Sunday, January 17, 2016

Makerthreads Wants To Teach You To Code And More With A SCIO

My name is Dan Graboi. I'm the founder and CEO of Makerthreads.  Makerthreads is an education company dedicated to developing products that make learning about programming and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) easy, fun, engaging, and accessible to everyone.
Before starting Makerthreads, I was a consultant for 20 years in the health technology industry.  I developed machines to rapidly synthesize potential new drugs (“candidates”), and confirm their molecular structure using fast supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC) instrumentation.  Moving on, I helped develop and test medical devices for life support (ventilators) and pulmonary function testing (PFT).  During those years I held titles of Chief Scientist and Principal Scientist.  It was very satisfying, working to help keep people alive.
As a child I was attracted to science and technology.  I was lucky to have a dad that took the cars out of the garage and created a workshop-laboratory instead so I could work on my hobby - electronics.  In high school, I designed an electronic teaching machine.  In college, I put the radio station together. The graduate school I attended was called The Center for Cognitive Processing (CHIP) at the University of California, San Diego.  There I did experiments to learn more about how human perception, memory, and attention work.  I took a year's leave of absence from graduate school to work for IBM at the Boston Programming Center.  We worked on the development of a new computer language called FORMAC.  There I learned extensively about programming, including assembly language, and the internals of programming languages and compilers. IBM gave me the keys to the 7th floor of the building that housed the giant mainframe that ran the entire building.  I would come in at night, turn the whole thing on, get the wall of tape drives going, the rows and rows of disk drives, and the high-speed chain printer which could pump pages and pages of print out per second!  That was fun.
The Ellen B Scripps

I learned about today's electronics while working at Scripps Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP); we made underwater and on land capsules that would record seismic events.  While on the Ellen B Scripps ship, we would drop the capsules overboard.  Weeks later, explosive bolts would release them from their ocean-bottom tripod mounts, and they would float to the surface.  We found them using radio direction finders.  That too was fun.
I always loved learning and thought I would one day become a teacher.  My career has given me several teaching opportunities.  With instructional videos, I taught engineers how to service a pre-Internet communications program on the Control Data CYBER 18 mini-computer.  At another time I was the Director of Education at a San Diego company called, Action Instruments, one of the first makers of computers specifically for industrial use.  There I put together and taught a course on industrial computers.  And I had several years of work on a dolphin communications project headed by Dr. John Lilly, who said that ‘We don't have to look in outer space for aliens to communicate with, dolphins are right here on our own planet and we should learn to communicate with them.’
The Epiphany:
A few years ago I came to a realization that I wanted to give back in some way.  I've had my wonderful garage-laboratory in my home in Encinitas, CA all this time.  I thought, I can make anything tech that I want!  I decided to create an educational product.
Today, Americans have incredible electronic components.  But there is a critical shortage in our country of young people who understand how to program them.  Makerthreads was founded in order to provide a spark to ignite passion in all people who may have an inclination towards science and technology.
In order to teach something, I know you must make every step along the way easy and interesting.  After working with perhaps 30 different computer languages, I always come back to BASIC as the absolute simplest language to introduce people to the concepts of programming.  Bill Gates also loves BASIC.  The SFC system I mentioned above was done entirely in VISUAL BASIC 6, perhaps one of the greatest languages of all time, now gone.  When I discovered the BASIC PRO language developed by Mikroelektronika, and saw how it performed on the fabulous "PIC" microcontrollers made by Microchip, it was clear that the product I would make to teach programming of real-time systems, of microcontroller-based devices that work on the Internet of Things, would be first programmed in BASIC PRO.
Mitchell, my adult son, came up with the name for our first product, “SCIO,” pronounced, “SKEE-oh.”  It is the root of the word “SCIENCE” and means, “to know.” Designing SCIO was challenging since it had to be more than simply a printed circuit board that plugged into a computer. It had to have an environment on the PC that allowed developing programs for the Microchip PIC microcontroller as well as allowing the PIC to perform operations that would involve the Internet as well as the Windows operating system (and also permitting battery operation).  And, beyond that, it had to integrate education at every step.
Fortuitously, Mitchell had a great professor at Mira Costa College.  Mitchell mentioned to him that he was involved in a start-up that could "change everything" in the field of technology education.  When we met and explained SCIO to professor Eric Robertson, he decided to become a part of the effort, supplying much needed assistance in marketing and other areas where Mitchell and I lacked experience.
So far, being entrepreneurs has been immensely rewarding.  The events that happen are often surprising and go beyond what we ever imagined.  We are meeting interesting people, learning new things every day, and are energized by the thought that what we are doing will help people grow.
But, the proof will be in the pudding.  So far, this adventure has cost money. And, so far, no money has been made!  Eric pointed out to us (paraphrasing the Bhagavad Gita) that, "We are entitled to our labor, but not necessarily the fruits of our labor" -- an important principle.  We have many more ideas we would like to productize and insert into the culture of the world. But first things first - we are starting with SCIO and will measure our ability to do more with its success.

From left to right: Eric, Mitchell, and Dan with SCIO

Our vision for our company is to move out of the garage and into our own campus.  We have already picked out the perfect location for the campus.  We know that the "campus" will likely start with one or two rooms in a building.  We want to attract the highest quality of educators, presenters, skilled videographers, scientists, programmers and engineers.  This will require more funds.  Our first step is to launch our product on Kickstarter.  We are poised to grow and can't wait to see what happens!
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