A dialog of thoughts and ideas about software, usability, and products, with random science and wacky ideas thrown in for good measure.

("Steal My Idea" shamelessly stolen from Jeff Chausse)

I use the Catch the Bus app to figure out when I can expect to be on a warm ride before my 20-minute wintery walk around the pond to work. We've had so much snow lately that some roads are reduced to single lanes, and high piles of snow make turning corners very difficult and risky. Traffic has been really slow! This wreaks havoc on apps like Catch the Bus, which must use the GPS location of buses combined with the approximate speed limit of a street to tell you when the bus is coming.

I could see the next bus a half mile down the road, and it was quite clear that the slow traffic would delay this bus by another 3 minutes, despite Catch the Bus telling me I had < 1 minute to wait.

Here's the idea that I want somebody to steal: with the GPS coordinates, you know where the buses are, and given two GPS coordinates and time, you know how slow the traffic is moving. Remember how slow the traffic is moving for segments of roads, and use that value to determine approximately when the next bus is coming.

That's it. Use real-time speed data to predict the arrival time for a bus, instead of relying on a static value for road speed.

When weather events come close to surpassing a previous record, part of me hopes the record is indeed topped, because that would at least make the trouble feel worth something. In Boston, we've had around 70-77 inches of snow so far - still shy of the 1995/1996 record of 107 inches, but winter's not over yet.

How will we better cope with snowfall 20, 50, or 100 years from now? Here are some ideas.

1. Sidewalks that are white in the summer, black in the winter. The darker surface would absorb more of the sun's energy and help melt the snow and ice, while the white summer color would keep the sidewalk cool.

2. Robots that clear the snow. Can we please call them "snowbots"? And unlike iRobot's Roomba or Robomow's mowers, I really want these snowbots to be anthropomorphic. After all, we'd have to buy snow shovels for these guys, right? They'll have to be aware enough to make sure the sidewalks aren't slippery for the kids walking to school, prioritizing that over brushing off the car. And they have to want a nice hot chocolate when they're done.

3. This business of mining salt from a salt mine so we can distribute it over snowy streets all over the country seems to have a limited life. No matter how huge the salt mines are, they'll run out (kind of like the phosphorus mines, and that's really scary). And then what? It seems we need some 21st Century sewer technology that can reclaim minerals (and, more widely, pollutants) for recycling. 

4. Black snow. This would definitely make better science fiction (the black snow nanodust escapes the lab and threatens to inhabits all life!) than science fact, but my idea is that black snow would melt more quickly than white snow because it will absorb more solar energy.

5. And, of course, flamethrowers.