Midnight Engineer’s Forum


Each year I attend a conference in Denver that grew out of a magazine called ‘Midnight Engineering‘. The magazine was dedicated to engineers that loved the work so much they could be found doing it at all hours, even in their spare time, hence the magazine’s name. Many of the readers were entrepreneurial types engaged in moonlighting activities. A yearly conference called Entcon was started that became like a ‘real-time version of the magazine’. It was a great networking event with lots of interesting people that kicked off with skiing in the Rocky Mountains followed by a weekend of presentations and informal networking sessions.

The magazine is out of print, but a conference which is now called Entconnect is still going on each year in Denver around the last week of March.

We don’t get a chance to talk much with the other conference participants throughout the year, so I’ve put together a forum on Yahoo Groups. If discussions about entrepreneurship, tech startups, and free agent engineering appeal to you, perhaps you’d like to join the group.

Giving the Gift of Light


I’ve been in an engineer for more than 25 years and have designed a lot of products during that time. So every time I get a new product, I look at it from a design engineer’s standpoint. Sometimes I am pleased to the point that I wish I could meet the engineers who designed the product just to get their story on all that went into designing it. Other times I think engineer must have been inexperienced, or possibly under pressure to meet a cost goal or time deadline.

When I ordered a Bogolight a few months ago, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I was intrigued, yet a little skeptical, because I never had seen a similar business model for selling products. The letters BOGO stand for ‘Buy one, Give one’. The flashlight is sold in such a way that when you pay $25 for one light, you’re actually buying two of them, one for you and another for a charity. In this case, the Bogolights going to charity are heading for developing regions in Africa.

The Bogolight is the brainchild of Mark Bent, CEO and President of SunNight Solar who conceived of designing a solar rechargeable flashlight and selling it in a way that would get flashlights to go to a place where they are desperately needed yet without the resources to purchase them. Mark spent over twenty years in the developing world and understands their needs better than most. He realized that in most of the developing world, there is no reliable electricity and so any reading at night must be done by a kerosene lantern, which is expensive and very inefficient. Imagine if all of your night time reading or studying had to be illuminated with the dim light of a kerosene lantern. You’d have probably done a lot less of it. I know I would have.

The Bogolight provides reading light with high efficiency white LEDs powered by solar rechargeable batteries. The solar cells are built right into the flashlight. For every hour that it’s charged, it provides about 30 minutes of brilliant white light. With an 8 hour charge, it can provide sufficient illumination to last for an entire evening’s worth of reading. Best of all, you don’t need to continually replace batteries. It uses 3 readily available rechargeable AA batteries that are capable of more than 750 charge-discharge cycles. I’ve often found that rechargeable products have either built-in batteries or else they use custom-designed batteries that are dreadfully expensive to replace. So my hat is off to the Bogolight designers who chose to use standard rechargeable AA batteries.

The 6 LEDs have a life expectancy of about 100,000 hours of continuous use and the integrated solar panel is designed to last 20 years. When the average life expectancy of consumer electronics products seems to shrink every year, it’s refreshing to see something like this that is obviously ‘built to last’.

I really appreciate the rugged design, complete with moisture seals. Another pleasant surprise was the glow-in-the dark accent to makes it easy to locate in the dark. Its bright orange color makes it easy to find during the day too. It also has a built-in hook to hang it from overhead to make task lighting easier. The hook has a spring-loaded clip so you can attach it to a backpack and carry it around without fear of losing it. I am very impressed with the attention to detail that was obviously put into its design.

Now that I’ve had the chance to use it for several months, I can say with confidence that Mark Bent and the people at SunNight Solar are doing something truly wonderful and if you’re looking for a unique Christmas gift, you can rest assured that the recipient will find nothing else like it. Better yet, when you buy one, you’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing that someone in Africa will be getting a highly-valued and useful Christmas gift, and it’s hard to put a price on that.

EntConnect 2007


I attended EntConnect 2007 last weekend in Denver. Previously, the conference was called Entcon and was affiliated with Midnight Engineering magazine. Midnight Engineering was a magazine dedicated to people who were running their own tech ventures, mostly entrepreneurial engineers, and was published for about 8 years. I really enjoyed the magazine and it was what got me to start attending the conference. I have been going for a few years now and it’s starting to get the feeling of a college reunion, as Dave Shaver of Corepoint Health described it. We typically get approximately the same 20 to 30 people showing up each year, although it changes a little bit from year-to-year as some people drop in and out depending on their schedules. Jack has put together a few blog entries of some of the topics discussed. At the end of each conference we always talk about getting some new members to attend. At one point the conference had grown to over 200 attendees when the magazine was still being published, but that was actually too large and the regular attendees would like to keep it small, perhaps to around 50 people or less. Still, even to get to 50 attendees, we’d have to double the traditional attendance from where it has leveled out over the past few years.

My involvement in the conference has been more as an observer since for all the time I’ve been going, I’ve not been making my living as an entrepreneur, but rather as an employee of HP. I’ve presented on a number of products that I worked on during that time since they have all been related to new product categories for HP and my division has had the feeling of an entrepreneurial startup. I also have an unusual method of supporting these products using my personal web site to host the FAQs and I use community forums at Yahoo Groups that are collectively approaching more than 3500 members. John Gaudio who runs the conference has described me as an ‘Intrepreneur’, which I guess puts me somewhere in between an employee and an entrepreneur.

This year I announced my upcoming early retirement from HP which will occur at the end of May. I am hoping to use the time off to engage in some entrepreneurial pursuits, Adaptive Interfaces being one of them. I’ve not had the time to help push that venture much closer to reality, and my business partner, Mark, has been working at day jobs to pay the bills. There will be a lot of curiosity next year as I talk with the group about the transition from being an employee for the past 24 years into the new world of entrepreneurship. A little twist of irony is that several long-time entrepreneurs who regularly attend the conference have migrated into the workplace as employees over the past year. It’s all OK though because even if you have a day job it doesn’t mean you can’t be an entrepreneur and vice-versa. Everyone is welcome at the conference and the people who attend have a wealth of experience that they are willing to share. I have already paid to attend next year’s conference which is scheduled for March 27th through March 30th, 2008.