3D printed wheelchairs, and shoes

A month ago I got my new wheelchair. It is a personally fitted TiLITE AERO T. It is my first time to have such a personalized chair that’s not an off the shelf one.

I won’t discuss here pros and cons of custom made wheelchairs, however what was amusing was the fact that you need to get an appointment with someone from the dealership who will take your measurements, then you have to wait for 6 weeks until you receive the chair because it is hand made in US, and you pay tons of money. The starting price is $2500 and with every option you can reach $5000 easily. You can get part or all of it if you are insured, if not you will pay a hefty sum.

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My new TiLITE. The frame is one piece of aluminum made of smaller pieces welded together.

I don’t know what’s the cost structure of making one of these, but I bet most of the cost is in the labor to build it. After all, aluminum isn’t that expensive, and most of the other parts – such as the wheels & paint – are from other manufacturers.

My doctor recommended that I should get custom made shoes that take the shape of my feet to better support them. I made an appointment with the shoemaker, they made a cast on my foot and quickly removed it before it gets dry and solid. Then few weeks later they came with some basic plastic models to ensure they fit. Then after some iterations back and forth, I have to wait another 6 weeks before the shoes are ready.

Both cases of the wheelchair and the shoes made perfect sense for 3D printers, & scanners. I think it is inevitable the next generations of wheelchair frames will be 3D printed. After all their sizes isn’t that big & they are constructed of one material, either aluminum or carbon fiber. The labor and time needed to make one chair will go significantly down, and it will make it way more possible for people in other countries to afford one. After all, if I weren’t living in Europe I wouldn’t be able to afford one. This costs almost a year of a software engineer’s salary in Egypt.

The case will be similar for the shoes, getting the right shape & dimensions will no longer require a cast and few weeks of preparations for one iteration. Imagine putting your foot inside a 3D scanner attached to a printer that would print exactly the shape of your shoe. Then the shoemaker can use that model to build the final product (Shoes are more complex because multiple types of materials are involved).

I wished I had the ability & willingness to build one, because I can see the opportunity, and potential for such a thing.

Garbage Crusher

Since I moved to Amsterdam and lived by myself, one of the things I avoided was taking out the trash. I made a deal with the cleaning lady that she would take it out when she comes every two weeks.

This resulted in a dilemma, I have to make sure my trash can can fit all my garbage for two weeks. I started optimizing by crushing everything and making it smaller. After all I don’t want to get garbage overflow and have to take the trash out.

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Bottles either get crushed of filled with other stuff

The problem is sometimes my physical power doesn’t allow me to do this all the time. I wished trash bins had a garbage crusher built in so people like me can save the space. Until the cleaning lady comes…

Being on track

One thing that can happen very easily in the tech sector is being outdated. Things are changing faster than most of us can cope with.

I feel there are many things happened recently that I almost missed, and if talked to most of the people around me, the will probably know nothing about it. My current list inlcludes

  • Deep Learning (I understand the basics, but I don’t fully understand the capabilities and technical limits).
  • Blockchain & Cryptocurrency.
  • Quantum Computing.

While the previous leaps were the internet, the mobile, and the cloud. Those were considerably easy to digest and understand compared to the topics I mentioned which require a lot of reading/experimenting to understand what’s really going on.

I hope I can dedicate some time to understand about each and be on track. If you know any resources about any of those feel free to share with me.

Designing for creepiness

I had my Facebook deactivated for 6 months, during which I visited Saudi Arabia and worked with a guy for three days. The main communication during this trip was WhatsApp.

Few weeks ago I reactivated my Facebook, few days later I found him as one of the recommended friends. I don’t have Facebook app on my phone so they can’t have access to my address book, but I have WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook.

Today I had a friend asking me, how can she disable allowing Google to get access to her location. She said whenever she opens Google search she finds at the end of the page Google telling her where she is. When she opens Google maps it automatically opens on her neighborhood. She went so far to reinstalling windows but still couldn’t get rid of it.

I told her they are getting her location from her IP, and gave her a locate my IP link so she can get a better idea. And as for the Facebook case, I know how they got this guy, but not every Facebook user knows that WhatsApp is owned by Facebook and technically they can connect the missing pieces from Facebook to WhatsApp and the other way around.

With the explosion in data collection and ease of analyzing the data for smarter recommendations, users are losing control over what they are sharing not understanding how it can be used later. This leads to a bigger UX challenge where whenever a company is introducing a new feature specially in recommendation, it needs to reassure the user that their information is safe and there is nothing to worry about. Otherwise it is too creepy.

The elevator

Working in software makes us take things for granted. Everything should be optimized for maximum efficiency and the best user experience.

In a building with multiple elevators, with each of them have it’s own calling buttons, but all the elevators are on the same routing system for maximum efficiency: Suppose you have the two elevators on the same floor, for simplicity the ground floor. You push the up button for one of these two elevators. I expect the closest one for which I pushed the button should open, reality this is not the case.

It turns out, elevators are hard coded, if the three elevators are on the same floor, and you want to go up, a specific one will open no matter which button you pushed, which for a lazy person as myself isn’t the best experience.

Elevator makers don’t have to think of this. At the end there is no bounce rate, & conversion is 100%. No one will decide to take the stairs because the wrong elevator opened.

The truth is revealed: Stirring tea doesn’t cool it faster

Yesterday I finished the book: “What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions”. The book is written by a physicist who used to work for NASA who decided to quit and start drawing comics on his website xkcd.com. If you are a nerd you are probably familiar with the site.

