Saturday, November 22, 2014

Eindhoven GLOW Festival

Eindhoven, a city in the Netherlands, hosts an annual light festival called GLOW.  Eindhoven is known as the City of Light, mainly because of the fact that it housed several match stick factories.  And, then Philips established its light bulb factory. 

I was lucky enough to be in town to experience GLOW 2014.  It was a fabulous experience and some of the installations were mind-blowing.  The city had spent considerable amount of resources to put this project together.  The entire project spanned over 20 installations spread around the city center (Centrum, as they say in Netherlands).

The installations were in the form of light installations, sculptures, projections as well as live performances.  Some of the installations were elaborate and involved high-tech equipment. The entire 'show' started at 6 PM and went on into the night. 

One of my favorite installations was the 'Parklaan Flashback'.  This installation captured the history of Eindhoven at the beginning of the twentieth century.  The show was a light projection on two buildings facing each other.  Spectators stood between the two buildings and watch the show.  The show is synchronized between the opposite buildings and moves from one building to the other.  Different scenes are depicted and 'painted' on the buildings using light with accompanying music.  It made for a spectacular show.  I shot both video as well as still images.  Here are a few of the still images:

The 'Pendulum Wave' was a piece of art built on the principles of pendulums.  This was a great engineering installation with 15 pendulums of varying lengths suspended from a frame.  At the end of each pendulum was a lighted ball.  All the pendulums were simultaneously raised to the side (I guess, using electro-magnets) and then let go.  The pendulums formed interesting patterns governed by their lengths.  As the pendulums swung, the balls would change color.  The entire experience was enhanced with music and fog.

The 'Figures that Wander' was a shocker amongst all the exhibits.  This was the only 'live-art' in the whole festival.  The performance involved four dancers dancing behind semi-transparent plastic curtains.  They formed shapes using light and shadows.  Initially, I thought that this was a projection onto a semi-transparent screen, just like all the other installations.  After watching for a few minutes, I realized that this was indeed live, and there were people performing behind the screens.  This was the most creative, bold and provocative art installation in the entire festival. 

The 'Enchanted Cathedral and the Seasons' was an innovative art creation using high powered color projectors.  Computer generated images are projected onto the façade of the cathedral to depict the four seasons.  Again, the animation was accompanied by lively music.

Here is a view of the cathedral from my room.

'Stereo' was the video mapping projection done on the façade of the Augustijnenkerk cathedral.  This cathedral was right next to my hotel and I could see it from my window.  This audio-visual production transformed the cathedral into a living and moving structure.  Set to music, the high powered projectors painted the façade with features and made the features undulate to music.  It was an interesting way to convert an irregular surface into a projection surface and paint pictures. 

There was another show inside the cathedral.  Even here, they had used a half dozen synchronized projectors to project images onto the tall ceiling as well as the walls of the cathedral.  I was surprised to note that each of the projectors was using film instead of digital technology.  The entire show was cued to baroque music.

All in all, it was an amazing experience.  I heard that other European cities are also hosting such GLOW events and I can't wait to visit them and experience GLOW again.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"What do you do?"

A simple question that reveals how passionate someone is about their occupation. You meet someone at a gathering and ask them their name, and they enthusiastically (and almost immediately) reply. You ask them where they live, and you get a similar enthusiastic quick reply. Then, you ask them what they do, and you will see two kinds of people:

The first kind is the group of satisfied and successful professionals who exude the confidence and are enthusiastic about their profession. They reply with the same enthusiasm and quickness.

The second kind is the group of people who are not really excited about their occupation, and are just going along to make a living. These people will drone about what they do without any excitement or enthusiasm. These are the ones that need to look inside themselves, find what they are passionate about, and go after it.

Find an occupation that makes you proud. Find an occupation that makes you get up everyday looking forward to going to work.

I remember reading a resume writing book where the author said that we should fine tune our resumes until it is fit to be framed and hung on the wall. Same here. You need to find a profession that you are proud of proclaiming it and announcing it to the world.

Find your passion today and go after it.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Airplane seating

How many times have you boarded an airplane just to stand behind a bunch of people trying to cram their luggage into the overhead bins or waiting for others to give way so they can get into their window seat?  I have been in a lot of these situations and that is what got me thinking about how an airline can make this more efficient.

A plane on the ground is a plane not making money for the airline.  That is the reason why airlines try to turnaround their planes as fast as possible. 

Disembarking is simple and happens efficiently: passengers milling out of the plane starting from the front to the back, aisle to window.  It is boarding where all the confusion lies.  There are three predominant patterns used by most of the airlines: free seating, back to front and zone based seating.  United is the only airline that uses outside-in seating. 

Southwest uses free seating.  The main problem with this approach is that everyone wants to sit in the front of the plane (less engine noise, faster to disembark, less lateral movement, etc.).  Also, no one wants to sit in the middle seat.  This means people start filling the window and aisle seats from front to back.  The problems with this approach are that people have to wait in the beginning since others are holding up the line as they find their seats up front.  Later on, the process speeds up as people start moving backwards.  And, at the end, it slows down again when the middle seats get occupied.  One advantage is that there is never a situation where two people have to get up to let a passenger get to his/her window seat. 

Most of the other airlines seat from back to front in zones.  This causes packs of delays within the zones as people board in random order within the zones.  Add to this mix, the elite travelers who board prior to all others.  A lot of elite travelers prefer the aisle seat leading to more delays as the other seats are occupied. 

United's approach loads the windows first, followed by middle and then the aisles.  This would mean that there is no need for any passenger to get up once seated.  But, unfortunately, the elites mess this up too.  The elites board first and could be seated anywhere on the plane. 

