recreation


Bicycle stand

Bicycle stand (Photo credit: Superburschi)

Having spent much of the last year focused on  startup work, analysis, and angel investing, I wanted to briefly outline a focal point of the efficiency technology segment that I gravitate toward.  In particular, the most interesting opportunities revolve around existing activities that contain friction and inefficiency, and where the markets and providers seem comfortably numb —  and where entrepreneurs with a blend of critical and strategic thinking have seen beyond existing models and methods.

By evaluating issues facing each of an engagement’s constituencies, and re-thinking the engagement mechanisms of the activities involved, revisions for reducing or eliminating friction can be made to the processes so as to also elicit valuable inputs from participants, unlock additional value — even for bystanders, and/or open doors for new constituents.  Entrepreneurs and companies who are doing this with a vision for what lies beyond initial disruption are the ones that really pique my interest.

A great example lies in one of my earliest individual angel investments (outside of the Soundboard Angel Fund that I am involved with — which also subsequently invested). The company is Social Bicycles  (a.k.a. SoBi), led by Ryan Rzepecki.  Their focus at this point is in the bikeshare space, which is generally outlined pretty well in this article.   Some of the key issues around bikeshares (beyond those for the operator, such as reliability/repair/maintenance, loss of bikes, and fleet management and flexibility) tend to involve: ability for users to locate bike availability where they want it, and importantly, knowledge that there is space at their destination station to receive their bike.  This is due in large part to bikeshares generally being “station” based.

 

Citi Bike Share

Citi Bike Share (Photo credit: ccho)

Such station-based systems have their “smarts” in the kiosk and rack assemblies that hold the bikes.  Once you take a bike from such a system, you’re on your own until you bring it back into the system by parking it in another of the system’s smart racks.  Obviously, the destination rack won’t always be at the exact location you’d like to go to, and when you arrive at the one closest to your destination, it may well be full — meaning you have to find another of the system’s racks in order to park/return it.  Chances are, particularly if you’re using the bike for commuting purposes, you don’t have a lot of time to hunt for a parking space, nor do you have the flexibility to show up late because you were doing so.

 

In contrast, (and not to oversimplify all that Ryan and Social Bicycles have done), SoBi has shifted the smarts and locks, from residing within the rack system to the bikes themselves, integrating GPS into the bikes, and using the cloud for procurement — and in so doing, they’ve evolved bikesharing to an un-tethered state.

Image representing Social Bicycles as depicted...

Image via CrunchBase

Ring and post bicycle stands in Toronto, Canada

Bike stands, Toronto, Can (Wikipedia)

This means you can pull out your smartphone and find the bike closest to you, reserve it before you get there, unlock it on arrival, and take it wherever you want to go, without worrying that there might not be a space at your destination because, while they prefer you lock it to a designated regular old bike rack, in a pinch you can lock it to a tree or parking meter (local rules allowing).

With reduced infrastructure requirements, other added benefits of this revised approach include significantly lowering the cost of entry, not to mention lowering the hurdle for any necessary approvals.  The cost per bike is about a fifth that of a station-based scenario, and can be eased into and adjusted relatively flexibly in response to what is learned in regards to demand and patterns through operation.

There are many other details to this particular system, and there are many other realms to which this approach of constituency analysis is unlocking real value.  In future posts, I plan to share more about some of the other companies I have found to be doing this good work.

(SoundBoard Angel Fund is a democratic fund, with members active in selection and analysis of companies and in ongoing relationships with its portfolio, which is primarly focused in education, consumer products and services, and efficiency technologies).

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Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing (Photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg)

Back in college (and we’re talking about the early ’80s), I’d thought little about crashing at someone’s pad – even someone I didn’t know when backpacking around.  You meet some people you like, and you’re somewhere you’re not too familiar with – so what better way to get to know the place than hang out with some “locals” (even if they too were visitors to the place) – and take advantage of the convenience of being able to flop somewhere and leave your backpack while you’re out investigating.

Nowadays I can’t imagine doing that – and I chalk it up to aging and parenting.  Enter AirBNB. This is the peer-to-peer service you’ve heard about whereby you can rent a spot on someone’s couch for the night. Would I do this now?  Probably not – but apply that concept to using a car, and maybe I would.

