My foray into voice user interfaces

Over the past few months, a few of my PagerDuty colleagues and I have been exploring the potential of voice user interfaces for IT operations. We wrote an article describing our journey, which you can check out at The New Stack: VoiceOps: Virtual Assistants for IT Ops Environments.

I've been following the recent proliferation of virtual assistant-enabled consumer hardware with growing interest. Not only does this trend pose interesting new possibilities for UX designers, I believe the entire ecosystem of virtual assistants and third-party capabilities is a greenfield of opportunity.

I have a hypothesis that, In order to reach their full potential, virtual assistants ought to continually compete for our loyalty by striving to outdo each other with the quality of their user experience. In my ideal future, service providers such as Fandango and Expedia provide APIs that any virtual assistant can use. Consumers would then be free to choose a virtual assistant based on how well it makes use of these universally available services, how well it takes into account what it already knows about the user, how it respects its user's dignity and privacy, and the appeal of its "personality."

The more disappointing alternative future I can imagine forces service providers to create a different app for each proprietary assistant system they want to support. Each provider will do their own calculation of which assistant to prioritize, and it will quickly become impossible for innovators to disrupt the leader in the virtual assistant space. This seems the more likely future, if only because the big players building assistants have a business incentive to suppress competition. For the sake of the field's potential, I hope that they take the high road.

A writer's resources

The only difference between writers and aspiring writers is that writers write. -- Martin J. Smith

One of the best ways to improve your craft (besides practicing it) is find other writers and editors whose opinion you trust and get them to critique your writing. If you can gather a group of them together, swap material on a regular basis, and discuss over a good meal, even better! You are less likely to argue with them, and more likely to listen to what they say, if you are chewing your food during their critique. Just don't forget to take notes.

My third piece of advice, after writing and soliciting constructive criticism, is to read good writing—as much of it as you can find. (Hint: This is the fun part.)

Beyond that, here are a few resources I have found useful...





Redesigning Personal Food Environments to Promote Wellness


A variety of influences in our immediate, everyday environments can cause us to make poor food choices and to overeat – influences like super-sized portions in cafeterias and restaurants; bulk packaging in supermarkets; big dishes and serving spoons that encourage us to pile on more food than we should; snack foods sitting around, tempting us constantly at work and at home. This Master of Design thesis explores the ways in which individuals can redesign their everyday personal environments, from kitchens to desks to cars, to disrupt unhealthy patterns and create positive cues to support their desired behavioral transformation.

View thesis online


A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that between 2007-2008, about one-third of adults in the U.S. were obese and more than two-thirds were either obese or overweight (Flegal et al, 2010). Obesity has risen dramatically in the U.S. over the past twenty years and, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a major risk factor for the leading causes of death in the nation, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. The rise has been attributed in part to the development of “obesogenic environments,” a term describing the external influences that promote overeating, unhealthy foods, and physical inactivity (Swinburn et al., 1999).  Faced with this widespread yet nebulous threat to public health, researchers have adopted an ecological approach to analyzing the many interconnected personal and environmental factors that influence health and eating.

An ecological approach emphasizes the connections between people and environment. It also recognizes that behavior and environment not only influence each other, but that they do so at multiple levels of interaction ranging from macroscale to microscale (Swinburn et al., 1999; Story et al., 2008). Macroscale environmental factors refer to the upstream influences that impact behavior on a population level, such as regional and global transportation networks, advertising campaigns, agricultural and food policies, and food distribution outlets. Microscale environmental factors refer to influences within the individual’s immediate settings, such as package and portion size, plate shape, room layout, lighting, and dining companions (Rolls, 2003; Wansink, 2004; Sobal et al., 2007; Wells, 2007; Wansink, 2008).

Interventions at multiple levels, collectively spanning physical, sociocultural, economic, and political dimensions, are likely needed to transform obesogenic environments into health-promoting ones.  While policy makers wrangle with the food industry over proposed upstream changes like soda taxes and bans on trans fat, relatively few interventions have been attempted at the microscale level in which individuals live and interact on a daily basis (Story et al., 2008). Simple changes at home, like serving dinner on salad plates instead of dinner plates, minimizing distractions like television, and serving vegetables family-style while keeping the other serving dishes out of sight at mealtime, could significantly reduce the number of calories people consume (Wansink, 2006).  An ecological approach to combating obesity and promoting wellness requires the design of personal environments that support healthy food choices and eating behaviors. By learning how people make food decisions, how aware they are of environmental influences on those decisions, and how resulting behaviors affect health, interaction designers can reshape these environments to support, rather than sabotage, people’s efforts to live healthfully within the larger ecosystem of food environments.

