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BusinessI'm a new father who used his two-month paternity leave to design a product, start a company, form a team and create a launch plan (while helping out around the house). AMA!

Mar 21st 2018 by eyeball1234 • 13 Questions • 169 Points

I am part of an international team that studies Archaeopteryx with microtomography using synchrotron light. Archaeopteryx is a feathered dinosaur from the Late Jurassic of Bavaria in Germany. We just found out that the cross cuts of its wing bones look remarkably like those of modern birds and interpreted this as evidence for active flight. However, we also recalled that the skeleton of Archaeopteryx was not equipped with the advanced flight adaptations that all present-day flying birds share. Furthermore, the recent years have uncovered evidence for various previously unrecognised aerial strategies that were adopted by early bird-like dinosaurs. This led us to the conclusion that Archaeopteryx, which remains among the oldest of them, must have represented one of many such evolutionary experiments of dinosaurian flight that ultimately went extinct, leaving only the flight of living birds today. Tomography in general - and synchrotron microtomography in particular - continues to unlock new possibilities for non-destructive and three-dimensional visualisation of important fossils. This promises much for the future of studying the past!

I said a few words on Science Friday and enjoyed a good talk with Dave from Palaeocast just now.

Proof

EDIT: Thank you all very much for having joined me here to talk about Archaeopteryx! I will have to return to finishing my preparations for my defence later this week but hope to have sufficiently addressed your interesting questions!

Q:

Here's a weird question for you: Why are almost all the accounts asking questions on this thread brand spanking new, created today or yesterday?

A:

Hi Dennis, I also like bones! I practice orthopedic surgery - many patients suffer degenerative conditions around their joints, but they differ in weight bearing and non-weight bearing joints (ie- knee vs. shoulder). Both get arthritis, but for different reasons. When deciding if a particular species could fly, do you look for degenerative bony sequela related to the stresses of attempted/achieved flight?


Q:

Hi - It's a fair question. I actually addressed this in the introduction. I've got a really great support network of friends and family who wanted to participate, including quite a few of them who didn't have reddit accounts previously (I'm in my 30's, so parents/aunts/uncles tend to have a few more years than the average redditor). I promise there's no sock-puppeting going on.

A:

Hello fellow bone enthusiast! Limb bones evolve to cope with the stresses and demands they are subjected to and can even remodel themselves to a certain degree during life, depending on how they are used. We did not find signs of degeneration but really aimed at interpreting these evolutionary and adaptive modifications in comparison with understood archosaurs to explain what they signify.


Q:

OK - fair enough, I missed that part of the intro.

A:

Based on a quick Google search it seems like this species was bipedal: given that the shoulder ortholog would be non weight bearing, I would imagine that the stresses would either be related to flight with the “wing” in full abduction, or lack of flight with the joint in adduction; did you find reciprocal changes in joint morphology suggestive of either?


Q:

Hey man (or woman), I get it. I really appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt by asking, and then actually reading my response as well. Also, my intro was a short novel, so no worries :P

A:

Because our parameters are expressed in the middle of the bone shaft, we have not considered the humeral articulation with the glenoid yet. As you know, the shoulder girdle does not articulate rigidly with the axial skeleton, and it was displaced in most specimens of Archaeopteryx. It is therefore quite difficult to reliably reconstruct its orientation with respect to the rest of the skeleton, which has important implications for the mobility of the shoulder joint itself. Furthermore, we know that Archaeopteryx descends from a group of non-flying dinosaurs with relatively large arms and hands, which were presumably used quite intensively as well. Considering this, untangling all these influences towards specifying the exact function(s) of the forelimbs is far from straightforward.


Q:

Did your old employer sue you for misuse of the fmla time?

A:

How do I become a bone enthusiasts like you? I wish to learn the way of the bone


Q:

Fortunately the two months was paid leave by the employer and I didn't have to take FML. Also, I work for a pretty amazing company that encourages its employees to maintain side gigs... my manager actually knows about my project and even posted a (rather tough) question on this IamA!

I recognize not everyone will be in this situation, but truthfully the fact that I was contributed to me wanting to make the most of it.

A:

Bone enthusiast is not something that you become, it is something that becomes you ;)! Familiarising yourself with the varieties and all the interesting little details of bone is a good start. If it captures you then, there is no way back!


Q:

You mention the Vegas shooting as where you got your idea, but your product wouldn't have helped. Most soft armor will be pierced by rifle rounds, have you thought of how you might sell a more protective product while maintaining the ease and mobility of soft armor?

