Monthly Archives: May 2016

Pay It Forward: The Value of Mentors

Mentor and mentee working together.I have been thinking lately about the value of mentors. I recently camped with a large group of youth and as we shared stories of past campouts I was amazed that some of them could remember details of outings five or six years ago. I reflected on the value of a mentor in a person’s life. Think about mentors in your life. How did they help shape who you are and what you do today? You can probably think of at least one mentor and have concrete memories of how they helped you. I have written on this topic before but I want to revisit it and expand on opportunities that everyone has to be a mentor.

Lifelong Learning

You do not have to be a professional teacher to be a learning mentor to someone. Many of our AIM alumni credit their spouse or significant other for getting them through this rigorous graduate program. Not only were they patient and picked up the slack so the student could succeed, they often filled in knowledge gaps and helped them study. My wife helped me through some tough mathematical equations while I was writing my capstone thesis. I knew what I wanted the outcome to be but needed help setting up the problem. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a student. Share your knowledge and you will indeed be rewarded.

A number of years ago I helped coach a group of high school students in a Junior Achievement group. The program teaches students how to run a mock company. They form a company at the beginning of the school year, create and sell a product, then liquidate the company at the end of the school year. I worked with the vice president of marketing; other adults mentored youth in jobs that mirrored theirs. I was able to teach some valuable skills, and I learned a lot about how to work with others and be an effective mentor. It was a great experience and I still use the skills I gained. Rather than keeping your valuable skills to yourself, consider how you can pass on your knowledge and expand your influence.

Mentors In The Workplace

In the workplace we have the opportunity to mentor and be mentored. Have you ever started a new job and found someone in the organization willing to share their wisdom? Did they help jump start your new job? If you have benefitted from a kind and wise mentor, consider being that mentor for others coming up behind you. We are all busy but I think carving out just a little bit of time each day to help someone brings many rewards.


I hope that you will consider being a mentor or accepting help from a mentor and I hope that you find, like I did, that the people you reach out to remember and value the experience years later.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Reducing E-Waste: Where We Stand Today

Photo of trash can full of e-waste.I have seen the future and I am not sure I like it. Recently I wrote about modular electronics and was hopeful we could reduce electronic waste, or e-waste, by retaining smartphones, tablets, and laptops longer and replacing only small broken or outdated components, such as memory or a screen. Although I am still hopeful for the future, I think that we have a long way to go to clean up the waste we have already generated. I was out and about yesterday and came upon a shop propping its door open with a Sony VAIO laptop. If laptops can be used as doorstops, then perhaps we have too many of them on this planet.

 Current State

According to Earthfix, 1.4 billion new phones are produced each year. Unless they are for new consumers, that means 1.4 billion are also discarded. In a recent article on PBS NewsHour, Jim Puckett, activist and head of the Seattle based Basel Action Network, led an investigation into the electronic recycling industry. Partnering with MIT’s Senseable City Lab, his organization planted tracking devices in 200 pieces of non-functioning electronic waste. They deposited the devices at recognized recycling centers and then followed the trackers to see where they ended up. To their surprise, more than a third of the devices ended up in Asia, most in Hong Kong. Instead of being dismantled and recycled in America, they are being shipped whole to Asia where there are far fewer safety and health regulations. They can be dismantled more cheaply because the methods are crude and dangerous.

While we can pride ourselves on the fact that our electronic waste did not end up in our landfills, we are transferring at least some of the recycling problem to less developed countries. Part of the reason for this is falling steel, gold, plastic, and copper prices. It is more difficult to recoup operating costs for a recycler so they sometimes shift the burden and sell the waste to others who can do it cheaper. What if we didn’t generate all of this electronic waste in the first place?

Future State

I am excited about the possibility of modular electronics and hope they lead to a smaller amount of electronic waste. Europe leads the world in regulations requiring manufacturers to take back and recycle their old products. Despite that diligence, a Newsweek article last year claimed that only one-third of Europe’s e-waste goes where it should and a lot of it ends up in Africa. The United States ships our problem to Asia and Europe ships theirs to Africa. We are both shifting the burden to those less equipped to deal with the problem.

