Automatic Vehicle Ventilation Idea

Sweltering Heat

We all know just how hot vehicles can get during the day. Infrared rays enter through the windows, and heat up the interior, along with the air inside the vehicle. Since there’s no way for the vehicle to ventilate, things get hotter and hotter. This process is similar to an oven; using the sun as the power source, instead of heating coils. Once the car’s materials are heated, the high interior temperature can last well into the evening. When you get in several hours after sunset, it can still feel stifling.

Direct sunlight is the mostly likely culprit for a car heating in this way. Cars with on-board, rechargeable batteries, and the spread of photovoltaic cells makes me wonder if there’s a way to address this.

Sun-Powered Cooling

Hot air rises, so the car’s warmest air will rest at the roof. Could we add a small ventilation system to the pillars of the car? Fans in the ventilation ductwork would draw air from the upper interior of the car, to the exterior, and ambient-temperature air would replace it through another set of ducts. I’d guess that pulling air from around the undercarriage would mean we’d get air at a cooler temperature. Or perhaps where the vehicle’s normal air intake resides?

This system could be powered through PV cells, and/or on-board rechargeable batteries, when the internal temperature exceeds the external temperature by say 10°F.

For cars with a moon or sun roof, it would be practical to integrate decorative vents there. There are possibilities for styling, to be certain. Luxury models might incorporate air conditioning to this process.

Preventative Measures

Perhaps there are other ways to reduce the car’s resting temperature?

I can imagine an additive in or coating on the car windows which would automatically reflect the incoming sunlight. Preventing the direct sunlight from entering the vehicle in the first place would greatly help to reducing the baking temperatures. Maybe to such a degree that a ventilation system wouldn’t even be needed.

However, the exterior of the car could still warm

But there may be safety considerations to this. What triggers the tinting? Could it be activated accidentally while the vehicle is in motion? That would cause a driver to lose vision of the roadways.

No-tinting would be a safe default state. Perhaps a continuous current from a rechargeable battery might be required, one that could only be delivered when the vehicle isn’t running. So when power is lost, the tint fades automatically. The power could again be harnessed from sunlight.

An additional setting within the car could regulate whether that tinting occurred at all. One might want the sunlight to enter the car during the winter to help defrost the windows. This could even be triggered by temperature sensors.

Combining Systems

In particularly hot, muggy, and sunny climates, I imagine the combination of a solar-powered ventilation system and window tinting feature would greatly reduce the interior temperatures of cars. An additional benefit comes with the system being powered by the same energy that heats the car in the first place.

I wonder how effective this would be on a large, asphalt parking lot, where the ambient air temperature is brought up because of the heat island? Will the temperatures outside and inside be pretty similar?

After checking, I find that a car’s interior can be over 20° hotter than outside. Interior temperatures can really skyrocket above even the most brutal summer heats.

Choosing a regularly-cool, shaded part of the vehicle for the air intake should make it possible to lower that interior temperature, even when it’s scorching hot. This would also make the car return to a normal temperature after it’s no longer in direct sunlight.

On Selling The Idea

I hypothesize this idea would improve driver and passenger satisfaction with their vehicles, since cars wouldn’t be nearly as hot during the summer months.

Drivers may be more willing to take trips they’d otherwise avoid when the vehicle isn’t miserable. And who likes being burnt by hot steering wheels, seat belts, and seats?

It could also help improve the fuel efficiency of the vehicles, by reducing the amount of fuel/energy needed to cool a vehicle once running. I’d love to see a study on how much energy it takes to lower the interior temperature an additional 20 degrees beyond what it is outside.

I’ve had this thought several times, after my car has baked in the heat all day, and wanted to share.

Improving Error Messages

Lately, I’ve been working with error messages in Fulcrum, and have realized that writing user-targeted, helpful error messages is difficult. Difficult, but worthwhile.

I just read an article about how to write a great error message which I wanted to discuss.

His three bullets have great ideas.

