my brothers was just like life as it always has been. Then returning to Boston was almost like I had never left ... like I had been there up through yesterday ... Strange.

We had a good time. Of course we did the usual skiing and general running around. We had everyone in this year. It's been a few years since we had everybody in the house all at once.

I don't know if we ever remember what Greg gives people for Christmas, but I realized that we reference our Christmas's according to how he wraps different gifts. This is the year of the Christmas Crock. Past Christmases include the Bucket of Dirt, the GPS Gift, the Ball of Duct Tape in the Highest Corner of the Ceiling, and so on.

The several storms rolling through Denver turned out to be a lot of fun... that is, once I made it into Denver (Go Jet Blue!!!). The snow came down and all the neighbors came out in the morning. We had a big block party shoveling everyone's driveways, and our culdesac. I'd forgotten what a good workout snow shoveling is. I'd pick shoveling over the gym any day of the week.

And it's good to see an occasional reminder of all the fun stuff I used to do as a kid, building snow forts and everything else in the snow. The funny thing is, we weren't snowed in a single day all break. Colorado is prepared to deal with snow.

I do forget how nice it is to eat breakfast to this view every morning. I enjoy going home. I'm glad I enjoyed it while growing up through high school and everything.

On my way out of town, we built a rail for my Grandparents in their garage. They've been really active until the last couple years. I guess that age thing starts to hit everybody at some point, but my Grandma says I've earned a PhD in "Taking Care of Grandparents" so they get along just fine.

My Mom showed me the solution to always forgetting to leave extra space for flying home with the excesses of Christmas: Space Bags! You can buy them at any Linen's and Things, or wherever, and you can vacuum your clothes to a third of their original volume! Just be careful of stopping in three cities along the way back ... A small leak causes real troubles while zipping that bag together on the last leg of the trip.

Huntsville, Alabama #

On my way back to Boston, I made a few stops, including a visit to Huntsville, Alabama. I wanted to visit several companies there and get a feel for the business environment. I must say it was a very worthwhile trip, I learned a lot more than I anticipated, and I am very impressed with the hospitality of the people in Huntsville.

I felt like they rolled out the red carpet for me, and have prepared every business incentive possible to open up shop in their town. Huntsville is presently the home of the 2nd largest research park in the US, 4th largest in the world, and they have plenty of room for expansion. It was surprising how disciplined they were in following the advice of Werner Von Braun in designing their city to be attractive for engineering, with the University right next door to the research park, an International airport with excess capacity just waiting more traffic, and plenty of resources to accommodate increasing business. Huntsville has a rich Aerospace heritage with the Redstone and Saturn rockets, but with 4,500 new engineering jobs coming to their town in the next two years, they're looking to the future more than they're looking to the past.

Redstone and Saturn V Rocket models

Through the LFM faculty, I was lined up with an alum who graduated from LFM, spent 2 years with Boeing in Seattle, transferred to Boeing's Huntsville site where they treated him very well and he gained very diverse experience running several aspects of the business. Then he jumped ship to run his own company producing control solutions for military helicopters. That venture crashed from some decisions by the majority owner of the technology, and now he's spent the last couple years playing a key role in another smaller aerospace firm. He scheduled for me to visit people from a whole range of businesses from small engineering analysis firms and startups, to business incubators, mid-size companies playing the acquisition games, Northrop Grumman on the largest corporate scale, and even a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce. I gained more insight into how the aerospace industry eco-system works, as well as what I personally will enjoy doing.

One of the most interesting visits was a small business incubator, housing several startups. One of the groups I met is successfully deploying a GPS-independent local positioning system using the same RF concept I was considering with an Astropreneur $100K team! That was a fun conversation, and their success is brilliant!


I was surprised to learn that the real people scarcity they run into in this environment isn't technical expertise, but business, management, and leadership ability. Of course they can always use more competent and creative engineers, but they have a harder time finding people fluent with effective business management.


