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Earth-Moon Fire Pole

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Earth-Moon Fire Pole

My son (5y) asked me today: If there were a kind of a fireman's pole from the Moon down to the Earth, how long would it take to slide all the way from the Moon to the Earth?

Ramon Schönborn, Germany

First, let's get a few things out of the way:

In real life, we can't put a metal pole between the Earth and the Moon.[1]For one, someone at NASA would probably yell at us. The end of the pole near the Moon would be pulled toward the Moon by the Moon's gravity, and the rest of it would be pulled back down to the Earth by the Earth's gravity. The pole would be torn in half.

Another problem with this plan. The Earth's surface spins faster than the Moon goes around, so the end that dangled down to the Earth would break off if you tried to connect it to the ground:

There's one more problem:[2]Ok, that's a lie—there are, like, hundreds more problems. The Moon doesn't always stay the same distance from Earth. Its orbit takes it closer and farther away. It's not a big difference,[3]You may occasionally see people get excited about the "supermoon," a full Moon that appears slightly larger because it happens at the time of the month when the Moon is closest to Earth. But really, the full Moon always looks surprisingly large and pretty when it's near the horizon, thanks to the Moon illusion. In my opinion, it's worth going outside and looking at the Moon whenever it's full, regardless of whether it's super or not. but it's enough that the bottom 50,000 km of your fire station pole would be squished against the Earth once a month.

But let's ignore those problems! What if we had a magical pole that dangled from the Moon down to just above the Earth's surface, expanding and contracting so it never quite touched the ground? How long would it take to slide down from the Moon?

If you stood next to the end of the pole on the Moon, a problem would become clear right away: You have to slide up the pole, and that's not how sliding works.

Instead of sliding, you'll have to climb.

People can climb poles pretty fast. World-record pole climbers[4]Of course there's a world record for pole climbing. can climb at over a meter per second in championship competition.[5]Of course there are championship competitions. On the Moon, gravity is much weaker, so it will probably be easier to climb. On the other hand, you'll have to wear a spacesuit, so that will probably slow you down a little.

If you climb up the pole far enough, Earth's gravity will take over and start pulling you down. When you're hanging onto the pole, there are three forces pulling on you: The Earth's gravity pulling you toward Earth, the Moon's gravity pulling you away from Earth, and centrifugal force[6]As usual, anyone arguing about "centrifugal" versus "centripetal" force will be put in a centrifuge. from the swinging pole pulling you away from Earth.[7]At the distance of the Moon's orbit and the speed it's traveling, centrifugal force pushing away is exactly balanced by the Earth's gravity—which is why the Moon orbits there. At first, the combination of the Moon's gravity and centrifugal force are stronger, pulling you toward the Moon, but as you get closer to the Earth, Earth's gravity takes over. The Earth is pretty big, so you reach this point—which is known as the L1 Lagrange point—while you're still pretty close to the Moon.

Unfortunately for you, space is big, so "pretty close" is still a long way. Even if you climb at better-than-world-record speed, it will still take you several years to get to the L1 crossover point.

As you approach the L1 point, you'll start to be able to switch from climbing to pushing-and-gliding: You can push once and then coast a long distance up the pole. You don't have to wait to stop, either—you can grab the pole again and give yourself a push to move even faster, like a skateboarder kicking several times to speed up.

Eventually, as you reach the vicinity of the L1 point and are no longer fighting gravity, the only limit on your speed will be how quickly you can grab the pole and "throw" it past you. The best baseball pitchers can move their hands at about 100 mph while flinging objects past them, so you probably can't expect to move much faster than that.

Note: While you're flinging yourself along, be careful not to drift out of reach of the pole. Hopefully you brought some kind of safety line so you can recover if that happens.

After another few weeks of gliding along the pole, you'll start to feel gravity take over, speeding you up faster than you can go by pushing yourself. When this happens, be careful—soon, you'll need to start worrying about going too fast.

