Measuring Continental Drift with a Phone

Worldwide Continental Drift Velocities

Worldwide Continental Drift Velocities

Here in Colorado if you believe the above map (more detail), we’re moving a few centimeters a year west or south-west. Queue music, and a weekend project.

How is continental drift measured? It turns out there’s not a lot to it, you just superglue a GPS to a rock and take location measurements for a year or two. If you average out the noise of the GPS you should see it move over time.

I have an old Lumia phone that is worth about $5 on eBay yet will run Windows 10 so I grabbed Visual Studio 2015 and wrote a little app to grab the GPS location every second. The app also keeps the screen alive, displays the location and then sends the data off to a server. The “server” here is a Mac running a tiny little ruby daemon which listens for the GPS data and logs it to some files. There’s also a little plist file you put in your launchd directory to keep it running as a background service. A great excuse to learn how Windows 10 apps and ruby sockets work.

Now the “real” geologists, probably their GPS is bright orange, has solar power, a big drive to log data and special clamps to mount the whole thing to the bedrock that’s being measured. It probably has a wonderful view of the sky, and cost $20k or something. The concrete foundation of the house and superglue will have to suffice for mounting. We have interference from the (wooden) roof of the garage. The server might go down. The wifi will too, occasionally, and there is no buffering on the phone at this point so we’ll lose data here and there. The code is all available here.

I’m currently running the setup for a few days and will then superglue the phone to the foundation and forget about it for a few months while it collects data. Though there is one piece left to write for logging, we need to compress the files after they’ve been stagnant a while.

Analysis will come much later, and we’ll need a decent numerical library to make sure the averages are computed correctly. There are various other thing that can break like thermal expansion or some other effect may throw the whole thing off. Stay tuned!


Arduino Airbus Anti-Collision Lights

Airbus aircraft, like the model A380 above have a specific anti-collision lighting setup that I like. The white LEDs on the wing tips blink twice, then the red light on the top and bottom blink. I’m ignoring the tail light since I’m not sure I care about it for what I want to do.

Here’s the timing diagram:

The middle row shows the wingtip lights blinking for 50 milliseconds, wait for 350 milliseconds then blink the red (top row) for 100 milliseconds. The bottom is the tail I’m ignoring for now.

I implemented this on an Arduino:

Here’s the code (and yes, I know the loop is unrolled):

So the question of course is, why?

I think it would make a neat set of lights for a bicycle helmet or something lighter (e.g. a headband) for runners. If it’s good enough to protect a half-billion dollar aircraft then why not try it on the mean streets?

I need to miniaturize and package it, and make it work in the rain as next steps.

Here’s the Arduino clone kit I used, and the ultra-bright LEDs. The kit came with some fogged white LEDs which are OK, but not great. Overall it was a fun first project, and if you already know how to write software and some electronics you can get going extremely quickly. My problem was I never had a real reason to use an Arduino until now…


Steve’s Golden Rules of Feedback

You know business books which spend 300 pages explaining something that is easily laid out in a few sentences? I’m looking at you, Millionaire Next Door (to be a millionaire, buy a used Toyota and cheap vodka – there, I summarized it for you).

Well, here are my golden rules of feedback:

  1. About 1-in-10 people ask for feedback on things
  2. About 1-in-10 of those will try to action the feedback

Some multiplication will tell you that only about 1% of people are able to both ask for and use feedback. If you think about it, that about explains the 1% of people who’re successful at whatever they’re trying to do.

Feedback sucks.

For whatever reason, we don’t like being wrong. It feels bad.

Most people want to feel good, and someone pointing out their mistakes doesn’t tend to induce that special unicorns-and-puppies feeling.

Here’s how most people approach feedback:

  1. Don’t ask for feedback at all

Things are much safer that way, in the same way that a ship is safe in a harbor. But they’re meant to be sailed.

Today, I got an email from a company asking for feedback. This is a great start.

Underneath the summary text, the huge logo and then two paragraphs of text I was invited to click a link to give feedback. Clicking the link lead to this:

feedback1Now – this is how you don’t ask for feedback.

But lets back up. Why should we want feedback?

You need feedback because you have no idea if what you’re doing is correct. You have made some guesses, perhaps even educated guesses. But you need the humility to figure out if you’re wrong. Should the widget you made be blue or red? The quicker and cheaper you can find out, the better.

