Category Archives: Technology

Forrest Fenn and red balloons

Planning a trip to New Mexico soon to look for Forrest Fenn’s treasure. Most of my research has involved mining social media for background info (although I did buy his book). I should really know better.

In 2009, the Defense Department ran an experiment to gauge how effective social media was at solving puzzles. They launched ten eight-foot red weather balloons in ten separate locations across the United States, and offered $40,000 to the first person to send them the correct geo-coordinates of all ten balloons. They knew, because the balloons were scattered, that people would have to rely on and form social networks to guess all the locations correctly. It was encouraged as part of the experiment.

I spent that day, like many other people, hovered over Google Earth and trading locations on Twitter. I thought I was doing good. I didn’t expect to win, but felt I had at least three solid locations discovered. When the winner was announced, I had none.

Last year I visited both Washington, DC, and Las Vegas, Nevada, on two separate trips but close enough together to link the two in my mind, and I remember thinking, “Well, that’s America.” But maybe there’s another America waiting for me on the map, still.

The game is afoot!


The Thrill of the Chase

Brute forcing the roulette wheel

There comes a time in every programmer’s life where they want to write a simulation to see how much they’d lose at the tables. Here’s mine. It’s a test of the Martingale Betting Strategy using a simulated roulette wheel.

The Martingale Betting Strategy is based on the idea that with payouts of 1 to 1, there is a good chance that you can recover lost bets when you achieve a win. The strategy has been used in roulette, where the probability of winning on red and black is close to 50%.

In general, the strategy is to double a bet whenever you lose in the hopes that the color you lost on will eventually come back around and you’ll recover your loss. For example, if you bet $1 on black and lose, you would then place $2 on black the next time. If black wins on the next spin, you recover your lost $1 and gain $1. If black loses again, you double the $2 and make a $4 bet. If you win this time, you’ve recovered the $1 + $2 you’ve spent and collect a $1 gain. If you lose again, you double the bet to $8. And so on. Again, the idea being that black will eventually come around and, so long as you keep doubling the bet, you’ll eventually recover your losses while earning a $1 gain whenever you don’t lose. There are 38 slots on an American roulette wheel: 18 black, 18 red, and 2 green. The probability of hitting a black or red on any single spin is 47.37%.

The bane of this system is the inevitable streaks of a particular color. Doubled bets increase exponentially. A $1 bet doubled 10 times becomes a whopping $1024 ($2, $4, $8, $16, $32, $64, $128, $256, $512, $1024)! In theory, if you have an infinite bank roll, you would always recover your losses because black always does come back round eventually. In practice, the upper limit is the table’s max bet and the money you bring to the table. You may not have a chance to recover your losses before exceeding the table limit on doubled bets.

Probability tells us that eventually we’ll either lose our bank roll or hit the table max bet. This simulation was written to visually represent how long one might go before hitting that wall.

For this simulation we will run up to 100,000 spins on a roulette wheel with bets using a modified version of the classic Martingale Strategy.

This simulation assumes the conditions of the standard video roulette machines I played in Vegas casinos. $3 minimum bet. $1000 maximum bet. I’m going to give it a bank roll of $1000 just to be generous. The max number of spins will be 100,000 (provided we don’t bust or exceed the table limits before reaching it). To achieve the minimum bet, we’ll start with $1 on red and $2 on black and double the bet on a losing color, while placing $1 on the winning color. Betting $1 on the opposing color is the only deviation from the classic Martingale Strategy, which only calls for doubling losing bets. However, this is both necessary to achieve the minimum bet of $3 total and also what you ought to do anyway. You have a 47.37% chance of recovering your loss by winning a doubled bet. However, in the absense of that, you will necessarily gain $1 unless it lands on green (a 5.26% chance). I maintain this is an improvement on the classic Martingale.

Spoiler alert, the house usually wins.

Spin the wheel here:

Unless you’re weird

Five years ago, it would have been stupid advice to build something for yourself. But now if you build something that you love, that you believe is sufficiently epic, there might be another billion people in the world who love it, too — unless you’re weird.

— Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote

“…unless you’re weird”. File that under things developers worry about.

Quantum teleportation breakthrough

In a huge step towards making quantum computing a reality, researchers have successfully teleported complete quantum bits of information for the first time. Previous attempts dating back to 1997 resulted in losses of information, and was considered to be too inefficient for any practical use. A new hybrid technique is over 100 times more efficient. It combines technology for transporting light waves with a broad frequency range, and technology for reducing the frequency range of photonic quantum bits. The result is that the bits are incorporated as lightwaves without disruption by noise, and don’t require measurement after transport — constituting “a major advance toward quantum information processing technology”.

The group of researchers at the University of Tokyo explained the breakthrough:

“I think we can definitely say that quantum computers have come closer to reality. Teleportation can be thought of as a quantum gate where input and output are the same. So, it’s known that, if we improve this a little, the input and output could be produced in different forms. If changing the form of input and output like that is considered as a program, you have a programmable quantum gate. So, I think a quantum computer could be achieved by combining lots of those.”

Hyperlapsed Google Street View

Before I take a trip, I spend hours on Google Street View getting familiar with the destination, in the hopes that when I arrive I’ll have the familiarity of a native. This works out pretty well, so I love any tool that automates navigating GSV. The creative team of Geoff Teehan and Jon Lax have taken Street View automation to a whole new hyperlapse level (see examples in the above video).

Hyper-lapse photography—a technique combining time-lapse and sweeping camera movements typically focused on a point-of-interest—has been a growing trend on video sites. It’s not hard to find stunning examples on Vimeo. Creating them requires precision and many hours stitching together photos taken from carefully mapped locations. We aimed at making the process simpler by using Google Street View as an aid, but quickly discovered that it could be used as the source material. It worked so well, we decided to design a very usable UI around our engine and release Google Street View Hyperlapse.

You can use their tool to create your own hyperlapse of GSV. For example, here’s one I made in a few seconds that follows the path of a hike I took last summer over the Golden Gate Bridge while visiting San Francisco.

Experience the Apollo 11 lunar landing

Lunar Module

On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 mission successfully landed the first astronauts to ever step foot on the Moon. Many of us, myself included, are far too young to have experienced this incredible feat of science, technology, and human ingenuity as it happened. But now we can get pretty darn close. The First Men on the Moon is a carefully curated online experience that puts you in Mission Control as if it were happening in real-time, combining public domain source material from NASA and others to stitch together a minute-by-minute replay of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. From the project description:

By using simultaneous space and land based audio and video, transcripts, images, spacecraft telemetry, and biomedical data—this synchronized presentation reveals the Moon Shot as experienced by the astronauts and flight controllers.

Our goal is to capture a moment in history so that generations may now relive the events with this interactive educational resource. The world remembers the moon landing as a major historical event but often fails to recognize the scale of the mission. This interactive resource aims to educate visitors while engaging them with the excitement of manned-spaceflight to build a passion for scientific exploration.

Click here to start the experience.

Visualizing wifi through light paintings

WiFiIt’s invisible and pervasive, filling the areas around us until those moments when we absolutely need it and it’s nowhere to be found. Sure, I just described air, but what my laptop needs to breathe is wifi. As a team from Olso who visualized wifi using a measuring rod with 80 LED light points on it said, “The city is filled with an invisible landscape of networks that is becoming an interwoven part of daily life.” Their project Immaterials: Light painting WiFi “explores the invisible terrain of WiFi networks in urban spaces”. The lights on the LED rod responds to measured Received Signal Strength (RSSI) of a various networks as they walk through the city, while they capture the light paintings on film through long-exposure photography.

See the full photo set