As you approach the Earth and the pull of its gravity increases, you'll start to speed up quite a bit. If you don't stop yourself, you'll reach the top of the atmosphere at roughly escape velocity—11 km/s[8]This is why anything that falls into the Earth hits the atmosphere fast enough to burn up. Even if an object is moving slowly when it's drifting through space, when it gets close to the Earth it gets accelerated up to at least escape velocity by that final segment of the trip down into the Earth's gravity well.—and the impact with the air will produce so much heat that you risk burning up. Spacecraft deal with this problem by including heat shields, which are capable of absorbing and dissipating this heat without burning up the spacecraft behind it.[9]People often ask why we don't use rockets to slow down, to avoid the need for a heat shield. You can read this article for an explanation, but the bottom line is that changing your speed by 11 km/s takes either a tank of fuel the size of a building or a tiny heat shield, and the tiny heat shield is a lot easier to carry. Thanks to heat shields, slowing down is much easier than speeding up—which requires the aforementioned giant fuel tank. (For more on this, see this What If question).

Heat shields only work for slowing down; if there were a way to use the same heat shield mechanism to speed up, space travel would get a lot easier. Sadly, no one's figured out a practical way to build a "reverse heat shield" rocket. However, while the idea seems silly, in a sense it's sort of the principle behind both Project Orion and laser ablation propulsion.
Since you have this handy metal pole, you can control your descent by clamping onto it and controlling your rate of descent through friction.

Make sure to keep your speed low during the whole approach and descent—and, if necessary, pausing to let your hands or brakepads cool down—rather than waiting until the end to try to slow down. If you get up to escape velocity, then at the last minute remember that you need to slow down, you'll be in for an unpleasant surprise as you try to grab on to the pole. At best, you'll be flung away and plummet to your death. At worst, your hands and the surface of the pole will both be converted into exciting new forms of matter, and then you'll be flung away and plummet to your death.

Assuming you descend slowly and enter the atmosphere in a controlled manner, you'll soon encounter your next problem: Your pole isn't moving at the same speed as the Earth. Not even close. The land and atmosphere below you are moving very fast relative to you. You're about to drop into some extremely strong winds.

The Moon orbits around the Earth at a speed of roughly one kilometer per second, making a wide circle[10]Yes, I know, orbits are conic sections which in the case of the Moon is technically not exactly a circle. It's actually a pentagon. every 29 days or so. That's how fast the top end of our hypothetical fire pole will be traveling. The bottom end of the pole makes a much smaller circle in the same amount of time, moving at an average speed of only about 35 mph relative to the center of the Moon's orbit:

35 miles per hour doesn't sound bad. Unfortunately for you, the Earth is also spinning,[11]I mean, unfortunately in this specific context. In general, the fact that the Earth spins is very fortunate for you, and for the planet's overall habitability. and its surface moves a lot faster than 35 mph; at the Equator, it can reach over 1,000 miles per hour.[12]It's common knowledge that Mt. Everest is the tallest mountain on Earth, measured from sea level. A somewhat more obscure piece of trivia is that the point on the Earth's surface farthest from its center is the summit of Mt. Chimborazo in Ecuador, due to the fact that the planet bulges out at the equator. Even more obscure is the question of which point on the Earth's surface moves the fastest as the Earth spins, which is the same as asking which point is farthest from the Earth's axis. The answer isn't Chimborazo or Everest. The fastest point turns out to be the peak of Mt. Cayambe, a volcano north of Chimborazo. And now you know.[13]Mt. Cayambe's southern slope also happens to be the highest point on Earth's surface directly on the Equator. I have a lot of mountain facts.

Even though the end of the pole is moving slowly relative to the Earth as a whole, it's moving very fast relative to the surface.

Asking how fast the pole is moving relative to the surface is effectively the same as asking what the "ground speed" of the Moon is. This is tricky to calculate, because the Moon's ground speed varies over time in a complicated way. Luckily for us, it doesn't vary that much—it's usually somewhere between 390 and 450 m/s, or a little over Mach 1—so figuring out the precise value isn't necessary.

Let's buy a little time by trying to figure it out anyway.

The Moon's ground speed varies pretty regularly, making a kind of sine wave. It peaks twice every month as it passes over the fast-moving equator, then reaches a minimum when it's over the slower-moving tropics. Its orbital speed also changes depending on whether it's at the close or far point in its orbit. This leads to a roughly sine-wave shaped ground speed:

Well, ready to jump?

Ok, fine. There's one other cycle we can take into account to really nail down the Moon's ground speed. The Moon's orbit is tilted by about 5° relative to the Earth-Sun plane, while the Earth's axis is tilted by 23.5°. This means that the Moon's latitude changes the way the Sun's does, moving from the northern tropics to the southern tropics twice a year.