  1. Don’t abuse alerts for upselling or showing superfluous information. People will stop reading the messages that are actually important.
  2. Don’t just assume people know about the context of a message. They might toggle between apps and see your message days after it happened. Always include enough information for users to make sense of it.
  3. Use a friendly, non-technical, non-threatening tone of voice.

I’ve had some additional thoughts on error messages that I wanted to make note of.

Think Outside the Happy Path

It’s easy to optimize for the nominal case; to make that user experience great. And it’s also easy to half-heartedly approach error messages. In reality, error messages are just as important as, if not more than, the happy-path.

Done well, helpful error messages will make your customer’s lives easier and give them a feeling of satisfaction with your product. Done poorly, your customers will have no idea what to fix, feel defeated, and stop using your service. Think about your own experience with error messages. Most of that would be classified as futile, right?

If you have a trial, this is even more important. The trial is when the customer knows the least about your software that they ever will. This is when they’re most likely to make mistakes or need your guidance. Error messages are a way to help them learn more about your product. To help them gain confidence with it. To show them how your product makes their lives easier than the well-known method they’re already using. It can make the difference between them ditching you all together, or converting to a paid account. That’s a tall order, particularly when it’s a self-service style offering.

The happy-path is the first one considered, designed, and implemented. The error paths come later and don’t get as much love. So most error messages are an afterthought, which leads to them being frustrating and inconsistent, instead of helpful and empowering.

Add in the fact that most software has awful error messages, it’s yet another way to stand out against the competition. In fact, good error messages are another form of good customer service. By helping them with errors, you’re anticipating their needs. And that makes for happy customers.

Modals Are the Worst

Modal error messages like a Javascript alert() are frustrating. They don’t let you interact with the program until you’ve closed the error message. This is problematic because the user has to keep the error message in their head after they close the modal. And then they have to figure out what it was that caused the message in the first place.

An error message is likely best shown inline, alongside the thing that caused the error in the first place. If they needed to enter some text but didn’t, show them that text input, along with a message, and give it a visual treatment to stand out. This gives them a solid context of what to address.

Showing the error message inline also gives you more room to offer advice on how to fix the issue, and to provide links to FAQs or tutorials. You’ve worked hard on that content, so why not link users to it when they could use it most?

Modals are also susceptible to disappearing accidentally. Ever been typing when an error message appears? And then your typing accidentally dismisses the error message before you could read it? You weren’t even expecting this error message, and now you’re not even sure what it was about. Was it something vitally important? Do you need to do something? Did you just agree to something you didn’t mean to? How can you trigger it again to see what you missed? It’s frustrating and potentially dangerous.

Just now, I had an error message where an error dialog displayed on a different monitor than the one I was actively using. That makes an error even more prone to being hidden, missed, or accidentally dismissed. I can’t even write a blog post without experiencing an error message. These things are everywhere!

Consistency Across Experiences

Deciding on a consistent way to display errors is difficult. Adhering to a single approach throughout the entire application is even harder.

Mobile devices have the additional challenge of limited screen space. The most helpful and descriptive message shown in the article was from a desktop. How would that all information be best displayed on a mobile device? And how would you do that without using a modal? Perhaps displaying the messages inline, as I mentioned above.

Error messages can have different conventions between devices and browsers, client side and server side. But that’s an implementation detail. It’s up to the developers to handle error messages in a consistent, helpful, and unobtrusive way. Otherwise we’re doing our customers a disservice.

Choose Helpful Error Messages

The idea of not showing an error message at all is very interesting, and I’d like to see what potential that has. Instead of an error message, could you choose a sensible default and then show them a notice instead? In what cases does that approach not make sense?

Going forward, I’ll be looking for ways to improve Fulcrum’s error messages so that our users have an easier time getting to learning and using our service. We aim to provide fantastic customer support, and this is another way to work toward that end.

As developers, we’re in a position to help change what’s standard. Let’s work to make helpful error messages the standard.

Sunset Duality

Artwork for Sunset Duality.

