Fanciful flight forges fortunate fallout for family

The problem with our imaginations is that they're held captive. They

tend to be reined in by our sphere of knowledge, tempered by that which

we have already experienced. But not always. Some people, somehow,

manage to cook up ideas that no one had thought of before. Steven

Spielberg comes to mind. And so does Tu Nguyen.

Tu Nguyen is a 23 year-old college student. His family, which emigrated

to the United States in 1989, owns and operates a Vietnamese restaurant

in, of all places, Omaha, Nebraska. The restaurant's chefs speak little

English. It's one thing for a Nebraska Cornhusker to order sauteed beef

with lemon grass and chili vermicelli, but if the chef doesn't get the

message to cook up a serving of Bun Bo Xao Xa Ot, well, dinner's going

to be a long time coming.

Fortunately, Nguyen let his imagination take flight; what he came up

with is fascinating. Using wireless Pocket PC technology and Microsoft's

.NET application-development framework (which is beside the point),

Nguyen single-handedly created something he dubbed iPODS (Intelligent

Pocket Order Delivery System).

It's a wireless application that lets a waiter take an order on a Pocket

PC in one language (presumably English) and have it translated into the

chef's native language. Now, when you order Com Tam Bi Cha Bo Nuong, you

can be sure it will arrive at your table as shredded pork with baked egg

and charbroiled beef served over broken rice, not as shredded pork with

baked egg and charbroiled pork served over broken rice (which is Com Tam

Bi Cha Thit Nuong).

For his imaginative use of .NET technology, Nguyen won the $25,000

worldwide grand prize at the Microsoft-sponsored Imagine Cup contest.

Second prize went to a team from India. Their entry integrates different

mobile devices to improve collaboration among health organizations. The

idea is to empower these organizations to provide mission-critical care

and treatment.

The winners retain all rights to their ideas. You can bet that Nguyen

will turn iPODS into a commercial product with other uses and additional

translation dictionaries. He's off and running; America truly is the

land of opportunity.

Being imaginative is hard. We all sell what we know, and we all push the

products likely to encounter the least sales resistance, even though

another, lesser-known solution may be a better fit. Vendors want you to

sell more of the same. We even raise the quotas on our sales staff,

pushing them toward the same end. And why not? We've all got a

for-profit business to run, after all.

Thinking different means making an investment in time and money to

breathe life into a solution we've probably all dismissed as just one

more crazy idea. Thinking different requires a certain amount of

daydreaming. Think Different. Yeah, it was Apple's slogan a couple of

years ago. Turns out they were right.

Perhaps Tu Nguyen thought his idea was crazy. And now that he's gained

worldwide attention from it, he just might use it to build an empire.

Certainly iPODS has broad application far beyond the restaurant


Think about something new and different that next time you and your

staff enjoy Bo Nhung Dam. Oh, it's fondue style sliced beef served with

vinaigrette sauce, rice paper and fresh vegetables.

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