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The posts by individual Exbiblio team members are collected here.

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Arrival: Mark Sanvitale

December 11th, 2006

by Lauren Summers

Mark SanvitaleMark Sanvitale remembers vividly the Christmas he came downstairs to gifts splayed out near the fireplace in the living room. It appeared that Santa had dropped the presents when he tumbled from the chimney of Mark’s childhood home in Portland, Oregon. One of the boxes held a new Atari 400, and from that moment on, Mark knew exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up: work with computers.

When the time came for Mark to go to college, he hoped to enter the University of Washington’s Computer Science program, but at the time the program was too small to accept the large number of applicants. He wasn’t accepted, so instead of taking UW’s alternate mathematics route, he chose the University of Southern California.

After graduation, Mark regularly applied for positions at the same three companies: Apple, Pixar and LucasFilm’s Industrial Light & Magic. He would occasionally also stalk the Apple campus in hopes of meeting and making contacts, and his efforts paid off in August of 1999 when he was hired for testing, even though he wanted to be in development. So, he set a goal: “If I can’t get into development by the end of 2000, I’m looking for another job.” Three months before his deadline, Mark had landed the job he wanted as a developer on the Finder team, where he led the development of many cool features, including “smart folders” and the sidebar. He enjoyed working with the extremely smart and passionate people at Apple, and also acknowledged and appreciated co-workers who weren’t “Apple zealots” because they gave an added dimension to the company. Mark’s biggest peeve was with managers who made changes on a project at the very end, although he humbly admits it usually made the product better.

In 2005, Mark decided to leave the Bay area for Eugene, Oregon to take a break and lead a less expensive life. Many times in his life he has lived without a car, and he seems to like it that way. Mark proudly said that while taking time off he “did a lot of nothing, like hanging out and basketball, and I loved it.” He used some of his free time to travel around Ireland for a month and check out the beaches of Hawaii.

Mark found Exbiblio through Craigslist, which he usually uses to find apartments and to buy and sell furniture and household appliances. He was surprised by Exbiblio’s listing, impressed by the website, and applied for the Software Engineer position. He laughed when he recalled Claes-Fredrik Mannby’s phone call inviting him for an interview: “I realized too late that my outgoing message was one a friend had recorded as a joke. I tried to catch the call before the machine picked up, but I heard the machine scream, “MARKUS BARKUS,” so I quietly hung up and crawled back into bed.” Claes-Fredrik emailed Mark later that day and Exbiblio eventually offered him a job.

Between the time Mark accepted the job offer and his start date, Exbiblio went through the radical restructuring. When Ed Mahlum called with the news, Mark thought that Exbiblio was not in business anymore. Fortunately, the plan to rebound and continue the development of the scanner and its software included Mark’s expertise.


November 22nd, 2006

by Jeremy Faludi

Now that we’re using a metal extrusion for most of the main body, we also need to use some glue to stick plastic bits to it (such as the window you see the display through), since there just isn’t enough room in the tiny body for strong snap-fits. This makes recycling harder, for two reasons: first, because now the device is harder to disassemble into its component materials; and second, because now the component materials will have some gunk on them (adhesive residue) that cause problems in recycling the metal or plastic.

Don’t Be Too Strong

Fixing the first problem is fairly simple: you just use weak enough glue (or a small enough amount of strong glue) that whoever disassembles the device can just pop the parts out by hand, overwhelming the strength of the glue. This way, disassembly doesn’t take significantly longer than it would with snap-fit parts. If the glue is too strong, you have to pry things out with a tool, or (if the glue is stronger than the plastic itself) you have to release the glue somehow. Most glues can be released by dissolving them in nasty solvents like acetone, or burning them off in a furnace, but some glues dissolve in water, and other glues melt at low enough temperatures that your plastic parts won’t be affected. The advantage of dissolving or melting your adhesives is that then they can be removed from your parts, avoiding the problem of getting gunk in the recycling furnaces.

Read the rest of this entry »

Using Metal

November 8th, 2006

by Jeremy Faludi

This week’s episode of green design for Exbiblio is about metal. They recently decided to change plans about how the first release of the oPen will be made–instead of the whole body being recycled injection-molded plastic, most of the body will be an aluminum extrusion with holes machined into it for the screen and buttons, and there’ll just be plastic bits on the ends, much like an iPod Nano. The reasons for this had to do with schedule and design flexibility–we have a very tight schedule to make, and need to get to production as soon as possible, but still have not nailed down all of the design considerations. Using an extrusion with machined holes gives us a great deal of flexibility, as machining can be reprogrammed at any time to cut different holes, and extrusions are fast and easy to get into production–easier than injection-molding.

