Tuesday, May 12, 2015


That's Brian Grazer, 63, gelled hair and all--and partner to Ron Howard in the movie production company Imagine.

He has produced blockbusters such as Splash, Apollo 13, and many others.

He credits his "people" skills and success to good listening, being in the right place at the right time, and being curious.

Curious is his favorite word--his book, written with Charles Fishman, is called A CURIOUS MIND. He thinks being curious trumps both creativity and innovation and in fact, leads to those.

He got started in the movie business after overhearing two guys talking outside his dorm window after graduating from college--one had quit an easy job in a movie studio--Grazer's ears perked up. He got right on the horn and somehow got the guy's former boss on the line and got an interview. Bam! He was in.

His entry-level gig was to deliver papers to famous people. Quickly he got the idea that meeting these people would be more informative and fun--so he said, Sorry, have to give this to him or her) in person. It worked. Often the agent or movie star would offer him a soda or something and they would talk.

He set about meeting one movie person a day--this went on for some time. Then he put his curious self to use trying to get short interviews with various people--including Edward Teller, father of the A-bomb, Lew Wasserman, inventor of movies, etc. He would call and call, get through gatekeepers, and finally get an audience and ask questions.

But I don't want to tell you the whole book. He insists that even when these little encounters did not work out as planned, he got a lot out of each and it helped him understand people and put oomph in his movies.

For one thing, I am not sure curious is the right word. Sure, he has wide interests and dedication, but seemed more to me to an interest in human motivations and backgrounds. The word curious--way overused in the book--somehow did not fit.

But I quibble.

I also found it ironic that Imagine will not let others--say unagented screenwriters like me--in the door--fear of lawsuits, they say. So how curious are they?

But no on can deny that Grazer is tireless, and self-confident. Creativity takes both of these.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Coming soon? Part veggie man?

What will those scientists think of next? I mean--really--what will they?

Researchers at National Taiwan University published a paper outlining how they gold-plated some onion flesh and made it into "muscles."

At first (stay with me here) they wanted to develop an engineered microstructure in artificial muscles for increasing the actuation deformation (the amt a muscle can bend or stretch when triggered).

Low and behold an onion's cell structure and dimensions were similar to what they were making.

Was this found out during lunch--never mind, just wondering.

The onion epidermis--fragile skin beneath the surface--was blocky cells arranged in a tightly packed lattice.

They researchers treated the cells with acid to remove the protein that makes the cell walls rigid and then coated both sides of the layer with gold. When current flowed through the gold, the onion cells bent and stretched--like a muscle!

 By making the top and bottom electrodes of different thicknesses, they could control whether the muscle went upwards or downwards.

For fun, they formed two onion muscles into a pair of tweezers and made it pick up a cotton ball!

Now on to seeing what else this talented salad topping can do.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Bam! Product I saw on SHARK TANK won award

Everyone in listening distance of me knows I love the show SHARK TANK. Yes, I know the one or more hour meetings are boiled down to three or four in an hour. Sometimes deals are made--but then "severed." There is even a website where you can watch shows and podcasts about shows--google it.

Anyway, I do remember seeing the show where Drexel University student Christopher Gray got a deal for his phone app called Scholly, an app to put available scholarships, including tiny obscure ones, as near as your phone.

Now Scholly won the Cupid's Cup Business Competition hosted by the Univ of Maryland's Dingman Center for Innovation. He aced out 200 others and won $75K in cash.

In second place was GudNeSsBar, a startup out of Duke Univ that produces a nutrition bar to fight anemia in India.

Third place went to Cornell's SnappyScreen, a touchless sunscreen application system.

There was also an audience choice award--which went to Gym Supreme, a startup behind the Mega Bar home gym started by UMD students. A thousand people in the audience voted for it by text.

So keep thinking, smarties!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Plant chitchat

Michael Marshall,, writing in The New Scientist (Nov 2010), says 80% of tomato plants are colonized by fungi that form a network of white threads, called mycorrhizae, hanging off the roots.

These threads take in water and nutrients--but they also help the plant exchange info with other plants.

Some Chinese researchers at the South China Agricultural Univ in Guangzhou, grew pairs of tomato plants in pots, allowing some to form the networks between their roots.

Then they gave a blight to some plants--and in the network ones, the blight was milder--the plants had communicated about it and developed resistance.

They started calling the fungus "the internet of plant communities."

Intensively farmed plants, with fertilizer and care, don't seem to bother to form the fungus networks, perhaps making them less healthy.

