Dr. Williams' Blog

40 Days to Lose Weight and Get Healthy: My Journey

ME and MU-L8

Me and MU-L8, the humanoid health coach and robot soccer player

40 Days ago I embarked on a personal journey to lose weight and get healthier. But you say, you weren’t obese or overweight. And I say, if you only knew. I could tell I was headed down the wrong path. I knew my cholesterol, blood sugars, vitamin levels were indicators that were warning me like an engine needs service light on a car dashboard. It doesn’t help having lived eight years in the mecca for soul food and restaurants, Atlanta, GA and acquiring a fondness for sweet tea. One of the reasons why I have chosen to focus on childhood obesity in my research with humanoid robots is because the way a bad diet wreaked havoc on my Mom’s health contributing to hypertension and diabetes. Obesity is now a global epidemic and it was time for me to make a local, personal effort to make sure I didn’t head down that path. In other words, it was time for me to practice what I preached. Here’s what I learned and experienced. Be sure to read at the end the results of my journey.

1. Knowledge alone won’t make me healthy. I have known a long time that eating sugary, processed, and fried foods and drinking sugary drinks was not good for me. But it tasted good and I wanted to eat them when I wanted to.

2. Bad eating is a result of bad habits. Just like robots use their sensors to recognize certain cues that trigger certain routines to perform a behavior, all for a reward or to meet an internal goal, my body is wired to be triggered by certain food and drink cues, to execute a eating or drinking routine, to get the momentary reward of a sugar or fried food high. I don’t have to consciously decide to eat poorly, just flash a McDonald’s french fry commercial before my eyes and I’ll crave the hot, salty taste of a french fry and adjust my behavior to get one. By the way, much of the fast food, drink, snack, and candy industry design their unhealthy foods to be delicious, addictive and habit forming with some disregard for our personal health in return for making profits for their companies. If you need references for this email me or use Google, Bing, or Yahoo to search for Food documentaries or books, or the upcoming Fed Up! documentary narrated by Katie Couric. (Disclaimer: I haven’t seen it yet but it looks very pertinent).

3. Nutrition knowledge can help me select healthier foods to eat. When I started my 40 day health journey I read portions of the “Daniel Plan” by Rick Warren, Dr. Oz, and others. I learned about how there are certain foods that are called “super foods” that are rich in vitamins and nutrients, taste good, and give you more energy. This was fascinating to learn about these types of foods.

4. I needed to focus on adding good foods to my diet, not eliminating bad ones. If I focused on eliminating bad foods then I would think I was missing out on something. On the other hand, if I focused on adding good foods, I would seek out what was healthier, tastier, and more nutritious.

5. I didn’t have to count calories if I followed a few simple rules. Fill my diet with healthier foods. In the morning I ate oatmeal with a small amount of agave nectar and egg. If I was still hungry I would eat a banana, apple or orange. For lunch, I tried to eat as many vegetables as possible, like salad while also having a good protein like chicken breast. For dinner, I would try to fill half my plate with vegetables, healthy protein and nutritious whole grain. The key for me was having in between snacks that consisted of salt-free nuts or other trail mix type dried fruit, or a piece of fruit, such as an apple, banana or grapefruit. These were my mini-meals I talk about in #13.

6. Water is the best thing I can drink. I was addicted to Dr. Pepper and sweet tea. In fact, my “drug” of choice was a bottle of Dr. Pepper with four Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Yes, I’m ashamed but I reveal this in hopes that others will come out of the closet as junk food junkies and find freedom. Water cleanses, refreshes, hydrates, heals. I remember I was getting faint because I wasn’t drinking enough water.

7. Getting daily feedback on my progress was important. I weighed myself everyday to see my progress and then recorded it in my notes app. I recorded some brief notes on how I was doing and what kinds of food I was eating or how I was feeling. I even tweeted my progress sometimes in hopes of encouraging others and keeping accountable.

8. It’s best if you start and continue your journey with a buddy. I asked someone to go on this journey with me. They were my exercise partner and we shared notes on our progress. It can be done alone but two are better than one.

9. Daily exercise of about 30 minutes was key. I exercised at least 5 times a week while always taking Sunday off. For me the treadmill worked as I started out walking and worked my way up to running a good portion of it. On alternating days I would sometimes lift light weights to build muscle. I know this sounds kind of wimpy for someone that used to play basketball in high school and occasionally dunk it but it’s working for me now.