We could come up with all kinds of sequences to make boarding as efficient as possible, but, still we will have issues with each of these approaches.  The main culprit being carry-on luggage.  Finding space for carry-on luggage is the biggest concern for all passengers, and hence the rush to board. 

In an Utopian world where passengers did not carry any luggage on them, boarding would be a cinch.  Any of the above approaches would work pretty well. 

One obvious answer is to eliminate carry-on luggage, especially the ones that fit in overhead bins.  Laptop bags, backpacks and purses that can fit under the seat and could be fine.  The big increase in carry-on luggage has happened since airlines started charging for checked-in baggage.  It would be interesting to see how this has increased the boarding time.  If it is significant, then, airlines could charge for carry-on luggage too.  This would bring us back to the good old days of no charge luggage.  Airlines can make more money from baggage fees, as well as increase the turnaround time. 

Another answer is to open all doors and load passengers from all of them.  Especially on the wide body jets with two aisles, opening doors on both sides will speed boarding incredibly.  For the smaller planes, opening doors in the front as well as the back would do the trick.  But, that is not really possible since all airports have only one jet bridge assigned to a gate.  A redesign of the gates and bridges would be very expensive. 

A few airlines are still experimenting with various strategies for boarding (alternate aisle and window, back to front, eliminate elite early boarding, etc.).  But, the airlines are knocking on the wrong door.  The boarding process is very well optimized.  It is the carry-on baggage issue that needs to be addressed by either eliminating overhead bins, or by reducing the carry-on luggage.  This would either mean charging for carry-on baggage or eliminating them completely.

It would be interesting to see if there has been an uptick in boarding times since baggage fees were instituted.  If there is, it makes sense to address this problem by focusing on the carry-on luggage.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Building Motobecane MTB 550HT

All these years, I have been walking into a LBS to buy my bikes.  This summer, I thought of buying a bike online and assembling it for my daughter.  Here is an account of how easy it was to assemble a Motobecane 550HT Mountain Bike. 

The 550HT is a bike with pretty decent components for the price.  It comes with an aluminum frame, Suntour XCT shocks, SRAM X4 derailleur as well as Tektro Draco hydraulic disc brakes.  I was against buying hydraulic disc brakes (didn't want to get into the bleeding routine), but after trying them out, convinced myself to get one.

The bike came in a box with not a lot of cushioning.  Luckily, nothing was broken or bent out of shape. 

The frame came with the rear wheel assembled with the crank and chainset in place.  The fork was also assembled.  Everything else was loose.  Almost everything needed some tightening and greasing.  The tools needed to assemble this bike are simple: a Phillips screw driver, metric Allen key set, 14mm spanner to tighten the pedals. 

Once the bike was assembled, it was time to tune it.  The derailleur needed some fine adjustments. The brakes needed adjustment since the pads were rubbing against the disc.  Luckily, I didn't have to bleed the brakes.  I bought a bleeding kit online, just in case.  The head needed tightening. 

Then came the tough part: wheel truing. 

Both the wheels had loose spokes and needed truing since they were off by more than a mm in at least one place.  Luckily, I found this site which made truing a simple task.  I inverted the bike and got to work with the spoke spanner I bought from REI.  BTW, the local REI mechanics were great in guiding me on what to lubricate and what not to touch. 

After all the final adjustments, it was time to take the bike for a spin. 

Overall, the bike is great for the money.  I am sure it won't withstand the punishment some of the extreme trails at Duthie hill park have to offer.  But, it holds up to my daughter's style of riding. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Design for Assembly

Good designs are always simple.  They are so simple that you don't realize it if you don't think about it.  I recently bought a patio table from IKEA.  As always, IKEA does a great job in packaging and instructions.  It was a complex piece of furniture with collapsible leaves and a glass top.  But, it came with simple instructions, set of fasteners and the tools required.  How many manufacturers think of including the tools needed?

As soon as I unpack the fasteners I usually dump them all into a bowl to make sure I don't lose any.  BTW, what is wrong with including a couple extra screws and nuts with any item shipped?  Have you ever lost a screw or a nut and found yourself running to the local Home Depot to pick a spare.  It is the most frustrating experience.  You are so pissed that you want to return the piece of junk (after an hour of assembly labor, you discover that a bolt is missing), but you cannot, because it is half assembled and will not fit in your car anymore!  Morons.  If the BOM calls for 24 screws, throw in 25.  I know that in the small scheme of things, every piece matters to the bottom line, but in the big scheme of things, customer happiness trumps everything.

Back to the patio table.  Here I am with my bowl ready to pour over the fasteners.  I open the blister pack and tilt it into the bowl, but nothing falls.  I then notice that the clever engineers at IKEA have used a soft double sided glue strip on the packaging (see pic above) so that the washers and nuts stick to it until I pull them apart. What a clever idea.  The cardboard holds the fasteners for me until I need them.  These simple things are what count for immense customer satisfaction and pleasure.  This is what IKEA excels at.

Have you ever wondered why IKEA has the designer's name printed on every product?  In case you have not noticed, all products have the designer's name printed on the packaging.  It achieves two things:  for one, it honors the designer for the work they have done.  And, two, it makes a public statement about you.  Imagine the designer who created the chair which keeps falling apart.  "Inga, your chair is the worst chair I have ever sat on.  You are not fit to be a designer". On the other hand, imagine your pleasure when your fans call to tell you how great your designs are!

Every product I buy, every product I assemble, teaches me a lesson.  It is amazing to see companies like IKEA, Apple and others push the boundaries in customer convenience and satisfaction.  All other companies should follow their lead and design products that are convenient to assemble as well as use.