Project goals

The goal of this project was to redesign aspects of microscale settings that influence food choice and eating behavior – what I am calling the personal food environments – to promote wellness and complement interventions at higher levels. Prerequisite to this goal was understanding the present relationships between individuals and personal food environments, and particularly the ways in which people shape or cope with aspects of those environments that challenge their health aspirations. Throughout the process, I used an ecological approach to investigate the relationships between food information, food quality, eating behaviors, eating environments, and food distribution environments.


Domain Exploration

I began by mapping the system territory of the problem: the personal food environments and the factors that influence people’s food choices and eating behaviors within those environments. This effort involved an extensive literature review of existing research within economics, marketing, medicine, nutrition science, psychology, and public health. As part of this literature review, I examined previous, related attempts to shape food choice and consumption behavior through environmental interventions and identified the principles of environmental psychology that influence the effectiveness of design solutions.


To understand where environmental redesign efforts have low-cost, high potential for impact, I conducted interviews to learn about people’s food experiences, rituals, and attitudes and documented my observations of personal food environments such as supermarkets, restaurants, kitchens, dining rooms, and vending machines. During this phase, I also identified participants to involve in longer-term study. I documented these participants’ day-to-day food environments and behaviors through a photo food journal.

Prototyping & Evaluation

After synthesizing my research, I created a series of prototypes at various levels of fidelity. These prototypes helped me explore whether increasing individual awareness of ambient cues influence food decisions, how to make the long-term consequences of impulse food choices personally salient, and how individuals might alter their personal food environments to support individual eating plans.


I produced a research report describing my process, final design criteria, and conclusions, as well as one to four working prototypes of different concepts that can be used to shape the influences of personal food environments on behavior.


Mark Baskinger, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University
Mark Gross, School of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University
Jessica Wisdom, Department of Social & Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University

Reading List

Austin, S.B., Melly, S.J., Sanchez, B.N., Patel, A., Buka, S. and Gortmaker, S.L. Clustering of Fast-Food Restaurants Around Schools: A Novel Application of Spatial Statistics to the Study of Food Environments. American Journal of Public Health 95, 9 (September 2005), 1575-1581.

Brownell, K.D., Kersh, R., Ludwig, D.S., Post, R.C., Puhl, R.M., Schwartz, M.B. and Willett, W.C. Personal Responsibility and Obesity: A Constructive Approach To A Controversial Issue. Health Affairs 29, 3 (March 2010), 378-386.

Brownell, K.D. and Horgen, K. B. 2004. Food Fight: The Inside Story of The Food Industry, America's Obesity Crisis, and What We Can Do About It (1st ed.). McGraw-Hill.

Flegal, K. M., Carroll, M. D., Ogden, C. L., & Curtin, L. R. Prevalence and Trends in Obesity Among US Adults, 1999-2008. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 303, 3 (2010), 235-241.

Horowitz, C., Colson, K.A., Hebert, P.L. and Lancaster, K. Barriers to Buying Healthy Foods for People With Diabetes: Evidence of Environmental Disparities. American Journal of Public Health 94, 9 (September 2004), 1549-1554.

Johnson, R. K., Appel, L. J., Brands, M., Howard, B. V., Lefevre, M., Lustig, R. H., Sacks, F., et al. (2009). Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation120(11), 1011-1020.

Loewenstein, G., Brennan, T., Volpp, K.G. Asymmetric Paternalism to Improve Health Behaviors. The Journal of the American Medical Association 298, 20 (2007), 2415-2417.

Nestle, M. 2007. Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health, Revised and Expanded Edition (2nd ed.). University of California Press.

Rolls, B. J. Supersizing of America: Portion size and the obesity epidemic. Nutrition Today 38, 2 (2003), 42-53.

Sallis, J.F., Owen, N. “Ecological Models of Health Behavior.” In Health Behavior and Health Education: Theory, Research, and Practice 3rd Edition, edited by K. Glanz, B.K. Rimer, and F.M. Lewis. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, USA, 2002. 462-480.

Sobal, J. and Wansink, B. Kitchenscapes, Tablescapes, Platescapes, and Foodscapes: Influences of Microscale Built Environments on Food Intake. Environment and Behavior 39, 1 (2007), 124-142.

