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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Augmented Reality. Better Than Real Reality (well, not yet!)

Hello all, hope your day is going well. Mine? Thanks for asking. It is great. So one thing that has been on my mind for sometime is Augmented Reality.

For those that aren't familiar with this, I really like how Robin Wauters at Techcrunch describes it:

... basically it’s the placement of a digital layer of information on top of a real-life view of the world around you, as seen through e.g. a mobile phone’s camera lens. Using augmented reality, you could be using your smartphone to glance around the main square of a city you’re visiting and get up-to-date information about nearby restaurants, ATMs, real estate offers, and more on-screen, bolted on top of what you’d be seeing if you weren’t looking through the lens.

I like to think of it as one (small) step closer to being a total virtual reality setting, however you are still based in real reality (i.e. walking around in the real world, but seeing virtual things combined with real world things).

There are several companies and applications that are already making some waves in this space. Layar is the one that comes to my mind. Another is the Urbanspoon iPhone application. With it, you hold up your iPhone and it will overlay aggregated restaurant approval rating:

The main short-comings in the fledgling augmented reality industry:
Currently, the best way that I can tell for utilizing an augmented reality "layer" is by opening an application on your mobile device (iPhone, crackBerry, etc.) and then holding it up so the camera / compass takes in what it is being pointed at. The software on the device renders the image received from the camera plus adds the request information on top of the image (for example, if you are looking at a construction site, the application could retrieve information of the up coming building that will be in the now empty lot and render it on the screen, as if it were there).

This delivery method is silly. I do not want to go around holding up my phone and viewing it through a little screen. Worse, you are not immersed in your new, layered world. You are only getting an extremely small sneak peak of this altered reality. What would be better?

What if you had a set of glasses that you could plug into your phone that could send / receive information and lightly overlay the rendering data to the glasses? Much like a "Heads Up Display" used in fighter jets and some car windshields. You would now have a hands free device that displays the request information in a much more elegant manner and you can experience the augmented reality more seamlessly.

Under this set up, the phone is the data receiver / sender, the application on the mobile device is the processor, the application it is sending / receiving data to / from is the data source, and the glasses are the display. Creating such a product would be quite expensive and take excessive R&D, so without a large market to pull down revenue from, there is little incentive to venture into it (too much perceived risk, not enough perceived reward). This brings me to my second point.

All the applications I've seen that augment reality are cool, but that's about as much praise as I'd give them. There is no really, really compelling application that would significantly improve my life and make me want to part with my hard earned dollars. Showing me who and where people are around me that recently submitted Tweets? Displaying a pin-point on a restaurant I'm looking at and showing me a review? Booooo.

I don't know what the game changing application would be (if I had an idea, I wouldn't be writing this post, I'd be trying to build it!), but fine, I'll take a guess. I think it could be a game. Yes, a game.

Imagine it! People go out and play paintball and laser tag. I pay $50 per year to play Halo 3 against other people from around the world. What if you could be playing a real life game in a large structure or enclosed area, but instead of shooting your friends with balls of paint or firing "lasers" at them you are fighting against "virtual" enemies, or aliens, or whatever? What if you could be in a field with a group of friends in real life. All of you are wearing the aforementioned glasses for visual augmented reality, a head set for communication with your team and, more importantly, for *audio* augmented reality (which would be in step with the visual augmented reality), and with a "gun" that is also synched with the rest of the whole system. All of a sudden a space ship screams in from above, extra-terrestrial guns blazing? And then zombies come sprinting at you from the tree line? You and your friends must act as a team and defend your area and fend them off!

I'd pay for that.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Male / Female + Solution

Math question:

"In a country in which people only want boys, every family continues to have children until they have a boy. If they have a girl, they have another child. If they have a boy, they stop. What is the proportion of boys to girls in the country?"

Please post your solution + answer in the comments. GO!

----- Solution -----

Thank you to all that emailed me and posted in the comments! The first responder with the correct answer was Gary H., however, he volunteered to disqualify himself because he had seen the question before (what a noble man!).

The winner is Paul R. A case of Snuggies is on it's way to you as your prize.

Honorable mention goes out to Dan D and Adam C. No, no honorable mention goes to Bad Dinosaur, he didn't even play.

Here it is: we assume that the probabilities of having a boy vs girl is 50%. Next, assume there are N families, so there will be N boys at the end (because the families keep going until they have a boy. N families. N boys). From the girl side, we can see the following:

round 1: N/2 have a boy and stop, N/2 have a girl, so N/2 girls so far
round 2: N/2 families left, 50% have a girl, so N/4 (0.5*N/2 = N/4)
round 3: N/4 families left, 50% have a girl, so N/8 (0.5*N/4 = N/8)

You get the idea. There will be an "infinite" sum equal to:

N/2 + N/4 + N/8 ... N / infinity = N

Note: this follows from Series basics (read more here).