A:

How on Earth did you manage to get a PhD on Archaeopteryx? Extremely high GPA?


Q:

Great question, but I have to insist on a correction: we've built the product so that level NIJ IIIA protection is standard, but we also included a customized insert for a level IV ballistic plate that will stop AR-15 rounds.

To me, this was one of the most important things, and it almost tanked the project initially. I thought it would be unethical to offer up a product designed to combat peoples fear of a mass shooting, without enabling protection that could stop the types of weapons people were using to carry out the shootings, so at first I insisted that we include Level IV ballistic plates standard in every chair. The implication of this is that it would have forced us to raise the price from $100 to almost $200, although virtually everyone (except me - lol) thought this would price it out of reach.

Eventually, with some good advice from a couple of mentors, I decided on a compromise where we'd build the chair/vest in a way that allowed people the option of enhanced protection, while providing the .44 magnum caliber protection standard. We are offering a lvl 4 plate that's fitted to our insert on the IGG page.

As a side note (sorry, I really wanted to talk about this topic!) one of the things that really worked out is the insert for the plate is in the back of the chair (needed to be at the back of vest). This makes it actually enhance the support of the chair when inserted, since it's rigid and also curved.

A:

I was at the right place at the right time! I had started working on scans of Nothosaurus under the supervision of Paul Tafforeau. He was also conducting several quite successful tests on Archaeopteryx and he invited me on board!


Q:

The problem you get into with ballistic plate inserts is that a) theyre typically heavy and b) someone has to carry them around. Another part of body armor is expiration dates, and degradation from sweat and sunlight which i assume would be big factors in this chair. Some of my officers have gotten around the weight issue by buying a smaller piece of steel armor to go over their heart inside their regular vest. With the idea that first responders can save you from a chest wound that isnt instantly fatal. Might be worth looking into as an option, or at least something to look into seems to tick the boxes of a little extra protection and cost savings if you found the test results beneficial.

A:

So Lucky! I went straight to google for Nothosaur, I see you did both Nothosaur AND Archaeopteryx! http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0188509 Any advice for a future PhD student who would like to work in paleontology? Is it all just luck?


Q:

Guntergruppe, I appreciate the thoughtful suggestions, and the reference to "your officers" suggests why you're raising the right points. I'd love to respond to some of your comments (and will try not to write a novel doing so).

In terms of weight, with the soft protection, the chair weighs about 5 lbs. Our lvl 4 plate is a ceramic/PE hybrid that weighs about the same, so while it's heavier than a typical stadium-style chair, it's not too weighty.

The degradation piece is key. Our UHMWPE is specially treated to resist moisture and UV, and the literature on the material suggests the degradation rate is relatively slow (40% strength loss over 30 years... we guarantee and recommend use at up to 5 years).

The steel part is really interesting. We were leaning toward lightweight steel plates initially due to the price and durability, but since we anticipate people using these in crowded scenarios, the shrapnel becomes a problem for others as well. There's anti-spalling material, but that raises the price and I'm not sure is always 100% effective. I do really like the idea of a small steel plate over the heart... keep a look out for our next iteration!

Edited for typos.

A:

In order to exploit luck, you have to be prepared to recognise it! My advice would be to start getting involved with research as soon as you can. This may seem intimidating at first, but it is actually very accessible if you start contributing to studies led by more experienced people. Along the line your own experience, knowledge, and confidence will grow, and you will start to see possibilities for new or underappreciated research. This is the moment you will feel comfortable putting your very own studies together in a team of supportive experts. This, my friend, is one of the most rewarding endeavors we fossil enthusiasts can pursue. Good luck with the voyage!


Q:

Do people like you enjoy going and fucking yourself? We go do it anyway. This is the first ama I’ve given a shit about in some time.

A:

Hi Dennis, how large was the dinosaur sample you brought to the ESRF?


Q:

I understand that there's a lot of vitriol toward people who are looking for visibility for their product, especially with yesterday's "ADHD Beats" post, but I don't think any of my responses have been canned or corporate-esque. I've made an effort to engage with people on the process, as opposed to the product, and I think most of the people I've engaged with see that and appreciated the interaction.

A:

Assuming you are not asking me about the modern dinosaurs, birds, it was actually quite limited. Because we were able to get a lot of information from literature, we "only" needed to scan three specimens of Archaeopteryx, two bones from Compsognathus, and an ulna of a dromaeosaurid.