That’s what Getaround is about. Need to use a car? There’s a car rental (peer-to-peer sharing) option that’s essentially a network of personally owned vehicles wired to be accessible for procurement via their smartphone app.  Think Zipcar, but in a form that lets car owners leverage the downtime of their own car.  Also in the space is Wheelz, which is similar to Getaround, but is focused on sharing within a known community (i.e. students on a campus), and now has Zipcar as an investor/partner.  Yet other geographically focused services are RelayRides and Car2Go.

Somehow I see myself more likely to be a user of the crowd-car before the crowd-couch. I guess I’m just more comfortable with the concept of peer-to-peer in this form – perhaps because I’d be awake, conscious and on my own (versus asleep and vulnerable).  Call me old fashioned – but I’m trying.

What’s next?  Renta-potty?

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Statue of Isaac Newton at the Oxford Universit...Image via Wikipedia

The plan for Newton run #3 was to just “not think about it, and just let the shoe do the work”.   The reality was that I ended up focusing on how the strike compared to my normal one – and since, as I’ve mentioned, I’m not much of a heel striker anyway, it felt almost normal.  A little too normal.  So I became more deliberate about the toe-heel plant sequence.  Near the end of this run too, I was getting the moonwalk / wheels spinning in reverse sensation.

As with my other Newton runs, I followed with a few Asics Cumulus miles, intentionally trying to keep the same toe-heel strike order.  This wasn’t all that difficult to do, (at least relative to being deliberate about it in the Newtons).  The real test will be what happens in the Asics after this placement is more the norm in the Newtons, and happens without thinking.   This, of course, prompted some wondering about whether the change will really come from the focus, or from the shoe.

Run #4, though, was to be all about short stride length and increased turnover (to 180pm), with the only attention on plant to be about its location – directly beneath me, and not at all in front (with zero attention on the strike order).  The result, because of the mechanics of this movement, was that the strike was more toe-first, regardless. Followed again with a few non-Newton miles, continuing to focus on stride and plant-location, the strike did continue to be in the forefoot.  I’ll keep up the comparison to see what happens.

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Felix, Foot-Dragging Again?Image by william c hutton jr via Flickr

Ok, I’m still not able to “just go, and not think about it” with these new treads.  Just to review, I’m trying these out to assist in changing my form, though I think I was doing a pretty good job with mid-foot plant.  The idea with the Newtons is that they’ve got reduced heels, and thickened mid-foot – so there is more likelihood of the foot planting front-first than with the typical built-up heel of today’s running shoes.  The built-up forefoot is in the form of lugs that are supposed to depress into spaces in the sole, and spring back out in concert with your own, more springy turnover that would result from shortened stride and increased turnover.

But something strange did happen this time out – at about the middle of this second run.  It is a little hard to describe, but what comes to mind is a combination of a) doing the moonwalk, and b) the illusion of wheels spinning backwards when they’re clearly going forward.  The wheel illusion has been referred to as the wagonwheel or stroboscopic effect, attributed to position of spokes and the timing of film frames.  In this case though, the feeling seems to derive from trying to conceptualize the movement – and since the brain is so used to feeling heel first and then toe, encountering them in reverse may just be sending the signal that this must be backward motion.  The strangest part is that it makes it feel as if the foot is pushing forward through the plant  We’ll have to see if this wears off over time.

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This is a third post in what is turning out to be a series related to running form, and trying out some Newton running shoes (the Sir Isaac model – or Newtons on training wheels).  The objective in this little experiment is to try to shift my form to be more efficient.  Beyond shortening stride, it is about a deliberate toe-plant, with the intentions being to not only reduce impact and body wear, but to increase effectiveness of horizontal propulsion – and therefore speed and endurance.

Forefoot WearImage by Morten Liebach via Flickr

First run: Recommendation is to start out with short runs, so I did a couple of miles on them, and threw on my basic asics.

For starters, if you’re going out intending to change your form, you’re going to find yourself thinking really hard about things you normally just do automatically.  That’s exactly what was happening – thinking toe-plant, roll back, spring back – and every other element of your body movement comes into question.

The sensation of having lugs under your forefoot is certainly odd – and by the end of the first couple of miles, I was thinking that the balls of my feet would be aching later in the evening.