10. Traveling presents its challenges but you can still be successful. When traveling I would buy unsalted almonds and bring apples or some other fruit. I would try to eat salad and even went to McDonald’s to get oatmeal without the maple and an egg dish. If I was at a banquet meal at a conference, I would ask for fruit if they were serving a cake for dessert. I was pleasantly surprised that after one trip I had actually lost half a pound.

11. Don’t obsess over what you eat or don’t eat. I learned this from my daughter. In fact, those are her words. If I’m adding and eating good foods, I can have an occasional piece of something sweet, like dark chocolate, which is actually good for you in moderation.

12. Learn how to feast wisely and recover from setbacks. This past weekend I celebrated my wedding anniversary out of town and also partook of our Easter “feast” at home. I decided that I would enjoy it and fight thoughts that I was guilty of something bad. I gained a little weight but only temporarily. I learned that I really didn’t have to eat in excess to enjoy these feasts. I found myself not enjoying those processed, sugary, and fried foods as much as I thought I used to.

13. Remember to keep portion sizes down and meal frequency up. Instead of three large meals a day I had about 5 to 6 smaller meals a day. This kicked in my metabolism and I found myself losing weight faster. A fist size of protein, a fist size of a health carbohydrate, and plenty of vegetables or fruit are good rules of thumb.

14. Enjoy eating healthy food and drinking water. I never thought I would learn to enjoy eating apples, oranges, bananas, nuts, asparagus, brussel sprouts, avocado, flax seeds, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, spinach, lettuce, etc. over a Culver’s bacon cheeseburger, cookies and cream custard, large fry and sweet tea. But I’m amazed at how yummy these foods are tasting to me and how bad fast food and drinks taste. The foods and drinks I used to crave can make me feel literally sick.

15. The focus is not on pounds lost but rather developing a life-long healthy lifestyle. I’m humbled when I think of how I live in a rich country where I am to be able to choose what I eat. I hope we can all transfer some of our riches to help those who don’t have as much food by donating to those in need. I hope that my journey will help others who are struggling with being overweight or obese and give them hope. Also, I am humbled that a person can do everything they think is right and still suffer a disease and sickness. We are all subject to God’s mercy and grace.

16. Radical idea: when I’m sleepy, go to sleep.I’ve learned to go to sleep when my body tells me I’m sleepy instead of falling asleep trying to watch a Netflix movie. That way I can let my body and mind rejuvenate, wake up earlier, be more productive, have energy to exercise, and be fueled by the energy healthy foods and water give me throughout the day.

17. Learn to recognize how stress contributes to bad eating and drinking.When I’m stressed I tend to look for comfort. Instead of seeking it from a spiritual source, I often naturally want to find stress relief by a physical means, namely “comfort” food or “comfort” drink. The problem is, in general, this is how addictions are formed and do their damage. I have a lot of good memories growing up and eating cereal when my Mom was living. Sometimes, when I’m stressed or thirsty, I want to eat some of those same sugary cereals to get my mind of of stressful things. Not good for the waistline. There are much healthier ways to deal with stress.

18. Daily exercise in the morning helps to relieve stress. I’m convinced that I’ve reduced stress in my life and have been relieved of a lot of stress through the natural chemicals released to my brain during and after I’ve exercised. The exercise has to be strenuous enough and last long enough (approximately 30 minutes for me) to get this natural high but believe me it’s better than any drug out there because it’s natural and leaves no harmful side effects or addictions.

19. You don’t have to buy all organic foods or special energy bars, drinks, or powders.To be honest we found almost all of our “healthy” foods at the regular grocery store. There are some healthy foods that bring variety to your diet that may be found at other stores like kimchee, seaweed, or miso soup. I also didn’t have to buy any Myoplex, Soy powder, or a juicer. The old adage of an apple a day keeps the doctor away rang true when finding healthy foods like oatmeal rather than having to go to a place like GNC or even Whole Foods. This past weekend when I was out of town, I saw someone in front of me leave Whole Foods while I was shopping for nuts, with about eight items and their bill was over $100. I can get a “whole lot of foods” fruit and vegetables at Wal-mart or Aldi’s, for that matter, for a hundred bucks. This, of course, is only my personal opinion and observation.

