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Part 1 interview with expedition tech guru Tom Sjogren, final "we are the kind of animals who thrive on adversity"

Posted: Feb 13, 2009 04:44 am EST

(HumanEdgeTech.com) His all-time favorite movie is "The Mission." In his office, a TV-set is always on with business or world news. He listens to internet radio while working and the satellite radio when driving (preferably Alt Nation with Madison).

As for latest read book, "I'm always reading a couple of books simultaneously," Tom told ExWeb. "Right now it's 'The High Frontier, Human Colonies in Space' by O'Neill, 'Mathematics, from the birth of numbers' by Gullberg and Napoleon Hill's classic from 1937, 'Think to Grow Rich'."

As for favo food and such, Tom says, "Tina is an excellent cook and I chop onions and do dishes." Surprisingly though, "on expeditions she does the tech while I cook."

Yesterday we ran the first part of the interview with HET chief Tom Sjogren. Today, the final.

ExWeb: What's the deal with blogging software - why go with Contact and not with these (free) apps?

Tom: Sometimes we build the whole website including design, but I have also had the opportunity to work with some of the best web designers and web technicians that exist today, adopting their technology. During that time I learned that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Blogger, MySpace and similar are terribly restricted and often cause countless hours of work. It's very hard to migrate to or from blogger and if you use slower connections such as Iridium they can't be used at all.

I would strongly recommend anyone serious with their expedition website to first make sure the hardware and software can integrate. Secondly, don't fall in the "free blog" trap but instead build the website yourself from scratch, with a friend or using a professional service like HET or others. In the end this approach will provide the best results and something that you and sponsors can be proud of.

CONTACT is based on open source software like PHP, java and C-sharp. We also use popular technologies such as Ajax and Flash. It's all built from scratch and can be easily adapted to the layout chosen by the expedition.

ExWeb: What are the most common tech pitfalls for explorers to avoid?

Tom: A good tech setup always begins with two questions: WHAT do I want to do and WHY do I want to do it. Not knowing the goal when you start can lead to a terrible mess. It's like building a house without a basic plan - you risk ending up with a schizophrenic structure and expensive bottom line.

ExWeb: Is the HET store truly global - can anyone order? What about language problems, customs, delivery times etc?

Tom: Yes it's truly global, we shipped a package to Tokyo on Monday and it arrived Wednesday! We ship all over and have few problems with customs, but if you know that your country is restrictive to import of satellite communication you should call local authorities and check. There are no taxes or duties from US, but there could be VAT or similar applied in the receiving country. We always use FedEx and never lost a package.

ExWeb: How have the new products performed - the P50, the heat pads, the Sabre and such?

Tom: Very well. We have had some 30 units out of the P50 on both Antarctica and 8000er winter expeditions with only good feedback so far. The HEAT pads are my favorite item to deliver since I used them myself both on Everest and in the Arctic. I started out on a North Pole unsupported trip with a
small frostbite and it actually healed in a couple of weeks even though we never had warmer than -40C/F during that time.

We have had no complaints on the Sabre and it has proven easy to set up. The Feather Solar Blazt is a top seller.

Most complaints have been with Thuraya and especially the SMS service that on and off seems to go down. They always fix it but it's understandable that people get frustrated. The old INMARSAT RBGAN was a nightmare with constant problems but the new BGAN system has been very reliable. Iridium as always provide a slow but very stable service. Globalstar still have problems with the satellites, but are working on it.

ExWeb: How do HET solar panels compare to Brunton?

Tom: It sure seems that most expeditions get panels from either Brunton or HET. People often don't realize that our and Brunton's rollable panels are from the same factory and identical in material and effect. The only practical difference is that HET is 50% cheaper.

The foldable panels are different. Our FEATHER is lighter per watt and thus more effective than the Brunton foldable. It's cheaper as well and I consider it a better product overall. My confidence in our panels might sound like bragging, but it must be said that we are experts on expedition tech - and before FEATHER and SURVIVOR we researched every single solar manufacturer globally and only then picked the best. Brunton's new batteries also lack the versatility of the P50.

