Friday, April 30, 2010

Pecha Kucha 20x20

Ever wondered why techie presentations are so notoriously bad? You think, am I the only one who's bored or confused? Well, check out this completely new way of doing presentations. I've seen it and it's a breath of fresh air.

First of all, you know what kind of bad presentations I'm talking about, don't you? Presenters who assume you love their narrow topic. They have too much detail. The print is too small. Equations that you can't follow. Monotone voice. Wooden statue posture. A nervous laser pointer flitting across the screen. We're all guilty, and sure, photonics is supposed to be technical. But do so many presentations have to be so bad?

Well, there's a new way of presenting called Pecha Kucha 20x20. It's very simple. You present 20 slides with 20 seconds each. That's about 7 minutes. During that time, you can't ask questions--questions come after (sorry, Intel employees). You have to get through your main points fast, like an elevator speech.

I've seen it and it gets to the point. It cuts the bull. It's great for those small-ish sessions: internal company meetings, B-to-B briefings, that sort of thing.

It started in Japan as a social event in 2003 as a way for architects and other designers to network without boring everyone. It spread to cities all over the world. The subjects can include anything. There's now also a group called Ignite in the U.S. that is doing kind of the same thing, for fun. Imagine.

Using it as a social scene does sound a bit geeky. After working in the tech industry all day, the last thing you might want to do is to go listen to more Power Point presentations, even if they use 20x20. But, it's kind of the modern equivalent of Toastmasters. Or salons. Or speed dating. That might be fun after all.

Spread the word. Managers, start using 20x20 in your meetings. Salespeople, use it in your sales calls. Engineers, use it in your presentations, and leave the other slides as backup for the Q&A. Don't be afraid to try it. Think Pecha Kucha 20x20.

Friday, April 23, 2010

IPG makes moves

IPG seemed to make a vertical move into machine tools this week, with its announcement that it acquired Cosytronic. Well, it turns out that it’s not exactly a vertical move. In fact, it’s a pretty narrow acquisition, but an interesting one. Where does this put IPG on the longer term roadmap?

IPG has done well so far in kilowatt lasers, selling mainly to systems integrators for metal welding. But the huge majority of welders use good old-fashioned electrical welders, not laser welders.

IPG aims to change that. Cosytronic has 20-some years of experience in resistance welding, from the “Welding Valley” in Germany. It has a tool that can make seam welds with a laser head that swaps with the head of a resistance spot welder. The aim here isn’t to take on resistance spot welders. The aim is to increase the pie for laser welding. For IPG, it’s about the application, not making systems per se.

I should mention that IPG's main competitor, TRUMPF, aims to do the same thing, of course. But TRUMPF has a machine tool business and lots of internal expertise. IPG is working on that.

It’s a very different story in sheet metal cutting, by the way. That is the grand prize in materials processing. But, several big tool vendors make their own CO2 resonators for their tools, or have loyal relationships with independent suppliers of resonators, mainly Rofin and Fanuc. It’s hard for a new player to break in with a new type of laser. Nonetheless, IPG is making progress there too. IPG plans to continue to work with the systems integrators to gain share in that segment, rather that to make a vertical move.

This is IPG's 2nd acquisition in 2010, by the way. It acquired little-known Photonics Innovations, of Alabama, in January. That acquisition is also narrowly strategic, aiming at materials and the mid-IR range.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Why Net Neutrality is above your job grade

As a supplier in the photonics or telecom food chain, should you care about the landmark decision this week over the FCC vs. Comcast? In short, no. It’s above your job grade. Here’s why.

Much is made about this kind of thing at the carrier level, since it impacts how they do their business. And what the carriers do—who wins and who loses—impacts the optical equipment vendors. And that passes on to the component vendors, who win or lose depending on their customers . So far, that’s all true.

But these kinds of decisions are really for policy wonks and legal nerds. I know, because I’m a recovering wonk myself. I once worked on telecom policy for Congress.

It’s not that technologists are above policy issues, or have nothing to contribute. Technologists are notoriously aloof in policy debates, but badly needed.

Rather, the neutrality debate is irrelevant to the optical networking community because it’s mostly decoupled from the day to day business of the network. There are so many other factors that are also very important. Think of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each has a regulatory agency. There are municipal agencies. Federal courts. The FCC. Congress. European countries. The European Commission. Japan. China. India. And a hundred other countries. Think of Google, iPhones, Facebook, Youtube. Think of refrigerators with IP addresses. (Then again, let’s leave that out.)

While policies get worked out, traffic just keeps on going up and up. And no one really has a good grasp just exactly how fast the traffic is growing, much less how much it will grow in the future. And even when big policy decisions are made, the consequences take years to work out. There will be more appeals, reactions by competitors, possibly legislation.

It’s important to take an interest in Net Neutrality as a citizen. It’s about whether you think broadband service should be a regulated utility, or if it should be a competitive service. And yes, the consequences do trickle down to the equipment and component vendors. But the ones who stand to gain the most from these debates? Lawyers and government affairs officers (also known as lobbyists). That’s a certainty.