Day 70: Inventors Everywhere

A lot of people have Secret Plans. Today I’m hanging out with a bunch of inventors who answer important questions like:

  • What if brainwave measurement were part of live music performance?
  • What if my t-shirt could help me avoid running into things?
  • How can I make and ride a ridiculously tall bicycle?
  • Can I trust strangers to cut my hair?

First thing, though, I’m off to Peet’s to sit and get some of my own SP work done, and also watch the cute barista wrestle an unexpected number of balloons into submission.

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A morning show and free WiFi. This place rules.

Remember Russ and Sara? Good friends, hard-core scientists. They’ve got a meeting in my neighborhood with Dave Stringer, an excellent and innovative musician. I went to a concert of his last night, and had a fantastic time.

The meeting (at Ti Couz) is about an idea they’ve been working on which involves EEG data and musical performance. They’ve done a few successful test runs already, and it’s a great project. We spend our lunchtime talking about electronics, data formats, and spaceships in Italy.

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How do you find volunteers willing to have their brainwaves recorded while they listen to a concert? It turns out you just ask; a lot of people love to help with experiments like this.

In the afternoon, Russ and Sara and I walk through the Mission to Paxton Gate and Delessio. It’s fun to show them around the neighborhood.

This evening, my muse and I are headed downtown. Christine and Shannon have invited us to the Instructables office for an inventors’ party. If you’re not familiar with this company, take a look at their site. (I’ve posted one tiny project on this site.)

As far as I can tell, here’s what a typical work day is like at Instructables:

  • Write down crazy invention ideas on the office whiteboard.
  • Post the ideas on the website.
  • Go to lunch.
  • When you get back, look at the site. Random inventors all over the world have probably started building some of your ideas already, and they might have sent you questions.
  • Start building your favorites from the list, right in the office.
  • Repeat tomorrow.

> But some ideas are too wacky or crazy, right?
Actually, no. That’s why it’s fun. For example, here’s some of what we saw tonight at the July 2008 Show and Tell:

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A plaster copy of the inventor’s face with a speaker in the mouth, which can be used as a somewhat unwieldy bicycle horn. See, I told you. Everything is in play here.

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A very very tall bicycle.

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A circuit sewn into a patch of denim, for wearing your data.

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A method for getting a free haircut: Walk around the city with scissors and a sign “Help cut my hair – Take two snips”

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A trumpet modified to work with Guitar Hero.

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An integrated bike-mounted stereo system.

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A garment which lets you feel nearby objects just before you run into them.

Okay, stop laughing. Someday, a few of the people at this event are going to change the world so profoundly that there will be university buildings and national holidays named after them. You’ll get an extra day off work, and it will have all started right here.

My muse and I leave a little early to go have a glass of wine with the guys at Mission Beach Cafe, but you can see the rest of tonight’s inventions here.

Random assertion: At some point, every inventor realizes that a human lifespan is not enough time to finish all of his or her projects. That’s what makes them such a welcoming crowd.

Steganographic data: 1846/5.5

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Published in: on July 29, 2008 at 9:43 am  Comments (2)  
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Day 19: Cowgirls

You don’t really need a car in SF, but I’ll be heading out of town soon, so I dropped mine off for service. Checkup, oil change, and fix some dashboard damage from last time the parachute failed.

It’s another perfect day, but I mustered up some discipline, so back to my desk at the library.

In the library café, I met some folks who were giving an interesting lecture on business models for independent musicians. I chatted for a while with a cellist named Monica Scott, who will be performing a concert on Sunday night. Inspired by talking to her, I sat down and made some serious tangible progress on SP159.

Geek info regarding Secret Plan 159:
Quantum computer simulation requires exponential RAM and CPU time. So for a 16-bit simulation, you need about 1 MB of RAM minimum (for 2*216 double-precision floats). Each bit you add doubles the time and space. So for 17 bits, you need 2MB. …and for something crazy like 40 bits, you need 16 Terabytes of RAM just to get started. That’s 3 trillion simulator-bits required for each quantum-bit (qubit) being simulated. Ouch. Even worse, the time to process all of this data scales up just as quickly, and can easily be longer than a human lifetime.

SP159’s goal is to use large computing grids, really good task prediction, and sneaky re-mapping of qubit positions to make the simulation take a lot less time. It’s still exponential time (I don’t have a solution for that), but a lot less of it. What would someone actually do with this? I don’t know yet. First step is to get it working.

The plan was to go to SFMOMA next (great exhibits and a fun place for lunch). But they’re closed Wednesdays. Whoops.

So I just kept walking instead, and got to one of my favorite spots in the city, the Ferry Building.


This giant spider becomes a steel sculpture in the daytime.


Seriously excellent mushrooms.

Hog Island Oyster Company is awesome.

My personal favorite place here, though, is Cowgirl Creamery.

Somehow, magically, Cowgirl just happened to have one last piece of an extra-rare cheese of theirs called SF Drake. They don’t make it often, and this is all they have left. My muse will be pleased. Cowgirls rule.

At the Ferry Building, i got two random calls at the same time.

  • The first was about a stunt job; more on that tomorrow.
  • The second was from Shannon, to talk about crazy-huge computers. There’s something he wants to use them for. His idea is a really good one. About two hours later, I can’t stop thinking about it, and Secret Plan 166 is born. Shoot. See, that’s how this happens.

Pick up the car, all fixed, with an extra upgrade. Stop by the acrobat training center for some upside-down time, and then back home to meet my muse.

We’re going to be out for a while tonight. Call it another late-night art class (this is technically correct), and with any luck we’ll get to sleep before midnight, with no serious injuries. That’s the plan anyway.

Random assertion: There is cheese so good that it tastes like music.

Steganographic data: 1852/7.1