Cover of Cover of City Slickers

After watching City Slickers years ago, and liking the Norman character (that was the cow), I swore off eating veal.  Well that first run reiterated this sentiment; I kept being reminded of this decision for the next day or so by my screaming calves.  (I was given fair warning to expect this, and this is part of the basis for easing into wearing these shoes).

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So many fit folks that I talk to have had to give up running due to worn out knees, saying “doctor says I’m done”.  There are certainly times that I’ve felt like I was “done”, and I didn’t need anyone to tell me that!

A series of gait graphs, in the style of Hilde...Image via Wikipedia

Some of the basis for my past running thinking and experimentation has been about performance and efficiency, while some has been about longevity and wear-and-tear prevention, and some has just been about comfort and/or curiosity.   But thinking a bit more about about the mechanics of foot plant, stride and gait has me thinking I might dig in and make a go of some longer term, deliberate exprimentation – with enough time to unlearn some old habits and get beyond the awkwardness of shifting form.Here’s the text I posted to a running forum to see what thoughts and opinions might get thrown back:

Dilemma with mechanics and fitness

For context, at present, my running is not about races, performance or competition, but more for fitness (both physical and mental).  I’m also very analytical and enjoy considering and observing the differences that variations in mechanics can provide.

I am on the fence about trying out the Newtons, as I appreciate their mechanical potential, and have tried the pose method with ordinary shoes with no success (albeit likely with too little experimentation).  So here’s my question:  Given the improved biomechanics that can achieved with the:

  • reduced ankle roll motion potential of non-heal strike,
  • reduced compression of the quad on extension,
  • reduced arm swing (since the stride length is shortened)
  • and overall reduced heart rate resulting from all of the above,

If one’s objective is physical conditioning (vs competitive performance), would use of the Newtons reduce the ability to achieve the cardio and circulatory benefits sought (without having to double the time and distance of my running).

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Fox and Haskell formula showing the split betw...Image via Wikipedia

I was glad to receive one thoughtful response pretty quickly, saying “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”.  I can certainly understand where they were coming from – but I do think that if you’re doing something that has been shown to break it over time, you might want to think about fixing it even though it hasn’t broken anything yet!  Also, my question was really more to the point of objective – that is, if you get more of a workout running inefficiently, and you don’t care about winning or beating anyone else, does it make more sense to keep doing it inefficiently and get a better workout, or could you still make a case for making the change.

I’ve emailed the company that makes the Newton to get their thoughts on my question, but in the meantime, I’m probably going to grab a pair and try them out.

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Picture ? in robotic gait sequenceImage via Wikipedia

Not quite sure where I’m going to go with this, but along the way, I’m going to take some notes.

Running is something that I’ve long done, but without having given it a whole lot of thought.  Let me restate that: it is something I’ve done without analyzing it as much as I might ordinarily analyze things.  Let me try that again: … without having talked as much about my analysis of it.  That’s probably because most of the analysis has been something to keep me busy on longer runs, and has been in my head (and mostly without a spreadsheet being involved! – noted emphasis on “mostly”, rather than on “without”).

The thinking has generally been around foot plant, leg movement, energy and efficiency, translation of forces, performance… It really all began when making subtle shifts in center of mass and body angle, in order to give tiring parts of me a break – so I could make it all the way home. This evolved to trying out variations of foot-plant; softening ankle, knee and hip joints on impact; and even to deliberately reaching for heel plants to see if beginning some backward foot motion just prior to impact might give some pull-power (the way toe-clips for biking enable capturing the upward leg movement when driving the pedals around, to contribute to forward force and movement.

The experimentation wasn’t particularly scientific, and the most memorable observation was of a different kind of tired (specifically in the hamstrings). Next up was a little reading about Pose and some deliberate forward tilting and intentional toe-heel planting.  Beyond being a little awkward and almost confusing to the subconscious, I recall the lower legs taking quite a beating from that experiment.

Over time, I’ve evolved to a quiet and soft, mid-foot strike which seems to have served me well.  But I’m thinking more about what’s being left on the table.

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Morning FogImage by Nick Chill via Flickr

I have a tendency to think on the edges or outskirts of domains – in the interstices – where domains overlap with one another.  When the morning fog clears, I typically get brainstorms that result from word plays that bridge multiple domains that may be on my mind.