20. In all my pursuits, don’t neglect my spirit.In my pursuit to be healthy, I have to remember never to neglect my spirit’s health. That can be a subject of another blog post. (Sneak preview: prayer, meditating on Scripture, and journaling has made a huge impact on my life for around thirty years now).

THE RESULTS: After 40 days in my personalized version of the Daniel Plan, my weight was reduced approximately 9%. For example, if I weighed 200 lbs, I would have lost 18 lbs. Also, for a Mom that had diabetes, which may give me a predisposition for the disease, I discovered that my sugar levels had been reduced and stabilized. Also, my lab results for my cholesterol had improved dramatically with my HDL “good” cholesterol improving by 6% from my last reading taken about eight months ago. To God be the glory for the strength, wisdom, and grace He has given me in this journey and may He help me to continue to seek to care for the body He has entrusted me with.

In summary I believe: If you change your thinking, you will change your behavior. Change your habits and you will change your life.

Disclaimer: These thoughts are considered my own personal opinion and observations. None of these results should be considered typical and are subject to your own personal plan and body type as advised by your personal physician. Also, I only have a doctorate in electrical engineering and not in medicine.

By |April 21st, 2014|Health, Spirituality|0 Comments

What My Kids Should Know About Marriage

20140419-082435.jpg

Anitra and I almost ten years ago before one of our many dates

My wife and I recently celebrated 22 years of marriage and I want my kids to know why. First, their grandfather was my first example of a committed marriage. He not only went to Korea after the Korean War to marry and bring back my Mom but brought their children over to the US. He stayed with my Mom even through very turbulent times in our family and was with her until she passed. I want my children to see that same level of commitment in me.

My marriage was worth waiting for. Contrary to many popular movies, TV, and tabloid articles, my strategy for finding my life mate was not to “hook up” first, try out “the goods”, and then see if I wanted to get married. My approach was to practice self-control and self-discipline and to learn about her social, intellectual, and spiritual beauty while admiring my bride-to-be’s physical beauty. I was more interested in having a wife that I was going to be loyal to and having someone that would be loyal to me. My Mom used to say that I should find a wife that was not only pretty on the outside but also someone who had a pretty heart. My message to my kids is you are worth the wait and your future mate should respect and value you more than anyone else.

My marriage was ordained and destined by God. I remember when I was in college and dating friends, Pastor Barbee, counseled me to make finding my wife a focus of prayer. I prayed and asked God to help me find a spouse that He knew would be best for me. And I waited and searched. I’m proud to say I found her at Paseo Baptist Church and my heart went “pitter patter” the first time I saw her. (You can read in my book how I almost missed and messed up this opportunity).

The first few years our personalities took awhile to mesh and I still had to mature when relating to her but she was patient with me. I think things could have been smoother if I had not been so selfish and self-centered. If only I would have been a better listener. And if I would have been better aware of her emotions and feelings as well as managed my own. But the process of deepening our love by staying committed to one another was the best. We decided that d-i-v-o-r-c-e would not even be in our joke vocabulary. It’s never an option and never will be by God’s grace.

There will be many tests of marriage, internal and external. I’ve learned to flee thoughts that would try to get me to think that the grass is greener on the other side. Why? Because as a wise person once said, that grass has weeds and needs to be mowed and watered too so why not just take care of your own. There is something that’s somewhat mystical and magical about how a marriage partner becomes the most beautiful person in the world if that exclusive heart commitment is guarded. That’s how I see my wife. She’s a part of me and we are one body. Why would I ever want to give up a part of me
that I love and cherish?

One commitment I made when I got married was to never let my career take precedence over my marriage. One of my mottos is that I would rather fail in my career than to fail in my marriage and family. I am humbled when I see “successful” men who have fame, fortune, or power fail in their marriages because I know except for the grace of God their goes I.

At the same time, I want to cultivate my marriage and date my wife regularly. That’s why even early in our marriage when our kids were young we either took them on our dates or found babysitters we could trust. That’s why even today we try to go out on a date once a week and spend time each day talking and being together. I owe all of my success to my wife because of her support and counsel to me. And I’m committed to protecting, providing for, and nurturing her continued growth and health spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, socially and physically.

