Real-world Uses for Trigonometry!

Sam working on the fortI’m building a fort / platform / swing set for my backyard. It’s been fun working on it with my 5 year old son Sam, and it’s going to be huge. I started by looking at a lot of the wooden sets that you can buy, and realized that for what I wanted to build it would be much cheaper to build it myself. Plus … I love working on projects like this (non-computer work) and thought it would be fun to do with my son.

My original design called for a 8′ by 8′ square platform that would 8 feet off the ground. There would be a railing around the platform, and I’ll slowly add various ways to get from the ground up to the platform … a ladder, a rope ladder, a climbing wall with the various hand holds, etc. The corner posts are built from 12′ 2×4 boards that are sandwiched together and bolted. This picture is Sam assisting me as we built one of the four corner posts. I was able to put together the four corner posts in my garage, then join these with the 2×6 side plates. Then my friend Joe Skehan came up to Heber and assisted me in pulling all of this out of the garage, tilting it up in the backyard, and bolting the other set of side plates on to it.

Of course, this was all done after I found out that I picked the wrong lunber at Home Depot … so it is now a 10′ by 10′ platform! I had pulled 10′ 2×6 lumber instead of the 8′ 2×6 boards I meant to grab. When faced with loading all the lumber back into my truck, or building a bigger platform I immediately acknowledged that bigger *IS* better. 🙂

Me standing on the frame of the fort ... prior to pouring the concrete footers!The next step was to dig the holes for the concrete footers for each corner … I’ll have to post more pictures at some point, but I bought some 8″ concrete form tubes, and we dug 24″ down for each corner and placed the tubes … but then this is where I wanted to ensure that I got things square … hmmm … I know that I learned how to calculate all of that back in high school … how did we do that Trig?

Well … I first pulled my measurements … the corner posts were 113.5″ on center one way … and 116″ on center the other way. To ensure that the legs were square, I had to find out the diagonal measurements between each pair of opposite legs … and it was fun to remember the methodology to do this. Of course my Treo phone has a calculator, and it even has an “Advanced Mode”, which then has a “Trig” option. I then had to remember the old SOHCAHTOA … Sine = Opposite over Hypotenuse, Cosine = Adjacent over Hypotenuse, Tangent = Opposite over Adjacent. Well … my two known measurements were the opposite and adjacent sides … I wanted the diagonal … the hypotenuse. So I first took 116 divided by 113.5 = 1.0220264317180616740088105726872 … then took the inverse tangent of that (or on my Treo the aTan) which gave me an angle of 45.624112346205261567807788449794. Almost a 45 degree angle. So now I have an angle and the length of the opposite side (116″) so I can take the sine of that angle and I get 0.71476706255779729511116939700283 … divide 116″ by that and I have my hypotenuse: 162.29063435700779834449790836733″

So now I just had to ensure that the brackets I was embedding into the concrete were properly spaced … 113.5″ in one direction, 116″ in the other direction, and 162.3″ diagonally from each other. I put some stakes into the ground to hold them into place … and now have a very square foundation for the fort. This weekend I’ll be tightening up the bolts, adding a few brackets to strengthen the fort, and beginning to add the joists to the platform. I want to see how far I can get before winter comes on strong.

It was fun to think through the math … and realize that there really *WAS* a reason to learn Trig in high school … 🙂

One Laptop Per Child … Give One Get One …

Well … I had to do it. For multiple reasons. First, I really want to see what one of these machines looks like. Second, I’ll be able to watch my son play with it, and see just how usable the software is. Lastly … and somewhat the deal closer … when I bought one, some child somewhere else on the planet will get a new laptop.

The One Laptop Per Child project has finally reached fruition … and for the next 14 days they are offering a Give One Get One offer … if you pay $399 you can give a OLPC to a child somewhere, and also get one for yourself. Oh yeah … and $200 of that is a tax deductible donation.

The OLPC is a Linux machine with some pre-packaged software for kids. From their website:

A real world laptop for real world change. The XO laptop.

Many years and an infinite amount of sweat equity went into the creation of the XO laptop. Designed collaboratively by experts from academia and industry, the XO is the product of the very best thinking about technology and learning. It was designed with the real world in mind, considering everything from extreme environmental conditions such as high heat and humidity, to technological issues such as local-language support. As a result, the XO laptop is extremely durable, brilliantly functional, energy-efficient, responsive, and fun. Come take a look.

I’m a little bummed that some of the features appear to be most useful when a bunch of kids have these in the same area … but we’ll see how it goes.