In Canada, researchers found a network weaving its way through an entire forest, each tree connected to others.

Wonder what they are saying about us as we stomp overhead.

Maybe: "Watch out! Vegan!"

Friday, March 13, 2015

U.S. Navy getting creative

Nice pack or ice pack?
Dr. Martin Jeffries, Office of Naval Research in the Arctic and Global Prediction section, says the Navy is worried about, and predicting, a lack of sea ice in the Arctic before the middle of this century.

Oh, no, I can hear you thinking...Dead polar bears, more global cooling, or is it warming, or is it cooling that confused things so it got warmer? Headache!

But no--I am not going to harangue you about this, although I am going to touch on how "creative" the Navy was in gathering this info.

Between March and Oct of 2014, the Office of Naval Research threw in with France, South Korea, and the UK to do a field study of the seaward-edge of the icepack north of Alaska. For "unsalty" types--this is where the frozen ocean meets the open ocean.

Sounds pretty nippy, warming aside. So the scientists spent little time there. Instead, they deployed a wave buoy--which floats around and detects ocean surface waves that are breaking up the icepack.

This thing--straight out of Star Wars--also has a webcam for keeping an eye on fracturing, melting, and freezing ice. All this data is beamed to a satellite. The buoy runs on batteries, with solar backup.

Why do this with robots? Well, not just to save the toes of scientists from frostbite. The idea is to make things more predictable for vessels going into the area on a continuing basis.

In 2009, also, the Navy issued the Navy Arctic Roadmap, outlining safe operation of ships and capabilities in changing ice conditions,

My former brother-in-law was in the Coast Guard and did two tours on icebreakers to the other pole, Antartica. They picked up biologists in Chile and those stalwarts counted seals and dissected some to see what they were eating--all while standing in subzero conditions and wind gazing at sea mammals through binoculars.

Maybe a nice robot next time?

For more info and some pix-- put this in your Google.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

How to make a happening video

Everyone wants to go viral or spiral or whatever. Let's pony up for some attention. But the bar is getting kind of high--not every piece of jiggly garbage will get the views.

Yoav Vilner, cofounder of Ranky.co, offers some tips on Tech.co about how to make a good video.

Videos are useful for more than showing you bathing in Froot Loops--they can be used for marketing, product promotion, demonstrations, and even resumes.

Over to Yoav:

First, video is collaborative--there needs to be a director, producer, screenwriter, editor, music and sound person, and so on. During the making of the thing, you can compare notes on lookat.io and add comments.

You also must be confident. Too often, people let fear of what others think stifle them. Trust your own instincts. As you get older, you will learn that many "other people" are idiots or wrong.

The camera is also key these days--most people are switching to DSLR cameras. These may look like a still camera, but you are really shooting video--and there are many special effects available.

Take risks! Great risks lead to great opportunities. Or heart-wrenching disaster--whereupon you need to make another risk.

And last, you must learn to edit or find someone who knows how. This person--or you--will know leaving a shot on two more frames makes a difference.

I wrote and coproduced a short that won a Telly in 1996. Things have changed a lot! But that was a fantastic experience. I wish I could do it all again...

Well, maybe I can. Never say never.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Get out of your creative rut

Louis Foreman, CEO of Edison Nation and Edison Nation Medical, writing in Entrepreneur.com, says inventors come in at least two types--those who spend years on a project and those who can suddenly conjure up a solution for a contest or to take advantage of an opportunity.

Yet, both types can come up empty at times.

Here are some ways to jumpstart yourself:

Foreman says there are two reasons people invent--to alleviate a pain or frustration using a product or to jump on an opportunity in the market.

To keep sparks coming, pay attention to how you interact with various products. Observe the intricacies. See how it could be improved. Think this way always. Ask yourself, "Why did that break so soon?" "Why is that so hard to open?"

You also need to identify trends or market opportunities. Go to trade shows, watch SHARK TANK on CNBC (my idea). Or catch Edison Nation, for that matter.

Surround yourself with creative people in a creative environment. Get constructive feedback. Mr Wonderful (Kevin O'Leary) on SHARK TANK often advises inventors to take the invention out back and burn it. Harsh shark snark, but constructive.

Good ideas take time and research. Control your expectations.

Know yourself and how your mind works. Keep a pad and pencil by the bed, TV and in your pocket. Write everything down--you think you will remember but you may not.  Or call your own voice mail and leave yourself a message.

Then wait and listen to yourself. There are ideas in there--don't miss them!