I’m not a wine drinker but I have heard that fine wine gets better with age and that’s how I would describe my wife and our relationship. I see why God has designed marriage to be between a man and a women to be committed for a lifetime. I would not be able to enjoy the depths of our emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual, and physical love without the the exclusive, intimate relationship of one person I am married to. And so far, every dimension, even the physical aspect, has gotten more enjoyable and fun through these 22 years. And our love has just begun.

Andrew B. Williams,Ph.D., is the author of Out of the Box: Building Robots, Transforming lives and is married to Anitra Williams and they have three children.

By |April 19th, 2014|Family|0 Comments

The Emotionally and Socially Intelligent MU-L8 Teen-Size 3D-Printed Humanoid Robot for Healthier and Smarter Kids

MU-L8 SMILE

The Emotionally and Socially Intelligent MU-L8 Teen-Size 3D-Printed Humanoid Robot for Healthier and Smarter Kids

Why not you contribute to our technology revolution: Humanoid Robots for Healthier and Smarter Kids”?

What if you came home and plugged your smartphone into your humanoid robot’s head and suddenly your humanoid became animated with emotional gestures, interactive conversations, and autonomous behaviors designed to assist you and your children in promoting healthy habits or assisting with a learning disability. What if the robot used your smartphone activities to gage how active, or inactive, you were at work and suggested an interactive exercise routine for you. What if the robot was used to train your children in complex mathematics and robot design and programming so that they could be better prepared for a high tech career.

You may or may not agree with that vision of humanoid robotics but you must agree that it won’t happen without someone having that vision. This is the vision of our Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab at Marquette University. But you say, Marquette is not MIT or Stanford, how could this be? One eloquent modern philosopher, Spike Lee, put it this way: talent can come from anywhere. You should meet the students at Marquette University’s College of Engineering students that I get to interact with every day. They believe that anything is possible and I believe in them. Just a little over a year ago we decided to ask the question: why not? Why not we be the ones that help bring about a revolution in health and education by building our own humanoid robot to assist kids. Why not our research and development be part of the trigger that helps the vision of having low-cost humanoid robots that help kids in health and STEM education in their schools and homes.

We decided to reach this longer term goal by having a shorter, intermediate goal of competing in RoboCup. What is RoboCup? RoboCup is the World Cup of robotics and artificial intelligence. RoboCup is an international joint research project whose goal is to develop humanoid robots that can beat the human World Cup champions in Soccer. This year, RoboCup 2014 will be held in Brazil, the country of the human World Cup. This year, our HEIR lab students, qualified to compete in the TeenSize humanoid robot soccer league world championships by building our own 3D printed two-legged humanoid robot. But this year is only the beginning of the revolution. This year is only part of the vision.

What if you were the one that came up with the idea for the iPhone? What if you were there when the iPad came into being. I was there at Apple after hearing Steve Jobs call me to work there. I know from his life what happens when one man has a vision for a revolution. Why not you be part of our vision for a technology revolution of humanoid robots for healthier and smarter children. Why not you contribute to our revolution: Humanoid Robots for Healthier and Smarter Kids”

You can read more online at:

Dr. Andrew B. Williams, author of “Out of the Box: Building Robots, Transforming Lives”, is an internationally recognized humanoid robotics and technology innovator, distinguished scholar, organizational consultant, dynamic motivational speaker, and sought-after business and life coach. He is the Founder and Director of the Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab and is Professor and John P. Raynor,S.J., Distinguished Chair at Marquette University.

Champion for Change or King of Comfort?

Brady Champions For Change

HEIR Lab Students and I Honored as Brady Corporation Champions for Change at Marquette University Basketball Game Half-Court JumboTron

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a true Champion for Change. This week we celebrated his birthday and it’s always a bittersweet time for me because my Mom was born just a few days apart from him and she had her home-going on MLK weekend several years ago. So when someone gives my students and I a title of Champions for Change, like the Brady Corporation and Marquette University’s Social Innovation program did, I am humbled, honored, and motivated. Even aspiring to be a Champion for Change that seeks to make a positive impact on society using computing, robotics, and engineering requires the decision to serve others or seek to be served. For me, it’s a question of making the building of Christ-like character in my life my priority or is it to live a life seeking comfort and pleasure. In my short life so far, I find that there is more joy in seeking to help others than there is when selfishly seeking passing pleasures and comforts that have no comparison to what heaven will be like.