However, the Moon's orbit is also tilted, and this tilt rotates on an 18.9-year cycle. When the Moon's tilt is in the same direction as the Earth's, it stays 5° closer to the Equator than the Sun, and when it's in the opposite direction, it reaches more extreme latitudes. When the Moon is over a point farther from the equator, it has a lower "ground speed," so the lower end of the sine wave goes lower. Here's the plot of the Moon's "ground speed" over the next few decades:

The Moon's top speed stays pretty constant, but the lowest speed rises and falls with an 18.9-year cycle. The lowest speed of the next cycle will be on May 1st, 2025, so if you want to wait until 2025 to slide down, you can hit the atmosphere when the pole is moving at only 390 m/s relative to the Earth's surface.

When you do finally enter the atmosphere, you'll be coming down near the edge of the tropics. Try to avoid the tropical jet stream, an upper-level air current which blows in the same direction the Earth rotates. If your pole happens to go through it, it could add another 50-100 m/s to the wind speed.

Regardless of where you come down, you'll need to contend with supersonic winds, so you should wear lots of protective gear.[15]For aerodynamic reasons, this gear should probably make it look like you're wearing a very fast airplane. Make sure you're tightly attached to the pole, since the wind and various shockwaves will be violently battering and jolting you around. People often say, "It's not the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop at the end." Unfortunately, in this case, it's probably going to be both.[17]If it helps, people have survived supersonic ejections before—and even a supersonic aircraft disintegration—so there's hope.

At some point, to reach the ground, you're going to have to let go of the pole. For obvious reasons, you don't want to jump directly onto the ground while moving at Mach 1. Instead, you should probably wait until you're somewhere near airline cruising altitude, where the air is still thin, so it's not pulling at you too hard—and let go of the pole. Then, as the air carries you away and you fall toward the Earth, you can open your parachute.

Then, at last, you can drift safely to the ground, having traveled from the Moon to the Earth completely under your own muscle power.

(When you're done, remember to remove the fire pole. That thing is definitely a safety hazard.)

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ssorc
32 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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Can you help me gather open speech data?

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Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 3.18.46 PM

Photo by The Alien Experience

I miss having a dog, and I’d love to have a robot substitute! My friend Lukas built a $100 Raspberry Pi robot using TensorFlow to wander the house and recognize objects, and with the person detection model it can even follow me around. I want to be able to talk to my robot though, and at least have it understand simple words. To do that, I need to write a simple speech recognition example for TensorFlow.

As I looked into it, one of the biggest barriers was the lack of suitable open data sets. I need something with thousands of labelled utterances of a small set of words, from a lot of different speakers. TIDIGITS is a pretty good start, but it’s a bit small, a bit too clean, and more importantly you have to pay to download it, so it’s not great for an open source tutorial.  I like https://github.com/Jakobovski/free-spoken-digit-dataset, but it’s still small and only includes digits. LibriSpeech is large enough, but isn’t broken down into individual words, just sentences.

To solve this, I need your help! I’ve put together a website at https://open-speech-commands.appspot.com/ that asks you to speak about 100 words into the microphone, records the results, and then lets you submit the clips. I’m then hoping to release an open source data set out of these contributions, along with a TensorFlow example of a simple spoken word recognizer. The website itself is a little Flask app running on GCE, and the source code is up on github. I know it doesn’t work on iOS unfortunately, but it should work on Android devices, and any desktop machine with a microphone.

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 3.24.10 PM

I’m hoping to get as large a variety of accents and devices as possible, since that will help the recognizer work for as many people as possible, so please do take five minutes to record your contributions if you get a chance, and share with anyone else who might be able to help!








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ssorc
375 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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Thoughts on the wearables studies (including The Stanford Wearables study)

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As might be obvious these days, publishing a study on wearables is the fashionable thing to do.  There seems to be a new major (or at least noticed in the mainstream media) wearable study published every month.  Sometimes more often.  And that ignores the likely hundreds of smaller and never picked up wearable studies that probably occur each year in all manner of settings.

And in general – these studies are doing good work.  They’re aiming to validate and hold accountable manufacturer claims.  That’s always a good thing – and something I aim to do here as well.  Many times these studies will focus on a specific claim – such as heart rate accuracy, or step accuracy.  As those are generally somewhat easy to validate externally through a variety of means.  In the case of steps it can be as simple as manually counting the steps taken, and in the case of heart rate it may be medical grade systems to cross-reference to.

All of which are 100% valid ways to corroborate data from wearables.

Except there’s one itty bitty problem I’m seeing more and more often: They’re often doing it wrong.

