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15 May 2012
RoboParade feature
Saturday we hosted the 2nd Roanoke Roboparade at the Science Museum of Western Virginia as part of the outreach for STEM in the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council.

In this video you get a good feel for the event. We had about 70 folks attend, with a respectable amount of casual foot traffic stopping to see the parade. The Roanoke Robotics Club had several entries, and took some GREAT photos.

The video also shows my family at various points: Lisa is helping with workshops, Ethan appears in his panda hat, and Eric was featured as a Team 401 member with their basketball robot. I'm mostly with my back to the camera, helping build some robots in the workshops and announcing the parade.

Note the commentary at the end: Kalista's remarks about penguins eating you in your sleep brought the cameraman/interviewer to a halt!
Backstory: we were helping two sisters, ages 5 & 9, build a robot in the parade. Their mom told us that they had made a family decision to delay moving today in order to build a robot, which has been a dream of their daughters. As it turns out, their dad was so impressed with the activity that he drove in to work and got his camera gear- he's on the staff of Fox 21/27 news!

Original Fox 21/27 News Story on the Roanoke RoboParade

Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Councily RoboParade
ACI , Family , STEM
posted by  henry at  16:00 | permalink | trackbacks [399]

22 Mar 2012
The New iPad: Backups from the Future!
I was smitten with the new features Apple announced for the new iPad. I have an iPad2, and it has replaced many notebooks, laptops and clutter in my life. The rumored features of the new iPad (Quad processor, 4x resolution with retina display, and possibly, dare we dream, 4G network?) all came true. Plus, an unexpected new feature, time travel. Take a look at my iTunes screen capture below.

Mine arrived this weekend. I backed my old one up, then noticed that my PC's date was off: it was set a day forward. I fixed that, then connected the new iPad to restore.
Thus, the very interesting message above, "Last Backed Up: Tommorrow, 11:14AM." Now THAT would be a cool feature. Take a look at tomorrow's closing stock prices today, and stop myself from writing that damaging email before I even send it out. Well worth the price!
ACI , General
posted by  henry at  08:00 | permalink | trackbacks [11608]

20 Mar 2012
Record Tree Revisited
In 2006, ACI started working with Howard Sadler and his development team on a great concept: software to organize your life.

Thatís only stretching it a little bit: Record Tree is an expertly designed tool to collect all the important things in your life, so that if you become seriously ill, someone can manage your affairs. This has immense appeal to those of us who have served in the military for any long deployment, anyone in healthcare who has seen the impact a sudden illness has on a family, and anyone who wants to be proactive for the benefit of loved ones.

We built an extensive inventory of important documents, and the key details about those documents, but we do not try to duplicate or store those documents. That wouldnít be admissible in court, and might not be the latest version. But, knowing where every document is, and who the important contacts are, from your attorney to your lawn care, is essential in carrying on.

In 2006, our software was built around a SQL-Express database and enterprise-level tools. We made a robust application when what we really needed was a light, single-client application. Now, in March 2012, we have our new product! Thanks to the persistence of Howard, tireless work by Jason, and valuable input from many enthusiastic customers, we have a java-based version. The premise is the same: a standalone application that needs no Internet connection, and allows up to six family members to store every document and detail, then print reports from a handy wallet-card, to what we call the refrigerator report*, to an entire inventory.

Record Tree has a clean, new website, and is now compatible with all Windows platforms, and Macintosh systems above 10.6. Six years later, the vital documents and research is still just as relevant. Keeping this information private, until it needs to be shared with the right person, is still just as important.

Record Tree has a website, hosted and maintained at ACI.

*Refrigerator Report: a one to two page report you hang on your fridge. Emergency Response personnel often check this location for quick info on medications, emergency contacts, preferred physicians, allergies and medical alert conditions.
ACI , General , Startups
posted by  henry at  10:49 | permalink | trackbacks [54646]

25 Jan 2012
New River Mobile goes live with Valley Business Front
Last night, the Apple iTunes store informed us that our latest app, the Valley Business Front for iPad,was approved and ready for sale! While this isn't our first app, it is the first one we have published under our new Mobile App Development Division at ACI: New River Mobile.

Valley Business Front is an outstanding local business magazine featuring beutiful photos and well-written articles. Tom Field, Dan Smith, Nick Vaassen and the rest of the VB Front team do an amazing job each month, putting together relevant articles and promoting the great things happening in business in and around Roanoke and the New River Valley .

Now, readers with an iPad can download the latest release, take it with them wherever they go (even on a plane with no Internet signal), and bookmark favorites across multiple issues. Facebook, twitter and email integration is in there as well. We enjoyed putting this together, because we built an app that we will enjoy using ourselves!
ACI , General , Startups
posted by  henry at  14:32 | permalink | trackbacks [6610]

12 Jan 2012
Small, Efficient Teams are best
ACI got it's first big opportunity in 1998, when we were asked to develop a web-based solution for US Army budget management. We put together a team of three developers of moderate experience. In six months, we were able to field a solution that had hung up a 15-person team for over 2 years.
The reason for our success? We believe we did a better job of working closely with the customer, and communicating in the team.
Today I read a similar blog post, reinforcing the smaller is better concept with a few studies.
Regardless of the metrics and extrapolations, the general rule holds water:
How can small teams be so dramatically more efficient than large teams?

Communication and coordination overhead rises dramatically with team size. In the worst possible case where everyone on the project needs to communicate and coordinate with everyone else, the cost of this effort rises as the square of the number of people in the team. Thatís such a powerful effect, in fact, that a large team couldnít possibly hope to achieve the goal of everyone coordinating their effort. But a small team could.

QSM found another explanation for the huge cost differential between small and large teams. The defect rate for the large teams was five times greater than for the small teams. Defects consume time in discovery, documentation, and repair. That effort is obviously necessary, but doesnít contribute directly to creating the desired software, and therefore inflates cost without any benefit to the schedule.

Other smaller-is-better axioms from our experience at ACI :

  • The average size of a custom software development firm is 5 to 11 full time employees (ACI is currently 15)

  • The corporate dynamic changes when a company goes from 20 to 35+; enter middle management and more layers.

  • Bigger size = more communication needs = more meetings.

  • Software developers HATE meetings.

  • Small firms typically need employees to wear more hats. This diversity gives smart developers higher job satisfaction.

  • Looking at the public company annual reports, the traditional "economies of scale" don't apply to custom software development.

ACI , General , Startups
posted by  henry at  12:55 | permalink | trackbacks [263]

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