I recently had a discussion with my friend Brian Ghidinelli. We were discussing several different projects that would be fun to work on not limited to anything related specifically to software, hardware or mechanical. Doing a little research on some possibilities for a project ideal, I came across a prototyping device called an Arduino. You can argue that it can be viewed as an ‘older version’ of a Raspberry Pi, which is based on Linux.
I became quite interested in the capabilities of this device that I jumped the gun and ordered one along with a “Programming Arduino..” Book for me to get started. At the time of this writing, I was only able to get through a few chapters to get some LED lamps to blink on the board at different rates. It’s just the “Hello World” of hardware. Nothing too exciting to see here, but it has so far gave me good insight into programming C. I’m certainly no software engineer, so only time will tell if my brain is wired this way. (I’m self-proclaimed ‘mechanical engineer’, even though I don’t have an ME degree.)
Back to the topic at hand, even though I haven’t dove into the product too much, I already thought of potential possibilities of what could be created. Some are nothing new, just a test of skills. And…. here it goes….
electric bike derailleur with push button shifting
Draft efficiency display
measures drafting efficiencies when cycling or in a race car using a Pitot tube
GPS based predictive lap timer
predicts your lap around a race track (car or bike?)
Fuel efficiency display
Displays efficiency of one’s driving to save fuel
World clock with Alarm
Prime rib readiness notifier
temp probe would send a push notification to your phone when your prime rib is ready
MMS text of visitors
Who visited your home when you were gone? Receive a text with image.
Automatic shifter for bikes
Shifts your bike depending on torque placed on crank
Logs performance data
I’m ready to get started. Arduino. Check. Breadboard. Check. Random jumpers, buttons, LED’s. Check. Bandaids. Check.
Actually, I was going to title this post as “I Invented Spotify!” or “Spotify Stalked Me in High School and Stole My Idea!” , but I didn’t. Back in the early 90’s we used to make “mix tapes” with our favorite songs and swap them around. And when I say mix tapes, I do mean cassette tapes. For my younger audience, they are these . Eventually, we morphed into CD’s. Now, that was nothing new. People made mix tapes all the time and shared them with friends. But what I did was something a bit different.
My father taught me a lot when I was growing up, so I was always tinkering with things. Learning to solder circuit boards was something quite enjoyable. I remember repairing old 286 and 386 computers with him in the living room using screw drivers and soldering up some boards. I used this skill to try something.
I realized that there is a wide spectrum of frequencies for FM radio stations, and several of them were unused, notably FM87.5. I picked up an electronics kit for an FM Transmitter similar to this one. I built it up, got a little project box for it, tuned the frequency output to FM87.5 and connected my CD player. It worked! I threw in a CD and did a low power broadcast of what was playing on the CD player to a radio in the house. Eventually, I moved this to the car and hid the box under my seat. During a mini road trip with the family, I was able to do this broadcast of what we were listening to in one car, and shared it with the other family in another car, albeit up to 100ft away. It was a one-way solution, but it worked. We shared music.
Fast forward to today, I saw all the hype about Spotify, and wanted to give it a try. Amazing product. Don’t think it’s anything ‘new’ (Rhapsody was the first attempt at this from my memory), but it is a fun, easy way to solve this problem of sharing music, legally, with your peers. A game changer. I was amazed at the amount of music that is currently available. Many of which I used to own on CD and Tapes which I have misplaced over time. Friends and I would build playlists and share them with each other much like we used to do. As an added bonus, we could collectively share a playlist and both contribute to it. If opt-in, you could see what your friends are listening to and easily play that song too. Throw in Pandora like features, mobile app, and also in-app Apps, and you got a great product. I wish Spotify the best, as I see a very bright future for them.
What’s the future for Spotify? Acquisition? Sounds like there are some people talking on the web that Netflix would be a good fit to acquire Spotify. I could agree with it. Apple apparently has already tried to block Spotify from entering the US, but has since failed. Cloud products are everywhere now which has morphed from mostly enterprise products into consumer. Music in the cloud is here. We used to buy music LP’s and CD’s from music stores. Gone. We used to download it from friends via Napster. Gone. Buying digital music online? Not yet gone, but it could be if music in the cloud works out. If I added up the 1,500 songs I have just in playlists on my Spotify, that would be $1,500 worth of MP3’s I would have purchased instead. But for the price of $0.00, or $10/mo if you want to take it mobile and ad free, I’m already ahead with access to more music I could ever listen to.