Story, M., Kaphingst, K. M., Robinson-O'Brien, R., & Glanz, K. Creating Healthy Food and Eating Environments: Policy and Environmental Approaches. Annual Review of Public Health 29, 1 (2008), 253-272.

Thaler, R. H. 2008. Nudge. Yale University Press.

Wansink, B. Environmental Factors That Increase the Food Intake and Consumption Volume of Unknowing Consumers. Annual Review of Nutrition 24, 1 (2004), 455-479.

Wansink, B. 2006. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (1st ed.). New York: Bantam Books.

Wansink, B. and Sobal, J. Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook. Environment and Behavior 39, 1 (January 2007), 106-123.

Wells, N. M., Ashdown, S. P., Davies, E. H. S., Cowett, F. D., & Yang, Y. Environment, Design, and Obesity: Opportunities for Interdisciplinary Collaborative Research. Environment and Behavior 39, 1 (January 2007), 6-33.


For my second project in Time Motion & Communication, I synched motion graphics based on simple geometric shapes to music from the Japanese anime series Angelic Layer in an attempt to capture the playful spirit of the piece. Enjoy!

10 seconds

My first foray into Time Motion & Communication is a video in which image and sound change every second, for 10 seconds. Given this constraint, I created a story that has both characters and plot yet is open to interpretation. Feel free to imagine your own narrative details.

Designing flexibility into habit frameworks

Reading a recent blog post by Peter Janiszewski made me think about designing flexibility into habit frameworks. For instance, Peter proposes a plan to increase his daily activity level by taking a mini exercise break several times a day. Each break consists of 3 sets of 30 repetitions. He never performs the same set twice in one day and selects the sets in a given break so that he exercises core, upper body, and lower body. Thus, he has a general structure in place to minimize the risk of overexercising specific muscles, but he does not plan out the sequence of exercises he is going to do in advance. By relying on a core set of exercises he already knows well and these self-made guidelines, he can exercise on autopilot if he feels less motivated. For the times when he wants to make things more interesting, he can mix up the sequence or improvise a new type of exercise. Establishing a framework for habitual behavior while making room for variation and invention seems to me like a good idea for sustaining behavior change over time.

Redesigning our lives

This article is in line with my thesis work, and it seems fitting to share as people start in on their new year's resolutions:

The exercise described in the article prompts individuals to document their impression of the current state of their lives. Such reflection can lead to a redesign goal, such as, "My life is dominated by work. I should shift my focus to include more personal growth." It seems like a good first step to identify priorities and visualize goals. In doing so, people may realize they want to spend more time on things that are truly important to them, like skill-building, and less time on other things, like commuting. 

I think the reflective activity would have even more value with the addition of supporting data. For example, many people underestimate much time they spend on daily activities such as Facebook, TV, and e-mail. Tracking their time for a week and then reflecting on a breakdown of their actual activity, not what they thought they did, would increase their chances of identifying significant design opportunities. 

Once they identify these opportunities, what kinds of tools can they use as individuals to address them in a systematic fashion? What role should technology play in these efforts? These are the questions that will occupy my mind and influence my work in 2011.

Service design at the dentist's office

Waiting in the exam chair at the dentist's office, I heard a gentle symphony of cascading water behind me, the kind of zen ambience produced by those tabletop fountains you find in Chinatown or novelty stores at the mall. What a clever way to soothe the anxiety of patients, I thought. What care and attention to the patient experience. Then I turned my head and realized the hoses attached to the water pik and other cleaning tools were leaking and spraying water all over the floor. I still think it would have been a great idea, though.


I spent the afternoon in the digital fabrication lab in Margaret Morrison and got to see models being created in 3D modeling software and carved by machine. So cool!

How to build a paper pop-up piano

As a mini-project in the course Making Things Interactive, I created a prototype of a pop-up piano with six keys. When a key is pressed, the corresponding musical note plays through a speaker. A pull-tab can be also be pulled or pushed to dim or brighten an LED by means of a paper variable resistor.


  • 4B or 6B graphite pencil
  • Arduino
  • bristol paper
  • copper eyelets (metal findings for jewelry making)
  • copper tape
  • cutting mat
  • glue
  • metal ruler
  • needle
  • piezo speaker
  • LED
  • tape, nonconductive (artist or scotch works)
  • wire, beading
  • wire, insulated
  • X-Acto knife

Step 1: Pop-up keys

Measure, cut, and fold six pop-up piano keys along the mid-line of one sheet of bristol paper; this will be the top sheet of the pop-up. Fold another sheet of bristol in half; this will be the backing sheet of the pop-up. If desired, cut the silhouette of the top half of both sheets into an interesting shape.