In the U.S., several states have passed laws similar to those in Europe that require manufacturers to create or support outlets that take back end-of-life electronics. While this is a good first step, I think we need to go further. We need to try and find assembly methods that make products easy to disassemble and recycle at the end of the product’s life. While working for Hewlett-Packard a number of years ago, I came up with the idea to manufacture printer shells out of macaroni so that when the printer reaches its end of life, you just pop off the shell, throw it into a pot of water and you have dinner. My idea was not embraced but I still think it is a good one.


Electronic waste and our current recycling methods are a big problem and they are only getting bigger. I would love to hear your thoughts on ways to tackle this. Perhaps together we can come up with a solution.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Life Logging: Tracking Nutrition

INutrition tracking.n 2014 I wrote on the quantifiable self and posited that maybe we are tracking and logging our personal activities too closely. With fitness trackers we count steps taken and calories expended and sleep gained. These devices log spent energy, but what about calories taken in? I have been thinking lately about the technology around intake nutrition tracking as a complement to activity tracking. There are some interesting developments and some devices that seem like technology for technology’s sake and not a meaningful contribution towards tracking our health.

Molecular Scanning

Molecular level scanners are being developed that allow consumers to determine the nutritional components of their food. Tellspec has created a small spectroscopy scanner that is paired with an analysis app to give you a breakdown of the food you are consuming. A beta version is shipping now and the full version will be available in August or September 2016. According to the Tellspec website they:

“combine spectroscopy, bioinformatics techniques and learning algorithms to analyze consumer foods at the molecular level. The three-part system includes the Tellspec’s food sensor, a cloud-based patented analysis engine and a mobile app that work together to scan foods, identify ingredients and provide details about the food scanned.”

This is a great development for diabetics, allergy sufferers, and for those wanting to watch their intake more closely. It can also educate all of us on the ingredients in our food. I will watch the developments of this product.

Liquid Nutrition

Just as Tellspec is developing food scanners, others are developing methods of scanning drinks for their ingredients and nutritional value. Mark One is developing a smart cup they call Vessyl that will detect the components of the drink inside. Through Bluetooth technology, the cup will send the nutritional information to an accompanying app and will record the cumulative nutritional information as well as warnings of non-healthful components in the drink. The final Vessyl is due to ship in late 2017 after some delay due to sensor technology development. In the meantime, the Vessyl Pryme is available to remind you when you are fully hydrated.

Social Nutrition

There is also a social aspect to nutrition in the need to have support for your nutritional goals or limitations. To that end, there are websites such as There is also the more generic This is an example of technology that can bring together people who share nutritional goals. Perhaps the folks who meet at these sites can soon use their food and drink scanners to compare their personal health information.


For people with food allergies or illnesses that require monitoring of food intake, these technologies are a great step forward in allowing them to live life more fully. For people trying to live a healthier life, I also applaud these developments and hope they come to market soon. For those few who obsess over every calorie, I think that these tools might fuel their obsession. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

E-Waste and the Future of Modular Electronics

Modular cell phone In a recent article from National Public Radio, the authors pose the question “If I told you there was a way to keep using your phone forever, would you want to?” Interestingly, the response was split: some would gladly keep their phone and others really do want to upgrade every year or two. The authors of the article focus on electronic modularity or in this case, cell phone modularity. This is the idea that a phone or other electronic device can be upgraded not by discarding the entire phone, but only the portion that is lacking. The upgrade may mean more memory, a better or additional battery, a higher resolution camera, or a new screen. Technically it is possible to build a modular smartphone now, but of course that would mean that the device manufacturer would have to accept a lower revenue stream. I think that the good folks at Samsung and Apple would be hard pressed to buy into that idea. Let’s explore current efforts with modularization and pose the same question: “If you could keep your phone forever, would you do it?”


Dave Haakens has started a web site called Phonebloks to promote the concept of modular phones. He is not building the actual phone itself but is hoping to inspire someone else to pick up the torch and run with it. He believes, and rightly so, that we are filling our landfills with e-waste such as discarded electronic devices that have become obsolete. Technically and physically they are still sound, but were tossed aside because someone wanted the newest model or an operating system upgrade left the old phone underpowered. A modular phone would eliminate both of these examples of e-waste. The only thing discarded, or hopefully recycled, would be the small module being replaced.


