Author Archive | Steve Coast

Kickstarter update #4: Busy

I’m catching up my blog to the kickstarter updates I’ve been posting. Here’s the original.

Hi, thanks for supporting the GPS ART POSTER!

A quick note on the prints.

I’m working through your area selections. Some of them are incredibly detailed. This is a good thing, but it is taking time. For example, prints asking for “my house near the big park in my town” are really fun. I’m exploring all kinds of new places and making many beautiful prints.

I’ve sent the first batch to the printer, too.

But there is a dark side here, and I need to be extra, extra clear with you. If you didn’t pledge at the $99 level there is no feedback loop.

I will do my best to make a great print for you, but some of the area selections are very hard to get right. For example; county maps are very hard since county boundaries are hard to get right, since they don’t always follow roads or other things in the GPS traces. Instead they follow random other things, like rivers. Or, if you specify “New York” that can mean New York City, Manhattan, New York State… or anything in between.

So, if it is, really, really, important to you that the print is *just* *right* please drop me a message, and consider upgrading to the $99 level, because I want to make you happy.

Kickstarter update #3: Many Places

I’m catching up my blog to the kickstarter updates I’ve been posting. Here’s the original.

I’m writing with a little update on the gps art poster you supported. Thanks for that!

Yay! Code rewrite madness! The original software for this could take up to 2 hours to make a complete print. That doesn’t work when you have lots of prints to make. It has been completely rewritten and now takes about 50 seconds.

(For the technically inclined, originally it scanned hundreds of gigabytes of CSV files on a spinning disk. Now, it works with a smaller MySQL spatial indexed database on an SSD. The code itself is a relatively short ruby script talking to MySQL on one end and the PrawnPDF library at the other. Win!)

The $99 level pledgees now all have previews of their art, or have finalized their print. Soon, they’ll start being printed.

This means it’s time to move to the $59 level pledgees. There are 8 times more of you, and I’ve learnt a few things along the way that should make your process easier. Expect a survey soon to get your info.

For the levels below $59, sit tight, I’ll get to you as soon as possible.

Lastly, here are a few of the preview images.

image-235213-full-1 image-235214-full-1 image-235215-full-1

BDNT Event Review

I went to a tech meetup, BDNT, last night in Boulder. I used to go often when I lived in Denver a couple of years ago. Six or so startup-alikes get five minutes to pitch then five minutes for questions. These are the three that I remember:



AmbientBox pitched an analytics platform for restaurants, bars and shops. You buy a magical box ($250) and plug it in. It records various things like noise level, CO2 (to detect how many people are in the room), lighting levels and so on. It uploads this and then you use an app to figure out when the ambiance is “good.” A pretty ipad app or website will theoretically let you use this data to figure out how to improve your space, get more customers and so on. You pay $100/month or something. Sort of Nest for restaurants, maybe.

My thoughts:

  • Basic idea is kind of interesting.
  • A magical box sounds painful. Why can’t this just be an smart phone app to start? It has a camera and microphone on it minimum.
  • CO2 sensor sounds interesting, but I’m willing to bet it correlates with noise level and is irrelevant.
  • Low end restaurants won’t give a crap about this. High end restaurants will pay someone. The middle ground sounds like a smaller market?
  • The great part about this is that it gives your restauranteur the feeling of being in control and making progress. Even if it’s bullshit, there are lots of people who’re happy to pay for pretty graphs and to pay for the feeling of control. Another way of putting it; it’s enough data to hang yourself with.
  • Visualizations were pretty.



ChatLingual is magical IM chat on the web with seamless translation between languages. So, we each chat in our language and it’s translated on the fly. Monetization is a little unclear, pay per chat, tokens or something. Secret plan is to build the best translation engine possible.


  • Super pretty and clean UI.
  • If I’m cheap, I’ll go use Google translate or something. If I have money and I have some nuanced conversation with reserved Japanese executives, then I need a professional translator?
  • The data collection secret plan is good, but super long range. Sounds like free basic usage plus additional services (e.g. freemium) would work well. Computer translation for free, real bilingual people for $20/hour or whatever.
  • Would be a useful feature for odesk / elance so I can communicate better with freelancers
  • The flip side, is that it might just be a feature. Don’t IM clients do this already?



FitTrip is (will be) an iPad app which makes working out more fun. You connect a heart rate monitor and your iPad magically shows you a video of you, say, running the grand canyon. If your heart rate speeds up then the video speeds up, like you’re really there. Content is paid for; so you get one free virtual run then you pay to run other places. There are competitors out there for this idea.


  • The guys asked the audience if they’d pay $5 for a trip. This is an awful way to ask about pricing. You need to ask “what is a cheap price”, “what is an expensive price” and so on.
  • Most of the audience, 100+ people, put their hands up to the $5 question. This is wacky. What they should have asked is how many people have iPads, heart rate monitors, a running machine and work out. And want to pay for this app content. It’ll be a much smaller percentage.
  • If I’m going to pay for an iPad, a heart rate monitor and the app, and a gym membership or running machine, couldn’t I just fly to the grand canyon for less money and run for real? (Answer is yes, you can).
  • The guys mentioned 60% of gym memberships are paid for but unused. That is, people don’t show up to the gym. They said this like it’s a bad thing. Gyms love that, it’s free cash flow. The last thing in the world a gym wants is customers to show up, the same way a bank doesn’t want us all showing up to withdraw money at the same time.
  • All that said, the app was very pretty.
  • It’s a large, irrational market, just look at that 60% of gym members who don’t show up, but still pay. So even crazy stupid ideas can work.


SortPeople: Save time hiring

I’ve built something called SortPeople.

When you hire someone, typically you have to look through a lot of resumes. SortPeople invites applicants to review each other. Then, you get a list of applicants ordered by their score. Peer reviewed, crowd sourcing of who’s the best for the job.

This should save you a lot of time when hiring.

What do you think?

Is Sugar Toxic?

You know how public health has centered around low-fat diets for the last thirty years? It turns out there’s no actual evidence to suggest that’s a good thing. The move to carbohydrates has actually made the problem (heart disease et. al.) worse.

Apparently, fructose (part of sucrose) is metabolized similarly to alcohol, and causes all kinds of problems for you. Enough problems that you shouldn’t touch it, but it’s in everything. A neat way to think about a can of coke is that it’s the same as a can of beer, just without the buzz. It’s that damaging.

There’s a great NYT article over here by Gary Taubes, who you can listen to in podcast form on EconTalk over here. Gary wrote Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It.

For the full, terrifying, experience, here’s a video for you. It’s 90 minutes long but the whole thing is worth your time.

Windows 8 Spaces

About a decade ago I discovered software RAID on Linux. That’s the ability to chain multiple drives together to mirror the data from one to the other, or make them look like one big drive. Or both.

To do so, you have to read a big document and edit a bunch of files:


I used to love doing this. It was interesting to learn how it all worked. Today, I have less time.

I was kind of amazed to find software RAID built in to Windows 8. It’s all point-and-click:
Windows Spaces dialog

You can

  • Mirror drives 2 or 3 times
  • Store parity info for recovery
  • Chain disks together to make bigger drives
  • Some combination of the above
  • Thin provision: Make a 1Tb drive out of a couple of 100Gb drives, then when it starts to run out of space just add more
  • Mix SATA, SCSI and USB disks in all of this
  • Make all of this a network drive and access it from your Mac, PC or whatever

All just built-in to Windows 8.

For a cheap, quick, redundant local data solution it’s actually incredibly useful. More over here.

OSM Professional Large User Summit


Today, we’re launching the OSM PLUS conference.

At SOTM US last year I threw out the idea of having a commercial-only conference  for OSM. SOTM in general has had a mixed relationship with commercial entities, dating back to the first “business day” we ran at SOTM (if I remember… Amsterdam). Many in the community view companies as somewhere in the range of biased to evil. This isn’t a view that I share. Either way, creating a conference for specifically those entities seems like a good thing to try.

The response I received was very positive. There appears to be a need for large users of OSM data to get together. They share various concerns and have similar goals. Many large users have a piece of the puzzle to help OSM (and themselves) succeed but not the whole set. By getting various entities together, one of my hopes is we can build something larger than the sum of the parts.

It should be a lot of fun, here’s the announcement;

The OpenStreetMap Professional Large Users Summit is going to be held just after SOTM US, on June 10th in San Francisco at the Marriott Union Square. You can register here. Be quick, space is limited.

OSM PLUS is new and focused on professional users of OSM data and toolchains commercially, academically, in government and elsewhere. It is a paid-for event and we expect it to be more of a conversation than a traditional presentation. Many professional users have similar concerns and expectations for OSM. We want to explore these in an environment focused on coming up with solutions.

Today, OSM is a volunteer-only organization. This focus doesn’t always satisfy the needs of many users. We want to have an open conversation about ways to make OSM better. Because of that, the program will be influenced by those who attend.

PS you can use the code “GPS” to get 20% off the ticket price if you register soon.


Save yourself from Reddit, Hacker News, Slashdot…

As Paul Graham writes, everything is becoming more addictive.