Probably the best way to tell you about what my HEIR Lab students and I are trying to do to make a positive change in society is for you to view our Humanoid Robotics Social Innovation video. And keep an eye opening for our upcoming crowd funding project for social change. Here’s the video:

To learn more about Marquette University and Brady Corporations Champions for Change, click on this link.

Saving STEM: Why the Arts and Technology Matter

drawing right brain medium

Self-portrait using the left side of the brain versus the right side of the brain

On the day of New Year’s Eve, I came across Betty Edwards video, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”. Without going into all the neuroscience behind this phenomena, the left side of your brain is where your analytic reasoning takes place and the right side of the brain is where your visual and perceptual processing takes place. The right side of the brain is considered the “creative side” of the brain.

I decided to take up Betty Edwards’ challenge and learn how to draw on the right side of my brain. For a day and a half during the holiday break, I went through the video and tried the exercises. The “self-portrait” on the left was done on December 31. The self-portrait on the right was done on January 1. What happened between those two days that made it possible for me to draw the second, more realistic and authentic representation of myself? I encourage you to go through the exercises to discover how yourself. I’ll share a little about how it happened. Then I’ll make some observations about how these lessons may apply to your personal life or the life of your organization. I will finish by pointing out why this makes the arts so important for STEM education.

In my first self-portrait, I had good intentions to draw myself but I was using “symbols” of what I thought an eye or ear is based on what I learned from drawing probably in my elementary school days. In the second self-portrait, I had begun to learn how to draw what I was really seeing and to channel my brain’s processing to my pencil. I had begun “to see what I see”. As Betty Edwards teaches, I had learned to perceive edges, negative spaces, relationships, lights and shadows, and the gestalt, or the whole. She states the other higher order skills related to drawing involve drawing from memory and imagination.

Is it possible that the reason you fail or are not fulfilling your personal or your organization’s full potential is that you are using old methods for perceiving and reproducing what you see? The danger is that “we don’t see that we don’t see” properly. Learning to observe, listen, and sense what your mind, body, and spirit is saying to you is essential to your success.

Finally, why are the arts, such as drawing, painting, music, and poetry so important to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)? Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” A recent study published by Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein states that almost all Nobel laureates in the sciences practice the arts as adults. They quote Nobel prize winning physicist Max Planck as saying, “The creative scientist needs an artistic imagination.” If our nation is to catch up with the world in STEM education and fill the gap for technology workers and creators, the way to do it properly is to remember to educate not only in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) but remember to include the arts to make STEAM.

About the author: Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is Professor and John P. Raynor, S.J., Distinguished Chair in Electrical & Computer Engineering at Marquette University and past Computer Science Chair and founder of the SpelBots at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA. He is also Director of the MU HEIR Lab. He likes to write songs, play guitar, and enjoys playing the piano by ear. His new hobby is drawing. He will be a panel speaker at the 2014 SXSWedu Conference and Festival, scheduled March 3-6 in Austin, Texas on the session entitled ‘Saving STEM: Why Technology and the Arts Matter’.

By |January 8th, 2014|Art, Design, Education, STEM, Technology|0 Comments

Merry Christmas from Pope Francis, Marquette, and Me

Christmas Marquette

Marquette University made a Christmas Video and I have a cameo in it

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid ; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people”, Luke 2:10

Marquette University, a Catholic and Jesuit University, and its President Father Wild produced a thoughtful Merry Christmas video in honor of the first Jesuit Pope, Pope Francis. I appreciate being part of a University that prides itself in its Christian roots and openly celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. I was honored to have been asked to be in the video. The words that we speak in the video are words written by the Pope. I had to do several retakes to quote the words but it wasn’t until I heard from others who saw it, that I realized the deep and insightful meaning. I was also pleasantly surprised when my wife called me over to the TV and told me that this Christmas video was on TV as a commercial. I hope you will enjoy viewing it yourselves here.