So number of boys equals N, and number of girls equals N, the ratio is N:N or 1:1

The Monte Carlo simulation supports these findings (thanks to Paul R. for the lovely ruby code):
Example output:

Family problem, 1000000 trials:

997496 girls, 1000000 boys
1.997496 children per family
0.997496 girls per boy

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
# usage: ./family.rb [trials]

# Family problem, 1000000 trials:
# 997496 girls, 1000000 boys
# 1.997496 children per family
# 0.997496 girls per boy
# Ran in 15.508096s

class Array
def rand # A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down

class Family
def initialize(complete = true)
@children = { :boy => 0, :girl => 0 }
complete! if complete

def boys

def girls

def have_child!
@children[[:boy, :girl].rand] += 1

def complete!
have_child! until complete?

def complete?
boys == 1

iterations = if ARGV.length > 0

puts "Family problem, #{iterations} trials:"

started =

children = { :boys => 0, :girls => 0 }
iterations.times do
f =
children[:boys] += f.boys
children[:girls] += f.girls

family_size = (children[:boys] + children[:girls]).to_f / iterations
ratio = children[:girls].to_f / children[:boys]

elapsed = - started

puts "#{children[:girls]} girls, #{children[:boys]} boys"
puts "#{family_size} children per family"
puts "#{ratio} girls per boy"
puts "Ran in #{elapsed}s"

Monday, November 2, 2009

Roller Coaster

I recently went on a California extravaganza, which began in the LA area and meandered up the PCH to San Francisco, stopping in at Carmel-by-the-sea (official name!) and the Red Wood Forest. Here is a picture of me in San Fran with some guy leaning up against me.

While I was in SF (that's what I'm calling it, hope it sticks) being whisked around by a cab I realized riding in a cab in San Fran is exactly like being on a roller coaster at an amusement park. Following this mental breakthrough, I started to raise my hands above my head and yell with glee as we drove down some very steep roads and made the "tick-tick-tick" noise of our taxi-coaster being pulled up by an imaginary chain lift as we climbed seemingly vertical inclines. The taxi drive did not make this mental connection, unfortunately, and refused to take part.

During this elevation-exploration I began to have thoughts about my experience with our start-up so far. Some days you are top dog and can do no wrong; while others look utterly hopeless and you wish someone had created a word that meant "lower than rock bottom" because you would use it liberally! A small company is an emotional roller coaster and learning how to manage this is paramount.

One thing our start-up has been focused on recently is sales and marketing. We have the idea, we put together the initial team, we built a product prototype, we defined our business model, and (in my mind, most importantly) we found paying members and established proof of concept. Don't get too excited in Good Dinosaur nation - when I say paying members I'm talking < 10. Our team agreed, what we need now is to improve our reach.

Sales and marketing can be difficult by itself. Selling and marketing a somewhat innovative or industry divergent product or service can be really difficult and can stick your start-up roller coaster in those low points quickly.

It is very easy to fall into a negative feedback loop when selling. For example, you have a bad sales call, which causes you to question your start-ups potential, which causes you to pitch poorly next time around, which causes even more panicky feelings, which causes your team to get into arguments, which leads to worse sales meetings, more in-fighting, yelling, screaming and ... OH CRAP WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?

Now you are left with nothing but sadness and frustration, and probably no more start-up.

So, my recommendation, diversify your focus! It works for investing! It can work for your brain. Concentrating solely on Sales and Marketing yields the same pitfalls as focusing solely on Product Development or Capital Raising or any one thing. Budget your time accordingly, or make a "cycled schedule" where you do one sales and marketing action, one product development task, one business development oriented item, and one capital raising action. Only after you complete the whole cycle can you move back to the beginning.

For example, I was getting frustrated with our ability to find the right people to speak with, so I took a break and began making progress on our capital raising efforts by starting to collect a blog roll of authors that either own or work at possible seed investors. I wasn't seeing success during sales efforts, so I put the phone away, and jumped on the web in search of our next possible partner, advisor, or investor. I could have also gone and wrote some code. Or worked on updating our business plan. Or whatever else needed to be done. You get the idea.

I guess the main premise here is that you will have a lot of frustrations, let downs, and difficulties with any venture. Remember to not keep smashing your head against a wall that just won't move at the moment. Taking a step back can help you discover a way around the obstacle and preserve your dome-piece's structural integrity. Win, win.

At the end of the day, handling the roller coaster of emotions that come about at a small company is a required skill. If things get really bad and you find yourself burnt out, take a vacation! I hear California is lovely :)