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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Mom, I Built a Robot Dinosaur! Interview with Bin Feng, Microduino STEM Learning Systems

Look, Mom – I’ve built a robot dinosaur that roars! Young learners benefit from hands-on experiences, especially those which encourage experimentation. Bin Feng at Microduino has been at the forefront of a wide array of hands-on robotics, manipulatable, and modifiable, which engage young students and encourage them to study science, technology, engineering, and math. Welcome to an interview with Bin Feng, co-founder and CEO of Microduino.

Q:  What is your name and your background?
A:  My name is Bin Feng, and I’m the co-founder and CEO of Microduino, Inc., an award-winning global designer, developer, manufacturer and seller of stackable electronic building blocks, related accessories and peripherals, and in-class science, technology, engineer, and mathematics (STEM) learning systems which encourage and enhance inventors’ creativity, imagination, and ingenuity through project-based learning.

As one of Microduino’s principal product architects, I’ve helped guide Microduino from a fledgling start-up founded in 2012 to a rapidly-growing global brand with an expanding STEM/STEAM education product portfolio and a diverse roster of education market customers and international distributors and value-added resellers (VARs). Since the company’s founding, my partners and I have built Microduino’s following of students, teachers, inventors, and electronics enthusiasts into an engaged community of over 1,000,000 members; and developed a comprehensive STEM/STEAM product line and education platform for use in schools around the world.

As CEO, I oversee the strategic development and implementation of Microduino’s business strategies, plans, and supporting programs, and I ensure their alignment with the company’s mission, values, and short- and long-term objectives. On a day-today basis, I direct the company’s operations, product design, business development, sales, marketing, and financial management activities.

Prior to starting Microduino, I was the general sales manager of Leadgo American, the U.S. subsidiary I established for the highly-regarded manufacturer of advanced composite materials used in the aerospace, marine, and wind-power industries. Previously, I held sales and product management roles at Parker Hannifin, the Fortune 250 developer of motion and control technologies for the industrial and aerospace markets. I began my career as an applications sales engineer at General Photonics, a designer and builder of innovative optical instruments and modules to fuel the growth of optical networks, sensor systems, and biomedical diagnosis systems. While there, I managed a multimillion-dollar book of business which included important business relationships with such well-known government agencies and corporations as NASA, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, NEC, and Kodak.

I have a B.S. degree in materials science from Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and a master’s degree in electrical engineering and applied physics from the University of California San Diego (UCSD).

Q:  What is your company?
A:  Founded in 2012, and based in Westlake Village, Calif., Microduino is an award-winning global designer, developer, manufacturer and seller of stackable, LEGO®-compatible electronic building blocks, related accessories and peripherals, and in-class STEM learning systems.

With tailored offerings for individual consumers and academic institutions, Microduino offers a broad range of modules, sensors, and project kits which improve critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, and enable creators to bring their inspirational and pioneering concepts to life. Because of their ease of use, unique patented hardware design, and nearly unlimited applications and configurations, Microduino products have spawned a passionate and highly-innovative worldwide community of students, faculty members, makers, hobbyists, engineers, and electronics enthusiasts of all ages, backgrounds, and skill sets.

Microduino targets, and sells its STEM educational toys and learning systems to, two core markets:
- Consumers:  Individual consumers, including children and their parents, interested in educational toys such as building blocks and interesting do-it-yourself (DIY) kits, projects and applications.
- Education Domain:  Elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as colleges and universities.

Q:  What is your philosophy of learning?
A:  At Microduino, we’re all about fun, enjoyable hands-on STEM learning that encourages children to understand and explore the intersecting worlds of electronics, product design, and hardware coding — and sets the stage for higher education in STEM-focused disciplines and eventual careers in STEM-related fields, such as engineering, software development, and scientific research.

With products that are aligned with the latest Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS), International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and Common Core guidelines for STEM instruction, our comprehensive line of products and learning systems act as a STEM/STEAM education continuum in which children can learn basic product design and coding skills right from the very beginning and at an early age, and then progress through the entire platform by learning more advanced skills and techniques along the way.

From our perspective, it’s not enough, particularly in the STEM education realm, to build a robot, car, drone or some other project. While those activities are certainly fun and educational, to a certain extent, we believe the how, why, and control behind the design are even more important, especially in enabling children to understand the logic, sequential nature, and programmable aspects of a product’s design and operation. How and why does this project work the way that it does? Can it be programmed to operate in a different manner? If so, what new code must I write to instruct the vehicle to behave differently? Can I combine these sensors and modules to create something entirely different?

Moreover, we intentionally developed Microduino products to provide children with endless design and configuration possibilities. As a result, they’re able to leverage their newly-acquired knowledge of electronics and coding to create a whole new array of projects and applications. With Microduino, an individual’s creativity is limited only by his imagination!