Let me take a minute to express the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ:

  1. God made man in His image to enjoy and fellowship with Him forever.
  2. Man sinned and broke the relationship and was separated from God (the penalty of sin).
  3. God LOVED man and decided to come to earth as a man (Jesus) to save man from his sin.
  4. Jesus lived a perfect life and never deserved the penalty of sin (death and separation from God).
  5. Jesus died to pay the penalty of our sins and to give us the GIFT of eternal LIFE (an everlasting personal relationship with God)
  6. God raised Jesus from the dead to break the power of sin and death over man and to restore our relationship with Him.
  7. Man must personally believe and receive Jesus as his or her personal Lord and Savior.

My whole life is filled with joy, even when I experience pain or hardships, because of these truths and because of the personal relationship with God that I have and live daily through Jesus Christ. If you want to talk more about this, please feel free to contact me. May this Christmas season be the best ever for you and your loved ones.

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

By |December 24th, 2013|Spirituality|0 Comments

NPR’s Tell Me More Crowdsourcing and Community Building Blacks in Tech

nprblacksintech

The Week of December 9, 2013 lineup for NPR Tell Me More Blacks in Tech

Since December 2, NPR’s Tell Me More has been hosting a series of “Twitter interviews” of various technology leaders in different areas of industry, entrepreneurship, digital media, and academia at http://www.npr.org/2013/11/27/247168494/-nprblacksintech . The questions that were asked the Black entrepreneurs and Tech leaders were crowdsourced from Howard University Middle School students and the Twitter community at large. It was encouraging for me to discover the abundance of expertise and what I’ll call “digital pioneers” who are willing to provide advice, support, and expertise to the greater community. It was especially exciting to hear the questions and highlights of the Howard University Middle School. They seemed to hunger for relevance in technology and were actively pursuing their own efforts to create technology to solve problems in their communities. They, and students like them, are our hope for the next generation.

Some alarming statistics were shared during NPR’s Tell Me More Blacks in Tech conversation. According to the National Science Foundation, out of all the scientists working in science and engineering, only 2% are black women and 3% are black men. President Obama’s Educate to Innovate Initiative http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/k-12/educate-innovate recognizes that we must broaden participation in STEM in order to “maintain our run of ingenuity and innovation” and to increase our extremely lower current participation. The NPR Blacks in Tech social media conversation echoed similar themes including tips on engaging young people, the how-to’s of creating start-ups, and the challenges and strategies to overcome obstacles of prejudice, low expectations, and limited access to resources and role models.

nprinterview

In the Wisconsin Public Radio studio recording my live NPR Tell Me More interview.

Personally, the entire experience was eye opening and I marveled at how practical social network technology could be used to build and connect this existing community. I “met” and connected with new Black entrepreneurs, technology executives, and digital media experts that I would otherwise not get to meet. As an academic who has also worked in industry, this was my first time seeing how a Twitter “chat” worked. We were able to follow and use the hashtag, #NPRBlacksinTech, to participate in the conversation in real-time. NPR’s Tell Me More archived and “storified” the chats for others to view. Davar Ardalan, Senior Producer, NPR News and Curator for #NPRBlacksinTech, provided a summary slide show of the events, http://www.slideshare.net/idavar/blacksin-techfeedback. My day, December 12, was storified and shared with Dr. Juan Gilbert and Mary Pryor http://storify.com/TellMeMoreNPR/december-12-day-in-the-life-nprblacksintech . There’s also a FlipBoard version available of the NPR Blacks in Tech conversation by Mike Street https://flipboard.com/section/npr-celebrates-blacks-in-tech-baHlaB . Through my participation, I was able to offer feedback, advice, and challenges that I’ve faced and overcome in seeking to become a tech leader and role model. Through my participation, I was even generously included in an NPR Tell Me More interview to discuss how I’m using humanoid robots to help children exercise and make better nutritional choices (“Are American’s Getting Smarter About Obesity?”). A big “Thank You” for NPR’s Tell Me More for organizing this innovative community building effort to expand opportunities for Blacks in Tech!

Suggested future content and collaboration ideas:
• Write a collaborative “how-to” e-book for various Tech areas: digital media, starting startups, getting a Tech degree, developing a Twitter audience, etc.
• Keep the #NPRBlacksinTech hashtag alive.
• Do an #NPRBlackInvestorsinTech conversation.
• Create a Blacks in Tech Speakers bureau.
• Highlight/interview black “social entrepreneurs”, entrepreneurs that are specifically trying to solve a social problem in a profitable (vs. non-profit) and sustainable way.
• Ask Bill Gates, or someone of his Tech stature (Mitch Kapor?), to take moderated questions in a live tweet from NPRBlacksinTech community.
• Target grant proposals or business pitches to collaborate on to increase Tech entrepreneurship and education in under-resourced communities.
• Create a webisode that attracts young people to STEM (please let me know if you’d like to collaborate on this. I’m working with a group on this).

