Chapter 2

Success and Opportunity

This chapter concerns working on a computing project as a way to start a business. Business success often begins by creating a new thing to meet real needs. The new approach can be better in varied modes, e.g., cost - cheaper; speed - faster; convenience - greater accessibility; etc. The nature of computer technology supports many of these types of improvements. Rapid decreases in computing hardware cost cause most areas to be open to new software based products and innovations .

Obtaining the greatest payoff from work done in a limited time-period involves several

management steps. They consist of: 1) initiating a planning process; 2) sustaining oneself and one's associates in working together; and, 3) growing in knowledge, competence, and actual execution of the tasks needed to accomplish the work. Tasks are components of the overall concept, that support the project goals. People contributing to a project need to exert management effort in determining exactly what tasks need to be done.

Determining what to work on remains the single issue for most people. The computer is like a universal machine: something that can fit into almost any area. The knowledge needed to employ computer technology doesn't require long years of study. Both statements open the way to activity. A look at products ranging from spreadsheets to financial management software offers a guide to the inspiration that can lead to software development. Several computer software products came about because someone became interested in a topic and found a way to harness computers to do something better.

The computer design project can be a chance to build a prototype, a beginning version of a product. It also can enable gaining information to determine whether it is realistic to make a product: can it be the basis of a business? Even personally motivated investments of time and effort in software design can have economically useful results. The opportunity to benefit from a project depends on the work, the setting and how well it is presented to potential users. Describing and communicating about an innovation is itself an activity. Using the material presented here to enhance skill in exposition can lead to benefits of success from the computer work.

In sum, there is a corollary to the principle that nothing substantial comes for free. The corollary is that potentially there is great-reward possible from work in this field. It is worth doing the work extremely well. Benefits come from dedication to schedules, completion and excellence. "The world will beat a path to the door of one who builds a better mousetrap." The same principle holds in computing.

2.1 Proposals and Business Start-up.

A complete written report describing the work done, and the future elements to be finished, can be used to generate future funding leading to a real product. We call that item the project report. If it is complete, clear and descriptive of some substantial work, it is likely to support ultimate success. The project report is always more than a class exercise. It is useful as an early version of at least three different things: a proposal, a business-plan, and part of a work portfolio. Each of these things is a paper viewed from and tailored to a business-perspective, i.e., a purposeful, structured item that supports decision-making (fund/avoid-funding, invest/avoid-investing, hire/avoid-hiring).

Nothing shows the professional standards for a paper better than direct examination, reading, or study of papers published in classic quality journals. Usually the high-quality items appear in ACM and IEEE publications, Science magazine, and special-interest publications. Survey papers in Computing Surveys, Scientific American, and Byte and other trade magazines also yield valuable information about their articles' subjects, and also a clear reflection of the high quality, the overall level of writing and drawing required to do a competent job. Also see the references at chapter end.

The many kinds of papers used in business all include more material usable for making a subsequent decision. To see the idea we can describe the business viewpoint as de-emphasis of concrete content, and highlighting the use that will made of the paper. One of the formal ways this is done is via a proposal. In a sentence, a proposal is written to obtain future funding to complete technical work that it describes, and that often has already begun.

Proposals are just one typical business writing mode. One strategy in planning a project report is to think of it as the technical part of a proposal: everything but the budget. Another mode is the business-plan, something that is proposal-like, but describes the projections or prospects of a new commercial venture. It adds detail about future efforts and probable market-reactions that go beyond the specific things in a proposal. A portfolio is simply a collection of samples of your work. That is, a thing you did that you can show to a prospective employer. Regardless of which business-form you keep in mind when writing a project report, remember always that in some sense every paper is (or can be made to be) a proposal. With this principle in mind, you can shift your project's emphasis in your own mind. Instead of it being a chore, something to do as a task for others, you can make it be a tool to further your ambition. The project report is then a beginning stage of your business plan if you intend to start a business, or part of a portfolio you can use to seek employment. General considerations about the report and its relationship to your economic objectives follow.

Proposal. The proposal is constrained by the initial information. Usually that is formal: given via a statement called a request for proposals (RFP). Frequently the RFP specifies page limits, sections to be included, e.g., abstract or summary, description of proposed work, biographical and institutional qualifying data, technical facilities and other references to be used, and a budget.

Business Plan. The market for your product, your expected growth and financing method, projections detailing what you see as technical and financial opportunities and obstacles, are part a business plan. There are books and computer programs that assist in preparing a business plan.

Although the next heading is portfolio, almost everything that follows applies to all kind of uses of project reports, so they are germane in the proposal and business plan cases as well.