(Note: This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a supposedly scientific study to task, you’ll see my previous rendition here.  Ironically, both entities screwed up in the same way.)

Why reading the manual matters

Most studies I’ve seen usually tackle 5-7 different devices to test.  Almost always one of these devices is an Apple Watch, because that has mainstream media appeal.  Additionally, you’ll usually find a Fitbit sensor in there too – because of both mainstream media interest as well as being the most popular activity tracker ever.  After that you’ll find a smattering of random devices, usually a blend of Mio, sometimes Garmin, sometimes Polar, and then sometimes totally random things like older Jawbone or others.

From there, devices are tested against either medical grade systems, or against consumer grade systems.  The Polar H7 strap is often used.  Which while not quite as ideal as medical grade systems, is generally a good option assuming you know the obvious signs where a strap is having issues (remember – that’s still a very common thing).

But that’s not what’s concerning me lately.

(Actually, before we go forward – a brief aside: My goal isn’t to pick on this Stanford study per se, but that’s probably what’s going to happen.  I actually *agree* with what they’re attempting to say in the end.  But I don’t agree with how they got there.  And as you’ll see, that’s really important because it significantly alters the results.  Second, they’ve done a superb job of publishing their exact protocol and much of the data from it.  Something that the vast majority of studies don’t do.  So at least they’re thorough in that regard.  Also, I like their step procedure for how they are testing it at different intensities.  One of the better designed tests I’ve seen.

Next, do NOT mistake what I’m about to dive into as saying all optical HR sensors are correct.  In fact, far from it.  The vast majority are complete and utter junk for workouts.  But again, that’s not what we’re talking about here.  This is far more simplistic.  Ok, my aside is now complete.)

Instead, what’s concerning me lately is best seen in this photo from the Stanford study published last week (full text available here):

image

(Photo Credit: Paul Sakuma/Stanford)

As you can see, the participant is wearing four devices concurrently.  This is further confirmed within their protocol documents:

“Participants were wearing up to four devices simultaneously and underwent continuous 12-lead electrocardiographic (ECG) monitoring and continuous clinical grade indirect calorimetry (expired gas analysis) using FDA approved equipment (Quark CPET, COSMED, Rome, Italy).”

First and foremost – the Mio Alpha 2 on the left wrist (lower one) is very clearly atop the wrist bone.  Which is quite frankly the single biggest error you can make in wearing an optical HR sensor.  It’s the worst spot to wear it.  Don’t worry though, this is covered within the Mio Alpha 2 manual (page 6):

image

But let’s pretend that’s just a one-off out of the 60 participants when the camera came by.  It happens.

The bigger issue here is them wearing two optical HR sensor devices per wrist (which they did on all participants).  Doing so affects other optical HR sensors on that wrist.  This is very well known and easily demonstrated, especially if one of the watches/bands is worn tightly.  In fact, every single optical HR sensor company out there knows this, and is a key reason why none of them do dual-wrist testing anymore.  It’s also why I stopped doing any dual wrist testing about 3 years ago for watches.  One watch, one wrist.  Period.

If you want a fun ‘try at home’ experiment, go ahead and put on one watch with an optical HR sensor.  Now pick a nice steady-state activity (ideally a treadmill, perhaps a stationary bike), and then put another watch on that same wrist and place it nice and snug (as you would with an optical HR sensor).  You’ll likely start to see fluctuations in accuracy.  Especially with a sample size of 60 people (or 120 wrists).

I know it makes for a fun picture that the media will eat up – but seriously – it really does impact things. Similarly, see in the above picture how the Apple Watch is touching the Fitbit Blaze?  That’s also likely impacting steps.

Another fun at-home test you can do is wear two watches side by side touching, just enough so while running on a treadmill they tap together.  This can increase step counts as a false-positive.

Which isn’t making excuses for these watches.  But it’s the simple reality that users don’t wear two optical HR sensor watches in the real world.  But honestly, that’s probably the least of the issues with this study (which is saying a lot, because at this point alone I’d have thrown out the data).

In case you’re wondering why this did this – here’s what they said:

“1) We wanted to check for any positional effects on the watch performance –i.e. does right vs left wrist matter? Does higher or lower on the wrist matter? So watch arm & position was randomized (see supplementary tables in manuscript).

2) We are more confident in results obtained from same workout rather than separate workouts for each device.