Q:

My father is looking to launch a product and company but has only a product idea, a first version of the product that he built himself, and not even enough money for a patent application (although he will soon). What advice would you give him with regards to launching his idea?

A:

But was it a full Archaeopteryx, or only a part? Was it embedded in something?


Q:

Start with investors, and write your own NDA. I've seen "fair" contracts you'll get handed by potential investors that are quite one-sided.

A:

All fossils of Archaeopteryx are preserved in and on thin limestone plates. This was a particular challenge for tomography to overcome, but the expertise of the ESRF managed to circumvent this problem. We scanned particular parts of two nearly-complete Archaeopteryx specimens and one that is only represented by a right arm skeleton. This specimen is appropriately referred to as the "Chicken Wing" (especially the arm looks very bird-like on first glance!).


Q:

I take it you're the boss?

A:

Has there been similar work done on other similarly adapted dinosaurs (e.g. micro raptor) and what are the results and how are they patterned?


Q:

Man, friends and family were supposed to ask softballs! :P

Less difficult one first... the hardest part about balancing being a new dad and developing a product was that I couldn't spend as much time decompressing at the end of the day with my wife as I would have liked. Being home for the birth of a second kid is way different than the first time, primarily because your first kid is demanding even more attention than usual. As a result, your only "free time" is during naps, during day care (if you have access), and at night. I wish I'd been able to dedicate more of my evening time to just hanging out with my wife.

In terms of your other question, it's actually a bit easier. People bring kids into the world in situations that are much worse than ours. This might sound funny, but kids are sort of like a middle finger to all the negativity in the world... they are hope, optimism and faith that the future will be better than the present, all in one package.

In terms of how that relates to the product, an active shooter event has got to be the most terrifying thing most of us could ever experience. I hope that no-one ever has to, but I like the idea of being able to make something that gives people a confidence boost and could potentially actually save a life in the event they ever find themselves in that situation.

A:

Not yet, and unfortunately such material was not available to us during this study either. Nevertheless, I am also very curious to see what the addition of such taxa could tell us. One problem is that most of the relevant Chinese material is even more crushed than that of Archaeopteryx. This makes reliable retrodistortion a lot more challenging but I would definitely be happy to give it a try if I receive the opportunity.


Q:

How easy is this product to put on before running for your life?

A:

I understand. I hope you'll get the opportunity to try.

To follow up, how many similarly adapted dinosaurs are currently known and how would you predict (based on skeletal morphology, or feather morphology in the case of micro raptor) that these would compare to your results concerning Archaeopteryx?


Q:

You can convert the chair into a vest in about three seconds.

A:

The most similar to Archaeopteryx is Jeholornis from the Cretaceous of China. This dinosaur resembles Archaeopteryx in more ways than one, including an inferred preference for running around, but had fewer teeth, more strongly fused hand bones, and a shoulder that allowed for more upward mobility of the wing. We therefore think it was a better flyer than Archaeopteryx although it was still not particularly well-equipped for the flight stroke of modern birds. Jixiangornis shows a slightly improved flight apparatus still but also retains the long "dinosaurian" tail. Virtually all other flying dinosaurs we know today, including birds, have a tail consisting exclusively of feathers.


Q:

That is fast! I'm impressed that you got this company going in such a short time. It looks like a great product! How has it been tested?

A:

Being a person that professionally studies dinosaurs, what are the big pet peeves you have based on how dinosaurs are portrayed in pop culture/the media?


Q:

The testing was probably the most fun we've had yet. It's also an area where we had to be creative, because we don't have access to an outdoor area where we could test (or to guns, for that matter). To get around this, we reached out via email and phone to pretty much all the local gun ranges to see if any of them would let us use their facilities.

I found a couple who would let us rent a gun and space if we came in early, which was really cool, but then I got a call back from a guy named Joe Rinaldi, the president of the Kenmore Shooting Club. He liked the idea, so he raised the matter at his next board meeting, and got approval to let us come and shoot.

On testing day, we met up with Joe, Robert (who had volunteered to do the shooting), and a couple of board members. We shot the chair with 9mm ammo (solid and hollow point) and with .44 mag. The 9mm barely scratched it, whereas the .44 penetrated a few of the layers. I was kind of nervous it had gone through, but as you can see in the video, all was good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBcyqFrEo8k

A:

What an interesting question! Although I generally welcome any and all attention for extinct life that may invite people into the fascinating field of palaeontology, I must admit that I cringe whenever I hear somebody with authority and a hidden agenda say that dinosaurs really support whichever non-scientific doctrine he or she adheres to. This is especially dangerous when it comes to educating children, since they may not be able to start looking into fossils independently until it is too late for them to choose for a scholarly path that may have brought them where they wished to be.