Portfolio. The word letter-perfect should describes anything, you would like to show to others. This means carefully checking and completely correcting any noted flaws, e.g. spelling. So you always should use a computer spelling check program to locate spelling errors and typographic flaws before considering any project draft finished and worthy of dissemination. The point is that all elements in a portfolio indicate capability. The portfolio is a display of the work quality its owner can perform.

2.2 Possible Projects

This section lists ten descriptions of possible projects. For four, we also give short statements that are starting points to anyone interested in undertaking those tasks. This list gives ten possible computer design projects, some based on hardware, others on software:

1. Re-chargeable debit card. A secure and non-transferrable card for government-provided services. The design replaces food stamps; it eliminates their resale black market.

2. Jitney system. A mini-van and standard-sedan system of routes for transporting people. The system should carry passengers throughout the greater Los Angeles region with 5 to 15 minute waiting times at selected boarding/de-embarking stations.

3. Shopper's tour. A life-like or virtual-reality system. This is able to present the variety of choices of motion, viewing, and goods-selection present in department- and (large, grocery) supermarket-stores to handicapped individuals unable to go there in person.

4. Creditable freeway-access card: smart-card for entry. Possessing an embedded chip, this functions as does plastic for parking-structure-access. Card balances reflect off-peak-use and public-service credits, rush-hour-use debits, etc. Work can be on a software design.

5. Anonymous secure e-mail voting. Allows balloting by electronic mail through sender authentication. Protects anonymity of sender with regard to specific vote on issues.

6. Screen-reading software. Many people with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, can benefit from both audio and visual feedback from electronic text materials to improve their reading comprehension. Existing DOS software incorporates text-highlighting, speech-synthesizer output, and user-control (over speech-rate, text-style, background colors, etc.). People need similar programs that run with other user-oriented operating systems (at least Windows and Mac-OS) and key application programs. A simple low-cost program would benefit millions of computer users, with and without learning disabilities.

7. Web browser for visually-impaired - C, E. Browsers for the world-wide web (WWW), such as Netscape and Mosaic, present problems for visually-impaired users who work with Braille displays and voice output. Character-based browsers such as Lynx running via telnet under UNIX are accessible to these users, but the client-server version, DOS Lynx (source code available), needs a lot of work to be fully-usable, and its developers are not upgrading it. An upgrade would serve thousands of blind computer users.

8. Printer innovation. Rethink current technology for color printers. Create a new approach that prints on both sides of a page. Compare cost/packaging to an existing color printer.

9. Computer interface innovation. Create a new kind of control device. Consider pointing enabled by a computer mouse and involve all possible motions and control acts, like speaking. Expand the range of human interaction with computer materials from text, numeric and visual data to sound, motion, animation, spatial depth, etc.

10. Suite-software aides. Devise a multi-software-platform navigator. Consider a help system

to allow working in an editor/word-processor while seeking information about a spreadsheet. Enable logical organization of key ideas such as menus/sub-menus so they can be more easily learned, and so that differences in design philosophy of varied applications are made clear.

Some starting points about four project-descriptions follow:

2. Operations research includes many mathematical computer programs that solve issues of interest in planning a jitney system. One could begin this task by investigating the availability of linear programming, transportation and transshipment, and integer-programming computer routines at a large computer center. Another approach could be based on a technical or research library. One could begin by investigating articles in current technical journals, or relevant textbooks, that include any of these terms.

4. Designing smart-cards is also something that can begin by using technical journals or other materials in a library. Alternatively, by extrapolating from current integrated circuit properties one can make reasonable hardware assumptions. These assumptions can support or provide the framework for beginning a software design.

6. Screen-reading software is needed by people with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, or limited vision. Using the telephone directory contact a major corporation or an organization aiding those with such disabilities. After an interview in person or over the phone with a knowledgeable individual, write a series of work statements for a project in this area.

8. Consider unconventional ideas for printers. What could be the replacement for a color printer? Is there anything you can do to replace paper with another medium?

2.3 Interest

Since any creative effort begins with an idea and concludes successfully only because of sustained effort, a major component of good work is finding a way to keep it interesting. In a way anything can be turned into a source of stimulation. For example, some devices that stimulate anagrams are practical or playful requirements that require rearrangements of letters, as in advertising names for new products based on initial letters, the Newsweek Internet puzzle (see exercise), and the naming of projects or software. Many other rearrangements of letters (... and sometimes of numbers, as in exercise) sometimes become practical, as in the cases of palindromes; crossword puzzle questions; geographical places with pre-selected initial letters; arithmetic equations from a number sequence in left-right order (the date, the digits 1, ..., 9) by inserting +, -, , *, (, ) symbols; general mnemonic devices such as the scheme for recalling the names of the five U.S. great lakes; acronyms; magic squares; childrens' alphabet-book schemes, as A is for animal ... Z is for zebra; and many other simple structures (in board and card games and elsewhere). Careful choice of key names can increase the expressions willingness of workers to act - that is why janitors are called sanitary engineers; garbage disposal, waste management; etc. Ultimately the only authority on what interests someone; that individual and interest often fluctuates. So remembering that we all start with blank pages, that writers block sometimes keeps the page blank a long time, the best thing to do to create and sustain your own interest is to put goals forward.