According to Wikipedia, the population of Tokyo is over 13 million people. 13 million! One of these most densely populated cities in the world. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Japan, specifically Tokyo most of the time. On the long 10.5 hour plane ride there, I knew what I was going to get myself into. Trains, trains and more trains. I couldn’t help but wonder what it took to move that many people in and out of the city with minimal use of automobiles. Fast forward to recently spending a few days in Tokyo, there really wasn’t that many vehicles on the road other than buses and taxis. It wasn’t Manhattan gridlock, or the 1 hour commute to go 8 miles on 101N through Mountain View and Palo Alto, Ca., but it was hectic.
I took it upon myself to remember to make some observations of how people got around Tokyo on a daily basis. Given that I was there during the weekends and weekdays, traveled around in or around rush hour, I got a pretty good sense of what the Japanese did to ensure that everyone was orderly, and tried my best to document everything with various cameras (Nikon D7000, old Canon SD1000, iPhone 4S).
Starting from when you enter the station, you will need to figure out where to go and which platform to take the train from. There will be several signs, but they are generally easy to read. Just follow the arrows towards the correct platform for your train. To minimize pedestrians from crashing into each other, Japan’s railway system lays down arrows to keep everyone flowing in the right direction on specified sides of the walkways and hallways. This really helped the confusion of which side you should stand on, especially during rush hour where there could be 500 people ascending a staircase, while you and 5 other are trying to go down it. Again, follow the arrows!
Eventually, you’ll need to pass through the ticket gates. The ticket gates are as simple as they appear. Enter your ticket, or slip in your PASMO then walk through. However, during my frequent observation when we had to pass through the same station several times during our stay, I noticed that the reversible ticket gates switch directions for which way you may pass depending on the flow of the commuters. That is, if it’s rush hour, it may go in one direction and flip to the other direction during the other part of rush hour.
An interesting observation I did make is how flexible this system is. Notice the arrows in this photo noting that the gate is open, and the (-) ones noting that it is close for that direction. I noticed that *sometimes* the (-) sign could just be a suggestion. During times of sudden heavy pedestrian traffic in one direction, commuters can just use their passes to pass through these ticket gates. This temporarily switches the direction of the gate to help the flow of pedestrian. So basically they let the crowds decide which way it should go!
Once through the ticket gates, you’re met with more arrows directing traffic. Eventually, you’ll make it to the platform where you should await your train’s arrival. But where to stand? Never fear!
Although this photo does not show it, passengers should be standing and lining up where the yellow and white shoes are. Some stations use this method, some use dotted lines. Nonetheless, you should stand in these locations to ‘line up’. 90% of the time, the subway car stops at the perfect spot denoted by the grey area in the photo above. Some stations have a yellow landing area. The reason for this is to open up space for passengers to disembark the subway car, keeping the boarding passengers to the side. An observation was that there is a lot of courtesy the locals give to others by leaving this space. No one gets on until passengers leave the train first.
But wait, there’s more to this madness. At the Shinagawa Station, there is a train that uses the same track and platform, and heads towards different final stops. The overhead screens provide the clear data of when and which subway goes to which station. Since this is a very busy station, they put landing areas for boarding passengers to wait on. In the photo below, one area is designated for passengers heading towards 1 location (Haneda Airport), and another area is designed for passengers heading to another location (sorry, can’t read Japanese).
What’s even more efficient about this is that the subway stops so that the doors align with the correct landing area. This is a great example of a simple solution for a potentially complex problem. And just for fun, a humorous photo of a warning sign helping prevent collisions.
So there you have it. Several examples of how simple ideas can make daily life just that much easier for everyone. This along with the incredible on-time record of the trains down to the second, makes for an efficiently run city.