Design think for the new century… they’ve got it right…

If the engineers can do it, so can we.

From Money at and Business 2.0 Masthead

Re-engineering the engineer
How tiny Olin College set out to pump new life — and fun — into a musty curriculum.
By Michael Myser, Business 2.0 Magazine
June 19 2007: 5:16 PM EDT

(Business 2.0 Magazine) — Laughing, clipboard-toting fourth-graders are crammed into a hallway at a college outside Boston watching with evident delight as an 18-inch-long mechanical caterpillar with four suction-cup feet goes wiggling up the window. The 9- year-old evaluators diligently take notes and then move on to where a shoebox-size device called a fire snail is slithering up a windowpane and a motorized flying squirrel is gliding through the air to land with a bump on the floor.

Welcome to the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, a five-year-old educational experiment that’s turning the business of training engineers upside down.

Set on a tidy campus of postmodern buildings in Needham, Mass., 17 miles and a paradigm shift away from MIT, Olin has no academic departments, no tenure track, no tuition fees, and no fixed curriculum. What it does have, through its hands-on, project-based, relentlessly interdisciplinary approach, is a radical vision of the future of engineering education that just might work.

“We’ve redefined what engineering is and what engineering means,” says Richard K. Miller, Olin’s founding president. “We want to be an irritant that will cause others to make changes.”

And changes are desperately needed, because American engineering education is in trouble. While demand for the profession continues to grow, the percentage of U.S. undergraduates studying for it remains low. In 2000, U.S. schools turned out just 95,000 engineers and computer scientists, while American companies imported about the same number from abroad. The shortage became a crisis after 9/11, when the number of visas granted to foreign students was cut dramatically.

The F.W. Olin Foundation (named after a munitions manufacturer who made his fortune supplying the Army during two world wars) had funded 73 buildings on 57 campuses when it decided in 1997 to tackle all these problems at once. So it chartered Olin College with a $460 million endowment and hired Miller, who has a Ph.D. from Caltech and whose own research is in structural dynamics and nonlinear mechanics.

With the help of a handful of faculty hires and 30 students, Miller designed and tested a new course of study and enrolled the first class of undergraduates in 2002.

One area that clearly needed attention was the basic engineering curriculum, which has hardly changed in the past half-century and no longer attracts many prospective students or keeps the ones it gets. William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering, calls it a “disgrace” that only 60 to 65 percent of the students who enter engineering programs finish them.

And they’re not necessarily flunking out. “Engineering educators work to make this difficult, dry, and dull,” says Sherra Kerns, vice president for innovation and research at Olin.

You don’t have to spend much time at Olin to sense that something important has changed. Instead of the difficult, and often boring, math and physics classes of the old weed-’em-out-early engineering schools, you find courses like Engineering 2250: User Oriented Collaborative Design.

In a typical session, you might encounter kids dressed in pajamas, sweats, shorts, and sandals and an atmosphere that feels more like an art studio than a classroom. On one spring day, a couple of couches and armchairs occupied the center of the room, and a student sat cross-legged atop a table, philosophizing about the lives and demands of makeup artists. Students in UOCD don’t build actual products, touch any technology, or even work a single math problem.

“It doesn’t look like engineering,” admits Benjamin Linder, the assistant professor who helped create the class.

Olin’s curriculum is centered on courses like UOCD and Design Nature — the class that produced those climbing critters. Miller, 57, a thin, bald, engaging administrator who is prone to analogies, likens the traditional curriculum to a music school where students learn history and theory but never touch their instruments. Olin, by contrast, introduces project-based courses to its students early and often.

Olin also insists that students spend more than a quarter of their time studying business and entrepreneurship, humanities, and social sciences. “Olin really bends over backward to get the students to recognize the interactions between these disciplines,” says Constance Bowe, who studied the college as a researcher at Harvard Medical International. To help instill the entrepreneurial spirit, the college created the Olin Foundry, in which the school houses and partially funds as many as a dozen student startups.

