Update: Low cost safety device for solo travellers (male or female)

Wow. Guess what I just came across. The device of my dreams – on indiegogo. The BiiSafe buddy. This is like, super awesomely amazing. For 35 bucks (69 will be normal retail price) they’ve created what I wanted, but in a much niftier way – they’ve just used bluetooth in the device and let the phone do the tracking. Super cool.

BiiSafe buddy location tracking



How I find problems and invent solutions

inventions and inventors

It’s been over a month since I started this invention experiment and so far I’ve learned a LOT about myself, about the things I like to invent, and the way I like to invent things.

I learned that the majority of my inventions come from the “Why can’t I?” place – that angry, frustrated voice that questions my discomfort, or blind acceptance.

Why can’t I travel alone without worrying my family? Why can’t I take as many risks as a man when traveling alone?

Why do I have to hop up and down and get my clothes covered in yucky fluids when I need to change my underwear?

Why can’t I use the wifi of coffee shops nearby without buying something?

Why can’t I tell people I live in hostels without feeling uncomfortable?

I learned that I am motivated by Repeated Personal Experience, e.g I am easily motivated to invent under a solo female travel safety device when I am constantly confronted with the anger and frustration of traveling solo as a female, but as soon as I am living somewhere stable, I get demotivated.

I learned that I like designing apps, but I like to design both simple, and multipurpose solutions, which is difficult to achieve in an app context. They often need to target specific niche audiences and be solo purpose.

I learned that I get triggered by my surroundings, and that I can come up with different inventions by simply putting myself in a new situation.

I learned that many of the solutions to my current set of identifiable problems have already been invented, and that the bigger problem is often KNOWING about them, or CARING enough to spend money on them.

I also learned that I want to invent things that solve big problems, but I’m either living too perfect a life, or oblivious to the problems I deal with everyday. I need to dream bigger, look deeper, and challenge how easily I accept the status quo, if I am to cultivate anger and frustration for the more important problems.

How do you invent solutions to problems? How do you identify the problems you would like to solve? 

Tracking food allergies detective iPhone app

I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to wheat. Or at least intolerant of it. I don’t think I can handle dairy either. But I’m not sure. My symptoms are not bad enough to make it overwhelmingly obvious, so it’s only when I get acne breakouts, or crash out from tiredness, or experience bouts of bloating, that I remember I should probably figure it out. That or stop eating so much of it.

So last week I wanted to build an app to help me easily track things like what I’m eating and what I’m feeling. I actually found a really good app on my search, Food Allergy Detective, and even though I tried to redesign the interface to make it prettier and more fun to use, it turns out MY pain wasn’t big enough, and THEIR solution wasn’t bad enough for me to be motivated to continue.

food allergy detective app iphone

It was a lesson in knowing when to keep going with something, and when to just concede gracefully.

But it also made me aware of how many things I do a half assed job of tracking, like when I get my period, and what symptoms I experience, or how much I am spending, and how much I should be spending.

It would be nice to track activities without any explicit action required.

I have no problem tracking what I’m eating when I’ve just had a stomach ache, because I’m highly motivated to find the source. But a day passes, and the pain passes, and I forget. I have no incentive to track what I’m eating when I’m asymptomatic. The same can happen with tracking expenditure, or the dates of my period.

So what if there were a way to track things in the background, or what if it were more fun to track behaviour?

I wrote recently about the fertility tracking app, Glow, and they too are asking people to manually enter data, as are Clue, the app for tracking periods, and Insandouts app for tracking baby activities.

Some more intelligent tracking apps that come with a smart device that does the data entry automatically are the Mimo Baby Monitor for tracking your baby’s temperature, activity, and sleep; Propeller that collects data for asthma sufferers, so they can see how many puffs they’ve taken, as well as where and when; and OMSignal clothes that track your biometrics like heart rate and stress levels.

But what would be an automated way to track what we are eating? A device in our mouths? Or in our stomachs?