ExWeb: You've seemed somewhat 'hostile' towards iProducts (Apple) in the past - how come? Are you a Microsoft fan? If yes, why?

Tom: I was an Apple fan in early nineties but had to switch when I started to work with satellite comms. I've also used some Linux but don't think it's a good alternative for the average user. Every time Microsoft launch a new system it's trashed, but in the end I really like Microsoft. Thuraya still have no drivers for VISTA (or MAC), so I would recommend staying with XP for now. I know Bill Gates has a somewhat boring personality compared to Steve Jobs, but Microsoft still rules the expedition world.

ExWeb: What products are you looking for to include next?

Tom: The CONTACT software and hardware solutions are under constant development. While the bad economy might be on everybody's mind right now, solving the increasing energy need for a growing population remains our biggest challenge.

The debate has been too focused on "awareness" of global warming - with far fewer attempts made to actually find working alternatives to our fast diminishing oil supply.

HumanEdgeTech will continue to focus on mobile sustainable energy solutions, such as developing more efficient solar power technology and bringing out new battery materials.

ExWeb: Have you suffered in the financial downturn?

Tom: Sales were down in September but since then we have had 4 straight record months. HumanEdgeTech has always been in a growing trend but we are also the kind of animals who thrive on adversity: we get motivated and work twice as hard.

ExWeb: What are your customers' most common wishes?

Tom: Smaller, lighter, simpler - always.

ExWeb: What would be your dream product/solution?

Tom: A brain wave controlled nano sized communicator.

ExWeb: Any other plans for the future?

Tom: In the last couple of years, Tina and I have spent increasingly more time on researching and preparing for ultra light interplanetary space travel.

An explorer-minded, alpine-style approach to space travel can radically bring down cost and weight. The technology needed for manned interplanetary travel has existed for forty years, but cost and politics have been a hindrance. We should have the first concept ready within a year.

ExWeb: Any personal, dark secret you'd share with us?

Tom: I got an iPhone last month...and love it...

Video: Message From The Poles (6.6MB WMV, click or save to desktop to view)

Tom Sjogren, 49, was born in Sweden but spent the better part of the last 25 years on expeditions and in USA where he resides permanently since 1999 with wife Tina. Tom and Tina met at age 20, married shortly after and have worked and played together every day since. They do all expeditions and business ventures jointly; Czech Rep born Tina is currently running ExplorersWeb while Tom runs HET.

ExWeb/HET is a New York company but the couple has spent the last two years working and living at 11,500 feet in the Colorado mountains. They love Colorado and say that they will always have a place there, but are currently looking at setting up a second office in California. The couple frequently travels within USA for business, space conferences and trade shows.

#Mountaineering #Polar #Tech #Space #Mountaineering #Oceans #interview

BAD China! Tom in hot tub pissed off at Chinese cyber attacks on ExWeb.
Before CONTACT there was nothing. Or at least nothing worth using. Image of TT trying out wrist keyboards, flatpanels and eye-piece screens on a South Pole expedition.
Dave parked his motorbike by his desk. Others would pitch tents.
At $3800, the HET High Altitude Package is ready to go. Website and satellite minutes included.
Screenshot from video sporting Tom swimming a lead to the North Pole made for an IBM keynote about extreme tech on severe expeditions. The video was based on 10 rules of success specific to the Poles (find it in link at the end of this interview).
Life is better in Colorado. Tom hitting the slope with adopted American Lab/Rhodesian Ridgeback shelter dog TASS. (Second dog is reportedly to be named Xinhua.)
"Uncle Tom's" niece taking the full blunt of his explorations.
Tom's three rules for expeditions stolen from his figure skating: 1. Skate the ice (not the judges), 2. Don't sell the mistakes (if you fall; get up fast and forget about it), 3. One move at a time.
TT's mantra is, "the more you do, the more you can do."
Interplanetary travel next? Tom trying out the Shuttle cockpit in Huston, Texas.
Tom and Tina at Breck's 2008 Christmas iceskating show (where they still don't believe that this Santa couple actually HAS been to the North Pole).