It’s very easy for us to think we’re right, but we usually aren’t. The cost of being wrong if we’re talking about who’ll win Superbowl 100 isn’t super high. But where money, life and business are concerned it can be very painful.

So although most people, maybe 80%, don’t ask for feedback at all there is another 10%-20% who ask but are just really bad at it. It usually goes like this:

  1. Grudgingly ask for feedback
  2. Figure out how to disagree with it and do whatever I want anyway

I see this all the time. Like in that example above, let’s see it again:

feedback1

What’s wrong with this is varied, but it comes down to wasting my time. I had to:

  1. Open the email
  2. Read it
  3. Click the link
  4. Wait for it to load
  5. Answer some number of questions, starting with the most dumb question of all. Dumb, because you’re asking me if I’m a customer when I obviously am.

Each of those steps throws out potential responses. The number of people sent the email might start at a 1,000 or so, but then that gets cut down to perhaps 5 or 10 responses if we’re lucky. This is because every step will lose people. Fewer steps are better.

Here’s all you need to ask –

What one thing would you change with [Product/Service/Thing]?

That’s all you need to ask. And you can do that in the email without sending people to a website.

Most people are more than happy to tell you the one thing. Then you collate all the responses together and crucially you actually try the thing.

If the customers say it should be red but you like blue, all you need to do is try it. Maybe they’re wrong. But if so, the costs are trying some red for a while. If they’re right then the upside can be huge because you’ve learnt something and applied it.

That’s what we call an asymmetric payoff, and it’s what I help people figure out all the time. If you want some help, give me a call.


OpenStreetView Canada Talks Next Week

If you’re in Calgary, I’ll be speaking about OpenStreetView on Tuesday next week at MapTime Calgary!

Then on Thursday I’ll be at OpenStreetMap Ottawa too!

If you’re around, drop me a line.


The Problem With Climate Change

photo-1421081177127-339f586c9b49Over a decade ago Michael Crichton put out a book, State of Fear, on climate change. Probably it was his most controversial book and that’s reflected in the mixed Amazon reviews.

The point of the book wasn’t so much that climate change is a myth, but that there’s always been change and there’s a lot we don’t know. Such statements instantly label you a “denier” since it is an easy refuge for deniers to claim the same thing.

To demonstrate this, here’s what I do: When someone brings up climate change, I ask them why the sky is blue. The point, again, isn’t to deny climate change. The point is that the sky occupies about half peoples vision every waking day of their life, and most people don’t know why it’s blue. This question tends to make people pretty angry, but that’s not the intent. I have yet to meet anyone who knows why the sky is blue.

We’re all human, so we think it’s ok to on the one hand believe global temperatures will be higher in 100 years time and on the other not know the most basic things about the same system we’re trying to predict. Maybe that’s ok, but it still worries me.

evidence_co2

Good luck fixing this…

For the record, I’m more on the climate change side of the fence than anything else. But I’ve also worked in academic research environments, and you get to see just how much nonsense is put out when you do that. It doesn’t appear that climate change is a major problem for a while, and that’s why so few people care today. The question is how to get people to care about something bad that will happen to other people in the future. Maybe I’m wrong.

If you’re interested, here’s why the sky is blue. It was one of the questions I was asked when I wanted to move from Computer Science to Physics in University, and I happened to know why. The other interesting question was to show why basic differentials worked, essentially the proof Newton did a few hundred years ago. That’s another one where we’re taught the rules but rarely why they work.


OpenGeoCodes iOS and Android Apps – Collect Open Address Data

Open Address data from OpenGeoCodes in Durango, CO. Green pins are manually verified, red are awaiting verification.

Open Address data from OpenGeoCodes in Durango, CO. Green pins are manually verified, red are awaiting verification.

screen696x696OpenGeoCodes now has iOS and Android apps to optimize the hand collection of addresses.

badge_newdownload_on_the_app_store_badge_us-uk_135x40

Addresses are the primary limiting factor of OpenStreetMap – there just isn’t much out there that’s easily licensed and OSM itself for a variety of reasons lacks address data. OSM looks pretty – it’s a great display map. It’s also routable with a lot of work. But, you can’t find addresses on it.

OpenGeoCodes has data in the US and some starter data in Canada and the UK to try to fix this.

So what do the apps do?

The apps let you walk around and collect data. Say you’re standing outside 100 Main Street – just tap it, the app records the location and you’re done. Normally the app tries to guess where you are based on location.

