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signal to noise ratio

Failures are Data, too

June 15, 2020

This has been a difficult week. But first, the good: The NDA was signed, and schedules were cleared, so we finally got to meet with Steve and Jody of the USDA. It’s (still) surreal that we’re getting advice and help from the USDA. We met them at the American Beekeeping Federation Conference back in January, and we’re thrilled to get another chance.

That doesn't mean it wasn’t a tough meeting.

We have been on this design path for a year, and it had been mentioned a few times that oil could potentially clog a bee’s spiracles. Remember that honey bees don’t breathe through lungs; their respiration happens through exposed spiracles on their thorax and abdomen. If their spiracles are clogged, they can drown. We had been correcting for this in our design—refining our wick mechanism, working to make sure the oil coated the bees from above rather than below—but not enough.

bee spiracles

Steve and Jody are both incredibly concerned that no matter how carefully we design the wick to apply it, the oil will do what liquids do: spread. And now we’re looking back at some of Jim’s earlier tests in which the heat of the bees’ bodies would cause the oil to thin and spread, covering them completely. And suddenly, those seemingly surmountable glitches are thrown into high relief.

The signal is finally uncorrupted by noise, and we hear loud and clear. It’s like a gut punch, this realization. Endless wick iterations and tests and prototypes, and it simply won’t work.

At least not in its current form.

There’s a Japanese phrase, chabudai gaeshi, that means “upending the tea table.” Video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto famously used it to mean that point in development when your design needs so much reconsideration and reconfiguration that you scrap it and start over.

It’s such a popular concept, there’s even an arcade version for stress relief. We looked for it on eBay to no avail.

But that’s where we are. We don't for a minute think it isn’t possible to solve this problem — as Dick mentioned in our last meeting, oil in liquid form isn’t the only option — but correcting this course requires refactoring the entire product.

Hard week.