Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Inventions and Great Ideas

As if I needed more to do...

I'm now working with a friend on some invention ideas. He's a real entrepreneur and thinks some of my ideas are worth investigating/researching and maybe even marketing. Being more active in my ideas feels good, especially talking with someone who sees their potential, is not a threat (NDA, w00t), and is willing to invest/investigate them. He's a real hardware tinkerer, whereas he imagines I'm a computer arts tinkerer. I have to mention though, that the idea that got this situation going was my wifes. She's rightfully apprehensive of the situation.

Regardless, this made me think of situation I had regarding an idea I had a few years ago. First let me explain the context. My day to day job was/is often translating Pro/Engineer assemblies into real time geometry. What that means is that the CAD software the engineers and designers used to design in was converted from its engineering 3D data, high detail, high accuracy, parametric model parts and assemblies, into low polygon, simplified representations. As much as I tried automating the processes, and even invented some automation techniques, the results still never looked very good. The computer just didn't know what it was doing, where it was important to keep data (is that hole important or not), or where data could be removed, like the internals of a bearing assembly. Thus I was often struggling in Pro/E removing extraneous small details and then fighting in the low polygon modeler to further reduce details to get my models to adequate sizes, as well as optimized for run time performance. I still do this today, though not as often. You could say I'm a seasoned veteran in polygons. Here's a picture of what I mean, I've come a long way baby!
Anyway, I had this idea to help my process, a way to automatically reduce poly counts quickly within geometry by simply looking at it. (Proof, an old forum post of mine!) Essentially, you loop the observer around your model, looking at it from all the important angles and note any polygons that are never seen, essentially an all encompassing cull. So one day Right Hemisphere was visiting, demonstrating some of their products, including one that supposedly could do this sort of thing for me (I think it was called Granite, Pro/E to OBJ with dial-a-fidelity sliders). The meeting was over for the most part and I mentioned my idea to one of the presenters. He seemed interested, but blew it off to show me something "interesting". So nothing happens for some time, then I'm invited to another meeting with Right Hemisphere (they came back, they were trying to worm into our business, getting us to go with some of their content management solutions which we weren't interested in). At the meeting we do the same thing but more focus on the bigger picture though I do get another demo of their products that apply to me. This time one of the sales-engineers says they have a new reduction algorithm in the works. Do you see where this is going? Yep, he explains the quick premise of how it works and you got it, it was my idea, the one I stupidly blabbed to the guy at the last meeting. Needless to say I gasped and asked if it was GuyName's idea, to which the reply is yes, but he doesn't work for them anymore. Long story short, I learned a couple valuable lessons that day.

Since that day I've continued to have ideas, some good, some obviously horrible (pork chop beer mug, drink then eat), but now if I share them I double check my audience and the purpose of me sharing (do I want to sound smart/important) and more importantly, can they gain from my idea without payback to me. In the case above, the situation provided me with little to no advantage (it was in a product or module/add-on we didn't have or want) and gave them another bullet on their list to help sell their product and no credit back to me. However, I continue to use Right Hemisphere's Deep Exploration product at work, but purely as a geometric conversion tool. At home, I'm still using 3D Exploration for the more obscure/older formats (3D Exploration was what Deep Exploration became, after RH bought it out and before they slopped the multi-hundred dollar price tag on it).

[UPDATE: New Blog Post: Trouble in Polygon Optimization Town]

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