Posts by mzero_admin

My Dad finished a tour of duty as a tank commander in Vietnam, and returned home to life in rural North Carolina.  Shortly after, he was married with a child on the way (me).  Mechanically inclined, he soon found a job as a third-shift loom fixer at Cone Mills in North Carolina. Somewhere along the line, he came across a computer.

You have to grasp the setting and the momentous hurdles that propelled my Dad. With technology as ubiquitous as it is these days it is hard to imagine, but my dad grew up technologically hindered. He was the middle of 12 children in a home that did not have running water until after he came back from Vietnam. A flush toilet was not installed until the early 80’s at grandpas.

Technology bit my Dad. That computer sparked a vision. He recognized that the computer was going to revolutionize America. He began taking classes through a technical college in computer programming. I still remember the punch cards on which he saved his programs. Then he bought his first computer – laughably bulky in today’s standards with a connecting amber screen. There was no sort of game to entice (Pacman had not been invented yet) or even a graphic user interface to grab attention – but my Dad was smitten.

Today my Dad is a Senior Programmer and Analyst for a major Pharmaceutical company. He gets lost in the beauty of code – the mixed collection of garbled syntax to the undiscerning eye is an open book to him. It is there he finds glimpses of personality and even traces of humor left by the programmer. He knows the old mainframe computer languages (like FORTRAN), loves Visual Basic, and C+ and a host of other programming languages.

So, why did I write an article on my Dad on a technology blog? Because, he instilled in me a spark while I was still a child.  Before it was common to find a computer in everyone’s home, he dreamed of creating a company that would develop “automated homes.” He taught me to open my mind to possibility and to consider the potential of things not yet considered. Automated Homes and Self-Service Solutions are not too far apart.  Maybe his dream spilled over.

This story of sparked imagination is common to the industry.  The dreamers, the visionaries, they had the ability to see something in this thing called technology that opened the world to possibilities unknown. Over the next several blog post, I want to share with you a vision of where I think this technology in Self-Service Solutions may take us.

Brian Sykes, Director of Marketing

– – – Brian spoke with Ted Natt of The Pilot to give him a heads up on the Design Pods initiative.  This is a copy of his article for the paper.  Enjoy!

Ted M. Natt Jr., staff writer | Posted: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 11:55 am

Brian Sykes had two internships in college that were interesting but unfulfilling because neither gave him true workplace experience nor a sense of accomplishment.

“A traditional two-week window is a very limited exposure for accomplishing any in-depth track of learning,” said Sykes, director of marketing at Meridian Zero Degrees in Aberdeen. “Most of the time, there is little true job training, just free-reign access to the tools of the trade.”

So Sykes developed a workplace initiative called Design Pods, which he believes creates an environment for students at Sandhills Community College to collaborate, explore and discover.

A Design Pod is a small work-study that partners departments into a unit to tackle defined projects within a block of time — in this case, the fall quarter at SCC.

“I wanted to create a solution to give college students a real-life work experience that would take them out of the classroom,” Sykes said last week. “Nothing like this has ever been done before.”

The initial Design Pod team consists of nine second-year SCC students, including four majoring in computer programming, two from simulation and game design, and one each from network technology, computer engineering and digital media.

“They have decided to create a self-service indoor kiosk that will simplify student interactions within the campus,” Sykes said. “I’ve told them to step outside the box. They’ve got some very creative concepts, such as wayfinding, students forms and quick-notes to faculty.

“Their solution then becomes something we can productize and take to other campuses.”

In addition to new products, Sykes sees the initiative as a way to recruit future employees to Meridian Zero.

“We need two computer programmers right now,” he noted.

Chris Gilder, founder and CEO of Meridian Zero, said the initiative fulfills the self-service solutions company’s longtime desire to work closely with the college.

“We’d love to be able to hire more people locally,” Gilder said. “Right now, all of our software developers are in Canada. We’d like to build a software development team here to work hand-in-hand with them. We’d like to create a talent pool down here and actually have jobs for them to go to.

“I think this is a great opportunity not just for us, but for the students and the college. I think there will be a lot of opportunities for everyone involved.”

SCC President John Dempsey called the initiative “a dream come true for us.”

“Meridian Zero is a very creative, very interesting company,” Dempsey said. “Design Pods is a cool thing. This is pretty cutting-edge stuff, so we are extremely excited to have our students involved. It’s a mutually beneficial situation.”

Joshua Oglesbee, 36, a computer programming major who went back to school after a back injury ended his career at an industrial plant in Sanford, said the students control the project but are under the gun to complete it by December.

“The biggest challenge is the time frame we’ve been given,” Oglesbee said. “We basically have eight weeks left. It’s going to take a lot of time, effort and resources. But it’s a great experience for everybody.”

Oglesbee said the initial team also wants to “build a solid foundation” for its successors.