3) Purely practical — having the same subject perform the protocol 4 – 7 times is infeasible. It would have been challenging to get compliance in a sufficient number of subjects.”

I get that in order to reduce time invested, you want to take multiple samples at the same time.  In fact, I do it on almost all my workouts.  Except, I don’t put two optical HR watches per wrist.  It simply invalidates the data.  No amount of randomizing bad data makes it better.  It’s still bad data.

And when we’re talking about a few percent mattering – even if 1 out of 5 people has issues, that’s a 20% invalidate data rate – a massive difference.  There’s no two ways about it.

Let’s Talk Fake Data

Another trend I see over and over again is using one-minute averages in studies.  I don’t know where along the way someone told academia that one-minute sport averages are acceptable – but it’s become all the rage these days.  These studies go to extreme degrees on double and triple regression on these data points, yet fail to have accurate data to perform that regression on.

Just check out the last half of how this data was processed:

image

Except one itty-bitty problem: They didn’t use the data from the device and app.

Instead, they used the one-minute averages as reported by various methods (most of which aren’t actually the official methods).  For example, here’s how they accessed the Mio Alpha 2:

“The raw data from the Mio device is not accessible. However, static images of the heart rate over the duration of the activity are stored in the Mio phone app. The WebPlotDigitizer tool was utilized to trace over the heart rate images and to discretize the data to the minute level.”

Translation: They took a JPG image screenshot and tried to trace the image to determine the data points.

Pro Tip: They could have simply connected the Mio Alpha 2 to any phone app or any other watch device to gather second by second HR data via the rebroadcasting feature. After all, that’s kinda the main selling point of the Mio Alpha 2.  Actually, it’s almost the only selling point these days.

Or here’s how they did the Microsoft Band:

“The mitmproxy software tool [15] was utilized to extract data from the Microsoft Band, following the technique outlined by J. Huang [16]. Data packets transmitted by the Microsoft phone app were re-routed to an external server for aggregation and analysis. Sampling granularity varied by activity J. Pers. Med. 2017, 7, 3 5 of 12 and subject. In cases where multiple data samples were collected each minute, the last data sample for the minute was utilized in the analysis.”

So, let me help you decode this: They didn’t use the actual data recorded in the app, but rather, they picked data at one-minute intervals in hopes that it’d represent what occurred in the previous minute.  Yes, the Microsoft app sucks for data collection – I agree, but this isn’t an acceptable way to do deal with such suckiness.  You don’t throw away good data.

Or, here’s how they did the Apple Watch data:

“All data from the Apple Watch was sent to the Apple Health app on the iPhone, and exported from Apple Health in XML format for analysis. The Apple Health app provided heart rate, energy expenditure, and step count data sampled at one minute granularity. For intense activity (running and max test), the sampling frequency was higher than once per minute. In cases where more than one measurement was collected each minute, the average measurement for the minute was utilized, since the minute average is the granularity for several of the other devices.”

So it gets better in this one.  They acknowledge they actually had the more frequent data samples (they’d have had 1-second data samples), but decided to throw those out and instead average at the minute.

But what’s so bizarre about this is how convoluted this study attempt was when it came to collecting the data.  Remember, here’s roughly what each participant did:

image

So you see what are effectively three and a half sports here: Walking, Running, Cycling, and…Sitting.

That’s fine (I like it actually as I said before). There’s complete validity in testing across all three and a half things.  But where the mistake was, is trying to treat it as a single entity and record the data streams live.  They skip over in the study procedure documents whether these devices were even switched between running and cycling mode for example.  None of the devices they tested were multisport devices.  So did the participant stop and start new activities?  The graphs above certainly don’t show that – because doing so on most of these devices isn’t super quick.

None of which explains the most obvious thing skipped: Why the not use the activity summary pages from the apps?

Every single one of the devices they tested will give you a calorie total at the end of the activity.  Here’s a few pages from these respective devices that show just that (left to right: Fitbit, Apple Watch, Microsoft Band):

FitbitCalories AppleWatchCalories MicrosoftBandCalories

Calories is prominently displayed for these workouts on all three of these apps.  This is the number they should have used.  Seriously.  Companies make this pretty little page so that every one of us on this planet can easily figure out how much ice cream we can eat.  It’s what 98% of people buy activity trackers for, and in this case they didn’t use the one metric that the entire study is based upon.

Instead, they tried to triangulate the calories using minute averaged data.  Which…isn’t real data anymore.  It’s alternative facts data.  And thus, you get inaccuracies in your results.