Students also experience the business world firsthand through Olin’s senior consulting program for engineering. This year 12 corporations — including Boeing (Charts, Fortune 500), Boston Scientific, Hewlett-Packard (Charts, Fortune 500), and IBM (Charts, Fortune 500) — paid Olin a combined $700,000 to have groups of five seniors serve as consultants for a full academic year on some of the companies’ pressing technological and engineering problems.

“By the time they’re seniors, they’re nearly operating at a professional level,” says David Barrett, the Olin associate professor who heads the program. “It gives them authenticity they wouldn’t get in a classroom.”

Olin’s eclectic mix of arts, entrepreneurship, and old-school engineering appears to be working. One sign is that the college’s student retention rate is 91 percent, roughly 50 percent above the average for U.S. engineering schools. Another is that its first class of 66 graduates last spring landed an impressive array of jobs and graduate school placements, including two Fulbright scholarships and four National Science Foundation fellowships. The class even founded three companies.

Outsiders are beginning to take notice of the college, which this spring had 304 undergrads (all on full scholarship) in its five campus buildings. “Olin is certainly innovative,” says Frank Huband, executive director at the American Society for Engineering Education. “It’s not clear whether you can transfer what it does to a large university, but it does have lessons for us.”

Back in his office overlooking the grounds, Miller uses theater and football analogies to talk about Olin’s curriculum, professors, and students. But he’s direct when discussing what the students are taught. “They’re not learning about engineering,” he says. “They’re learning how to be engineers.”

Michael Myser is a writer in Morristown, N.J.

Can you use your cell number on more than one mobile phone?

By Bruce Meyerson – ASSOCIATED PRESS
Updated: 06/04/07 6:55 AM

Q: I know people who use different cell phones for different occasions, but with the same phone number, almost like you’d change clothes or jewelry. How does that work?

A: It’s not quite as easy as just throwing on a different sweater, but many cell phone companies enable you to use more than one handset with the same phone number. So a person can conceivably carry an e-mail device like BlackBerry during work hours, then switch to a slender flip phone at night.

The process varies, depending on the service provider, and there are a few minor limitations as to which handsets can be used interchangeably.

Most important to remember, though, is that each device you want to use needs to be part of your wireless company’s device lineup: a Sprint phone won’t work with a T-Mobile account, and so on. There are some ways to work around this obstacle, but the process won’t appeal to most consumers.

Among the nation’s biggest carriers, AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA all enable their subscribers to move a phone number from handset to handset. But at Sprint Nextel Corp., only older phones in Sprint’s handset lineup can be swapped in this fashion.

The process is identical for customers of AT&T and T-Mobile, both of which use the globally dominant GSM technology for their cellular networks and phones.

With GSM, a customer’s phone number and account information are stored on a SIM, a removable smart card about the size of a postage stamp that fits in a slot within the battery compartment.

The size of the card and the slot is identical on all GSM phones. So to use multiple phones, all a customer needs to do is remove the SIM from one phone and insert it into the back of another.

There are a few minor caveats, as the formatting of the SIM does vary slightly in some cases with higher-end phones such as a BlackBerry or a T-Mobile SideKick, which feature customized capabilities for e-mail and text messaging. If you take the SIM from a regular phone, for example, and insert it in a BlackBerry, you’d be able to make calls or access a mobile Web page, but you wouldn’t be able to use it for the BlackBerry e-mail service.

At Verizon Wireless, the process for switching phones is handled entirely online rather than on the phone itself. That’s because Verizon’s service is based on a technology called CDMA that doesn’t involve a SIM. Instead, a user’s phone number and account information is stored within the device’s internal circuitry.

To swap phones, a Verizon customer needs to register for online account access through the same portal that users can view or pay their monthly bills.

On that Web site, there’s an “Activate Phone” link, which asks you to input an 11-digit code called an ESN for the device you’d like to work with your phone number. The ESN, unique to each handset, can be found printed inside the battery compartment.

The user needs to wait 10 minutes for the switch to work its way through Verizon’s systems, then type in “.228” on the new phone and press send, which triggers an over-the-air activation for that handset. To switch the phone number back to the original handset or yet another, you’d go back to the Web and repeat the process. Verizon Wireless says that customers who like to swap handsets may want to subscribe to Back-Up Assistant, a service that moves their contacts from one device to another for $1.99 per month.