Q:

Here’s straight up answer for you, away from the barrel.

A:

Hi, Dennis! I work with museum collections and I'm finally taking paleontology and the professor I work with closely did a study on Deinonychus' (specifically Deinonychus antirrhopus) forelimb function and morphology and how it might be important for the development of avian flight.

Is there a laymens terms way you could explain the relationship between Archaeopteryx and Deinonychus? He uses Archaeopteryx as a comparative example often to support his research and it's a little over my head in hand morphologies of therapods

Edit: I would also like to know what museums or institutions you've researched at to study Archaeopteryx?


Q:

Based on what I've read, that's good advice. I respect guns but I don't own one.

A:

How very interesting! Archaeopteryx and Deinonychus are both members of the dinosaur group named "Paraves" or "near-birds". Within that group, Deinonychus falls within the dromaeosaurs (also called "raptors"), whereas Archaeopteryx is part of the other group, the "Avialiae".

Your professor's example is indeed very relevant, since it was exactly that line of reasoning that brought Prof. Ostrom in the 1970's to conclusion that a century-long old theory which had received little attention but is accepted today, namely that birds are dinosaurs, may actually be true!

If you look at the wrist of Deinonychus, you will find that the hand connects to the arm with a half-moon-shaped bone, which is also called exactly that (semi-lunate carpal). This bone allowed Deinonychus to sweep its hand to the side, which we ourselves cannot do. Archaeopteryx also had this bone, and in modern birds it is preserved as a similarly-shaped portion of a fused bone: the carpometacarpus. Exactly this anatomical aspect allows birds to fold their wings along their sides and over their back. Because it is present in both the raptors and the Avialiae, we suspect it was also present in the shared ancestor of those groups.

Edit: I would also like to know what museums or institutions you've researched at to study Archaeopteryx

My PhD project is officially accommodated within Palacký University in Olomouc (Czech Republic) but I have probably spend a little bit more time at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility because they have the best arrangements for studying these large data sets. Furthermore, my team has close relations with several museums and institutes in Germany that house Archaeopteryx specimens and/or are involved in Archaeopteryx research themselves.


Q:

Do you approach packaging (design/manufacture) the same way you approached manufacturing, via Alibaba? How do you determine shipping arrangements and keep shipping cost affordable?

A:

Hi Dennis, how exactly does a synchrotron work in relation to your research?


Q:

That's a good question. We've done some high-level planing around packaging and logistics & run the numbers to be sure we hit our margins, but nothing is set in stone yet. PM if you happen to have any options in mind ;)

A:

A synchrotron is a particle accelerator in which electrons move around in a long circular tube, the storage ring, at high speeds. This produces synchrotron radiation that is released by electrons forced to circle its storage ring. Such so-called synchrotron light has certain properties that make it very suitable for a particular tomographical technique that rely on a phase shift created by differences in the rock rather than differential absorption by different materials in the rock and is capable of achieving much better contrast and detail in three-dimensional data sets than most conventional tomographical techniques. This is very important for palaeontology since the contrast between rock and fossil bone (which has essentially been converted to rock as well during fossilisation) is notoriously low in tomographical data. Using this technique was vital for non-destructively obtaining the reliable and high-quality imagery required for conducting the presented study.


Q:

Interesting product, especially in light of the recent Vegas shooting. Is the product available in more than one size (for men, women, children, etc.)?

A:

What kind of costs are associated with a synchrotron scan of samples like this? How long does the scanning take?


Q:

Nope, just one size. We began seriously debating this a couple of weeks before launch. During the design stage, your creative juices are flowing, and it's tempting to keep on iterating as you think of more ideas. I think it's incredibly important to strike the right balance between having a quality first product and launching on time. One of my mentors in the compliance world likes to say "Don't let perfect be the enemy of good", which is as true in development as it is anywhere else.

Forgot to mention - it's fairly adjustable. We've tested the sizing on people ranging from 60-pound kids to 230-pound adults.

