Startups Are All About Timing

Growing up, my friend neighbor-friend, Eddie, would often joke that he would to hire me for his company when we were older. We were 12 and he was always vague about the actual industry, but it seemed like it could be fun.

In high school, another friend, Peter, swore up and down that his sole goal in life was to hire me to work for him. That hasn’t happened yet, but we keep talking about it.

I somehow seemed destined to be part of (or start) a small company—or something novel like that.

Derek Powazek recently wrote an article about timing and launching his new website and makes this great point that I take to heart:
From powazek.com:

But the truth is, startups are really all about timing. Lots of people have lots of ideas every day. Ideas aren’t the hard part, timing is. Good timing won’t guarantee success, of course, but you can’t succeed without it.

I don’t know if “the right time” is the end-all, be-all. But I think it certainly goes a long way.

I also like that Derek keeps a book with ideas in it. I think I need one of those books. And a list of people I want to be on my team. I’ve gone through exercises in my head where I think about what kind of company I would start and who I might have on my team.

I think it the time is right to start writing them down.

Napkin Analysis of the Sand Flea Jumping Robot

I shared this video1 with Peter, who then asked:

I saw that a couple days ago. Awesome! And has some cool practical applications. I [couldn’t] quite tell if the pitch of the robot was adjustable by the user, or of it always jumped in the same direction. Did you get a sense for that?

It was a good question and one I didn’t have an immediate answer to.

I would actually guess that I don’t have immediate answers2 to at least 50% of questions people ask me3. I have to do some amount of thinking, and sometimes even some research. I think people tend to think I know the answer off the top of my head, I assure you: I am not that smart.

I do have an inquisitive mind, I do know where to look, and I do know how to ask the right question.

Extended Mind
https://xkcd.com/903/

I decided to remedy this question though by talking it through, instead of just giving an answer. This is basically my thought processes as it occurred. Except that I got Sin and Cos mixed up and didn’t realize it until I had finished my conclusion. So I had to redo my entire analysis, and that’s what you see here. Please note this is still really just a paper napkin answer:

As far as angle, I’m not sure. I suspect there would be some angle change.

Elevation angle can affect two things, how high it goes and how far it goes forward, and these two things are intrinsically linked through SohCahToa. Height and forward distance can also be affected by the force applied (ceteris paribus4). This gives a problem with two independent input variables (angle and power) and two dependent output variables (height and forward distance/range).

Since my primary goal is to jump, I’m going to put most of my energy into that. If I want to jump higher, I can either apply more force or make my elevation angle higher (as long as it’s < 90°). As the elevation angle nears 90° [latex]\left (\frac{\pi}{2} \right )[/latex], more of my energy goes into going up than going forward. The proportion of energy applied to going up is defined by Sin and the proportion of energy applied to going forward is defined by Cos. Also worth remembering is that the Sin[x] + Cos[x] is not a straight line, it's another parabola that peaks at 45 degrees. The biggest bang for your average buck is to angle yourself at 45 degrees and shoot. Additionally, Cos (forward) angles that are near 90° have a high rate of change (i.e. going from 80° to 81° has more of a difference than going from 10° to 11°), thus little changes in elevation angles near 90° have relatively larger impacts on how far forward I go. Conversely, Sin (height) angles that are near 90° have very low rates of change. The cross over point for rates of change between Sin and Cos is - you guessed it - at 45° . Since the goal of the robot is to jump high (not far), it would make sense to only use high angles (above 45° ). To vary height significantly though, you are going to have vary power. Going from 46° to 90° only increases height by ~93% if the force remains the same. In comparison, going from 1 degree to 45 degrees increases height by 164,000%. Math is great, but if you can't implement it, it doesn't matter so let's turn to what's practical: One of the underlying assumptions is if the robot can vary the force it uses and if it could accurately set it's elevation angle. Setting the angle is pretty easy using encoders, and accelerometers to determine which way is down (if you were jumping from an angled surface, for instance). We've also already seen that the jumping leg can move, so adding functionality for precision angle measurements (within a degree, let's say) is pretty trivial. The real question, I think, is how does it jump? Delivering energy quickly has always been a problem. Delivering a measured amount of energy quickly even more so. Based on jumping from the ground to the loading dock (1.5 meters in height at most) and then from the loading dock to the roof (probably at least 4 meters), that's about a 166% increase in height, which is not quite enough as could be accomplished by just varying the angle from 46° to 90°. Since you can't gain that height just by altering the angle alone, it makes sense to assume that the jump force setting can be altered. However, if you change the jump force setting, what does that do to the forward movement (we know it will make the robot jump higher)? It will, of course, move the robot forward even more. How much more? I don't know exactly, but probably enough to make some minor angle tweakage worth it. We would have to sit down and work on the math to verify the exact amount. I think it involves something with squaring the derivative of the force divided by the mass. Squaring always make numbers bigger, so I tend to think it would be significant. Suffice it to say, if you don't want to proportionally more forward when you jump significantly higher, you would have to adjust your jump elevation angle. Thus I would assume there may be small changes in angle elevation, but that's hard to estimate given the view-point the videos were shot at. It's also pretty easy to solve for power required and angle needed to reach a particular height while moving forward only a certain amount (once you figure out what the maths are), so at least the implementation factor is pretty easy from a computing standpoint. And I've spent way to much time on that answer.5 As always, please check my work.