Sprint, which also uses CDMA technology, offers a similar Web-based process to Verizon’s, but again only with older phone models. Newer models equipped for Sprint’s Vision multimedia data services cannot be swapped online.

Interview in Artvoice If you are in the Buffalo…

Interview in Artvoice

If you are in the Buffalo area over the course of the next week or so, pick up a copy of the most current Artvoice, in it, I’m interviewed about my book Buffalo is a Cool Place to Live.

Thanks to Peter Koch for getting the interview done, and thanks to Rose Mattrey (an RIT grad!) for the splendid photo.

Click here to read the full interview (and see the image).

Bruce Mau An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth Writ…

Bruce Mau
An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth

Written in 1998, the Incomplete Manifesto is an articulation of statements that exemplify Bruce Mau’s beliefs, motivations and strategies. It also articulates how the BMD studio works.

1. Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.

2. Forget about good. Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.

3. Process is more important than outcome. When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.

4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.

5. Go deep. The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.

6. Capture accidents. The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.

7. Study. A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.

8. Drift. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.

9. Begin anywhere. John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.

10. Everyone is a leader. Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.

11. Harvest ideas. Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.

12. Keep moving. The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice.

13. Slow down. Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.

14. Don’t be cool. Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.

15. Ask stupid questions. Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.

16. Collaborate. The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.

17. ____________________. Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.

18. Stay up late. Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you’re separated from the rest of the world.

19. Work the metaphor. Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.

20. Be careful to take risks. Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.

21. Repeat yourself. If you like it, do it again. If you don’t like it, do it again.

22. Make your own tools. Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.

23. Stand on someone’s shoulders. You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better.

24. Avoid software. The problem with software is that everyone has it.

25. Don’t clean your desk. You might find something in the morning that you can’t see tonight.

26. Don’t enter awards competitions. Just don’t. It’s not good for you.

27. Read only left-hand pages. Marshall McLuhan did this. By decreasing the amount of information, we leave room for what he called our “noodle.”

28. Make new words. Expand the lexicon. The new conditions demand a new way of thinking. The thinking demands new forms of expression. The expression generates new conditions.

29. Think with your mind. Forget technology. Creativity is not device-dependent.

30. Organization = Liberty. Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context. That context is usually some form of cooperatively managed enterprise. Frank Gehry, for instance, is only able to realize Bilbao because his studio can deliver it on budget. The myth of a split between “creatives” and “suits” is what Leonard Cohen calls a ‘charming artifact of the past.’

31. Don’t borrow money. Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.

32. Listen carefully. Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.

33. Take field trips. The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic–simulated environment.

34. Make mistakes faster. This isn’t my idea — I borrowed it. I think it belongs to Andy Grove.

35. Imitate. Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You’ll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable. We have only to look to Richard Hamilton and his version of Marcel Duchamp’s large glass to see how rich, discredited, and underused imitation is as a technique.

36. Scat. When you forget the words, do what Ella did: make up something else … but not words.

37. Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.

38. Explore the other edge. Great liberty exists when we avoid trying to run with the technological pack. We can’t find the leading edge because it’s trampled underfoot. Try using old-tech equipment made obsolete by an economic cycle but still rich with potential.

39. Coffee breaks, cab rides, green rooms. Real growth often happens outside of where we intend it to, in the interstitial spaces — what Dr. Seuss calls “the waiting place.” Hans Ulrich Obrist once organized a science and art conference with all of the infrastructure of a conference — the parties, chats, lunches, airport arrivals — but with no actual conference. Apparently it was hugely successful and spawned many ongoing collaborations.

40. Avoid fields. Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.

41. Laugh. People visiting the studio often comment on how much we laugh. Since I’ve become aware of this, I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves.

42. Remember. Growth is only possible as a product of history. Without memory, innovation is merely novelty. History gives growth a direction. But a memory is never perfect. Every memory is a degraded or composite image of a previous moment or event. That’s what makes us aware of its quality as a past and not a present. It means that every memory is new, a partial construct different from its source, and, as such, a potential for growth itself.

43. Power to the people. Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can’t be free agents if we’re not free.