Maybe I’m crazy, but there is power in tracking. Feedback loops work:

…humans are self-regulating creatures, with a multitude of systems working to achieve homeostasis… Feedback loops are how we learn, whether we call it trial and error or course correction. In so many areas of life, we succeed when we have some sense of where we stand and some evaluation of our progress. Indeed, we tend to crave this sort of information; it’s something we viscerally want to know, good or bad. As Stanford’s Bandura put it, “People are proactive, aspiring organisms.” Feedback taps into those aspirations.”

If I knew that I was always tired after I ate dairy, then I might have more of an incentive to stop eating it. Or maybe not 😉

Are you good at tracking your behaviour manually? Do you have any cool apps that you recommend that motivate you when you feel demotivated? Would love to hear in the comments!

What’s the ideal living situation to meet new people? Hostel, hotel, commune?

This week I spent my solution-vention experiment time pondering on the idea of living.

Unless you are in a committed relationship, or family arrangement, I think apartment living is isolating and illogical. Student housing has it’s perks, but not when you aren’t a student anymore. Surfing couches is fun but it’s not a long term solution. No money is exchanged so you end up paying with your time.

apartment living meeting people

I want somewhere I can live with equals, who come and go as they please, where there is a good flow of new people, and a few long term residents who always welcome the newcomers.

The best option I’ve found so far is hostel living but it’s not always awesome. So much depends on the architecture, the city, the staff, the weather, the price, the facilities, and the particular set of people who happen to be there at the same time as you.

I meet people who have been living in hostels for 2 months, or 2 days. I meet people who stay in hostels even though they can afford hotels just because they want to meet people. But I rarely meet people like me: people who actually choose to stay in hostels in the city where they actually live.

It’s not the first time I feel like an anomaly, but for me there are so many benefits:

  • I don’t have to do laundry
  • I don’t have to buy breakfast
  • I don’t have to change my sheets
  • I don’t have to tidy up because I don’t have much stuff
  • I don’t have to clean the bathroom
  • I don’t have to clean up after parties
  • I don’t have to pay water, gas, gastos comunes, electricity, internet… on top of rent
  • I don’t have to make a commitment to a person, or a place, or pay for a bed when I’m not actually sleeping there.

But the main reason is because I like meeting people.

I feel like everything in my life should be designed, optimized in fact, for meeting people. It’s one of the reasons I am still an entrepreneur instead of working in a company. It’s one of the reasons I love to travel, and why I’ve been working on the projects I’ve been working on for the past 4 years.

Don’t get my wrong, I love friends, and I have amazing, wonderful friends, but a lot of my current friends are my friends because I met them in a hostel.

There’s something important to me about exchanging ideas with new people on a regular basis in general, regardless of whether or not you will end up calling each other “friends”.

This doesn’t mean I’m super social. In fact, it’s the opposite. That’s what’s awesome about hostels is that you meet people without even trying. It’s effortless. If I didn’t live in hostels, I might never meet new people.

Yet I don’t like the idea of living in a hostel. There is something distinctly ODD about telling people I am living in a hostel in the city where I live.

Hostels are built for foreigners, and for short term stays.

I end up feeling like a homeless vagrant, or a social outcast, probably because there are a fair amount of unstable versions of me: Alcoholics. Angry people. People who can’t fit into society. They end up in hostels. What does that say about me?

Plus there are only so many times you can have a conversation about which city tour the newcomers should go on.

free city tour santiago

Yet, there aren’t many other options for people like me. Communes, intentional communities, co-operative living arrangements, all seem to have complex rules or involve actually owning property. I understand if you want to live in one place forever, and settle down, it may make sense. But I just want there to be a “home/hostel” I can stay in, anywhere in the world where the focus is around community.

When I thought about a solution, it occurred to me I could build the perfect hostel, a hostel more focused on social, for people to meet new people. I could invite people to participate in activities so like making dinner or group trips.