But wait, there’s more! As you walk along, the app will optimize what addresses to show you. For example if you’re walking on the even side of a street going north, the app will figure this out and present you ascending even numbers. So if you enter 100 and 102, and the app knows 104 is nearby it will focus on this.

This makes it easy to walk along and just tap, tap, tap to collect data. We collect this data together and then make it freely downloadable. There’s also a mailing list if you want to get involved.

Where to from here? The feature list includes a more human design, notifications for when near places with no data, OSM upload and fixing and more. Drop me an email if you run in to any issues.

 


Simplify Your Messaging For Success

Simplifying your messaging will help it spread. Here are examples:

I just caught this Adidas ad where they are messaging a relationship between Adidas and “future”:

It reminds me of something I’ve been working on with a few people – simplicity in messaging.

If you can at all do it, just use a single word in you messaging like Adidas did with “Future”. You can see this in all the best brands.

Simple messages are easier to remember, repeat and pass on. The more complicated it is, the harder it is to remember. One word is about as simple as you can go. They also let you self-identify: The word “future” means one thing to me and another to you, and we can both associate that with Adidas without conflicting.

Longer messaging complicates things and makes it harder for someone to associate. If Adidas went from “future” to “great future”, “future now”, “future fast” or anything else there is little value-add in the additional word. It would be complication for complications sake.

Another great example is Coke and “Enjoy”. Charlie Munger talks about Coca-Cola’s association with all things positive in this great read. The goal is very simple and Pavlovian – Coke wants to be associated with every positive thing in your life. Christmas? Coke. Party? Coke. Enjoy? Coke.

And of course Obama and “Hope”:

Obama Hope Messaging

I’ve asked many people now to name a product when prompted by “Enjoy” and nearly everyone says “coke”.

Positive, open-ended and meaningful words that people can ascribe their own meaning to will help you push your message. Some of them are even more subtle, consider Amazon and “Smile”:

Amazon Smile Messaging

They don’t even say it. Subliminal can be powerful at the disadvantage of people perhaps missing it entirely. The more famous FedEx hidden arrow illustrates this:

FedEx Hidden Arrow Messaging

Here’s one I made for United by modifying their United/Continental branding and adding “Arrive”:

United Arrive Messaging

“Arrive” is a wonderful word to add to a travel brand. I was going to add “Secure” to McAffee’s branding but they already did it:

McAffee Secure MessagingHow about a VC firm like Bessemer? I like “Innovate” over the more descriptive “Venture Partners” (which is the original):

Bessemer Original Messaging

Bessemer Innovate Messaging

Want help simplifying things? Book a free consultation.


Designing & 3D printing a coffee mug

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Intex make these above-ground swimming pools for about $80. For some reason, I like the edge curvature of the water pressing on the side of the pool wall. Look at the extreme left and right of the pool, that’s what I’m talking about. There must be some nice mathematics behind describing that curve. I have this fantasy of making a coffee mug out of it.

I made this horrible image by cutting and pasting:

screen-shot-2016-09-02-at-12-24-19-pm

One issue is that all the pictures of these pools are from above them, it’s hard to get one edge-on. But, the horrible picture gets the idea across.

As a next step I hired a wonderful architect and designer to help turn the thing in to a 3D model:

img_05092016_220836

From there, some photo-realistic renderings:

mug01a

This was evolved a little in to something printable. Shapeways lets you print in some beautiful porcelain materials. Here’s a screenshot of the thing on shapeways:

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-40-21-am

The shape ways materials are nearly sublime. Here’s a sample of ceramic in Cobalt Blue, which is what I’ve ordered the mug in:

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-50-31-am This, I stress, is only version one of the mug. There are a number of things to work through; the size, the wall thickness, the handle, the curve shape and so on. By 3D printing it, I can play with an actual copy.

And so can you, if you want. By clicking a few buttons, you can buy one on shapeways:

It is kind of expensive to print in 3D relative to buying a mass-produced mug at a store, but way cheaper than it used to be to prototype things. Really, it would be near-impossible for me to go do this without shapeways.

My copy of the mug should arrive in a couple of weeks, and I’ll post an update then on what the version 2 iteration will look like.


The Herpes Theory of Government

A new virus tends to kill everything it touches. Think Ebola. Big news, hazmat suits, death everywhere.

If a new virus doesn’t kill everything then it probably isn’t a new virus, and it certainly isn’t news. Therefore for you to know about it, it has to kill everything, otherwise you’d never hear about it. The same way you don’t hear about the nuclear war that didn’t happen yesterday.