In between a couple other stops, I dropped into my little bro's place and saw his new house. Cool place, with a huge front, back, and side yard. He's stationed in Delaware flying the C-5, and it seems like a good area to live. Cruising out the next day, I remembered how relaxing it is to drive through country farmland. It was only by chance that I escaped getting pulled over for what would have been a hefty speeding ticket, but the trees, rolling meadows, and intermittent houses are really settling on the mind.

The whole Baltimore to DC area doesn't seem so bad. Northrop Grumman's Electronic Systems Sector headquarters is there, so I scheduled a visit that was very worthwhile. Just within that sector, we have 52 Engineering sites and 29 Manufacturing sites (one of them in Huntsville, AL). Huge company, with a lot to keep track of. They want to push to develop a strong LFM network within the company, and I think it could really be of some value.

January 22, 2007 M #

LFM Plant Tour '07

On the way back from the LFM Plant tour. For the first time on the trip, it feels like it was two weeks long. The trip started like a whirlwind and was half way finished when it felt like one day had passed. We started in Detroit, visited Ford, GM, and American Axel for one day each. Then woke up at 3am heading to Seattle to see Amazon and Boeing. Then to Phoenix for a fun and relaxing weekend where we could finally catch our breath before seeing Honeywell on Monday. The ice storm in Austin, Texas didn't stop us from getting in and seeing Dell and Solectron with Cisco. We might have mutinied our planners when we woke up at 3am again if our flight had been going anywhere other than Puerto Rico, where we saw UTC (United Technologies) Hamilton Sunstrand site. We took the weekend to ourselves, with several still staying until the end of this week, and had a blast in the tropics.

If i weren't so tired, I would probably write more about the companies, what we saw, and so on. . . but I just feel like posting pictures right now.

GM released this Chevy Volt concept car. Pretty cool looking, and after plugging it into your home power system, you get the same traveling at pennies to the dollar compared to gasoline (at least, that's what I picked up in my listening). I think they need to get past the concept phase and get it on the road.

GM seems to have a future. Ford. . . I'd like to be optimistic, but unless the new CEO they pulled from Boeing does something drastic, the only part of their company left standing will be the museum. They just don't seem to have any energy or vision. GM on the other hand, at least acted motivated. They have designers that I like, and seem to be understanding their customers.

This would have been nice to have on my trips to Yosemite.

On the first leg of the flight, my luggage got it's face ripped off. American thinks they can fix this.

The solar car is still a cool project. Michigan raced this car from the southern end of the US all the way up to Canada in ten or so days. Not bad.

Puerto Rico was fun.

We hopped onto this rattly old stretch Cesna type airplane and took a hop to Vieques, a nearby island.

You can't beat lunch on a small island.

No matter where you go, no matter what the mode of transportation, guys will not be thwarted from being pimps. Yes, I witnessed two guys bareback on horses picking up on three girls by their truck!

Boeing was very impressive. The speed at which they've brought this 787 through development and to market is phenomenal. Their development model is also fairly revolutionary. 80% of it (I think) was designed by their partners, with Boeing acting very largely as a systems integrator.

Amazon was a fun and unique place. "Zero Corporate Ego" is the one phrase I take home from the place. That sign above the door is the biggest Amazon sign I saw all day. Their building is in the middle of a medical park. Inexpensive.

This room they brought us into for their presentation had a plywood podium nailed together, folding chairs, and an absolute absense of anything fancy seen at every other large corporation we visited.

Jeff Bezos (not pictured) wasn't scheduled to talk with us, but he casually dropped in half way through and fielded questions for 20 minutes of so. The guy is a goof, but when you hear him speak, it becomes apparent that he's an intelligent goof. One of the other guys asked about Blue Origin (here's a link to their recent success with their vertical takeoff vertical landing vehicle). I learned that Bezos gave his high school valedictorian speech on the need to colonize space. Pretty cool.

Fun trip.

January 26, 2007 F #

Toyota Prius

I ZipCar'd a Prius today. Fun little vehicle. It had enough power to navigate Boston traffic without too much trouble. Well laid out interior, good look outside, comfortable, and surprisingly roomy. I was disappointed that I only averaged 32 mpg, but I was driving it somewhat hard at times to see what power it had when needed. If I had to buy a car today, I would be happy driving a Prius..

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