12 July

U-M’s entrepreneurial spirit creates mini business for Detroit nonprofit


Daniel Williams leans over, putting his face within inches of a sheet of quarter-inch-thick glass and squeezes the glass cutter.

A soft plunk sounds in his corner of Cass Community Social Services’ Green Industries building in Detroit as a small four-inch square of glass lands on a mat. The 28-year-old former homeless man has been cutting the recycled glass used to make coasters for two months.

The coaster mini business grew from a University of Michigan course that brings together students of business, engineering and art and design. Called Integrated Product Development (IPD), the class worked closely with Cass to brainstorm and set up the business.

The glass coasters feature murals from Detroit’s wailing wall near 8 Mile Road and Wyoming that was built in 1940 as a division between black and white neighborhoods. The images of brightly colored houses, factories and neighbors added years later gave the wall new meaning.

“I like it a lot because it gives us a clean and safe work environment,” Williams said. “It’s nice to have some work to help you get back on your feet. It makes me feel like at least we are doing something right.”

IPD, in its 18th year, historically has been a product development course. But in the past two years, the course went a step further, said Bill Lovejoy, technology and operations professor in the U-M Stephen M. Ross School of Business. Lovejoy is also co-director of U-M’s Master of Entrepreneurship program.

“In the past two years we have challenged the students to start mini businesses. That is in league with the entrepreneurial spirit that is sweeping the country and Michigan right now,” he said.

The coasters emerged as the first product to be commercialized out of six mini-business ideas that University of Michigan students developed for Cass to consider adding to its Green Industries set of micro businesses. Green Industries also creates mudmats from abandoned tires and pays developmentally disabled adults to shred documents for recycling.

The Ross School also consulted with Cass on how to make the shredding business more efficient and profitable, said Wallace Hopp, associate dean.

In IPD the students were challenged to use materials that would otherwise enter the waste stream. So they took tours of vacant lots in Detroit and found rubber, glass and wood in good quantities. There was very little metal because that’s being salvaged. Then they brainstormed what they could design with the materials.

Working under the direction of professors Lovejoy and the late Shaun Jackson, his Art & Design colleague, one group of students started with a slumped glass planter for herbs that nestled in a wooden frame made from reclaimed pallet wood.

The students installed the production equipment at Cass in 2012 and set about teaching homeless men how to use it to produce the herb gardens. But the glass took too long to fire in a kiln to produce them in great numbers and results varied. After the students left for summer jobs or graduated, Lovejoy kept at it.

Drinking coffee at home one morning, Lovejoy realized that the standard coaster size is 4-inches by 4-inches. Fusing a square of glass would be a lot simpler than slumping glass. He knew if he could design an attractive coaster product, Cass workers could manage the process after he stepped away.

Workers can put 50 coasters in the kiln at a time. It takes 24 hours to fire them and then cool them down. As work progressed, the men started taking control of the process and suggesting ways to solve problems and make a better product. The men have made more than 200 sets so far.

“There are currently eight people employed on this line who wouldn’t otherwise have jobs,” Lovejoy said. “What’s necessary for modern manufacturing is creative problem solving skills. So we hope they can leverage this for a better future for themselves.”

Lovejoy credits others around the university and in the community for making the project a reality including local glass artist Annette Baron, owner of Baron Glassworks in Ypsilanti and John Leyland, ceramics studio coordinator for U-M’s School of Art & Design.

Leyland said the students experimented with the glass in his studio’s programmable electric kilns.

“We did a whole lot of experimenting, but not a lot came to fruition,” Leyland said. “Bill had the foresight to pull back and come up with something that would work.”

And, he said, it’s an example of the university making a positive difference in the world without fanfare. It’s about doing the smaller things that change people’s lives.

“One thing that makes Michigan a very special place is exactly this kind of social consciousness,” Lovejoy said. “There’s no ivory tower here — a wall where you are on campus and off campus. We merge with the community.Michigan faculty and students are out there in society all the time trying to make a difference.”

And a difference they have made. The men now have a purpose to get up in the morning and go to work. They make a little money and can treat a friend to dinner or buy a birthday gift for someone close to them.

“Ultimately, it’s made a huge difference. The guys who are working on the project are guys with zero income,” said Stacy Leigh, the vocational training coordinator at Cass Community Social Services. “It’s amazing what a little money can do. It raises your self-esteem.”