For example, while attending a meeting this week on Usability in the context of Agile development, I had the thought that there ought to be an application of the methodology within the realm of cooking – and the Scrum component of agile could be referred to in this context as “Scrumtious”.

Another of these hit me while walking out of the grocery store, and no doubt subliminally having picked up “low cal” while thinking about communities and marketing within them, that a calorie conscious faction could refer to their region as a “Low Cal Locale”.

On the heels of my wife’s latest marathon (her fifth), I’m thinking there ought to be a womens’ triathlon called the “Iron Maiden”.

The Scrum project management method. Part of t...Image via Wikipedia

If I had a nickel for every one of these wordplay thoughts, my pockets would bulge each day! My kids tend to be my reluctant test-subjects for these sometimes painful ideas.  As I trust their untainted minds, they are sometimes the end of the line; sometimes though, in the spirit of Agile development, they’re the beginning of an iterative process.

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FahrenheitImage by buschap via FlickrEvery now and again, you find yourself doing something that, when considered in the context of other parts of your life, can reveal interesting things about yourself or people in general.  I drew one such parallel after spending a weekend with my family hurtling through the air at Hershey Park.

For those of you who have never been there, it has 11 roller coasters – and if you’re not into them, well, you’re going to be standing around a lot waiting for your kids to come back saying “that was great”, “let’s do it again”, or something about a snack.  I’ve done lots of things that some would consider daring – including rock and ice climbing, and flying in a glider, sea kayaking, whitewater rafting… but I’ve just never been one for rides that are supposed to give you near-death experiences, because frankly, I don’t generally like feeling that close to “the edge”.

Since my wife and kids were so gleeful following each of their wild rides – especially Farenheight (pictured above) and Storm Runner, with their loops, corkscrews, and in the case of the latter, acceleration from 0 to 70 in 2 seconds – I was compelled to understand their sense of the differences from one ride to another – and how each impacted their senses.

In the back of my mind, I think I was secretly trying to ascertain which of the elements I could personally have handled – given that each person has a different sense of what “scary” is, and you cannot just rely on someone saying “it wasn’t so bad” or “you could handle that”.  Key factors which weigh differently by individual include: height, speed, drops (number, length, steepness), banks, roughness, re-direction and mis-direction… (among surely many more categorizations of the coaster-phile).

On the “handle-it” scale, I had already managed Lightning Racer, Wildcat, and Comet, and had dipped my toe into the “beyond” with SuperDooperLooper (and a few others) – and their death defying drops and loops.  To “push my research”, I finally succumbed to the pleas of my family, and (somehow) joined them on Great Bear, which added “hanging from the rail”, and “corkscrews” to my repertoire.

At the end of Great Bear though – which, by the way, I survived – I realized that I had only managed to do so by staring at a bolt – which attached the seat in front of me to the chassis holding the seats on the rails, from which we were hanging.below – for the entire ride.  A friend commented days later that the only way to do a ride like that is to give yourself over to the ride.  I fear (among obvious other things) that I did not do this.  While I can say to my 10-year-old, who finally stopped calling me a sissy,  that “I did it”, I cannot say that I experienced all it had to offer – but I survived.

The parallel I alluded to above is not related to the two tracks on each coaster – but to life in general – work, activities, people, relationships…  If you give yourself over to these experiences, you can get out of them all they have to offer, and help others do the same.   This too reminds me of the same parallel that went on in the back of my mind following a whitewater kayaking trip in the winter of 1978-79, during which a professor said to me “we need to make sure we’re moving faster than the water if we have any intentions about steering”.

If you hang on, fixing your gaze on a bolt to simply survive, you’re going to get tossed around and may not enjoy the “ride”.  In the case of the Great Bear, the truth is that the ride may never get another chance to show me its stuff.

Afterthoughts: How does this relate to some of the other things I’ve written about here?  On one hand, it isn’t supposed to.  On the other hand, it informally dives into the formalization of experience – the elements of things – in this case, the taxonomy of thrill.  I appear to have stumbled into an area known as thrill research – but I think I may leave well enough alone.

Coinage du jour: “parallel-0-gram” – a message in which a comparison or parallel is drawn or relayed.

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