I went back to them and asked about this too, here’s whey they didn’t use the totals in the app:

“This is a good idea, but unfortunately per-workout totals are reported as a sum of calories for a given workout. We were instead interested in per-minute calorie expenditure, which would not be reported in the per-workout summary. The reason for  our interest in the per-minute values is that there is some adjustment as a person transitions from one activity to another (in both heart rate and energy expenditure). Consequently, in the 5 minute protocol for each activity, we  used the energy expenditure and heart rate for the final minute of the protocol (to ensure that a “steady state” rather than transient measurement was obtained).”

I get what they are saying – but again, that’s not giving an accurate picture of the calorie burn.  Instead, it’s only looking at the *average* of the one minute per each protocol chunk.  I’m not sure about you, but I don’t typically throw away my entire workout, save the last minute of it.  Also, by focusing on a single minutes worth of data, it serves to exaggerate any slight differences.  For example if you take one minute where one unit may be off 1-3 calories, but then multiply it out over a longer period – it exaggerates what didn’t actually happen.  We don’t know what happened in those other minutes, because they were thrown away.

And that all assumes they got the right numbers (for example, the JPG graph conversion is notoriously easy to get wrong numbers from).

Note: I did confirm with them that they configured each device within the associated app for the users correct age/gender/weight/etc as supported by that individual device.  So that’s good to see, a lot of studies skip this too – which also would invalidate the data by a huge chunk.

Wrap-up:

Early on in the study, they state the following:

“All devices were bought commercially and handled according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Data were extracted according to standard procedures described below.”

The only thing likely true in this statement was that all devices were bought commercially.  After that, nothing else is true.  The devices were not handled in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.  Further, the data was not extracted according to manufacturer’s intent/instructions.  And then to imply the methods they used were ‘standard’ is questionable at best.  The standard method would be to just look at the darn activity pages given on every single app out there.  Did the calories match?  It’s really that simple for what their goal was.

Instead, they created a Rube Goldberg machine that produced inaccurate results.  Which is unfortunate – because I actually agree with the theory of what they’re saying: Which is that every company does something different with calories.  Unfortunately, they didn’t prove that in this study.  Instead, they proved someone didn’t read the manual on how to use the devices.

Which ironically is exactly the same problem the last time I dug into a study.  The folks in question didn’t use the products properly, and then misunderstood how to analyze the data from it.  No matter how many fancy algorithms you throw at it, crap data in means crap data out.

Once again, you have to understand the technology in order to study it.

Sigh.

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ssorc
379 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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NewsBlur’s Twitter support just got a whole lot better

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It was a little under a year ago that I declared Twitter back, baby on this blog. In that time, NewsBlur users have created over 80,000 Twitter feeds in NewsBlur. Since it’s such a popular feature, I decided to dive back into the code and make tweets look a whole lot better.

Notice that NewsBlur now natively supports expanding truncated URLs (no more t.co links).

And NewsBlur also supports native quoted tweets, where a user links to a tweet in their own tweet. NewsBlur expands the quoted tweet and blockquotes it for convenience.

Plus retweets now show both the original tweet author and the retweeting author. This means that you can quickly scan tweets and see where the retweet originated from. And retweeted tweets that quote their own tweets also get expanded.

It’s almost as if NewsBlur is inching closer and closer to becoming its own full fledged Twitter client. While NewsBlur already hit Zawinski’s Law (“Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.”) by supporting email-newsletters-to-rss, Twitter is coming up fast.

Speaking of which, I have this idea I’ve been noodling about better supporting Twitter habits that need to become less of a habit. I want to be able to automatically follow people from my Twitter tweetstream in NewsBlur based the frequency of their posting. I want to be able to infrequently dip into Twitter but still read the tweets from people who only post once a week or once a day.

In other words, I want Twitter, the RSS killer, to better integrate with an RSS reader so that I can pull out the good stuff from the unending flow of tweets. RSS means never missing anything, but Twitter’s main use case is anathema to how we use RSS. I don’t like to preannounce features, but this one intrigues me and if you agree, please share this story to let me know or to give me feedback on how you would like to see NewsBlur be a better Twitter client.

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ssorc
409 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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4 public comments
Groxx
410 days ago
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I read every tweet, and twitter makes that very hard to do (which is why I'm a happy user of Talon), so that sounds great :) Infrequent tweeters are often my favorites.