And now, they are just trying to keep up with demand for the coasters, which sell for $20 for a set of four, said the Rev. Faith Fowler, executive director for Cass Community Social Services and an adjunct professor at U-M’s Dearborn campus.

Finding jobs for homeless men has been difficult, she said, but making the coasters has given them a chance to be creative, make some money and be part of a group.

“The students, of course, want to change the world and through us they can,” Fowler said.

More about the Ross School of Business: http://www.bus.umich.edu/

20 May

Local Detroit Hackerspace Wins Red Bull Creation Semi-Finals – Heads to New York City for Finals.

FERNDALE, MI, May 16, 2013

Red Bull USA announced that i3 Detroit is a winner in the qualifying round of its Red Bull Creation 2013 contest. I3 Detroit and 5 other teams from around the US, from Maine to Maui, have been selected as Finalists from almost 50 teams nationwide. The i3 Detroit team will be flown to New York City for the final round, a 72-hour marathon creative build on June 13-16.

Red Bull Creation 2013 is the 3rd Annual event which challenges teams of top inventors to design and make something useful, imaginative and inspiring in 72 hours, for a purse of $10,000.

i3 Detroit is a collaborative environment for people to explore the balance between technology, art and culture. We feel the best way to create this environment is to bring together like-minded people who share a common passion for technology, art and culture.

Known as “hackerspaces” sites like i3 Detroit are springing up all over the US, Europe, Asia and Africa. The specific activities that take place at hackerspaces vary between organizations. In general, hackerspaces function as centers for peer learning and pooling of knowledge, in the form of workshops, presentations, and lectures. They usually also offer social activities for their members, such as game nights and parties. They typically provide space for members to work on their individual projects, or to collaborate on group projects with other members. Hackerspaces may also operate computer tool lending libraries, or physical tool lending libraries.

The i3 Detroit hackerspace is one of the oldest and most successful in the US, with over 100 dues paying members and an over 8,000 sq ft facility in Ferndale chocked with tools and fabricating equipment of all types, from giant computerized milling machines cutting blocks of metal into useful components, to laser cutters that can cut plastic and wood with surgical accuracy. This collection of tools and knowledge enable their members to make projects like those entered into the Red Bull Creation 2013 contest.

i3 Detroit is an 501(c3) charitable organization. For more information see www.i3detroit.com


16 May

How to Enable the New Hangouts Feature for Google Apps Administrators

May 15, 2013 – Mountain View, CA. Google Throws it’s Hat in the Messaging Ring at I/O 13 with New Google Hangouts

Google announced that it will be competing with iMessage and Facebook Messanger directly when it unvieled a new integrated messaging strategy at Google I/O 13. The new application comes with a new standalone iOS and Android applications, a Chrome application, as well as deeper integration into the Google+ ecosystem.

Many startups utilizing Google Apps for Business will need to first enable the new hangouts functionality in order to test the new features. Without enabling the features Google Apps for Business users will see the following error:

Hangouts has not been enabled for your account. Please contact your administrator to enable this service.

In order to enable the new hangouts feature for Google Apps administrators, the administrator will need to visit their domain admin panel (google.com/a/example.com) and login as an administrator.

Once there it is simply a matter of flicking the right switches. Visit Settings -> Talk -> Org Settings  and then ‘enable the new Hangouts for messaging and video calls.’



Let us know in the comments what you think of the new Google Hangouts!

31 December

7 Resources to Learn How To Program in 2013

We hear it all the time in the group Hackers & Hustlers – “I need a programmer.” Well quit trying to buy one and make it a goal to teach yourself how to program in 2013.

I am by no means an expert developer, but I have no problem writing my own WordPress themes, developing simple web applications to replace spreadsheets at work, A/B testing splash pages for 1-page websites, and many more freeing skills that learning how not to be intimidated by code can provide. This post wont be a replacement for Nathan Bashaw & Bryce Colquitt’s upcoming project enoughtobedanger.us, but hopefully it will provide you with some great resources to get started before the book (?!?!) comes out.

EDIT: Since writing this article, Nathan’s project has pivoted into a much larger project called Dash, which was rolled into the General Assembly suite of products. I highly recommend checking it out.

