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Mike Foley wearing an early Bluetooth headset. (Photos Annie Laurie Malarkey)

We almost take Bluetooth for granted, as it zips our data through the air, letting us make hands-free phone calls and sync media between devices, among countless other applications enabled by the short-range wireless technology.

The industry consortium that has encouraged the growth of the technology happens to be based in the Seattle region, in Kirkland: the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. Its longtime executive director, Mike Foley, is our latest Geek of the Week.

The recognition comes at pivotal moment for him. After a decade in the role, Foley recently announced plans to gradually transition out of the job to start a new chapter in his career. He reflects on his tenure, talks about his favorite gadgets and geeks out on golf in his answers to our questions below.

Name: Mike Foley

Job, hobby and/or other geeky pursuit: Job: Executive Director, Bluetooth SIG

Hobby/Geeky Pursuit: I actually have many geeky pursuits which change over time. I tend to do one, then move on to the next in an attempt to learn new things or industries. For example, I spent a lot of time learning about home automation and then to the chagrin of my wife, completely automated our house. I updated all the lights and most of the outlets and then wrote an iPhone app to control everything.

My latest geeky pursuit goes hand-in-hand with another recent endeavor: boating. About a year and a half ago, I purchased an old boat. While the mechanical systems were in good condition, the electronics on it were ancient to non-existent. I’ve been spending some time this winter updating those systems. I was surprised to discover that even “state of the art” electronics in boats is relatively unsophisticated. The project I’ve been working on is getting the sensor data from the various boat components on the network such that I can monitor them from my iPad and/or iPhone or even from my desk when away from the boat.

Coolest thing about what you do: Playing with gadgets! In my position with the SIG, I am constantly exposed to new, cool gadgets. I get to try them out to see how they work and often provide feedback to the manufacturer.

As you approach the end of your tenure with the Bluetooth SIG, and look back on the past 13 years, what surprises you most?

I think the biggest surprise is the success of Bluetooth technology. Back in 2000 we thought Bluetooth was a cool technology and could do some great things. However, I don’t even think the most optimistic of us believed that it would ship in over 5M products each and every day; and that number keeps growing.

Most mind-blowing application of Bluetooth you’ve ever seen?

This would have to be the “Magic Legs” application. Not Forrest Gump, but Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bleill who lost both legs in Iraq.  Due to some excellent medical and engineering work, Bluetooth was utilized to coordinate the movement of the artificial joints in his prosthetic legs.

It is truly an honor to think that I had any part of making this miracle a reality.

What’s the potential of Bluetooth in the years ahead? Have we seen most of the applications we’re going to see at this point?

I think we’ve only scratched the surface regarding what applications we are going to see utilizing Bluetooth technology. Now that smart phones are open platforms any manufacturer can create their widget, build an app for it and sell it. They are no longer dependent upon the carrier, mobile manufacturer or Bluetooth SIG to support their hardware or concept. This is stimulating innovation like never seen before.

What does it mean to you to be a geek? For me, being a geek is synonymous with the love of the latest technology and the pursuit to improve it.

Geekiest thing(s) you’ve ever done, built, or worn (photos encouraged if relevant):

The digital oscilloscope I built in college was pretty geeky. (Although advanced for its time.) My family thinks the “Insteon Turns Me On” tee shirt the SmartHome folks sent me and I wear on weekends is geeky, but I don’t get that…

I do get that wearing the glasses for our 3D TV is geeky.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life: I know this sounds cliché, but don’t sweat the small stuff. Far too much time is wasted on things which really aren’t that important. I guess the trick is learning to quickly figure out what is really that important and what isn’t. That skill is priceless.

Mac, Windows or Linux? A combination of Mac and Windows. Windows is my primary OS, however I carry a MacBook Air with me and use that OS a lot. I have Windows on it as well and switch back and forth between the two.

Kirk, Picard, Janeway or Sisko? Another no contest answer: Kirk. I appreciate the fact that Netflix has the entire original series available for streaming 24×7! Now I don’t have to pull out my DVDs.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility?

Before Bluetooth: Mike Foley in the lobby of the Bluetooth SIG

This one is really difficult. My initial thought was “Time Machine” but that may have been a reflection on the movie Back to The Future. After thinking about what I’d do if I had a time machine, there really isn’t much about my life that I’d go back and change. Of course, with the knowledge I have now I could do many things better than I did at the time, but most of those things were fairly insignificant and helped form who I am.

I believe the “Cloak of Invisibility” is more of a cop out than a real helpful tool like the others. The benefit of the cloak is to hide and sneak around. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to eavesdrop on other’s conversations. I’d rather have the important conversations with people directly.

That leaves the “Transporter” which is my choice. This is because I’ve found to be successful one needs to get out and meet with people, to build relationships and to learn. That takes a significant amount of time. Time which typically comes at a cost to my family. With a transporter I could still travel the world meeting and learning from people while still being home with my family for the weekends and important events like birthdays, soccer matches, etc. Yes, at this stage of my life, a transporter would provide the most benefit to me.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would …

This is a timely question. … I’m not going to go into specifics here, but I firmly believe there are still lots of opportunities in connectivity, data aggregation and app development.