  1. found via the always interesting Kottk

  2. answers that only involving recalling a specific outcome 

  3. I just made that number up, really 

  4. all other things being equal or held constant 

  5. One of the reasons I decided to blog about it, the work was pretty much a sunk cost 

Comment Stats

TDavid over at Make You Go Hmm has been playing around with mySQL to get stats on his users comments. I also enjoy looking at pretty numbers (always being careful to remember they mean absolutely nothing), so I did some digging in my own comments database.

So here we go:
First up, total posts by year:

The blue line is all comments. The red line is all comments minus the ones from the WordPress plugin related pages, which are typically help related. While this year isn’t over yet, I highly doubt I’ll get to 2007 or even 2006 levels of comments.

Top ten commenters of all time are

  1. Andrew Ferguson (595)
  2. quinn (108)
  3. staples.jeff (107)
  4. Audrey (69)
  5. Matt Matteson (43)
  6. Peter (42)
  7. CrazyBarbour (40)
  8. laura (34)
  9. Amelie (23)
  10. Ryan “Artoo” Goodwin (19)

I was going to post the leader board for each individual year, however people changed their emails and the way they entered their names in the comment fields and I really don’t want to fix all of them to get accurate results.

I’m kind of stumped as to why 2006 was such a good year for commenting. Interestingly enough, this year has seen more comments per a post, which I think is good. Thoughts?

And All I Ask is a Tall Ship and a Star to Steer Her By

Sea Fever
By John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again
to the lonely sea and sky
And all I ask is a tall ship
and a star to steer her by
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song
and the white sail’s shaking
And a gray mist on the sea’s face,
and a gray dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again
for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call
That may not be denied
And all I ask is a windy day
with the white clouds flying
And the flung spray and the blown spume
and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again
to the vagrant gypsy life
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way
where the wind’s like a whetted knife
And all I ask is a merry yarn
from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream
when the long trick’s over.

One of my favorite things about being back in Seattle are the opportunities to get out on the water. While we do have a speedboat of our own, I don’t think it get’s much better then sailing. At some point in time, I’d really enjoying sailing around the world – or at least part of the world. Although such an adventure will have to wait until I can get a boat of my own and a crew.

In the meantime, I’m fortunate to have a friend, Peter, who has a sailboat. And thus we went sailing on Monday and again on Tuesday (for the bonus round):


Remember all those pictures of your parents that you look at? This picture reminds me of one of those. In fact, I’d call this picture of Staples iconic.

All Images: Copyright 2008 Andrey Marchuk

What I did on Friday/Saturday

I’m just going to start off by saying that this was perhaps the single awesomest day…well, in a rather long time. It all started around 6am, as most weekdays do, with me rolling out of bed. I was into work by 7. Finished up a large chunk of programming, thus completing the main part of my program, and left just after 3pm.

Funny thing about getting into work at 7am: the weather isn’t hot, yet. It was one of those days where I hadn’t been outside since I arrive at work. And when I returned to the door from whence I had entered. Pow. A sheet of heat punched me in the face. A thought crossed my mind, “Perhaps I should just go back in and work another 8 hours in the air conditioned office?”

Had it been any other day, I might have. But it was Friday and I was done. So I wandered over to the car and drove home, AC blasting all the way.

Once I was home, I changed out of my casual work clothes and into my “normal” clothes. This really just involved changing my shirt and taking my badge off.

I called Peter. He was working up on Phinny Ridge installing some rails on his bosses box truck. Having nothing better to do, I headed over to lend a hand. I really wanted to ride up and down on the tailgate lift.

Unfortunately, Peter didn’t have the key to truck and so there was no tailgate riding involved. Just working in a rather hot van on a day that probably broke the record.