When people ask me how I started I almost always point them to the following page first. You end up with a pretty hideous little page, but you have to crawl before you walk, and the whole tutorial should take you about 2-3 hours at the most. It will get you started learning HTML and CSS, the two most fundamental elements of the web.


EDIT: setting up a local server isn’t difficult, but its not as easy as working directly in your browser and seeing your changes made live. I recommend using enoughtobedanger.us’ scratchpad.io to practice your skills.

Next I like to provide people with a list of video hosting & e-learning websites. Almost all of them offer at least a partial selection of content for free, and that is where I would recommend getting started. Try and stick to HTML/CSS and the free content. By sticking with the free content it will prevent you from becoming overwhelmed – there is a LOT to learn if you try to learn it all. I would just recommend prioritizing learning enough at first. I have actually used all of these at one point so feel free to ask me any questions you might have.

Personally (I’m a visual/spatial learner) I recommend the order of operations be:

  1. HTML
  2. CSS
  3. JavaScript/jQuery
  4. a ‘server side’ programming language (there are many options)

teamtreehouse.com – $25 (silver), $49 (gold), $9 (student – gold) – beginner – yes badges

Treehouse isn’t free but it is probably my favorite place to get started, and they do offer a lot of their basic courses without needing a membership although you wont be able to save your badges. I think they do an exceptional job of breaking learning modules down into manageable chunks, and sectioning off content based on your personal learning goals. I also enjoy having tests and being able to earn badges. They have come a long way since I started learning with them which is great as well, and they will let you pause your membership – so you can learn a core set of skills, and then practice them before you resume paying learning.

codeschool.com – $25/seat – intermediate – yes badges

codeschool is innovative in that it isn’t just watching screencasts and then taking tests – you actually complete course lessons inside your browser. Codeschool offers several free courses, which are a great place to get started, and also lets you earn badges which are helpful for tracking your progress. I think their lessons tend more toward intermediate, so I would recommend creating an account once you feel comfortable with HTML/CSS and are ready to move on to jQuery (jQuery is just JavaScript). Personally I would recommend getting started with jQuery before learning JavaScript, but your goal should be to be comfortable with both.

Lynda.com – $25/month, Free for CSS students – Beginner – Intermediate – no badges

Lynda.com is the old-school option out there, but what’s true about old school options is that they have been around the longest, and so must be doing something correct. I think I have probably watched the more lynda videos than from any other resource out there, and lynda covers all sorts of topics, not just programming/development. Lynda has some great lessons, and they provide downloadable training files for certain memberships, but you don’t need those if you build along with the screencast. The downside is they tend to suck you into a spiral of different technologies to learn, and don’t necessary help you learn ‘in order’

codeacademy.com – Free!!!(?) – Beginner – No Badges (?)

Code Academy is another one of those great resources for learning right in your browser. They do a great job of introducing the concepts and getting you started. I haven’t taken their HTML & CSS course, but I went through most of their JavaScript course a while back and it was excellent. I would definitely jump over here as soon as you feel comfortable building static webpages.

tutsplus.com – $19 premium/free blog – Intermediate – No Badges

tutsplus, or the tutsplus network is really a plethora of tutorial networks spanning most of the adobe creative suite, to development, and more. It is more of a magazine style layout, so you will really need to search for what you want to learn if you are there for something specific. It generally covers more ‘staying fresh’ content and a lot of different frameworks. I’ve noticed that I tend to gravitate towards certain authors I like, then follow them on twitter, and track down their personal blogs/youtubes.

Free Google python class – Free!!! – Intermediate – No Badges

Google loves python, and for good reason, it’s actually the first actual programming language I learned and is powerful, easy to learn, and will help develop good habits for writing syntax.  This is actually the course that google teaches to its non-engineering employees, so it is a good resource. I haven’t looked at it in over a year, so I am not sure if it has changed much but I can’t imagine it getting worse. I only called it intermediate because last time I looked into it the lessons weren’t super intuitive.

khanacademy.org – Free!!! – Beginner – Badges?

I actually haven’t taken any of these courses, but I absolutely love the khanacademy, and what it is doing in the education vertical. This is one course that isn’t actually taught by Salman himself so it might not be as good, but they wouldn’t put junk on their site.

Do you know of any more good resources? Coupon Codes? Send us a tweet or let us know in the comments and we’ll add them to the article!