It’s a problem if a virus kills everything. I mean of course, for the virus.

For a virus to survive it has to hop around and reproduce by finding new victims. If it doesn’t, then it dies along with it’s host. So it can’t be too deadly because then it’ll never spread.

A virus has to find a sweet spot where it can come along for the ride and kill you but not before you help it find someone else to infect. Ideally, it should be so benign as to never kill you. That way it can infect everyone you meet. Yay!

So the virus starts off by being very deadly. Through mutation and evolutionary selection new strains will appear. Some will be even more deadly! And some won’t.

The ones that aren’t as deadly will spread more since they have more time to spread before killing you. Over time they get less and less deadly.

And thus we arrive at Herpes. We’ve lived with variations of Herpes for millions of years. Over a billion people have the nice version (cold sores). Two thirds of the world has had some kind of Herpes.

It starts off killing everyone and being very unpleasant. Imagine how much fun the not-nice version of Herpes would be for you, living in 1690 or whatever. Then over time it evolved in to something basically benign – cold sores.

Cold sores (Herpes Simplex) have no cure and no vaccine. You’re stuck with it. It’s kind of annoying, but it doesn’t kill you or render you permanently unattractive to the opposite sex.

And thus to government.

Governments used to basically kill everyone. Think kings and queens and Napoleon. Big wars, random reasons for those wars, lots of death. Let’s all build a bunch of ships and kill people.

Over time, government has figured out that if you keep killing everyone then it gets hard to have anyone left over to tax. This is just like a virus evolving to be benign.

Government evolved from arbitrary rulers and rules in to modern democracy. Government no longer kills everyone all the time, but just taxes people instead in a far more stable symbiotic relationship.

There are still random flare ups, just like Ebola: Occasionally governments (especially far away stupid governments) will randomly kill everyone like Venezuela or Syria in their own ways are doing today. But on average, they’ve evolved to exist with their citizens in benign partnership.

I’m not sure how much farther the analogy can be pushed, but it’s an entertaining thought experiment.


Highlights on Sully & that A320 on the Hudson

A320 on the Hudson

A320 on the Hudson

The Sully movie (based on the book) is out in just over a week which prompted me to read the NTSB air accident report (warning, nearly 200 pages long). In university I used to read these things all the time for some reason.

There are some interesting things in there. Here’s the map of passenger evacuations:

Passenger evacuations of US1549

Passenger evacuations of US1549

I’ve modified it from the vertical image in the NTSB report. Nobody goes out the back as it was flooding. Most people go for the nearest exit apart from at the back. First, there was that water coming in the back and secondly crowding at the over-wing exits blocked them. Crew told people to skip to the front, by climbing over seats.

Interestingly, and by chance it seems, the aircraft was equipped for flight over water. Most people didn’t grab seat cushions, and a lot of them couldn’t get the life vest on. Nine people fell in the water.

I’m not sure if that includes the first person out the L1 door (the one you get on the plane through typically). That person jumped straight in to the water and that slide took ~20 seconds or so to begin inflating.

The water was just above freezing and the survivability for that is measured in single-digit minutes for your average human.

The slides are designed to hold 55 people absolute max. The aft slides were out of action so that leaves 110 spots for 155 people on board. They could use the over-wing evacuation slides for flotation right? You’d think so, but not quite. They’re attached to the airframe and would have sunk with it. One of the recommendations of the report is to fix that.

Everyone was off within ~20 minutes of the forced water landing. Injuries? Only a few.

Brace, brace, brace

Brace, brace, brace

The recommended brace position put peoples arms up on the seat in front of them. On landing everyone is thrown forward and a couple of peoples arms suddenly had to take the load of them at impact deceleration plus, presumably, some load from passengers behind them. Their arm went up in to their shoulder and broke it. Apparently two passengers had very similar fractures as a result.

As an aside, if you look around there’s not a whole lot of good information on what to do for brace position. Other than not be in a crash, of course.

One flight attendant had a nasty gash on the leg when a beam apparently broke through the floor but didn’t notice it until off the aircraft.

Apparently the NTSB sensor transcripts:

I’m gonna just call this guy directly cause I don’t think this OPS guy knows what the # he’s doin.

This is mentioned on the ground way before anything bad happens. It happens again later as you might expect. As ever in these things, everything is remarkably normal until it suddenly isn’t.

You can read the book and here’s that movie trailer: