Innovation, Travel

Location matters

09.26.06 | Permalink | Comments Off on Location matters

Global positioning systems have really come a long way in terms of what’s available commercially and who can get benefit from the technology. For those of you who are not familiar with GPS, the system is simple in concept though difficult to implement in practice. It works like this: a constellation of (at least) 24 satellites is maintained by the US Goverment (primarily for military applications.) Each satellite has a precise known orbit as well as a highly accurate clock. Many times a second, each satellite transmits a message that consists of the time stamp and the satellite’s identity. Receivers on the ground, gather as many signals as possible (a minimum of 3 signals are required to get basic information) and use triangulation to determine position on a grid that has been superimposed over the globe i.e. N37.324 W122.309 is a position. The more digits after the decimal place, the more accurate the position calculation. Commercial receivers now typically are capable of receiving 12 signals, which allows for reasonable accuracy of +/- 2 meters. Some applications for the military and science, are now capable of accuracy to +/- 1 centimeter.

Now, all that is great. And geeks really like to know how stuff works. But what about people who simply want to know what street they’re on in an unfamiliar town? That’s the good news. GPS receiver manufacturers have finally made the leap from geeks who care about the X, Y coordinates to end-users who want to know how to get to location name X, how long it will take, what interesting things are available along the way, and alternate routes should something go wrong.

Garmin StreetPilot 2720

Having spent the last 2 weeks traveling extensively around the US with an accurate GPS receiver, I can categorically state I would NEVER EVER take a trip of over 2 hours duration in a car again without GPS. It’s a marvelous convenience to be able to know with certainty one’s situation. That being said, there are still some improvements to be made to the units. The one I travelled with is the Garmin StreetPilot 2720, an end-user set with 2 meter accuracy, the ability to receive FM band traffic reports, millions of points of interest, etc. The unit is 99% accurate in my experience. But, one still needs to maintain a strong sense of where one is going, that 1% can be a real bummer if you don’t ignore the instructions at the right time. Example: early Sunday morning I pulled off I15 from Vegas to top off the gas tank and scrub the windshield. The GPS instructed me not to get back on I15 S, it wanted me to go back north toward Vegas to a secondary route. Had I simply followed directions, it would have created hours more driving. The good news is, it very rarely does this. The bad news is, it does make these errors meaning complete trust in the unit is foolhardy.

One other thing I’ll single Garmin out for is promising Mac compatible software and then not delivering it. That’s frustrating to a consumer, particularly frustrating when no specific delivery time for the software can be given. I take that to mean the work is not under way as every development project has an end date. I’d like to see some battery capablity in this unit, it’s a vehicle unit, but sometimes the plug wiggles out and then a restart takes some time. This is annoying when precise instructions are required and the unit goes dead for lack of power. Also, I’d ditch (or vastly improve) the audio direction instructions, I found that I put the unit in mute mode 95% of the time.

All this being said, the unit works well and was a great aid during my travels.

Given the fact that GPS is now becoming user-friendly, that GPS receivers are showing up in mobile phones, vehicles, and in hand-held units, a whole raft of interesting location-based services are now possible. A few that occurred to me during my travels are:

  • From the old days of citizen’s band radio (CBs) “bear in the grass” service. A user driven location aid for law enforcement’s little speed traps.
  • Where’s the cheap X service? Gas? Food? Lodging? If we know these things exist, a user driven location aid for what their experience with the vendor was and what was paid for the service.
  • Road condition reporting service. As users travel through areas reporting on traffic density, road conditions, construction, etc.
  • Vehicle SOS, kind of OnStar on the cheap. A small hand held GPS unit with radio/mobile phone transmission that a user can simply activate when necessary that dispatches help, a tow truck or emergency responders to the location reported by the unit.
  • Point of interest nomination. As users pass through locations the ability to nominate and rate them in real time to the rest of the user community.

There are some interesting business opportunities to be had in this space.

Meatspace coordinates: N37.324 W122.309
Ohio State’s 2006 record: 4-0 Next up: @Iowa 9/30
Tune: Till it Happens to you by Corinne Bailey Rae
Technorati Tags: | Location | Services | Mike Harding Blog

Commentary, Travel

Isn’t it nice to be home again?

09.25.06 | Permalink | 1 Comment

Rolled in yesterday from Vegas, 9 hours including stops for the trip covering some 570 miles. Uneventful day from a travel perspective though the massive solar array at the intersection of CA58 and US395 was interesting to see as was the growth in the wind farm (nearly 5,000 turbines now) at Tehachapi. Amazing how powerful smells are, crisp salt air, eucalyptus trees, and wet dog all welcomed me home and more to the point, made me feel at home.

The family was in the midst of the afternoon nap when I arrived, so I got a chance to unload and clean up a little bit before spending some much needed and wanted time with the girls.

Many people have asked for an overview of the trip, so here it is:

By the numbers…

  • Total distance traveled: 9,240 kilometers (5,742 miles)
  • 18 states touched (California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.)
  • 1,563 animal carcasses (I contributed one bird to the count)
  • Live animal type enumeration: Jack rabbit, deer, elk, antelope, mountain goat, coyote, buffalo, duck, goose, swan, hawk, cow, horse, sheep, numerous non-identified small bird species, and pigs
  • 942 liters (249 gallons) of fuel consumed (10% E85)
  • Cheapest fuel, $2.09/gallon Fairborn, Ohio ($2.39/gallon E85 in Sturgis, South Dakota – plain unleaded $2.89/gallon in the same spot.)
  • Average velocity – engine-on time, 98 kilometers per hour (59 miles per hour)
  • Average velocity – total travel time, 28 kilometers per hour (17 miles per hour)

Worst of….

  • Roads. They are in pitiful shape. Award for worst roads is a tie between Illinois and Nevada (with California a close third.) The truth is, none of the states had even good roads. Our infrastructure is literally crumbling.
  • Smoking. Those who are familiar with me know I am an avid individualist. I don’t like regulations imposed against personal liberty. But, smoking imposes on other’s rights in a deadly way. A non-smoking area in an enclosed space is like a non-chlorinated section of a swimming pool, it’s a fallacy. Smoking should be outlawed period except in situations where only the smoker is in range: outside, in a personal car (with only the smoker,) or in a personal home (with only the smoker.) Worst offender: Las Vegas. Prediction: one or more of the large casino corporations taken down in the next few years by a lawsuit from employees with lung cancer for failure to provide a safe workplace.
  • Toll roads. At the conference I attended, Robin Chase predicted within 10 years nearly all roads will be pay roads. Well, if that’s the case, let’s make sure we have a national toll transponder system. This regional stuff sucks for a traveler. Low light: $.80 every 3 miles on the Illinios Tollway (which I might add is slower, in worse condition, and more crowded than 99.9% of the free roads over which I traveled.) It’s awful, I don’t know how the citizens of Illinois tolerate it.
  • The homogenization of America. It’s getting tough to know where you are in this country because all the businesses and choices are the same. The same 50 or so franchises dominate, with some small regional differences. Finding unique character is becoming more and more difficult. It’s depressing and it’s almost complete, with very few exceptions, Main Street is dead.
  • Lack of E85. You’d think that a country that produces as much agricultural output as we do and has the energy dependence we do would prefer to send our dollars to the middle west of our country instead of the middle east to fund terrorism and non-friendly regimes. Oh well, I guess I was mistaken. E85 (85% ethanol fuel) was only available in one place, Sturgis, South Dakota (yes, of Black Hills Rally fame.)
  • Food. It’s uniformly mediocre to bad. In the franchises, it’s at least consistently that way. I guess that’s why they’re proliferating the way they are.

Best of….

  • Freedom. Of movement and of constraint. It’s never more clear than when you travel long distances that the barriers found in other places in the world simply do not exist. One can move about in virtually any direction over all sorts of terrain at a whim with very little interference.
  • Space. Our country is empty. I’ll have more to say about this later, but that is a big asset. Particularly west of the Mississippi River.
  • 75 mph speed limit. Those states who have it, it’s a very good thing. It’s fast enough one doesn’t need to speed. (States that don’t have this are missing the boat – although I suspect it’s revenue via ticket they’re after vs. traveler convenience.)
  • Food. The Smoke Shack Bar-B-Q in Arkansas gets my vote for best food of the trip with their pork ribs. Best ice cream, Young’s Jersey Dairy in Ohio. Best tourist trap, Wall Drug in South Dakota. Best dinner, Bozeman Trail Steakhouse in Wyoming. Best overall experience, Blues City Cafe in Tennessee (blues, ribs, football, and beer.)
  • Lodging. Setting aside the nice time spent with my various family members, the winner hands down is the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.
  • Emergence of alternative energy production facilities. I saw more solar, hydro, and wind power than I expected. Encouraging.
  • Point of Interest. Hoover Dam, hands down.
  • Entertainment. (unless one believes in counting animal carcasses as entertainment) Penn & Teller. Great show, highly recommended.
  • Travel accessory. Garmin’s Street Pilot 2720, it’s not perfect, but is very, very good. Invaluable in finding off the beaten path food, lodging, and points of interest.
  • Natural spot. The Badlands in South Dakota. I’ve been there a couple of times and I never fail to be amazed by the place. One of the lovliest places on the earth, and perhaps the lovliest place not proximate to an ocean.
  • My family. All my friends and family were great hosts during my visit taking time out from their busy lives to spend time with me. Not to mention my immediate family who were tolerant enough to allow me this time to sort stuff out.

Queued up for next time…

  • Whitefish, Montana.
  • Al-Can highway.
  • Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington.
  • The entire eastern seaboard.

It was a great trip. I accomplished what I needed to accomplish, which was to clear my mind and get to a place I could make decisions. That I’ve done. In an earlier entry, I indicated there were a few simple decisions I needed to make. The net of this trip is, I want to work for myself (large equity stake in whatever that is) and instead of the simple lifestyle vs. technopreneur standard startup, I want to find a way to combine the two leading to an outcome that helps make the world a better place. John Perry Barlow made a statement that really resonated with me, that I intend to adopt it as my own, he states his mission is “to be a good ancestor.” That’s a very good place to start. Stay tuned for more information as the mission takes on more specific form going forward.

Meatspace coordinates: N37.324 W122.309
Ohio State’s 2006 record: 4-0 Next up: @Iowa 9/30
Tune: I left my heart in San Francisco by Tony Bennett
Technorati Tags: | Roadtrip | Transition | Mike Harding Blog

Ohio State Football

28-6 Ohio State over Penn State

09.23.06 | Permalink | Comments Off on 28-6 Ohio State over Penn State

It was an ugly game played in the rain, featuring sloppy offensive performances by both teams. However, the thing I take away from this game is that the defense is championship quality. They’ve grown up quickly through 4 games this year – allowing just 8 points per game. Will finish my trip in Las Vegas tonight seeing Penn and Teller at the Rio.

Go Bucks!

Meatspace coordinates: N36.050 W115.071
Ohio State’s 2006 record: 4-0 Next up: @Iowa 9/30
Tune: You used to call me by Clifton Chenier
Technorati Tags: | Roadtrip | Ohio State | Mike Harding Blog


Viva Las Vegas

09.22.06 | Permalink | Comments Off on Viva Las Vegas

Tonight I find myself in the Rio hotel, off the strip, in my third room. In the first one, neither tv nor internet worked. In the second one, only tv worked. The third one was just right. The staff get credit for never giving me a rough time about being a high maintenance guest.

560 miles today. Not so bad distance wise, but rough never the less. Whomever creates traffic patterns in Las Vegas (not the Strip, other parts) ought to go back to school. There is no traffic flow, it’s more a bad traffic stutter.

Hoover Dam. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing a treat. It is the best mix of engineering and construction execution I have ever seen in person. Absolutely stunning. Also, the sunrise in New Mexico, over the mesas, was breath taking – also highly recommended.

The eureka referenced in yesterday’s entry was a eureka I think. Nevertheless, the content therein will stay confidential for some period of time. I’ll give hints periodically. Off to witness the sights and sounds that are Las Vegas now, stay in to watch college football tomorrow, in particular, those 16.5 point favorites, The Ohio State Buckeyes as they take on the Penn State Nittany Lions. Then head home early Sunday morning.

Meatspace coordinates: N36.050 W115.071
Ohio State’s 2006 record: 3-0 Next up: Penn State 9/23
Tune: Viva Las Vegas by Elvis Presley
Technorati Tags: | Roadtrip | Las Vegas | Mike Harding Blog



09.21.06 | Permalink | 2 Comments

The old bartender’s bet, can you spell the largest city in New Mexico? That’s where I’m residing temporarily as the truck meanders to points west. Most of the day was spent pondering this most excellent essay on the “Pursuit of Emptiness” by John Perry Barlow. It was mentioned at the conference yesterday; it’s worth reading and digesting.

Today started stormy with rain all morning throughout Oklahoma (who likes to brag about American Idol winner Carrie Underwood and Superbowl winner Troy Aikman – always think of Hank Hill’s character when I hear that name now…) and high winds throughout the trip, but especially in west Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle. Texas is home to the world’s (second) largest cross in a small town called Groom. Guess everything is bigger in Texas.

Today saw a gain in altitude of about 5,000 feet over a distance of 735 miles. The eureka moment I was hoping might happen, might have happened today. I’ll sleep on it and then see how it feels tomorrow. One thing is clear, I’d like to somehow make this world a better place, be able to make a living, spend time with my family, and work around people I respect. Whatever is decided, those core themes are non-negotiable.

Meatspace coordinates: N35.061 W106.422
Ohio State’s 2006 record: 3-0 Next up: Penn State 9/23
Tune: Milkshake by Kelis
Technorati Tags: | Roadtrip | New Mexico | Mike Harding Blog

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