Simply stated, with Microduino, a child’s creativity is limited only by his or her imagination! Our motto:  If you can think it, you can create it!

Q:  What are your products, and how do they tie to your philosophy of learning?

A:  Microduino has four main product lines:

- mPuzzle:   Designed for children ages 5 and up, mPuzzle is a collection of easy-to-use, snap-together magnetic components that teach basic electronic circuitry concepts.
~ With mPuzzle, children come to understand how things work by seeing cause-and-effect relationships and outcomes.
~ mPuzzle offers everything kids need to construct common objects found in our everyday world, such as a street lamp that illuminates at dusk, or a TV remote control with a red LED light that shines when it’s turned on.
~ mPuzzle’s use of ordinary objects gives children instant familiarity with their forms and functions, while challenging them to learn how they actually work by building them from the ground up.

- mPie:  Designed for children ages 7 and up, mPie builds upon mPuzzle’s foundational circuitry lessons and hardware components to teach kids introductory hardware coding and more advanced electronic and product design concepts.
~ With mPie, kids discover the world of hardware coding, which helps them visualize the logical and sequential order of things in a physical and engaging way.
~ mPie’s intermediate lessons enable children to link concepts between the physical and virtual worlds by constructing everyday items, such as a rocket, ambulance, and fly swatter, with which they are already familiar.
~ mPie projects increase in complexity so children learn the importance of sequential design and fabrication, and how to identify and resolve problems when those sequences are not followed.

- Itty Bitty City (IBC):  Created for hobbyists, makers, inventors, and tinkerers, Itty Bitty City is a fun-filled collection of Microduino mCookie modules, sensors and accessories which creators use to build eight exciting projects, including a windmill, lighthouse, night light, piggy bank, and music box. Because of its fun and unique applications, Itty Bitty City is also widely used by students and teachers within schools’ STEM/STEAM programs.

- Microduino Mix Kits:  Targeted at students ages nine and up, Microduino Mix Kits come in four levels, Mix 1-4, with each kit including 12 projects pre-coded in Scratch 3.0, electronic components, and complementary lesson plans. A cornerstone of the product’s STEM value is its focus on coding, and teaching students how to program various projects and their respective components. A code is the written sequence of commands created in specialized coding editors, such as Scratch, that tell individual electronic components how to behave.

In support of its learning philosophy, these Microduino products are fun, enjoyable, educational and hands-on, and inspire and encourage children to further explore the intersecting worlds of electronics, product design, and hardware coding. More importantly, we’ve intentionally designed these kits in such a way so that children can master all the concepts taught by one product; move on to the next series, which teaches more advanced coding and electronics principles; and so forth until they develop a comprehensive understanding which they can use to design more imaginative creations. In other words, these are progressive learning products, and as such, they serve as the perfect STEM/STEAM learning tools for all classrooms, and fit seamlessly into today’s cutting-edge, industry-standardized STEM/STEAM curricula and lesson plans.

Q:  Please provide 3 or 4 examples of successful implementation.
A:  As we’ve said before, a child’s creativity is limited only by his or her imagination! Microduino fans can find all kinds of cool projects to pursue in the company’s IdeaLab at Here are several examples of successful Microduino implementations:

- Smithsonian Magazine:  Scientists Are Using Electronic Eggs to Study Vultures | |

IEEE Spectrum: |

- Nescafe Alarm Cap Using Microduino:
- Microduino Music Box:
- Micrduino Hexapod Robot | mPie:

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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Interview with Gary Stading, Ph.D.: Energy Leadership MBA In a Time of Amazon, Google, AI Robotics, Climate Change, Fear

Welcome to an interview with Dr. Gary Stading, Dean of the College of Business, Engineering, and Technology of Texas A and M Texarkana. 

1.  What is your name and your background
Dr. Gary Stading comes to Texas A-M Texarkana after a distinguished career in industry, including transportation and supply chain management. He has been recognized by a number of global organizations for his contributions.
2. How can an MBA prepare a person for changing times? 
The Texas AandM Texarkana MBA program is designed to help build and enhance the skill set you need to compete in today’s fast-paced marketplace. Whether you are managing your own business or trying to advance your career to the next level, completion of the Texas A--M Texarkana MBA program gives graduates a competitive edge through its unique class design approach, flexibility, affordability, and diverse concentration options.

What makes Texas A - M Texarkana different?
The College of Business, Engineering, and Technology (CBET) faculty concentrate on preparing students to be valuable leaders in both business, and community service initiatives.  The CBET offers quality undergraduate and graduate programs through academically and professionally qualified faculty.  The tenured and tenure- track faculty members are active scholars that consider intellectual scholarship an asset for providing excellence in teaching.  The faculty pursues continuous improvement, and they realize that the curriculum must emphasize critical thinking skills and emerging technological solutions to prepare students for today’s complex business environment.  In addition, the faculty recognizes the importance of being active in community service.

3.  What do you see as the importance of Energy Leadership at this point in time and in the future?
The College of Business, Engineering and Technology works closely with members of energy based organizations, such as the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) and Southern Gas Association (SGA), to offer an MBA with a concentration in Energy Leadership. to meet the needs of many growing businesses. This degree is developed for professionals already in the energy arena or aspiring for valuable and exciting careers in the energy and petroleum based industries, including oil and gas.  The coursework develops skills vital to successful leadership in energy related fields.  These topics include such areas as risk assessment and the management, accounting and financial planning specific to energy related fields, and management of capital and personnel resources. The program is offered online which enhances and encourages student interaction from all over the globe.

4.  How can Supply Chain Management make a different for students in their professional lives and careers and how is SCM changing?
Supply Chain Management (SCM) provides an exciting and rewarding path of study, in which students learn skills that directly affect and can increase business profitability. Careers in SCM take many paths and end up with a multitude of career options.  The curriculum teaches students to properly balance materials, finances, and information throughout the supply chain to achieve growth of company profitability.  Skills acquired via the Supply Chain concentration are in high demand. By completing a degree in Supply Chain Management, students will set themselves apart to succeed in business. Students will develop analytical skills in learning about inventory management, logistics, quality, purchasing, and transportation. Students in supply chain management have the opportunity to learn and then subsequently return value to both their own personal investment portfolios or to grow their company business.  Supply Chain is changing the way businesses compete.  Students learn how businesses leverage relationships with suppliers and customers by forming teams to compete in the marketplace.

5.  What are some of the new directions in business leadership that you see emerging?
I don’t know that I would call these perspectives “new directions,” but I’ll talk about some of the newer academic topics and perspectives being discussed in leading business education journals. One such topic is that the authors are arguing that it is important for business leaders to keep the forces of technology from dehumanizing the workplace.  De-emphasizing the human element out of the workplace is strongly discouraged because it basically eliminates a key sustainable competitive advantage for businesses.  Another stream of leadership discussion warns against “hero worship” of business leaders.  This rhetoric discusses how the practice of romanticizing business leaders gives too much credit and too much blame for failures on high profile leaders of companies.  A third area of discussion is really a research area.  A group of researchers are evaluating how a transfer of workplace knowledge is occurring and should occur between the retiring baby boomer generation and the millennials stepping in to take their place.

6.  Please recommend a few books for our readers.
I personally would like to recommend of recent resurgence of a genre of books out about some historical leaders.  I have read some recently published books about U.S. Grant, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lincoln, and others (each has different authors and titles).  While their places are cemented in history, the stories of these historical political leaders and recently researched leadership styles provide a fascinating perspective on effective leadership styles.  Two, in particular, are the recent biographies about Grant and Lincoln.  These stories also provide analysis of some of their failures, discussing how these leaders overcame or coped with the trials and tribulations of these eerily similar obstacles experienced by modern day leaders. The stories about Lincoln and Grant involve some surprising similar problems that modern day leaders face.  For instance, Grant, when he was president, was deeply involved in equality issues of all kinds (e.g. both race and gender).  Anyway, I believe we can learn a lot about leadership by studying some of our historical leaders. 

Life Edge Interview with Gary Stading, Ph.D.

Insights ... which ... 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Discovering New Secrets and the "Lost Cities" of the Maya: Interviews with Andrew Kinkella, Ph.D.

With new excavations and discoveries in the Yucatan Pensinsula and in Guatemala and Belize, our understanding of the Maya culture continues to expand with surprising discoveries and findings. Welcome to an interview with Dr. Andrew Kinkella, expert in Maya archaeology. In addition to this written review, we have two interviews on LifeEdge. (Please excuse the technical difficulties, though! We had audio issues on the first one, and Susan had serious webcam issues on the second one).

1.  What is your name and your background?
My name is Andrew Kinkella, and I have a PhD in Maya archaeology.  I have worked in Belize at Maya archaeological sites there since the 1990s, when I was an undergraduate student at UC Santa Barbara.  I have also done archaeological work in southern California, Germany, Baja California, Arizona, and a shipwreck in northern California.  Besides archaeology, I also have a background in acting and improv comedy, and I am an active scuba diver with a Divemaster certification.  I am currently a full-time college professor of archaeology at Moorpark College in southern California, and I have been doing that job since 2004. 

2.   How did you become interested in archaeology, and where did you start?
I first became interested in archaeology because it seemed like a way to do “meaningful travel,” where I could go somewhere and be more than just a tourist.  When I was in college I wanted to see the world, and I was able to join a field school for three months at a major Maya site in Belize in the spring of 1993.  That first trip was pretty transformative for me, because I found that I liked all sorts of things about archaeology, and all sorts of things about difficult travel in the jungle.  I liked that the jungle is an unforgiving natural force (like the ocean), so it was a test of your mettle to just traverse it, or to get something done that would be so much easier in another environment.  Maya sites have a very romantic aspect to them as well, literally being lost cities in the jungle.  It was very exciting for me to work at a “lost city,” and help to answer questions about the past with real objects that we were uncovering.

3.  What do you find the most unique and intriguing aspects of the Maya?
As I matured in Maya archaeology, I really got into cenotes and how they related to Maya culture.  Cenotes are large sinkholes filled with fresh water that look like lakes, and they occur throughout the Maya world.  Since I was already a scuba diver, I used my diving knowledge to explore these pools.  It was very exciting to practice underwater archaeology deep in the Maya jungle, and I was the first person to ever dive in these remote locales.  I like exploring the cenotes and learning about the ritual aspects of how the Maya used them.  The Maya saw these pools as sacred places, as places where there was a close connection to the gods, where our world touched theirs.  Because of this, they would throw sacrificial objects into the pools for the gods, including (sometimes) human beings.  I also like being a realist about the cenotes - sometimes they are just for drinking water or to water crops - not every cenote has to be an important ritual location. 

4.  Which areas and time periods in the Maya civilizations do you specialize in?
The area of the Maya world I specialize in is the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula (because that is where Belize is located). 
My time period specialty is the Terminal Classic Period (800-925 AD or so), which is the time period right before the Maya collapse.  We see an uptick in the Maya use of cenotes for ritual purposes during this time, because there were a series of droughts and they were in need of rain to grow corn.

5.  Did the Maya really practice human sacrifice, or is this just an example of cultural chauvinism on our part?  How do we know?
Yes, the Maya practiced human sacrifice, but they did not do it as often as television and movies would have us think.  It would have happened at very special times, often as part of a ritual to bring rain for corn.  The sacrifice would be bloody and gory, because it must be in order to “count” and be meaningful.  We know that human sacrifices happened because archaeologists have found human remains of sacrificial victims in the cenotes, and the Spanish recorded accounts of human sacrifice at these cenotes when they were invading the Maya world in the early 1500s. 

6.  What do the stelae and codices tell us?
They tell us all kinds of things, from Maya history to religion to calendar dates.  The Maya hieroglyphics were also written on simple objects like ceramic plates and bowls, and can sometimes say simple things like “this bowl is for chocolate.”   My favorite part of Maya writing is Maya history as written by the Maya themselves.  The stelae give us a succession of kings and queens (royal lineages), sometimes unbroken for hundreds of years.  Of course the history is couched in quite a bit of propaganda (Maya kings are no different than kings of any other state!).  When reading Maya history as written by them, I’m reminded of the history of the British monarchy, with its surprising historical twists and turns, moments of glory and foolishness, and strange bedfellows. 

7.  Why did the Maya have several calendars that they used at the same time?  Should we do the same? Would it benefit us?
The use of three major calendars all at the same time is a function of history (some of the calendars are older than others) and need (some calendars are more ritual or astrological focused, while others are more focused on the farming cycle or the 365 days of the year).  My favorite calendar is the Long Count, which is just a count of the days since a mythical start date on August 11, 3114 BC.  It is simply “Today is day 3,453,249 since creation.  Tomorrow will be day 3,453,250.”  Super easy!  The complex part of the three Maya calendars is that they all work on a series of cycles, so you get cycles upon cycles and it gets hard to keep track. 
I don’t think there is any worthwhile reason for us to change our calendar - whatever divides up 365 days into meaningful chunks for the society at hand seems to be fine.

8.  What was the Maya belief about the nature of reality, and the interaction between humans and nature (for example, animals in the forest)?  How might such a mindset benefit us today in our world?  How might we work with our existing institutions to start incorporating some of the Maya beliefs? (I guess it has already happened to a point with the syncretism that occurred in the early years after the arrival of the Europeans.
This is a really big question!  The Maya saw the natural world as more animated than we do, with living mountains and caves, and gods that inhabited the natural world and were closely tied to the natural world.  If we saw our own world more like the Maya did, we would be more supportive of the environmental movement, and more proactive in saving our environment for the long term.  We would see ourselves as more tied to the environment, as a living part of the greater whole.  We are very divorced from this kind of thinking in our culture.  We could also learn from the fact that the Maya ultimately destroyed their environment after thousands of years of living within its means - they made the exact kinds of mistakes that we are making today.

9.  What are your plans for the future?
I’m really happy with my job as college professor, and I would like to keep doing it!  I like teaching archaeology and giving public lectures on these topics.  I am planning to write some books on archaeology and the Maya for the general public.  I would like to expand my public presence by giving more public lectures and telling my story to larger audiences, and especially to influence young people to take the initial step of “meaningful travel,” like I did back in the beginning.

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