A:

The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility is based in France but shared by its member countries that all chip in to have a wide range of research opportunities available for their scientists. Research proposals from teams within these member countries are evaluated and the most promising studies will be granted beamtime to conduct the presented study. If a project is granted then the researchers themselves do not have to pay extra; such research is covered by the membership fees of their country. Besides proposed research there is also some in-house research being conducted, for example when a planned experiment is cancelled at the last moment. Although experimentation time is not cheap if you would have to pay for it straight up, the synchrotron is running 24/7, so using beamtime that would not be used otherwise does not amount to significant additional costs.

Scanning time depends strongly on the size and nature of the sample that you wish to scan. Making individual scans of small samples may only take about 10 minutes. However, obtaining good scans from larger samples (which is done by stitching numerous individual scans together) with a challenging composition can require acquisition times of 20 hours or more!


Q:

It actually is.

A:

Can confirm :)


Q:

I would love to know how you built your team. Did you know the skills you needed to have on board and then just match those skills with people you knew had them?

A:

Hi Emilie - I talked about this a bit in one of the other responses, but yes, that was basically the approach. One of the mysteries of the world is that you will always find yourself surrounded by people who can help you to achieve your goals. I don't mean that in an exploitative way, but I truly believe if you have something you want to accomplish and you give it enough thought, you can find people with the knowledge and ability to help you get there. Of course you still have to convince them that a convertible bulletproof vest isn't the craziest thing they've ever heard, but fortunately I have very imaginative friends. ;)


Q:

I recently had my second daughter and my wife and I seriously relish our chill time in the evening.
How do you resist the urge to just kick back and relax at the end of the day?

A:

I have terrible ADD and my medication wears off by the time I get home :P

Kidding... this is just something I like to do. But I'm seriously looking forward to chilling with my wife as soon as we BOTH have time.


Q:

What kind of product development issues did you experience?

A:

I talk about this more in my blog but the idea was to make it so it could be used anywhere you would want to sit down. For example, we made sure it didn't have compartments that would prohibit it from stadiums per NFL policy. The focus is really on outdoor events.


Q:

Would you be opposed going through the process of going into entrepreneurship that quickly? Did you have any major financial hurdles? Right now im unemployed and want badly to use this time for a simiar purpose, but am getting hung up on money \ steps.

A:

That's one of the big selling points of crowdfunding. If you're going to sell a product, there's a small investment that's needed for prototyping, but essentially a site like IndieGoGo can act as a pre-sales platform so you don't need to dump a bunch of money into inventory. If I wasn't fortunate enough to have a good job, I might have spent some more time pursuing investors.

I'd encourage you to do some planning around cost & timing. My approach was to create a document with a question for every aspect I hoped to cover... maybe 100-150 questions total. Then I prioritized by alternating between the questions that were fun to answer (like watching testing videos of ballistic vests to learn about protection levels) and questions that were a pain in the ass (how fast does UHMWPE degrade over time when it's exposed to moisture and heat).

Overall, if I were concerned about my family's financial security, I wouldn't say I would not do it, but I would probably do it at a slower pace, and spend most of my time finding and doing a day job. It's hard... one of my personal principles is always to do my everyday job at the best of my ability, even when I'm working on other stuff. I would recommend focusing on getting by in the day-to-day before expending significant energy elsewhere.


Q:

Your product seems to be a reactive response, do you have any ideas for proactive security around high risk events like the Las Vegas Concert?

Additionally, what sparked this idea? Was it a specific event?

A:

TBH, where I really want to take my company is in the direction of proactive prevention. I've got some ideas around image recognition and applying algorithms to do predictive modelling (and amazingly, an engineer friend with a PHD in optics). However, those types of products take more time and money. I'm hopeful that the Prydwen Vest will be rewarding enough to let me take on something more ambitious.

Yes, the Vegas shooting sparked the idea.


Q:

[deleted]

A:

Hmm not sure about time, but maybe having kids makes you forget time zones. Updated. Thanks.


Q:

Starting a company and launching a product in 2 months, that's really impressive. How did you do it? How did you find team members that shared your vision in such a short time?

A:

Playing to people's strengths in a creative way is the most important thing you can do. Most people have a few things they are really good at. I was amazingly lucky to have a co-worker and brother who are entrepreneurial. The co-worker is an engineer who also happens to be a cross-border logistics expert, whereas my brother has his own company and spends a ton of time on crowd-sourcing sites. My stepmom is an actress with experience doing narration, and my step-brother is an incredibly talented composer who did our original score for the video. I guess most importantly, all of those people thought the idea of a chair that converts into a bulletproof vest wasn't exceedingly crazy :)