Using aluminum instead of plastic does increase the device’s environmental impact, in three ways: first, aluminum is more energy-intensive to produce than plastic; second, it’s more energy-intensive to manufacture with and requires harder tooling; third, having the case be made out of multiple different materials makes it harder to recycle because it needs to be more carefully disassembled and sorted. With a device this small, we need disassembly time to be extremely short, otherwise it won’t be worth anyone’s while to recycle it, because the amount of plastic and metal you get for the amount of time spent is small. I’ll talk more about design for disassembly in a later post.

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Using recycled plastic

October 16th, 2006

by Jeremy Faludi

Exbiblio oPEN

Originally we had planned for the oPen’s case to be injection-molded out of plastic or other materials with plastic’s useful properties. We’ve since revised that (and I’ll describe what we’re doing now in another post), but I thought it would still be helpful to describe the process of choosing a good plastic and publish the data that would help other companies with similar products make their own choices.

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Worldchanging Book Party

October 13th, 2006

by Jeremy Faludi

In addition to contracting for Exbiblio as their green design consultant, I consult for other companies and write for, a green design / technology / policy journal. Worldchanging’s mission is to find and share tools, models and ideas which offer solutions to the planet’s biggest problems. We’ve won multiple awards and have hundreds of thousands of readers around the world, and our book–Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century–brings together the best, most hopeful and most effective ideas we’ve found so far. I was just one of many authors who contributed; the subjects include everything from green product design to megacities to international development, from energy to water to culture and politics, from wood stoves to biotech and nanotech.

The Seattle book release party will be October 28, 7:30pm, at Town Hall, $5 at the door. Bruce Sterling and our executive editor, Alex Steffen, will be on stage discussing the future of sustainability; then a reception and after-party will follow. It’ll be a lot of fun, if you like smart green futurists and such, so come check it out!

Feel free to forward this invitation widely. If you don’t live in Seattle, come to our book parties in other cities, such as Portland, Vancouver, New York, San Francisco, etc. (Details here.)

Hope to see you there!

Jeremy Faludi
design, consulting

Career Fair Fun

October 2nd, 2006

Career Fair

The team had a great time last week at the career fair, a huge thank you to Lauren who pulled everything together on our side, and to Redfin for coordinating the event. We were asked great questions, people had good ideas, and we received much encouragement for both our product and our business philosophy. We’ll definitely be planning to attend and potentially facilitate some our own recruiting events in the future!

by Edward Mahlum

Back to School

September 28th, 2006

By Ariel van Spronsen

Allen Library

Today is my first day back to school, entering the second and final year of my Master’s degree at the University of Washington.. The energy on campus is amazing, especially as compared to how quiet it was the week I was here for the Information Architecture Summer Institute. This feeling of starting anew every fall is one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about returning to school after 10 years. There is a cycle to it, a sense of beginning and end. I remember transitioning into full time work after I finished my undergraduate degree, and after a year or so, realizing that there was no end. I would work for the rest of my life. These days I’ve found work that I am happy to do for the rest of my life, but at that time it was a depressing thought.

I’m going to be doing things a little differently this year – I’ll be working with Exbiblio part time and taking only two classes per quarter. It’s going to be interesting to see how I manage shifting gears between my student and professional lives. Fortunately I have strong role model in john durand, who is currently doing his MBA while working full time at Exbiblio. Another difference for me this year is that I will be carrying my sexy Exbiblio-issue MacBook Pro to school. I have a laptop PC at home, but it’s large and powerful and not meant to be portable on a daily basis. The Mac, so far, has been much more convenient. I’ve already used it to catch up on Exbiblio email and blogs, as well as review course syllabi in advance of my first classes, and also to type this post while eating lunch in the HUB.