Social and sharing

The XO laptop was designed to provide the most engaging wireless network possible. The children can connect, chat, share information on the Web, gather by videoconference, make music together, edit texts, read e-books, and enjoy the use of collaborative games online.

I’m excited to see exactly what change this device causes around the world … we are living in interesting times …

Guy Kawasaki in Utah …

I came down to the Salt Lake Valley last week to listen to Guy Kawasaki and what he had to say. As usual, he started off with his background at Apple, with the Macintosh, and railing on Windows, Bill Gates, and Windows users. It’s funny … but to me this really dates him … but of course appeals to the “religious” technical folks.

The title slide of his presentation was “The Art of Innovation” … and he indicated that what he is sharing is not necessarily what he did, but what he learned. He went through his top 10, actually 11, key points to innovation. I have to admit that I really like his suggestions overall … and he presents them well.

1. Make Meaning – it’s not about making money! Money is a natural consequence of making meaning. Make things better, or remove bad things.

This is something that I learned a long time back about “commitment” … what are you really committed to? The example that I heard is that football is not about the score on the scoreboard … it’s about getting the ball across the goal line. If you think it’s about the score, then the best way to get points on the board would be to run up to the box where the scoreboard is controlled and flip the switches! Most people get very confused about doing things for money … but instead consider that money is a measurement of whether you are doing other things right.

2. Make Mantra – this is beyond a mission statement. Short. To the point. What is your company or product about. Why does it exist? What is the purpose?

  • Wendy’s – “Healthy fast food”
  • Nike – “Authentic athletic performance”
  • FedEx – “Peace of mind”
  • eBay – “Democratize commerce”

3. Jump to the next curve – it’s not about being 5%, 10%, or 15% better … it’s about a leap forward. It’s not about being slightly better.

I like this one a lot … it’s all about thinking beyond everyone else. Not taking an existing idea and working to improve it … but making that leap to something completely new!
4. Roll the DICEE

  • Deep: Fanning, Dram (Reef) – Sandals with bottle openers, or bottles! – complete functionality
  • Intelligence: BF-104 Flashlight (Panasonic) – support for various types of batteries
  • Complete: LS (Lexus) – it’s more than just the product … it’s service and support
  • Elegant: nano (Apple) – great UI, easy to use
  • Emotive: Harley Davidson – cause emotion

These are the key components that Guy talked about for success of your company or product.

5. Don’t worry, be crappy – it does not have to be perfect when you ship! Evolve it! But get it out there for people to use.

This is another point that I fully believe it … it is a cornerstone of Agile development methodologies. Get your idea out there quickly and get it into use! Get the feedback and iterate. Many people often spend too much time working to perfect something … and end up with something that is only perfect for them!

6. Polarize people – you do not have to appeal to everyone. This is not bad … feel free to create in a way that some people love, and some people hate. This is much better than people don’t care what you have created!

7. Let a hundred flowers blossom – let it go how it goes. If people who are not your target market are buying your product … let them! They are now your target market! Do not believe that you know exactly who and how things are going to go.

8. Churn, baby, churn – evolve. Listen. Alter. Customize. Enhance.

9. Niche thyself – Ability to provide unique product or service vs. Value to customer.

Guy presented a quadrant chart that show these two values on each axis. The point is that the best place to be is where you have a unique product that provides the most value to the customer.

  • Not Unique, little value to customer = DotCom
  • Not Unique, value to Customer = Price competition
  • Unique, little value to customer = stupid
  • Unique, value to customer = sweet spot!

10. Follow the 10/20/30 rule – the PowerPoint rule. Life is a pitch. Be prepared to pitch.

  • 10 Slides – the optimal number of slides in any pitch.
  • 20 Minutes – the amount of time to present your slides.
  • 30 Point Font – the best size to use for the audience.

11. Don’t let the bozos grind you down – no matter what, do not let the people who doubt and question stop you from believing in your vision! There are at least two types of bozos … the loser bozos, and the winner bozos. Loser bozos are the obvious people who just do not get it … they themselves are not necessarily accomplished … and they want to tell you why your idea will not work. The most dangerous bozos are the ‘winner bozos’. The people who look accomplished … have money … maybe even had one or more successes themselves. In most cases … they are lucky. So even they are not the ones to listen to. Pursue your dream!

He ended offering a copy of the presentation (contact, giving a plug for (“NPR for your eyes”), and acknowledging his photos come from He then went to Q&A …

I had to leave before the Q&A took off … but was glad that I went. It’s always nice to hear a refresher from someone like Guy … he’s a good speaker … fun to hear him.