But that sounded like way too much work.

So instead, I decided to create a solution using language. If there was a way to express what I do in a positive way, then I wouldn’t have to explain it as though I was an anomaly. And hostels could advertise that they are welcoming to people like me.

So my invention this week, is a way to explain what I am doing:

To Commune (verb): to choose to live around people 

So instead of I’m staying in a hostel, or I’m living in a hostel, I can say I’m communing in a hostel. 

What do you mean? You haven’t heard of communing? It’s when you choose to live around people your age who are open minded and traveling.

Are you living here? No, I’m communing here.

When did you arrive here? Oh, I’m communing here, so I’ve been here for 2 months.

Communing? Ya, living around people because it’s more fun than living alone.  

Where do you live? I’m communing right now at a hostel in Providencia.

What do you think? Do you have any suggestions where I can “commune” more easily?

How using plastic water bottles can be something positive

Eco water bottle filling fanatics make me mad. There I was, buying lots of water in plastic bottles, thinking only of eliminating scary South American bacteria from my bowel movements, and now I feel plastic bottle guilt, all because I walked into an eco lodge, looking for a place to dispose of one of my empty plastic bottles.

I get it – refills are an awesome invention but SO MANY PEOPLE use plastic bottles! I’m not going to stop using them because one eco lodge made me feel guilty.

I feel like there must be more scalable ways to solve the problem.

Maybe by inventing cleaner, safer water sources in South America – or building wells like Charity Water.

Or by leasing clean, cold, filtered water machines to hostels and hotels so they can charge  a small amount for refills and make a profit.

Or – like we were teaching kids in a class recently – by inventing something cool and constructive to do with the plastic bottles, like make rafts, or these cool lamps I found in a restaurant in Cusco.

eco-plastic water bottle lamps cusco restaurant

I feel like too many eco solutions tap into guilt, instead of motivate by profit. Like it or not, money motivates people. Not just saving money as a consumer, but making money as say, a hostel owner.

Just as NY finds a roundabout way to employ the homeless by giving cash for the collection of plastic bottles, there must be lots of other cool projects with plastic bottles that mean I don’t have to feel guilty for using them, and I can invest that time and effort of refilling my bottle in more personally *meaningful* tasks.

What cool uses for plastic bottles have you seen? Do you feel guilty about buying/using them?

What superglue has in common with the invention of aerosol cans and chewing gum

This week I learned about some cool inventions as per my experiment.

Did you know… that Aerosol cans were first invented for carbonated drinks. They were a niche product, serving a small market, BUT, when the U.S. government funded research into a portable way for service men to spray malaria-carrying bugs during World War II, Lyle Goodhue and William Sullivan developed a smaller version of an aerosol can pressurized by a liquefied gas (a fluorocarbon).

Aerosol Can Invention

Then in 1943, when Robert Abplanalp invented lightweight aluminum, aerosol cans started to become useful for everything.

Aerosol cans have something in common then with superglue, which was invented 20 years before it ever became famous.

Lesson 1: Popular inventions have needs


Thomas Adams is another inventor who listened to someone else’s advice (Edward Goodrich Acheson who invented Carborundum was another), and invented something surprising.

Apparently, it was General Antonio de Santa Anna, in exile from Mexico, who suggested that the unsuccessful but inventive photographer experiment with chicle from Mexico. Santa Anna felt that chicle could be used to make a synthetic rubber tire.

Chicle Gum Invention Mexico

Adams attempted to make toys, masks, rain boots, and bicycle tires, but every experiment failed. One day in 1869, he popped a piece of surplus stock into his mouth and liked the taste. Chewing away, he had the idea to add flavoring to the chicle. Voila, he invented chewing gum.

Assorted Chicle Gum Invention Mexico

So chewing gum also has something in common with superglue – no, not the consistency, but the fact that it was invented by accident.

Lesson 2: Inventions first happen by accident

More inventions next week! Subscribe to my blog here