Continental Drift Part 2

Phone superglued to foundation

(see part 1)

The phone’s been running for nearly a week collecting data despite rebooting servers and wifi failing so I superglued it to the foundation of the house, which is concrete and in the ground. The data collected so far has all been deleted since it was just a test, but from here on out it’s real. In a week or two I’ll write some scripts to analyze the data and figure out what the error bars are.

2016 Books on diet

All are recommended, though you really do need to read all of them to get a complete picture.

The summary:

  • Don’t eat anything with a nutrition label, or that comes in a box, or has a logo on it
  • If it’s meat, make sure it’s grass fed
  • If it’s fish, make sure it comes from the middle of the ocean
  • Really, really, don’t eat sugar
  • Go as long as possible between meals, for example by eating once a day or fasting for a few days regularly


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:


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.


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.


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


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:


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:


From there, some photo-realistic renderings:


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:


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.