The purpose of stating a goal to oneself is just to know that there is some specific thing you wish to accomplish by a date. However, imperfectly you do it in the first try, it is far better to have something in hand that met a goal you once perceived as an interesting step toward a destination, than to continue to face that blank page or computer screen. So what makes something interesting. How do you choose a thing to do to move a project forward? In a concise phrase, you try any creative thing, i.e., you act.

In acting you want to move something forward. That means you'd like to create something positive. If it is positive but after you evaluate what you've done you find it doesn't really address the goal you started with you have an interesting possible option. You can change your goal. Remember serendipity. It is always your choice: you are in charge of your project you define it. You select what you think you can accomplish. You choose the format and style of the division of labor for, and the goals of your project and the reports that document it.

2.4 Protecting Intellectual Property

The copyright and patent processes are the formalities for ensuring that what you create benefits you and no one else unless you two enter into an agreement. The copyright is simple to obtain and involves little or no cost. It also provides only partial protection. The patent is difficult to obtain, involves substantial financial expense, and can be extremely valuable. Some organization pay all the costs for obtaining patent protection. Academic institutions may then share relinquishing all patent ownership as a condition employment. Nevertheless it is usually in the interests of an employee to disclose his/her invention the the employer's patent office. This is true first of all because of the large cost of patenting. Yet, generally patenting is recognized as a sign of valuable contribution to an organization's work, and is rewarded by extra responsibilities and opportunities (and sometimes financially).

To copyright an author simply writes on the work a statement that reserves the rights to its use. The law allows only the copyright owner to sell such a copyrighted work. However, excerpts may be quoted: its ideas are public. Only the complete and exact original work is owned .

To patent both a disclosure and a claim must be created and filed along with information about the prior art. That information can be sought out through records of previous patents on similar topics. The disclosure or teaching needs to enable a skilled practitioner in the art to reduce the ideas to practice, i.e., make something that works. The claim is a series of statements about what has been originated designed to be as broad as possible. If the patent is granted, its value will lie in the exclusive rights to the capabilities or processes presented in the claim.

2.5 Examples

This section conveys imperfect writing with general issues the errors evoke and suggested changes. This material is presented here to highlight the fact that the written report is often the key to opportunity. A project can be improved by conveying what was done well. Organization and clear writing of a technical report works in a similar way to other aspects of appearance: the simplest examples are the personal, e.g., clothing and grooming .

In the following examples adapted from student drafts appear in Figure 2.1. The original text is supplemented by suggested improvements. Several principles also are presented in this figure. The principles enable organization of a project, and hence are discussed in the next section.

Written Reports - Comments and Procedures

Students Wrote General Guideline, Suggested Change

I had also planned to place ... Avoid historical exposition. Focus on what you did, are-doing. The original plan had ...

It was decided ... Avoid passive voice.

... are required ... We chose, we use, we present, we show ....

... are explained in greater detail ...

Figure 1 is a figure showing ... Avoid overworking words and phrases: only once per sentence. Figure 1 presents ...

Easily, efficiently, extensive ... Avoid self-praise.

... important ... most challenging ... The advantages, constraints, limitations are ...

... was quite a difficult process ...

The user ... They ... Use singular and plural consistently.

This will be explained in detail Use locations instead of plans. Subordinate by parenthesis.

in a following section. (See Section , pp. .)

Please note that this is a basic Be straightforward. Say it directly. Don't overreach.

overview of the most This section presents an overview of the most important steps

important steps. ... including only essential details of a preliminary design.

... provides a clear upgrade path ... provides a clear upgrade path between the products.

between the products thus The plan provides needed ingredients for a complete product line.

providing all the ingredients (Note elimination of overworked words; sentence punctuation.)

needed for a successful product line.

Figure 2.1 Examples of Improving a Written Report with General Suggestions

2.6 Projects

The notion of a project is of something of substance. In writing about the work one seeks to convey that substance, whether it is information, specific material, result of research, or a plan for decision-making. The key things to do are highlighted by following basic principles of composing a technical report that are presented here in Figure 2.2.

Several needs that could be built into projects follow. Suggestions for ways to get material to start a project also appear in the list below.

1. Online research. Design a system to assists a world wide web user in performing research. The system should be inobtrusive in recording notes as a search is conducted. It should not require a user to change actions and should function without interrupting the sequence of search actions [4].

2. Internet tools. Design a way to cross-reference and maintain material found by internet and world wide web search. Frequent use of internet tools to locate programs may lead to noncurrent versions being used. Obtain means for automatic tracking of date of such searches. Design a compatible means for storing world wide web bookmark information to track last update. Automatically maintain current programs and bookmarks [3.c, 4].

3. Books and magazines. Many people are unable to afford hardcopy but may be benefitted by electronic forms of books and magazines. Review enough of the sources listed in Figure 2.3 to get an idea of the limitations and advantages of reading from a computer screen. Design software to facilitate using electronic text versions of books and magazines for educational or recreational purposes in poor countries.

4. License Plates. Books have been published containing strange license plates. For a view of some visit the world wide web site Design a vanity license indexing scheme for use by a person seeking to create an original plate on a theme.

Basic Reporting Principles

Write simple declarative sentences.

Section titles without abbreviations.

Abstracts without neologisms.

Start a sentence with a simple statement

Avoid preliminary and parenthetical phrases.

Vary the paragraph/sentence starting phrase and style.

Always computer-check the spelling.

Figure 2.2 Procedures for Creating a Written Report

Locating High Quality Text Information on the Internet

The following suggestions were published May 20, 1996 by Daniel Akst in the Los Angeles Times:

Books beyond copyright

Magazines Salon Mississippi Review


Figure 2.3 World Wide Web Universal Resource Locators for Books and Periodicals

2.7 Exercises.

1. Write a work statement for a task you believe should be done to develop one odd-numbered project in section 2.2. (The work statement lists things you would need to have completed if you were supervising a project team working on the item you select.)

2. Create a system for proposing possible interpretations for acronyms that are unknown to a user. Begin with the explanatory text and acronyms (items in capital-letters) that follow.

INS - Inertial Navigation Set. Provides the aircraft with position, velocity, and acceleration data through the use of accelerometers, gyros, and an embedded CPU.

GPS - Global Positioning System. A navigation device that uses a set of 24 satellites to determine position and velocity..

DP - Display Processor. Aircraft use of an MFD, CRT, and HUD (Heads-Up-Display). The DP inputs data from the mission computer then generates the appropriate symbols on the HUD and MFD.

Three more devices that will be on the Avionics Bus are the SCADC, IDAP, and DSS.

SCADC - Standard Central Air Data Computer. This unit takes raw data ... Mach, airspeed, air density, etc

IDAP - Integrated Defense Avionics Program. A group of black boxes that perform ... ECM

3. Use the world wide web to locate a quotation to include in a fount of wisdom. Consider [4] and Figure 2.3 as potential starting points in locating sources.

4. Contact an organization aiding the disabled and write up a description of a needed project [5].

5. Describe an image processing invention to assist in composing feature films incorporating photographic images with cartoons [6].

6. A patent contains two parts: teaching and claim. The teaching expresses what it is that has been done using diagrams as needed. Make up a hypothetical invention and write a patent application teaching section to describe it [7, 8].

2.8 References

[1] Hines, J., "Pretty good privacy," IEEE Spectrum, 32:9, September, 1995, p. 22.

[2] Garfinkel, S., PGP, Sebastapol, California:O'Reilly & Associates, 1995 (103A Morris St., Sebastapol, California 95472; email: <>.

[3] a. Electronic Privacy Information Center, 202 544-9240;

b. Electronic Frontier Foundation, 202 861-7700.

......c. CyberMedia Inc., 310 581-4700 (Oil Change Internet product-upgrade/fix search utility)..

[4] Thomas, B., The Internet for Scientists and Engineers -1996 Edition, ISBN 0-8194-2148-0, Bellingham, Washington: SPIE Press, 1996; <>;

[5] a. IBM National Support Center for Persons with Disabilities, P.O. Box 2150, Atlanta, Georgia 30055, 800 426-2133; b. UCLA Disabilities and Computing Program, 5628 MSA, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90095-1557 (Campus 155705), 310 206-7133, email: <>; c.Center for the Partially Sighted, 720 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 200, Santa Monica, California 90401, 310 458-3501

[6] Weeks, A., Fundamentals of Electronic Image Processing, ISBN 0-8194-2180-4, Bellingham, Washington: SPIE Press, 1996; <>;

[7] Lechter, M., Ed., Successful Patents and Patenting for Engineers and Scientists, ISBN 0-7803-1086-1, Bellingham, Washington: SPIE Press, 1995; <>;

[8] De Forest, T. , Inventor's Guide to Successful Patent Applications, NY: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1988:TAB Books, ISBN 0-8306-9335-1.