Thursday, March 8, 2012

Real-Life, Feel-Good, Internet Karma


As a problem-solving tool, we often take our internet for granted. When we find a solution to our most obscure problems we breathe a sigh of relief - and close the browser window.

I want everyone to participate in real-life, feel-good internet karma (not the phony reddit kind!). The next time you discover something useful or incredible or solve a complex problem, publish your idea on the web. The next time you solve a problem thanks to some random web post, or enjoy some content that a small-time author has provided free of charge, send that person a thank-you! They won't be expecting feedback but they'll love receiving it.

Here's two obscure fixes I published, and some nice feedback that made the effort to publish worthwhile!

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In January 2011 I encountered a problem with my smart car where the shifter gets stuck in park, preventing me from driving. The root cause of the problem is that temperature or dust/grime can prevent a tiny switch from moving inside the plastic box that encapsulates the shifter. Pry open the plastic, flick the switch, and problem solved! You can shift again.

I found the solution thanks to a helpful dude who posted a text-only explanation on an obscure automotive web forum {link}. I thought it would be easy enough to film the hack and put it online for other smartcar owners. Here's the 1-minute-42-second video.


Since it was uploaded about 14 months ago, about 9,000 people have viewed the video. Wow! Not quite a sensation, but 150 views/week makes me feel optimistic that a few people saved themselves a trip to the mechanic.

Here's a comment I received this week that made me smile:
This was a lifesaver dude! We had our sons smcar [sic] stored at our house outside for 2 years and this is exactly the situation we had. I could actually feel the little plastic switch with my finger. Flicked it and bingo! Thanks so much. My wife would give you a big kiss if she could! :)
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In July 2008, in the middle of SCI-FI's summer camp programs, our old Lego Mindstorms Robotics Invention System 2.0 software stopped working thanks to a mandatory Windows update. The RIS 2.0 software was already ancient, but it seemed like Windows had finally killed it.

The SCI-FI team managed to figure out a solution to get the Lego software working again. I posted the solution to an obscure web mailing list where at least one other person was having the same issue, but didn't get a response.

Two and a half years later, in January 2011, I received this message:
Dear Brahm, we know we are not supposed to [send personal messages] on this forum, but we shall do it anyways because our gratitude towards you is more intense than just a 5 star rating. We have been trying to make our RIS 2.0 software and hardware work for many and many hours. Your tips , combined with other patches and apps, have finally led us to achieving our goal. We will now be able to power our insane robot project and be able to program it.
Many thanks from Montreal, Canada, and we wish you the best for 2011!
Felix and Laurent
I can just picture two exasperated students attempting to resurrect 12-year-old software when they shout, "FINALLY!!!"

Feels good, man!