Silicon Valley State of Mind, a blog by John Weathington, "The Science of Success"
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Silicon Valley State of Mind

Tips, thoughts, and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "The Science of Success."

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Posted by on in Operational Excellence

A few days ago I completed an experiment to see if it was safe to shower with my iPhone; here’s an update. Anxious to start my new morning routine in stereo, I jumped in the shower, cranked up the Wall Street Journal, and started about my business. In very short order, I realized there was a slight glitch in the production rollout of this process, and I needed a hot-fix. I found myself in a situation similar to my blog rollout, only a little less serious.

Everything I tested worked fine so no worries on the condition of the phone; however, I didn’t test for sound quality. The sound played fine through the iPhone, it just wasn’t loud enough to overcome the noise of the shower. In retrospect, even if I had tagged this as a CTQ (critical to quality—it’s a Six Sigma term), there’s no reasonable way I could have tested for this. So, I had to make an in-flight adjustment (aka hot-fix, and based on the temperature of the shower, this was literally a hot-fix).

I quickly searched Amazon for a bluetooth shower speaker, and I came up with the Hipe Waterproof Bluetooth Stereo Shower Speaker. With a product name like this how could I go wrong?!

I was right, problem solved. This thing is awesome. I’ve already tried it a few times, and this speaker cranks, much louder than I need for the shower.

When I posted the news of my original experiment, Olaf, a good friend of mine from grade school suggested that I post a picture from the shower to see what the quality’s like, so this one’s for Olaf! This is the Hipe hanging on the wall, a few seconds after I finished my shower. As you can see, the water’s not really an issue for picture quality; however, the steam fogs up the lens. If I tried to take this picture during my shower, it would be a big blur. Fortunately (for everyone involved), I don’t anticipate taking many pictures while in the shower!

So, there you go: test, release, hot-fix, success! All is good.

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Posted by on in Operational Excellence

For those of you wondering whether or not it’s safe to shower with your iPhone, I have the answer—well at least a validated thesis. The thought originally crossed my mind as a way to be efficient in the morning. I listen every morning to the Wall Street Journal podcast, and of course I shower every morning, so I always felt it would be great to multi-task these two processes.

Of course I could stream in the audio with A2DP over bluetooth; however, I wanted to have the iPhone close enough to check emails or jot notes while I’m in the shower. This is when all the greatest ideas come to me, and the worst place for them to show up!

So the first challenge was to make the phone waterproof, which is where the LifeProof Case comes in. Since I have full faith and confidence in my LifeProof case to keep the phone dry, the next challenge was heat—can the phone withstand the heat of the shower?

A quick call to LifeProof support offered zero help. The customer service lady was real nice, but her answer was, “I’m sure the case can withstand the heat, but I really can’t speak for the phone inside the case.”

Really?

My reply was, “Did you think I was going in the shower with just the case and no phone?”

Okay, no help from LifeProof, so I had to setup my own experiment. The one good thing LifeProof support told me, is Apple’s stated upper threshold for heat which is 95 degrees Fahrenheit. As a safety valve, I know the iPhone will try to shut itself off before it overheats, but I didn’t want to take any chances. So, I setup my own experiment.

I started by ordering a 3M shower caddy and two very inexpensive Acu Rite Thermometers (actually, they’re sold as humidity monitors, but I was just interested in the temperature readings). I’ll explain why I bought two in a minute. I could have gone with a sauna thermometer, but they were much more expensive. By the way, the cheap thermometers are not waterproof, but I didn’t care. If the shower splash/steam ruined both of them, I was out less than half the money it would cost to buy a sauna thermometer. I was prepared for that—no worries. Fortunately, they’re still working fine today, so the risk was well taken.

For the last seven days, I’ve taken a shower with both thermometers in the caddy. I would periodically check on the readings to satisfy my curiosity, but at the end of the shower I would record both temperature readings (and quickly dry off the devices). Today was the last day of my experiment, and my working theory is: yes, you can safely take a shower with your iPhone.

Here’s how I know.

Knowing I’m a Six Sigma Black Belt, a lot of people ask me how many data points make a trend. They know it’s not one or two—so what is the right answer? To be honest, it depends; however, a good rule of thumb I use is seven. In an experiment like this, I don’t expect the variation to be wide, so seven is a good number.

So why two thermos instead of one? The answer is: measurement error. This is something many people forget, which is why Six Sigma is one of the few methodologies that formalizes the process of uncovering measurement error. There’s no way to know the true temperature, you can only read what’s on your measuring devices. All measuring methods and devices have some degree of error; it’s important to always understand how much measurement error is in your approach. On some days, the two thermometers would read exactly the same; however on days like today, the readings were different—as much as two degrees apart. Which one is right? There’s no way to know. Both could be wrong. The best you can do is take an average and observe the variance (the difference between the two readings). Since both readings were never more than two degrees apart, I’m comfortable using this as a measurement tolerance.

To summarize the results of the experiment, the average temperature over the seven days was about 85 degrees, and the highest reading was 88 degrees. In the worst case scenario based on my data, and factoring in my 2 degrees of measurement error (88 + 2 = 90), I’m still a good 5 degrees away from Apple’s upper threshold of 95 degrees (which I assume is a very conservative limit). So, my conclusion is: shower with confidence!

I ran a pre-test earlier with the iPhone in the caddy, and everything checked out okay! Tomorrow I get to enjoy my shower with the Wall Street Journal blasting through the speaker, with full confidence that my precious iPhone won’t drown or fry as a result. I just hope my wife doesn’t protest to an early newscast coming through the walls!

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