Personally, I'd be happy with a twitter folder, with a "feed" for each follow. With a bit of thumbs-training (and a per-folder focus setting? or something) I'd probably never go back to twitter.com at all.
Silicon Valley, CA
TheRomit
410 days ago
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I like the last idea (I current have some users as columns in Tweetdeck but RSS may be a cleaner solution).

How about Yahoo Pipes-like combination of some users' Twitter feeds that make one RSS subscription?
santa clara, CA
samuel
408 days ago
Well you can read multiple twitter feeds in a folder, and with Focus mode, you can already filter them. And folders have RSS feeds, so you could then pipe that out somewhere else.
TheRomit
404 days ago
Ah! That's a good idea. Thanks for the tip!
samuel
410 days ago
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I'm thinking something more automatic than post freq as training. A slider or segmented control and you are subscribed to users who post at the frequency or below. Possibly even multiple sub folders with different frequencies: 1 week, 1 day, and then all the rest.
The Haight in San Francisco
eldritchconundrum
410 days ago
You say "RSS means never missing anything", but to me that isn't true. Posts more than 30 days old cannot be in an "unread" state. The marking as read that occurs automatically after 30 days is literally "missing something". I can't find it anymore among the rest, once it's been marked as read.
samuel
410 days ago
I think a month is a fine line to draw. Everything on the Internet, at a high enough level, is measured in monthly usage. If you're not using NewsBlur once a month then you're not really using NewsBlur.
eldritchconundrum
410 days ago
Certainly one month is fine, for news items. But if I want to e.g. accumulate one hundred of updates of an ongoing story-intense webcomic, then read them all in one go, then I have to track manually where I last stopped, because unread doesn't mean unread. In other words, NewsBlur is not a general-purpose RSS reader, it is specialized for reading recent news. Well, the name says it upfront, so I guess I can't complain. News... And Blur.
samuel
409 days ago
To be fair, those stories aren't gone, they just aren't unread. That's why the default is "All Stories" and not just "Unread Stories".
superlopuh
409 days ago
The unread stories effectively disappear into the void though. I've definitely lost posts that I would have liked to read at some point this way. It would be cool if there was some sort of banner for recently/soon-to-be autoread posts. Automatically sending them to pocket would also be a useful feature.
eldritchconundrum
408 days ago
They are not gone, they are lost in the haystack. If I can't find them, that's the same thing.
tingham
410 days ago
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I think I'd like to have my entire feed in a separate drawer here and then be able to use training to push users I follow down (or up) in the visibility stack. Right now NB and TW are the only two pinned tabs in my browser. Getting this down to one would be fantastic. Post frequency as a function of training would be a really nice feature compression.
Cary, NC

Five great government grants for Australian startups

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Key points at a glance

  • While innovation and R&D are risky ventures for any business – the stakes are highest for Australia’s thousands of startups and small businesses.
  • Through a range of government grants and assistance, Australian startups and entrepreneurs can apply for extra funding to keep R&D dreams alive.
  • Top grants include the Entrepreneurs’ Programme, the Export Market Development Grant and the R&D Tax Incentive.
Five great government grants for Australian startups

No matter which way you slice it, innovation comes with added risks and costs. And in a business landscape studded with large incumbents and smaller upstarts, these risks are proportional – a scuttled research and development project will create a headache for any large company’s balance sheet, the same failed attempt could see a more modest outfit shut up shop.

Fortunately, help is at hand for small Australian businesses in the form of government grants and assistance. There are financial awards provided – if certain conditions are met – to a business or entrepreneur to help achieve a common goal. What’s more, such subsidies don’t need to be paid back, making a real difference to the bottom line.

We’ve compiled a shortlist of the top grants and assistance schemes that aid Australian innovation. You never know – you or your business might be eligible for one or more of these grants:

1. Entrepreneurs’ Programme

What is it?

Part of the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, the Entrepreneurs’ Programmea is a federal government scheme aimed at helping Australian startups and entrepreneurs on a several fronts – from accelerating competitiveness and productivity to commercialising new products, services or processes.

What’s on offer?

A range of support functions are provided, including co-funded grants, business advice, collaboration opportunities and incubator support.

2. Export Market Development Grant

What is it?

Aimed at current and future Australian exporters, the Export Market Development Grant (EMDG)b reimburses marketing and promotional costs for businesses in international markets. Examples include free samples, trade fairs, or marketing visits.