Artwork of a fictional mountain range and abstract sunset. Pencil and colored pencil on paper.

The background mountains were the first part that I drew. I then added the mountains in the foreground, which seem a bit more realistic. After that, I wasn’t sure what to do with the sky, so the piece sat, unfinished, for a while.

I added the sun and sky some weeks later. I liked blending the sunset and taking the dual color approach. I’m sure I’ll revisit this concept again. I finished this, on July 7, 2015. Not entirely sure when I started it, but I think it was mid-June.

Blue Peak

Artwork of a fictional mountain.

Pencil and colored pencil on paper.

I created this piece on June 6, 2015. This was to help me better figure out how to draw mountains. I didn’t use a source for this piece though, so I don’t think it feels much like a real place. But I still enjoyed working on it.

I added the blue aura around it because leaving it grayscale just didn’t feel right. Will have to revisit this concept.

Pikes Peak Artwork

Artwork of Pikes Peak

Pencil on paper.

When I lived in Colorado Springs, I had a great view of Pikes Peak. I drew this one afternoon, way back on January 15, 2012, from my apartment. That was the first time in a long time that I’d drawn anything.

Some of the graphite rubbed off onto the back of another page of my notebook, and it got a little smudged, but nothing too terrible. I recently took this out of the notebook, to help keep it from smudging further.

Pikes Peak is an enormous and impressive mountain which dominates the view in Colorado Springs. It’ll always hold a special place in my heart.

Not Everything Is Public

Growth Through Discomfort

Have you ever had the inkling of a idea, but were afraid to explore it because of how you might feel, or what it might change? And then, have you challenged yourself to see that line of thought through, because it was worthwhile to figure out? Or perhaps you set it aside and ignored it, to avoid discomfort. I’ve done both.

Discomfort is key to much of personal growth. Especially the kind encountered in understanding thoughts that terrify you. You grow when you see the ways those thoughts fit into your mindset and life. But shit can be heavy, and difficult to process. Leaving home, breaking up with a romantic partner, questioning a belief system, the passing of a loved one, or recognizing your own mortality. Everyone will confront tough topics.

When I initially distance myself from a topic, I’ll eventually feel a kind of guilt. As if I already know what I think, but I’m not admitting it. Sitting with and processing the stream of consciousness puts me in a better position, even though it sucks to get there. I’m more honest with myself, and can feel confident about a decision.

Not exploring ideas for the fear of what I might find is a kind of self-censorship. Holding them at arms length protects the ego a little longer. Another kind of self-censorship is related to my persona as shared with others. Have you ever been afraid to admit something to a friend? Maybe you discuss politics with a coworker, but avoid it at all costs around your grandparents? Then you know what I mean. Self-censoring is when you curate your thoughts, emotions, and actions to fit the group you’re with.

We all play certain roles in certain settings, and boundaries like censorship can help. It’s part of successfully navigating society. But it seems odd to consider censoring yourself to yourself, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s some protective strategy done awry.

Honesty Through Discovery

I have greatly enjoyed writing more this year. I’ve flexed creative muscles which had atrophied, and come to understand more about myself. There may even be health benefits associated with it.

Posting regularly to this blog is rewarding as a means of visible progress. And I’ve encouraged others to write about and share topics, no matter the size. But some of my pieces aren’t, and may never be, public.

Often it takes time to bring an idea to completion. So a piece may sit in limbo, until I take it across the finish like. Some topics feel too personal to want to release. Still others may be venting or reactionary; more emotional than well-composed. And what about the ideas you’re uncertain what the ramifications might be?

That’s fine. Not everything has to be public. In fact, some things should be private. In the same way that I wouldn’t speak every thought, I won’t post every writing. It’s hard enough to discover yourself in private, thanks to the tendency to avoid difficult thoughts, without adding in the worry that someone else will read it and judge you.

This is why privacy, both analog and digital, is crucial. If you suspect everything you say or do is known by other people, you modify your thoughts and behavior. You censor. And censoring prevents you from discovering who you are, and what you truly think and feel.