Computer Science: The New “Liberating” Art for a Free Society

heirlabChristmas

We use Computer Science and engineering to build and program humanoid robots in my HEIR Lab at Marquette University

Teaching computer science as a liberal art to every person in society can not only improve diversity in computer science and computer engineering careers but it can improve our citizenry’s technology literacy and job aptitudes to fuel our current and future national and global economy. Yesterday, for Computer Science Education Week, President Barak Obama made a plea to the citizens of our country to learn our more about computer science and said that kids should be taught computer science in schools. He argued that it’s not only important for an individual’s future but the future of our country. He said, “Don’t just play on your phone. Program it.” (See Learn what most schools don’t teach.)

One of my brilliant colleagues from Apple Inc., when I worked as the Senior Engineering Diversity Manager for Apple (after being hired by Steve Jobs), mentioned that he believed that computer science and programming was a new liberal art for society. Classically, the liberal arts were the skills and knowledge required by free citizens to participate productively in society. The core liberal arts have changed over time and ranged from grammar, rhetoric, and logic, to subjects such as mathematics, literature, philosophy, science, and history. I would agree with my colleague that computer science (CS) should be taught as a liberal, or even better, a “liberating” art in colleges but also in K-12 grades as well.

It is easy to see how important CS is to our every day lives as well and to see how CS is used in research that will lead to exciting new discoveries, products, and innovations that will improve our lives. A scientist, technologist, engineer, and mathematician rely on computers and computation to perform experiments, tests hypotheses, and to manage, organize, and learn from the vast amounts of data that is available in nature or generated by various man-made processes and activities, i.e. Big Data. Computer science is embedded in the every day products we use such as phones and phone apps, networks, computers, cars, traffic lights, CT-scanners, health records, search engines, digital music, robots, satellites, and the list goes on and on. Also, our financial records, bank accounts, stock investments, and store transactions require that we have reliable databases and computer programs that are safe and secure.

If a person knows nothing about computer science, how can they understand whether or not their computer or phone is being hacked, traced, or their bank accounts not broken into? How can they discern whether or not an email is coming from a valid account or is one trying to phish for passwords or money? How can they understand or make laws to promote privacy, security, or fairness related to computer technology? My Dad was born one year before Nelson Mandela and he marveled at how I could set up and operate a video recorder. In a similar manner, shouldn’t every person grow up with opportunities to understand and know the logic to create a computer program, the basics of computer hardware, and the importance of various algorithms? And shouldn’t all students be able to go beyond the basics to be encouraged to see the incredible amounts of passion, creativity, and problem solving that can go into making a computer program or application that can produce art, music, healthcare technology, educational programs, humanoid robots, or a new social network or enterprise? Shouldn’t kids be given the ability to use computer science to not only work at but to start the next Microsoft, Apple, or Google?

Do you want to start, or have your kids start to learn computer science and programming? See code.org. Want to learn more on your own? Try one of the free online course websites such as Udacity.com or Coursera. Spend at least an hour before the New Year and discover the fascinating world of computer science.

For more information on my personal computer science and engineering journey and life that started out with me sleeping in a cardboard box, see my book: Out of the Box: Building Robots, Transforming Lives. See how CS not only transformed my life but the lives of my female students at Spelman College who competed in international robotics competitions as the SpelBots.

Author: Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is currently Professor and John P. Raynor, S.J., Distinguished Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Director of the Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab at Marquette University. Dr. Williams founded the Spelman College SpelBots and was hired by the late Steve Jobs as the Senior Engineering Diversity Manager at Apple Inc.

Almost Human: What’s the Mathematics Behind Androids (Like Dorian) That Can Fight For Humans

Dorian Fight 2

Spoiler Alert! On tonight’s episode of Almost Human, Dorian, the socially intelligent android played by Michael Ealy, had to fight another Android to save Rudy, the scientist. Dorian made it look easily and cleverly found and used a hook to finish off the evil android. But what’s the math and science behind how an android, or any robot for that matter, can calculate where to punch and how to reach for a hook.