I also just spent several hundred dollars on books for my classes. One of my books, “Looking for Information” by Donald Case, was nearly $100 on its own. When I spend this much money on books I always have a little inner struggle over marking them up. Highlights and notes make a world of difference to how I review information that I’ve read, and also help me to set knowledge in my head. Effective highlighting can mean a huge time savings when I sit down to write papers and have to go back to original sources to locate support for my points. I think I’m going to be an interesting test case for the oPen. I’m going to try using it to highlight and annotate virtually. The important thing is that this be easier than I’ll be a very happy camper. It will have to be easy enough that it weighs positively against marking up my precious, expensive books.

Wish me luck!

Website Design Review

September 1st, 2006

Web Site Design Meeting

Earlier today I presented my preliminary design proposal to a group of Exbiblio team members including Ania, Martin, Jesse, Ed Tang, Ed Mahlum, Adam, and Hugh. The meeting was held as a review point at the boundary between the planning and development portions of the redesign effort. When it comes to building things, I’m of the “measure twice, cut once” mindset. Careful planning and consideration does much to prevent having to do the whole thing over again.

On the other hand, change is the only constant, and a web development effort should plan for change so that the redesign effort results in a scalable solution. As Peter Morville put it, we can avoid “The Infinite Loop of Destructive Creation” by seeing a web effort as a program rather than a project (for more of Peter’s thoughts on this topic, see his article entitled The Speed of Information Architecture). Web Site Design MeetingThis is a sentiment that was echoed during the meeting today, as we stand poised at the transition to product launch, creating a need for growth in web-based user support.

The group generated some excellent structural suggestions that will be considered in the final site design, proposing changes to navigation elements and reinforcing the need for fresh content at regular intervals. But what struck me most were the deeper levels of thought. A major topic of conversation was how we will use the site to not only communicate from the company, but to also encourage participation and communication into the company. I think it’s rather unique that we are not only are we talking about citizenship, but we’re also actively looking for ways that we enact and cocreate citizenship with our users.

All in all, I thought it was a highly successful review. Thanks go out to the participants for their focus and attention during the meeting. On to processing everything we’ve discussed into a final design proposal!

By Ariel van Spronsen

Falstaff Software

August 29th, 2006

SpencerHi, This is Spencer Bliven. I’m a summer intern/part-time software engineer at Exbiblio. I thought I’d let you know about a part of Falstaff that I’ve been working on.

As the first hardware comes together, we on the software side have been hurrying to make sure that drivers and applications are in place so that the hardware can actually do something when it is finished.

There are a number of steps to go from a scan on the pen to text on your screen. First, the data must be transfered to your computer over USB. This can either happen right when you scan, if the pen is connected, or it can happen later when you next connect the pen to the computer.

The scans work by taking a series of small images as you drag the pen across the paper.

Best Conditions0000 Best Conditions0001 Best Conditions0002 Best Conditions0003 Best Conditions0004

This can be thought of as a video of what the pen sees, although it is at a very low frame rate. The next step towards extracting text is to stitch the small overlapping frames into one large image. We humorously call this process ‘storting,’ defined as the reverse of ‘distorting.’

David Warman has written a good program that takes the rotate, skewed, blotchy images we get from the pen and ‘storts’ them into a single image. The basic principle is the same as using Photoshop to stitch together several photos to form a panorama.


After a single image has been produced we perform OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to convert it into text. This text is finally sent to the Life Library application as a capture: every pose, v

By Spencer Bliven


August 25th, 2006

We’ve been using the name Falstaff to refer to our first prototype of the oPen. Falstaff will have three printed circuit boards (PCBs) to connect all of its electronic components: a processor board that has the processor, RAM, and ROM; an input/output board that has the buttons and lights; and an image-sensor board that, you guessed it, holds the image sensor and illumination lights.

Exbiblio Falstaff

Here’s a picture of Rev 1 of the Falstaff processor board which was completed on Wednesday. This board has eight layers of electrical connections through wires that are only 3 thousandths of an inch wide. The next step in the manufacturing process is to solder all the components onto this “bare” board.

Why isn’t this PCB green?

The color of a circuit board comes from the outer layer which is called a “solder mask.” The solder mask covers all the wires to protect them, but leaves holes where the components are soldered to the board. Without solder mask, PBCs are a dirty-yellow color. For some reason, most circuit boards are made with green solder mask, but the manufacturers have many colors to choose from. Since future revisions of this board may look very similar, it is handy to make each revision of the board a different color so that it is easy to tell them apart.

By Ian MacDuff