This includes the websites which waste most of my time on the planet; reddit, HN, slashdot and others. But, you can use your long range planning to cut short your lizard brain from going click-click-click all day. How? By redirecting reddit to something more useful.

What we can do is this: Whenever you type ‘’ in to your browser, we can redirect to something which blocks reddit and reminds you to try and be more productive.

On a mac, type this;

sudo launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/org.apache.httpd.plist

That will start the apache web server. Next;

sudo nano /Library/WebServer/Documents/index.html.en

Edit your index file to look like this;

<script type=”text/javascript”>
window.location = “”
</head><body><h1>It works!</h1></body></html>

Now any hit to your apache will redirect to this image:

Working Car

Try this by going to http://localhost/ in a browser. Now we need to redirect sites which suck up all your time;

sudo nano /private/etc/hosts

Keep the stuff in there, and add this to the end;

This causes your hostname resolver to think that reddit is running on your machine. Which then redirects in to cat territory.

That’s it. Now when you try to browse some time-sucking website you’ll be reminded that it’s better to go do some work.

The rise of the LED

Mass manufacturing has finally brought down the cost of various LED bulbs in to the range of consumer lighting applications. $25 bulbs are now worth it since since they save you something like 5 or 10 times that amount over the course of their 20-30 year lifespan.

Think about that for a second – there are plenty of houses with a 30 year expected lifespan. They’re built out of wood in the US and about ready for a remodel or demolition after a generation or so. In the UK they’re littered over 30 year flood plain building sites, which is about the same thing in terms of outcome.

Or, think about aircraft. A new 787 has an expected lifetime in the 30 year range.

This brings interesting economies of scale. You don’t need light sockets any more, since you’ll never need to change the bulb. You will explain to your grand children about the time when you used to change light bulbs back when TV sets were the size of a suitcase.

Philips LED bulb

Philips LED bulb

My favorite so far for standard screw-in household applications is this philips bulb currently at amazon for $23. Design-wise it is the Dyson of lightbulbs but it lights up with the right yellow hue of a black body mass at some high temperature. That is, it looks like a normal bulb when lit up.

There are cheaper bulbs but they tend to have a white/blueish tint and I actually believe Philips rating the bulbs for 20+ years whereas I’m unclear on the cheaper no-name bulbs. Those cheaper bulbs are great for outdoor applications (exterior lighting) since I don’t really care if the outside of the house is white or yellow at night since I’m not the one looking at it.

A few weeks ago I backed this kickstarter project building an interesting bulb.

Another interesting bulb

Another interesting bulb

Embedding the LEDs on the surface and leaving the interior, in theory, free for air to flow for more heat conduction is interesting. But, I don’t really understand the physics and heat dissipation issues.

The rational thing to do, given the amount of money saved per bulb appears to be to replace every bulb immediately with LEDs. even at $23 a bulb. But, I find myself replacing them as the old ones die out. I tell myself that I’m hedging the future cost of LED bulbs since they should decline in price over time.

LED dome light

LED dome light

One of the cars has (had) two incandescent dome lights. Dome lights are, apparently, what you call the lights above your head in the car. These too are now replaceable with LED solutions. The bulb you see above is something like an inch long and the metal connectors are the same, but the array of 12 LEDs replaces a glass cylinder with an element inside (like a normal bulb). These lights are much brighter, will last longer than the car will and, I’m guessing, use less electricity too. Grandpa, do you remember when you used to change lights in cars? What was that like?

This has interesting weight applications. If all the bulbs in a car are permanent and use less electricity that means it will be lighter since you don’t need the sockets. That will make the car marginally more efficient, need a smaller alternator (if driven by gasoline) and so on. That makes me wonder if Tesla already does all this.

These particular lights aren’t dimmable however. That’s another cost consideration. The Philips bulbs will apparently dim but cheaper ones tend to just crap out. There is also a noticable 1-2 second lag between turning on the light switch and the Philips bulb lighting up, probably charging a capacitor or something internally.

An LED bulb for your fridge

An LED bulb for your fridge

Household appliances are not immune. A bulb blew in the fridge and I replaced it with an LED bulb too.

Lastly, there are various kickstarter projects to make wifi-controlled LED bulbs which will turn any color you like, make you a sandwich and console you on a lonely evening, or whatever. I think that’s a great idea but right now I’m treating those as approximately unproven (lifespan) and as geek entertainment not cost-effective lighting. I’m not sure we will be using 802.11b in 30 years time but I’m pretty sure there will still be standard light sockets, and these things only amortize their cost over a 20/30-yearish span.

It’s great to be living in the future.

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