Construction Notes:

Paper piano keys pop-up
Paper piano keys pop-up

I hadn't made pop-ups before, so I practiced with regular paper before I started using the (more expensive) bristol paper. Based on my first trial run, I reduced the height of the piano keys from 1 inch to 0.5 inch. The lower key height reduced the amount of bowing the paper did when pressed down, which helped it spring back to its original form when released.

Drawing piano keys on bristol
Drawing piano keys on bristol

I did a second trial run of the pop-up with bristol paper. The bristol was thicker than regular paper, and based on my results, I decided to reduce the key height further, from 0.5 inch to 0.25 inch, to improve the key-press action with this particular material. For my final prototype, I also drew and cut the keys before folding the paper in half, so that I avoided having a fold line across the top surface of the keys (faintly visible in the next photo of my second trial version).

Pop-up keys - second version
Pop-up keys - second version

Step 2: Key switches, side #1

On the bottom sheet of bristol, lightly mark with a pencil where the underside of the piano keys will be and coat the area with an adhesive conductive material such as aluminum foil or copper tape. This area will be one side of the switch mechanism that will activate when a key is pressed. Using a needle, poke one hole in the mid-line fold of the paper and stick a copper eyelet through it so that the round part is sticking out from the back side of the paper and the rod is on the front side. Tape the rod of the eyelet to the conductive surface area of the paper with copper tape.

Construction Notes:

Pop-up backing sheet
Pop-up backing sheet

Originally I had each key switch wired as an independent circuit, as shown in the above photo. Later in the construction, I changed this so that they tied together on the bottom with copper tape because all the switches connect to +5V through this bottom layer. Making this small change enabled me to remove all but one of the copper eyelets that extended through the fold line and simplified the wiring in the back. I used aluminum foil to increase the conductive surface area under each key because I only had about 10 inches of copper tape at my disposal and wanted to make it last.

Step 3: Key switches, side #2

To make the other side of each switch, lay the top sheet on top of the backing sheet so that you can see the backing sheet through the gaps the pop-up keys make in the top sheet. Using the needle, poke a hole through the backing sheet beneath the surface of each key and stick a copper eyelet through the hole so that the round part is sticking out from the back side of the paper and the rod is on the front side. Tape the rod to the underside of the piano key with copper tape so that when the key is depressed, the rod makes contact with the conductive surface on the backing sheet, closing the switch.

Step 4: Paper variable resistor

To make the paper variable resistor, cut a narrow paper strip out of a sheet of bristol and demarcate a strip about 0.25 inch wide. With a graphite pencil (preferably 4B or 6B), scribble like mad in this area until the surface is completely coated with graphite. Calibrate using a multimeter and two paper clips, attaching one paper clip to one end of the graphite-coated strip and moving the other paper clip along the strip while measuring the resistance across the clips. Glue the strip (graphite facing up) to the lower half of the backing sheet along the left or right edge or, if you feel like throwing caution to the wind, repeat the scribbling/calibration procedure directly on the backing sheet itself.

Paper variable resistor construction
Paper variable resistor construction

Step 5: Pull-tab

Using a needle, poke a hole through the mid-line fold of the backing sheet where the graphite strip meets the backing sheet and stick a copper eyelet through the hole so that the round part is sticking out from the back side of the paper and the rod is on the front side. Attach the rod portion to the graphite strip with a piece of copper tape. Cut another paper strip out of bristol that is 1 inch wide and slightly longer than half the length of the backing sheet. This will be the pull-tab that changes the resistance of the paper resistor. In the area of the top sheet of the pop-up that lies directly over the graphite strip, measure and cut a long narrow slot such that the pull-tab can slide along it and make a 1-inch slit perpendicular to the slot near the edge where the tab will be pulled. Thread the pull-tab through the slit and attach to the slot with a piece of bristol so that it slides easily. (See The Elements of Pop-Up by David A. Carter and James Diaz for more detail on constructing the pull-tab mechanism.)

Using a needle, poke a hole through the mid-line fold of the backing sheet where the pull-tab meets the backing sheet and and thread a length of beading wire through the hole. Attach the beading wire to the underside of the pull-tab with a piece of copper tape, making sure that it does not contact the piece of tape on the graphite strip.

Step 6: Wiring

Wire up the switches and variable resistor to the Arduino using the beading thread and copper eyelets that are extending through the backing sheet. Wire up a piezo speaker and LED for outputs. Adhere the Arduino and breadboard to the back of the backing sheet.

Construction Notes:

Originally, I had a 220Ω resistor between the speaker and the output pin on the Arduino (the smallest resistor I had). The sound coming out of the speaker, however, was very quiet. When I removed this resistor, the notes played at a better volume for demonstration purposes and, more importantly, the speaker did not burn out.

Step 7: Code

I referenced Tom Igoe's Tone Output example and used the Arduino Tone library to play the musical notes.

See the code for the Pop-up Piano.

Gong Whacker 3000

Behold my latest masterpiece for Making Things Interactive, a dazzling demonstration of mechanical movements.


circuit driving the DC motor


4-bar linkage


pivot point made of pipe cleaner twisted and duct-taped to my rapid-prototyping rig (aka my desk)



string harness holding wooden dowel

Unrelated to the final device, this is an earlier attempt at creating a Geneva drive out of bristol board, Q-tips, and foamcore. When the disc turns, it moves a pin affixed to its surface. That pin threads through a slot in the wheel, turning the wheel intermittently. However, on the next disc revolution, the pin doesn't quite line up with the next slot on the wheel. When it comes to making wheel and gear mechanisms, precision is important.


Making a footswitch

For the course Making Things Interactive I am taking this fall, I had an assignment to make a switch. I decided to make a footswitch, which you can see in action here:

To make the footswitch, I used two cutting boards that were laying around the house. To the bottom board, I taped a sheet of aluminum foil and made a border of foam tape around the edges. On top, I stuck the second cutting board with a wire taped to the underside. The foam tape created separation between the two boards, yet was springy enough that when a person steps on the top board, the wire taped to its underside comes into contact with the aluminum foil on the bottom board, closing the switch. When pressure is removed, the top board springs up again, opening the switch.




The Strip District, Pittsburgh

Today I visited Pittsburgh's Strip District to see the new Pittsburgh Public Market as well as visit some of my old favorite spots. In the course of my wanderings, I found an array of fragrant teas, flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars, European pastries, crab cake samplers and panini, fresh herbs, some scary-looking organic apples that the fruit vendor sliced open for us to prove they were only cosmetically challenged due to a harmless-to-humans fungus, weird-looking dog treats, Indian spices, Middle Eastern fabrics and sandals, fudge, chocolate covered fruits and nuts, coffee, masquerade masks, fragrant handmade soaps, pecan rolls, ridiculously huge cookies, alligator tail meat, frozen frog legs, singing animatronic pigs, mosaic frogs and turtles, iridescent butterflies, polished rocks, geodes, painted fish hooks, frog sculpture, painted tiles, eyeglass holders in the shape of noses, miniature suits of armor, and heirloom tomatoes. Special thanks to Jeff from Mott Family Farm for telling me so much about tomatoes and garlic and for clueing me in to Farmers Market at Phipps on Wednesdays, June through October!

Summer Reading

Summer is halfway over, and I just finished reading How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. It covers some of the same ground as another excellent book I read in the spring, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely. I highly recommend Ariely's book, especially to people who design information artifacts and services. It identifies types of scenarios in which people behave in consistently (hence, predictably) irrational ways and the principles that underlie that behavior - things like loss aversion, framing, and mental accounting. Ariely is a social scientist (and an engaging professor, as I can attest from my MIT days) writing mainly about his own research and the research of his colleages working in the field of behavioral economics. His book unfolds as a series of anecdotes that each illustrates a principle and then delves into the details and is a great starting point for anyone interested in looking further into the research. Lehrer's book doesn't go into as much depth with the behavioral economics, but he sprinkles some introductory neuroscience throughout that adds an interesting dimension to the material. He is also a journalist rather than a scientist, and some of his anecdotes read like excerpts from a dramatic piece of non-fiction. A pilot fights to land a stalled Boeing 737. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady makes a series of split-second decisions in the 2002 Super Bowl. A professional poker player faces off against a host of idiosyncratic rivals in Las Vegas. It all adds up to an entertaining and informative read, but I got a little lost trying to extract applicable takeaways straight from the text, and the ending felt a bit muddled and hand-wavy. It was still worth the time I spent reading it, though. I also give it bonus points for having images of ice cream cones on the front cover, leading countless hungry Americans into pursuing careers in neuroscience.

The politics of word choice: wellness vs health

Coming up with a suitable title for my thesis proposal has been an unexpected challenge. My project's goal is the promotion of health or wellness, but which word should I use – health or wellness? If I had only read this NYTimes article earlier, I could have saved myself some time. By using the word "wellness," I am apparently endorsing a movement that began in the 1950s that seeks, not to eliminate illness, but to maximize individual potential. Got that? Oh, the politics of word choice...

Respecting your audience

In a recent talk at Carnegie Mellon University, American statistician and professor emeritus Edward Tufte said "Respect your audience." Pithy advice, but what does it mean? Tufte goes around the U.S. conducting seminars on information design, so presumably he directed these words at information designers, people whose primary goal is the effective communication of information. He went on to say that, in many cases, the audience knows more about the content than the designer does. For instance, designers tasked with communicating information about the federal budget to lawmakers and economists are really designing for people who (we hope) know a great deal more about the deeper meaning of all those numbers.

Respecting your audience, then, means making an effort to understand what your audience will find obvious, and what it won't. It means using a level of explicitness that is appropriate based on that understanding, rather than assuming your audience a) can read your mind or b) has no specialized knowledge of the domain. It means using language that your audience finds familiar and mental models that it recognizes.

Don't worry that your work will become less accessible to a general audience. There is no general audience, just as there is no such thing as a family with 2.5 children. Faced with the choice of being unhelpful to a lot of people or being helpful to a few, opt for the latter. If more than one specific audience must be addressed, figure out what each audience wants to get out of the information and create a design tailored to each.

Below are some examples of information design I found related to the federal budget. Just for fun(?), guess who their audiences are.

Death and Taxes

What does the federal budget freeze look like?

Data visualization with cookies


Federal IT Dashboard


I think I am now addicted to inspiration.

Today's TEDxCMU event featured speakers ranging from entrepreneurs to artists to musicians to writers. Actually, most (if not all) of them fell into more than one of those categories. In order of appearance:

Jonathan Fields A former attorney turned author, blogger, and entrepreneur, his talk (according to my own informal poll) was a audience favorite. The three questions he says to ask yourself when considering whether to pursue something you want yet fear:

  1. What happens if you fail, and how will you recover?
  2. What happens if you do nothing?
  3. What happens if you succeed?

Hint: the second option most often leads to a life of quiet desperation and lifelong regrets.

MK Haley A 16-year Walt Disney Imagineer, she recently joined the faculty at the Entertainment Technology Center at CMU. Apparently, she got tired of working for The Mouse. Key takeaways from her talk:

  1. Nap your way to success!
  2. What would happen if we all supported each others' ideas instead of shooting them down to stoke our own egos? Innovation, that's what.
  3. Never eat lunch alone.
  4. Thank your role models.
  5. Be a role model.

Jackson Chu This Carnegie Mellon freshman studies design (woo!) and gave a stirring performance playing two pieces on a Chinese violin-like instrument called an erhu.

RF Culbertson An entrepreneur and professor at the Tepper School of Business at CMU, he gave a  valuable and entertaining talk on the importance of personal investing. His closing remarks, delivered in rap form, ended with this parting advice: Don't "should" all over yourself.

Nathan Martin This punk/metal rocker turned suit-wearing CEO of Deeplocal Inc. delivered some of the best messages of the day:

  1. Think like an amateur
  2. Think like a deviant
  3. Solve problems without technology if possible

Yes to all three!

Chris Guillebeau A traveling writer, he is living the dream, as far as I am concerned. His talk was great, but I confess I spent much of it trying to figure out how to pull a John Malkovich on him so that I could live his life. I think he said not to pet crocodiles, but if you do, be sure to download a permission slip first. Err, I probably should have paid closer attention.

DS Company Carnegie Mellon student organization Dancers' Symposium entertained the audience with a modern dance number that involved a lot of arm waving and hairography.

Stacey Monk The founder of nonprofit startup Epic Change, Stacey shared a very personal life lesson that changed her trajectory from that of a power-seeking corporate leader to a proud follower - I want to say empowerer - of people who are doing amazing things in their communities with few resources.

Chase Jarvis This photographer, director, and social artist has an impressive body of work that speaks for itself. His main message: share your ideas. You benefit from implementing others' ideas anyway, so help the symbiosis happen.

For more detailed info, see the live notes posted by a blogger who was sitting next to me in the media room. (In case you're wondering, my media job was to take photos during the breaks for the school paper.)

I also enjoyed getting to know my seat neighbor, who is a traveling yoga DJ. He drives all over the country, booking gigs at studios and building his own business from the ground up. Talk about fearless!