I once waited in line for … A cabbage patch doll. It wasn’t for me! It was a Christmas present for my younger sister.

Your geek role models (And why?):

Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and Don Estridge. I think the first two are pretty obvious but the third probably needs more explanation. These three gentlemen are probably most responsible for the personal computer as we currently know it. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Iowa, I participated in the co-operative education program with IBM at its Boca Raton facility. That is where Don Estridge assembled a small team and created the first IBM PC. Boca wasn’t like the rest of IBM which can be directly attributed to Estridge’s style and vision. While there, I had the opportunity to meet Estridge and hear him speak about PCs. I’ve always been impressed with how he was able to take a concept and achieve it in a big organization. It was a very sad day in 1985 when his plane went down in Dallas.

Bill Gates (GeekWire photo)

Years later, I worked at Microsoft. As such, I was able to meet Bill Gates and hear him speak about software many times. One of my favorite times was during a relatively small Windows launch party and Gates reflected upon the early years of the PC and Microsoft. He spoke about working with IBM, the idiosyncrasies of writing code for the Intel processor architecture and how he begged IBM to use the Motorola 68000 instead. It was interesting to hear Gates tie together two such important times in my life and hear his side to some of the same issues I heard Estridge discuss decades earlier.

While I never worked with Steve Wozniak, I have had the opportunity to speak with him as well. Not at length, but a nice conversation about a watch project he was working on. While interesting, that isn’t what impressed me about The Woz. I, like every other geek, is still amazed at what he was able to design and build with the original Apple computers. I remember going to my dad’s office at night because there was an Apple computer there. On really special occasions, Dad would bring the computer home and I’d play around with programming it all night long. Perhaps not the best of habits to form as a teenager, but it is one which I still have.

Thus Gates, Wozniak and Estridge all influenced me in different, but important ways. These role models affect how I think and work to this day.

Greatest Game In History:

I’m not sure if this is meant to be the greatest single match or greatest type of game. I’m going to infer the latter and also include sports as a type of game. (Although some people will dispute whether my choice is a sport or a game.)

The greatest game in history is golf. No question. There are many reasons for this, but here are a few of my favorites: Via the handicap system, golf enables players of any ability to compete against each other on a level playing field. Golf also allows weekend hacks such as myself to play on the same courses where the greats of the past as well as those of today have played. Through my travels I’ve been able to play Muirfield, Winged Foot, The Country Club, Newport CC, Pebble Beach, Olympia Fields, Beth Page, Pinehurst #2, Olympic and my home course of Sahalee all of which have hosted one or more major championships. All of these courses have storied history in the game of golf. The fact that golf is played on a different course each weekend demonstrates the ability of the best players in the world as they can win on any course. Contrast that with the complaints I hear from big name baseball free agents not willing to some to Seattle to play because Safeco Field is a “pitchers park.” You don’t hear about golfers not showing up at Augusta National because the greens are too fast…

I’ll never forget dropping a ball behind 17 at Pebble Beach and trying to reenact the chip which Tom Watson made in the ’82 US Open on Sunday to defeat Jack Nicklaus. Or dropping a ball on the 17th green at The Country Club trying to make the same putt Justin Leonard made to seal the victory for the USA in the ’99 Ryder Cup.

In other sports, or games, amateurs simply don’t have the opportunity to play on the same great fields as the pros do. While it would be fun to try to mimic Carlton Fisk’s game 6 homerun in the ’75 World Series, it isn’t possible. (See this video.) Also, in other sports the fields are all the same. (OK, the fences in baseball are different, but essentially a diamond is a diamond.) I’ve hit many buckets from the top of the key, but none of them are close to a reenactment of Michael Jordan’s shot to beat the Jazz in the ’98 finals. The fact that every basketball court is the same makes it somewhat meaningless that I’m able to go out and shoot from the same spot.

Golf on the other hand is different. When one gets the chance to try the same shot as the pros, it really is the same shot. Granted without the US Open pressure, but still…

Best Gadget Ever:

Back to Basics TEM4500 4-Slot Egg-and-Muffin Toaster. This thing is amazing. It not only toasts your muffin, but also steams your egg and heats some ham. To ensure you have the perfect breakfast, the muffin doesn’t pop out of the toaster until the eggs are perfectly cooked. Thus the muffin is still hot when the eggs are done! One of the best 50 bucks I’ve ever spent!

First computer: TRS-80

Current phone: iPhone 4S

Favorite app: Shazam: It comes in super handy when I’m driving the girls around and we are playing “guess the artist” with the radio.

Favorite hangout: My boat.

Most important technology of 2012: iOS.

Most important technology of 2015: My next adventure.

Words of advice for your fellow geeks: Never stop learning!

Your site(s): …  …

 Your Twitter: @WirelessMike

Geek of the Week is a regular feature profiling the characters of the Pacific Northwest technology community. See the Geek of the Week archive for more.

Does someone you know deserve this distinguished honor? Send nominations to

[Geek of the Week photography by Annie Laurie Malarkey,]


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