If something might be seen in the future by parents, significant others, employers, or, someday, by children, it makes sense to be a bit reserved. Things on the Internet are forever, and people can easily misinterpret.

Sensitive topics might make sense only to discuss with close friends or family. While another subset only make sense to discuss with yourself. Removing the scrutiny, real or imagined, of the all-seeing eye can give you the courage to be real and open and honest.

The more important part is that the writing and thinking and questioning occurs. That you’re learning more about what you think each day. That you’re figuring out the world on the fly. That you’re seeing just how little you know, and are willing to change your world-view as new facts come to light.

Explore those frightening and gut-wrenching thoughts. Don’t censor yourself to yourself. You’ll get to know you better. Not everything has to be public, and that’s a fortunate thing.

The Importance Of Momentum While Hiking

A summary of Newton’s first law is

An object in motion tends to stay in motion.

This law applies to hikers too. And, as a hiker, what’s more important to staying in motion than momentum? Momentum going uphill is most important, since gravity is most against you here. That’s why mountain etiquette is vital. If respected, it helps everyone settle into and keep their flow.

Picture of the view from Grays and Torreys.

View of Stevens Gulch while hiking Grays and Torreys.

Besides observing etiquette, what are other ways to keep a good pace? It can be tricky to figure out, but feel free to experiment and mentally note how it’s working. That’s what I’ve done, and here are a few things I’ve found to help. I hope you’ll find it useful.

Setting Your Pace

Starting out at a bit slower pace than I feel I could handle right now really helps me keep my breath and energy over longer distances. Like the tortoise will tell you, slow and steady.

When hiking something particularly long or steep, I can start out feeling good. It first feels like I’m really kicking ass, and then I realize it’s my ass that’s being kicked. Hiking at appreciable elevation amplifies this. I run out of energy or breath or both, and need to stop for a break. I didn’t have a pace here; I had a sprint.

This cycle of frequently starting and stopping robs me of momentum. It means I’m standing on my tired feet longer, and using more energy. Being out in nature longer isn’t a bad thing, but that’s hard to appreciate when I’m beat. Pacing helps me better enjoy the journey.

Slow Covers More Ground Than Stop

If I’m running out of steam, I try a slower pace. Breaks are helpful ways to refuel and rehydrate, but some of that can be done while trekking along. Even the slow going covers more ground than you might think, which definitely adds up.

Break for Beauty

There’s plenty of scenic vistas to admire out there, right? If I time a well-deserved break with sight-seeing, I’ll get more bang for my buck. That sandwich and water will taste a lot nicer when accompanied by an expansive view. And that fantastic view inspires me to get back to hiking after my rest.

Breath as Momentum

I’ve discussed how important breathing is while running, but it’s just as important while hiking.

I time the steps to my breaths, which helps get more of my body on the same page. A deep, periodic set of breaths set to my steps helps me maintain a steady pace and get into the zone.

Full-Body Pace

I’ve also really enjoyed my hiking poles. They give my arms something to do, and are another way, along with breathing, to get my whole body into a rhythm. My arms, legs, and chest are all working in concert to move me along, and my entire body feels that pace and sinks right in to it.

Once the body is coordinated, I can enjoy the view or brainstorm or chat while staying steady.

Hiking poles are also nice because they help round out my natural sense of balance, and give a little more stability.

Watch Your Step

On steep ascents, small, deliberate steps help with pace too. I can avoid slipping, which really ruins the flow. And solid, secure foot placement also helps prevent falling and injuring myself. My stride length and hiking poles adjust to the slower pace, and that means I’ll be at the peak sooner so I can enjoy the panoramic view!

Flow Found

I’ve discovered these ideas throughout my hikes, but only during my most recent one up Grays and Torreys did it really sink in. A steady pace had me feeling good with my endorphins flowing, and I realized how things worked in concert to keep me moving along. The starts of this list came together as I reflected on what really worked for me. It’s also nice to codify something previously felt, but not known.