What’s on offer?

Eligible export businesses can have up to 50% of their promotional expenses covered, provided the expenses are over $15,000. Grants range from $5,000 to $150,000. Each applicant is entitled for up to eight consecutive grants.

Nifty Forms can help individuals and businesses access the EMDG.

3. Public Sector Innovation fund (VIC):

What is it?

At the state level, Victoria’s State Government oversees the Public Sector Innovation fundc, which issues grants aimed at fostering collaboration between the public and private sectors; leveraging innovative new ways to solve complex problems in policy and service delivery. This could include new ways to collaborate, experiential learning, or overhauling procurement systems.

What’s on offer?

The Victorian government provides grants ranging from $50,000 to $400,000 to organisations working alongside or within Victoria’s public sector.

4. R&D Tax Incentive

What is it?

Spearheaded by AusIndustry, the R&D Tax Incentived aims to cultivate new innovations and knowledge in Australia by reimbursing portions of a small business or startup’s research and development costs. It provides a tax offset that encourages more companies to ‘have a go’ and take the plunge into new R&D initiatives.

What’s on offer?

For eligible companies with an annual turnover of less than $20 million, up to 45% of R&D expenses (this changes to 43.5% for cost incurred after 1 July 2016) can be recouped through a tax offset. Unused offsets may also be able to be carried forward to future income years.

Nifty Forms can help companies check their eligibility for the R&D Tax Incentive.

5. Instant Asset Write-Off

What is it?

It’s not technically a grant or rebate, however the Instant Asset Write-Off was a flagship part of the government’s 2015 budget agenda. Coming into effect in November 2016e, the scheme is now available for startups and small businesses around Australia and could be a lifeline for investing in much-needed new equipment.

What’s on offer?

Businesses earning up to $10 million a year can take advantage of the scheme, with assets valued up to $20,000 able to be deducted.

a https://www.business.gov.au/assistance/entrepreneurs-programme-summary
b https://www.business.gov.au/assistance/export-market-development-grants
c http://www.vic.gov.au/publicsectorinnovation
d https://www.business.gov.au/assistance/research-and-development-tax-incentive
e https://www.ato.gov.au/Newsroom/smallbusiness/Lodging-and-paying/Instant-asset-threshold-increase-to-$20,000-now-law/

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ssorc
432 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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It is done – 52 cafes in 52 weeks……

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It is the 30th December 2016 and we have done it!  We have visited a different cafe every week for the whole year….that is a new cafe every 7 days. We have meet the challenge and now, I think, can consider ourselves to be absolute Brunswick ‘hipsters’.  We have had more coffee than we need.  We have eaten out far more often than we thought we would and much more than we need and have probably each gained a couple of kilos because of it. It has been a great adventure wandering through Brunswick and discovering the weird and the wonderful and those little secrets an old suburb keeps well hidden. At times it has been onorous to squeeze in a cafe amidst a busy week or on a weekend when all we have wanted to do was hide from the world. As the year progressed it was a little challenging to find the next one. But every time we have found it to be a good thing to do – to create a bit time and go for a walk and sit for a bit, no matter how short, and spend a few moments talking together and watching the people around us.

Our overall feeling about it is that it has been fun and that we have enjoyed the challenge.  Would we want to continue it into the new year?….no! Would we want to do it again?…..no way!  Do we want to try a new challenge in 2017?…….absolutely not! It has been fun but we are glad it is done.  

We have been asked many times which has been our favourite and which has been the worst but we have resisted reaching a conclusion on this.  Each place has had its good bits and its bits that probably could be done a bit better.  Certainly some places were much ‘slicker’ than others, some were very ‘organic’ and some really need to make some changes if they are to survive in the very competitive world of cafes in Brunswick.  I suspect that our experience each week has been strongly influenced by our own head-space….whether we were happy, stressed, busy, sad, melancholy, excited, lazy….. So much of life is shaped by our own attitudes and mood, it seems wrong to judge people working hard at their chosen path in life when they are giving it their best shot.

So it is thanks to all the baristas who have made us coffee and to all the wait staff who have tended our every whim and desire and to all the business owners who have greeted us at their door and thanked us for our custom and to all the people in all the cafes who have allowed us to take photos.

And one last image for the year of the things you see when you wander the back streets.  This extraordinary tree (we think) discovered on the way to cafe no. 52…..

rubbish-tree

 






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ssorc
536 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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