LG has created a new phone with replaceable modules called LG Friends. Current modules include an enhanced camera and replacement batteries. LG promises to release more friends in the future. While this design does not provide for every module to be replaced, it is definitely a step in the right direction.

Puzzlephone, Fairphone, and Project ARA

A recent Tech Times article highlighted the difference between some of the platforms that are available or will hopefully be available soon. The Puzzlephone will be available in September and is split into three components, the display, the processor, and the battery, along with other electronics. You can replace only one of these components when they die or are underpowered. The Fairphone is available now and every component can be swapped out including the processor, the camera, the speaker, and the display. Project ARA from Google is currently only a concept but they hope to work with developers to create replaceable modules other than the traditional brains and the heart. Google has promised to release a prototype later this year.

The Plumbing Store

I look forward to the day when I can walk into the phone store and pick up a module, regardless of the phone provider, and it will work seamlessly with my phone. When I have a plumbing leak, I don’t replace all of the plumbing in my house but simply go to the hardware store and buy a replacement pipe the length, diameter, and material that I need. It doesn’t need to match the brand of plumbing that is in my home because the plumbing industry long ago agreed on standards. I look forward to that same ubiquity and modularity in the electronics industry.


What do you think of modular phones? Would you keep your current phone forever if you could replace just the individual components as they failed or became obsolete? Would the green factor of not having to replace your phone be a deciding factor? Personally, I like the capabilities and form factor of my current phone and I would hang on to it. Let me know your vote. In a future blog post I will focus on modular laptops and tablets.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

The Flipped Classroom: Trends in Higher Education

Photo of man flipping pancakes.In the world of higher education there is a trend towards a flipped classroom. In this educational model, prerecorded lectures are viewed or heard before coming to class. The actual class time is spent on group projects and interaction with the professor. The learning and testing takes place outside of the classroom, and the lecture hall or lab is used for reflection, discussion, and hands on learning. I want to explore how we use a flipped learning style in AIM and where I think the concept is headed. Is it a fad or is it here to stay?

Flipped Online

Because the AIM program is online, we have no physical space. We prepare lectures and readings ahead of time and those are available to students at their convenience. That part is similar to an onsite flipped classroom environment. We differ from a traditional flipped classroom because our discussions and meetings are also online, enabling us to maintain our “anytime, anywhere” learning model that fits the schedules of working adults who are distributed around the world. The discussion topics are designed to be relevant to the lectures of the week and useful to students in their present careers. In courses I teach, we often end up discussing details of particular tools that are effective to each student or management techniques that students might be struggling with. Because my students are all mid-career professionals, they share experiences that can help other students; the students get not only my expertise and experience but also that of other professionals. Being able to apply this wisdom could be worth the price of the course in saved consultant fees. Of course, we sometimes veer off topic a bit, like the time we had a lively discussion on who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman. There must have been a Hollywood executive in that class, as evidenced by the new film that asks the same question.

New Classroom of the Future

Unlike AIM, many classes still meet in a traditional classroom or large lecture hall. If flipped learning becomes standard, how would you design the next generation classroom? No longer will you have all 20 or 100 or 500 students focused on one lecturer. You need a space where teams can work and individuals and groups can move about from one station to another. With the lecture they have already viewed in mind, the students are ready to discuss the topic and debate and explore available options, whether they are in earth science or information technology. The classroom can become a rich environment for exploration and testing of new ideas. The instructor now becomes a facilitator instead of the lone knowledge keeper. Large theater style lecture halls are not conducive to this new flexible learning so we need to start rethinking the layout and flow.


One of the great things about flipped learning is that it gives a student time to process and ponder new knowledge and consider how they can personally apply that information. They can then test their thoughts with others who have come up with similar—or wildly diverse—ideas. Together they learn and grow as a team and as a class.

Let me know your thoughts on the flipped classroom. Is it here to stay or is it just a fad?

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.