The science behind this requires concepts from physics that requires mathematical calculations to determine the kinematic and dynamics models for the robot. For a robot to move a limb, such as an arm, it has joints that can be moved by motors, or actuators. Electrical signals need to be sent to the motors in a coordinated manner to control the positions and angles of the motors and joints. In order to calculate where the joints need to be moved for the robot to reach or in the case of Dorian, hit another robot, he needs to have a kinematic model to calculate positions and a dynamic model to understand how forces are involved in these calculations. In order for Dorian to do these things, he would have to have these mechanical abilities that are driven by the mathematical computations in his brain, or Central Processing Unit (CPU).

MU-L8 Forward Pose

This past summer in our Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab at Marquette one of our students, Matthew Morris, a mechanical engineering student and NSBE Member, worked on developing a kinematic model for our teen-sized humanoid robot, MU-L8. His mathematical calculations were impressive as he used what is called the Denavit-Hartenberg (DH) Method to derive the kinematic model of the humanoid robot. DH parameters are used for both forward and inverse kinematics. Forward kinematics uses the joint angles to discern the position of fist, for example. Inverse kinematics uses a position of that fist to determine the joint angles of the arm, for instance. If these types of things interest you then you should consider studying physics or mechanical engineering to help make people-defending androids like Dorian a reality in the near future.

Disclaimer: Viewer discretion advised due to violence, language, and mature themes.

Contact me on Twitter @outofthebox1 or use this form:

By |December 2nd, 2013|Uncategorized|0 Comments

What Happens When Your Holiday Season is Not Merry?

christmas tree crop
For some the holiday season can be one of the most joyous, spectacular times of the year with time spent with loved ones, family, and friends. But for others, tragedy or heartbreak may strike, or financial difficulties may come and make the holiday season one of the bleakest, most depressing times of the year. Especially when one can remember seemingly better times when with a loved one, or before a family member passed away. A sickness or disease may also put a damper on the holiday cheer that’s around us.

It doesn’t help that the constant consumerism paints a pretty face on material goods and electronic trinkets to make us happy. No, a new iPhone or Android phone, will not make you happy, or maybe it will for a short time. Yes, it may help fill the gnawing void within you as you “connect” with others in a virtual world of Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, and so on but it will not last that long. Just ask MIT sociologist, Sherry Turkle, author of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other”.

This holiday season consider focusing on the true meaning of the Christmas season, even if you are an experienced believer or an adamant non-believer. Consider reading the ancient texts that announced the Messiah’s arrival hundreds of years before His birth in a manger. Turn off your smartphone. Take out a piece of paper and pencil and begin writing and reflecting on these things.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” declared the prophet Isaiah (chapter 9 verse 6). Be wise, like the wise Magi who sought Jesus out after He was born. Are you in need of advice? He’s the Wonderful Counselor. Are there circumstances you are experiencing that you need help with? He’s the Mighty God. Do you long for belonging and direction? He’s the Everlasting Father. Is your inner or outer life in turmoil? He’s the Prince of Peace.

As a scientist and engineer with a Ph.D., I cannot give you all the logical proof or theory for these words. I’m not a historian either. But I can tell you that during one of my bleakest times during the holidays when a loved one passed away, I sought this Savior and Messiah personally and found Him to be all Isaiah said He would be. Instead of medicating my pain when I lost a loved one with something material or physical, I was able to go directly, spiritually to Him, and find Him able to minister to me through His Holy Spirit and His words to the deepest part of me. This kind of relationship with God is the source of true joy in the midst of pain. This is true salvation and redemption. “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart”, said the prophet Jeremiah (chapter 29 verse 13).

The next time you hear someone say, “Merry” Christmas, remember that the merry feelings of Christmas may fade if they are only focused on possessions and pleasure. Rather, let’s think about the promise of joy that comes with an unfading personal relationship with God even in the midst of trying times. One offered to us by the Savior born to give us peace with God, save us from our misery and sin, and offer us an intimate personal relationship with our Heavenly Father forever.

“And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.’” Luke 2:10.

By |November 29th, 2013|Spirituality, Technology|0 Comments