Few of the answered I liked were “Can I create a jetpack using downwards pointed guns?”, “What happens if a woman self fertilizes her egg with a sperm carrying her own DNA?”. The latter one was more interesting as I finally learned why relatives marriage might result in retarded kids, and why genetic disorders such as the one I have which resulted on not being able to walk has a 50% chance of passing down to every kid.

Yet, the funniest one which I should shock my dad was about, if you stir tea, will it cool down faster? Short answer is NO.

The physical effect of stirring is actually a little complicated.[6] Most of the heat is carried away from teacups by the air convecting over them, and so they cool from the top down. Stirring brings fresh hot water from the depths, so it can help this process. But there are other things going on — stirring disturbs the air, and it heats the walls of the mug. It’s hard to be sure what’s really going on without data.

Fortunately, we have the internet. StackExchange user drhodes measured the rate of teacup cooling from stirring vs. not stirring vs. repeatedly dipping a spoon into the cup vs. lifting it. Helpfully, drhodes posted both high-resolution graphs and the raw data itself, which is more than you can say for a lot of journal articles.

The conclusion: It doesn’t really matter whether you stir, dip, or do nothing; the tea cools at about the same rate (although dipping the spoon in and out of the tea cooled it slightly faster).

You can read the whole answer here, where you will find out if you can boil a cup of water by stirring very quickly.

If you have great book recommendations feel free to add them as comments. All things non-fiction are welcomed.

Facebook engagement post like era

Facebook has published a very good medium post on how they designed and launched reactions for the web and mobile. It is a well detailed post that you can read here.

What this post lacked is the result of the project after being live for few months now. I wonder how is engagement post like era? Did it go up, down, is it as Facebook anticipated? Less, more?

I am curious to see how this one year project drove Facebook’s engagement metrics given the time and resources invested in it. I am also waiting to see whether they will extend it to other areas such as comments & third party websites, which might change the way feedback is given across the whole web. There will be some challenges like getting the default like reaction out of people’s mind towards a more balanced & distributed reactions.

Will see.

Signifiers for tweetstorms

A key design element to any object whether physical or digital is signifiers. Signifiers tell people how to interact with the object, unleashing its capabilities.

Affordances define what actions are possible. Signifiers specify how people discover those possibilities: signifiers are signs, perceptible signals of what can be done. – Don Norman, The design of everyday things.

It is surprising, how a company like twitter suffering from an engagement problem partly because of the 140 characters limit, yet users started using the product in a different way to overcome this problem by posting tweetstorms.

Tweetstorm is a series of tweets about the same topic, posted sequentially and mostly marked by their order. – Unknown

While twitter now supports tweetstorms by allowing users replying to themselves, there are no signifiers on the app nor the website that you can do this. I still see lots of tweetstorms where users post each tweet separately marked by a number instead of replying to the previous tweet to continue on the topic.

This problem leads to another problem which is making it harder for users to read the whole tweetstorm specially if it is from a user they are not following, because they can’t simply tap on the tweet and read the whole tweetstorm, instead they have to visit the person’s profile to read everything. Add to this if the tweetstorm is old and unlinked, it is very hard to reshare it whether on twitter or on any other platform as the users have to scroll back in the person’s profile until the time of the tweet to be able to read the storm.

Twitter, please fix this.

Would it make a difference?

One question I learned to ask myself before posting something on social media is whether it would make a difference?

I am angry about so many things same as you, I don’t like the bullshit coming out of the startups scene, the non-sense in our politics, and even non-checked rumors being spread as facts.

However, I don’t exert much effort into expressing this because 1) It wouldn’t make any difference. 2) I should save this mental energy for a more productive task including but not limited to chilling out.

What’s the value in explaining debatable/controversial topics if everyone has already made up their mind and looking for what’s supporting their point of view?

Continuously asking this helps me think before I post anything online. I also believe that the best way to change someone’s opinion is by talking to them privately, not in a public heated online post where people’s brain survival mechanism kicks in to prove they are not wrong.

Am I doing it because I am good at it? Or I am doing it because everybody is doing it?

Yesterday, I was watching Justin Kan’s snaps on snapchat, one thing he said he realized late is that one should focus on doing what he can do best instead of trying to do what he is supposed to do. Sounds trivial, it isn’t.

The example he gave was when he started his company with 4 cofounders, everyone took the job they were supposed to get. For example he was the crappiest programmer so he took the product job (Yes I am a crappy programmer). Same for the rest of his cofounders. Then Justin goes to say he realized late that he should’ve been the pitching/recruitment/fundraising person given he is good at it and he is more of a people person than product. However because everyone was doing it this way he ended up doing it as everybody else.

Currently I am in conversations with my close friends who are at the same career stage as myself. The discussion is mostly around what’s next? It is mostly around how to climb up the ladder at the same company or how to join one of the big guys such as Google, Facebook, or Uber. We each think of a target for one’s self and discuss how to reach it, then we help each other with whatever we get our hands on to help one progress to the next step they are aiming at.

When I reflected on what Justin said I took a moment to think, What if I am thinking about this because everyone is doing it? Not because I am loving what I do and want to move forward.

Let’s not confuse having a bigger goal, being ambitious, with having the self awareness to understand whether one should keep doing what they are doing and progress at it, or take a step back, reflect, and/or maybe try something different?

I haven’t figured out the answer, yet.