Have you experience with any of the above? I’d love to hear what else works for you.

The Importance Of Breath While Running

I’m no runner.

I remember in high school, when my friend Alli convinced me to go on a run. She wouldn’t even tell me how far we were going. For some reason, I agreed. As we went along, I’d ask how much longer we had. She’d never give a definite answer. When we got back to my house, I collapsed on the lawn and sucked in air. For some reason, even now, I’m not entirely sure how far we ran. Probably only a mile. My memory is awful.

That and gym class were my only real experiences with running before college. In the fitness center at Ohio State, I’d run on treadmills, and occasionally on the track. My last year at OSU, I’d run part of the way to and from the fitness center. It wasn’t even that far, but I remember getting stitches in my sides pretty much every time. I was not a fan. When that happened, I’d walk instead.

Then, on one of these occasions, I was running with my roommate David Carter. He gave me a tip on breathing that changed everything. He told me to breathe on each step of the run. To begin, breathe in over the course of four steps. And then breathe out for four steps. 4 in, 4 out. Repeat.

Going forward, I’ll refer to the breaths taken as #/#. In/Out. First is number of in breaths, followed by the number of out breaths. So the breathing I described above is 4/4. Just a helpful shorthand.

When I start a run, I’ll start with 4/4, and then change the breaths to suit my needs as I go. I’ll eventually back it down to 4/3, then 3/3, then 3/2, and finally 2/2.

I have no real clue how I was breathing prior to this. Probably just huffing air in an inefficient way. If you want to know how to get cramps while running, I could probably teach you that too.

After moving to Colorado, I’ve run with a bit more regularity and distance, and this breathing technique has been a big help. I’m still no professional, but it’ll get me through the occasional 5K.

Throughout my runs, I’ll always breathe in at least as much as I breathe out. Helps make sure I’m getting enough oxygen… or something. Let’s be honest, I’m no running scientist.

Trying to do an entire inhale or exhale in one step isn’t effective. If I’m doing that, it’s probably some sprint for a short distance when playing Ultimate Frisbee. While running, I’d never keep a pace where a breathing 2/1 or 1/1 was necessary. I’d likely still get stitches.

This regular breathing also comes in handy when setting a pace for hiking, but I’ll save more on that for another post.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this. How do you breathe when you run?

Peaks and Drops

An artwork experiment.

Colored pencil on paper.

I created this abstract piece on August 14th, 2015 as an experiment with blending colored pencils. It didn’t turn out how I imagined it, but it was fun to do some more coloring. I’ll likely explore this idea again soon.

Grays and Torreys Artwork

I worked on this August 11th and 13th, 2015.

My Grays and Torreys artwork

Colored pencil on paper. View from the trail that leads up to both peaks.

A few weekends back, Karla and I hiked the Grays and Torreys peaks. Both these mountains are over 14,000 feet tall. Mountains above that height are lovingly referred to as 14ers by those who enjoy hiking them.

It was the first time she and I had hiked a 14er together. In fact, it was her very first time hiking any 14er. This was my 4th time hiking these peaks, but I enjoy them a lot. They are close to Denver, and you can do dispersed camping at the trail head. They’re certainly not an easy hike, but, among 14ers, they rate as two of the easiest. They’re very popular and I’m sure hundreds of people hike them each month in the summer. We both enjoyed the hike, views, and camping of that trip.

This past Thursday, Karla and I celebrated the one year anniversary of when we first met. Part of my gift to her was the mountain scene drawing above. I’d taken photos during the hike, and used one of them as reference for my drawing. This is in the morning, along the trail that leads up to both peaks. The saddle you can see in the picture is what connects the two peaks, and that’s how we made it from one peak to the other.

This piece took me somewhere between 4-5 hours, I think. I’ve really enjoyed using my colored pencils recently, and I liked making something by hand for Karla to celebrate our relationship. I feel I’ve increased my drawing ability too, which is exciting as well.

I hope Karla enjoys this as much as I enjoyed creating it!