“It’s an exciting project that is going to continue,” he said. “The possibilities are endless.”

Paul Steel, department chairman of computer technologies at SCC, said the college has partnered with a “world class” company in Meridian Zero.

“The students are engaged with Meridian Zero, which is giving them a lot of resources,” Steel said. “This is as close as the students will get, while still being in school, to having a real job. I am absolutely astounded at how the students are engaging in this project, taking it to heart and going full bore.

“I’d love to see the project continue in perpetuity.”

Dempsey said the initiative helps the college “erase the disconnect” between Meridian Zero’s hiring needs and its inability to employ qualified local workers.

“Everybody knows the good old-fashioned jobs are in decline and aren’t going to be around,” he said. “Meridian Zero is a real ray of sunlight in our economic landscape.”

Sykes said the students will share their progress on Facebook and YouTube before making a formal presentation in December.

“They’ll be able to showcase the development in real time,” he said, “and then present their project just as you would in a corporate environment. This initiative involves students, from the ground up, in real-life scenarios without the stress of the real world.”

In the annals of technology, one major milestone I would consider most do not hold knowledge of  is The Plato Hotline.  In 1977, Murray Lappe, a pre-med student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, developed the very first self-service, interactive kiosk.

To put in perspective the novelty of this machine – the first GUI (Graphical User Interface) was not yet in commercial use via the Apple LISA (which debuted in 1983) and the Apple Macintosh 128k (1984).  It was not until the early 1980’s that the term home personal-computer would be used. In fact, the later 70’s were still standard users of the punch card system of storing FORTRAN programs. I remember these from the days when my Dad was taking programming classes at the local community college. The internet, though a functional system with the military, did not yet have mainstream use – – – that would not occur until a decade later in the mid-80’s.

The Plato Hotline’s content was created on a PLATO computer system.

PLATO computer system

PLATO computer system

Interaction with this kiosk was done through a Plasma touch screen panel which was co-invented in 1964 at the University of Illinois by engineer Donald L. Bitzer. (Blitzer is currently a Distinguished University Research Professor in the Department of Computer Science at NC State University).

The Plato Hotline provided students with a way to discover movies, view maps, directories, bus schedules, extracurricular activities and college courses.  When the unit debuted April 1977, it is reported that over 30,000 students, teachers and visitors stood in line for over 6 hours for a chance to interact with this “personal computer” for the first time. Lappe and Blitzer seems to have been ahead of their time. An extra tech-history tid-bit… this was a full month before the first Star Wars debuted (or is that now considered the 4th) .

The very first self-service interactive kiosk was made for and at a university.  Though the industry has spread across a myriad of other industries, still today we at Meridian work with a number of University, College and other school systems to provide self-service solutions that accomplish a great many of the same things that The Plato Hotline provided.  From way-finding to class schedules – the information is still relevant. Strategically located, self-service solutions are a great means to direct and inform the student body, faculty and visitors. If you are part of an educational system and would like to see what a self-service solution could offer your campus, contact us today!

Attached is an info-graphic that encapsulates the process and experience of working with Meridian – from concept to completion.  Click the link below to view the full graphic.


from concept to completion...

from concept to completion…

In the early 2000’s, along with other myriad of hats worn, I was an Adobe and Macromedia certified contract trainer. I remember teaching Advanced Flash Technologies and wowed the class by showing how you could embed video into the Flash presentation.   I suggested, at a time when the default Internet speed was a struggling 56K, that within 10 years we would be streaming movies online.  Incredulous looks and groans of protest filled the room.

It was then, I remember perusing the aisles of the local video store to find a new release movie on DVD.  Only a small step back, and they were only available on VHS tapes.  Technology is ever changing, as is the face of engagement. Just think, YouTube has only been around since 2005, and the iPhone debuted in 2007 (the same year Netflix started streaming services.)

Now in the course of the typical weeknight, a full third of all Internet traffic into North American homes is consumed on Netflix. With 36 million subscribers watching over 4 billion hours of video per quarter on a platform of over 1,000 devices – the math gets a little daunting.  CEO Reed Hastings said, “We think of the technology as a vehicle for creating a better, more modern experience for the content we have.”

In the self-service marketplace, we ride the cusp of innovations in technology, providing solutions that were unheard of just a decade before. Where will the next innovation come from?  Where will it drive the market? As we gear up in conceptualizing next year’s kiosk or software solutions – we look at the emerging critical mass wave of consumer engagement, leverage existing technology and then design solutions that can effectively engage the market.

I have to agree with Hastings that technology is a vehicle.  You have to leverage it to find ways to improve delivery and enhance the user experience.  At Meridian we find ourselves daily faced with the tools of industry, the platform of technology and a blank slate of opportunity.  I have a new prediction by the way, in 5 years… I guess I will save that one for the next sales & marketing meeting.