Once upon a time, Tracy Hartford and her friend Juha Kuikka were searching Downtown Seattle for an elusive spot of afternoon sun. The day was ripe for it – it was one of the hundred and sixty-four (or so) days a year in Seattle that are not completely overcast – but the looming shadows of skyscrapers made the search far harder than it should have been. It is not known whether Tracy and Juha found their sun that day, but from their search was born an idea: why not create a mobile application which would combine information about the sun’s current location and the heights and shapes of buildings to help future seekers to find the nearest spot of elusive sun?
This idea lay dormant for many months, like a seed waiting for rain. Fortunately rain is something we have plenty of in Seattle, and when Tracy saw the November call for proposals for our monthly grant, she submitted the application for Sunny Spot.
(Now, I don’t want you to get the idea that the Seattle Awesome Foundation is fixated on light. Yes, last month we awarded our grant to the festival of lights Onn/Of, but that doesn’t mean we’re obsessed. Why would we be obsessed? Just because it’s cloudy or partly cloudy an average of 294 days a year here, just because as I write this it’s been 43 days since we’ve had a clear sky, doesn’t mean we’re obsessed. Frankly the idea that we, as Seattleites, would spend all our time thinking about light – scarce, precious, glorious light – is a stereotype, and an offensive, unrealistic one at that. We sometimes think about coffee, Thai food, and antidepressants too.)
Our initial reactions to the Sunny Spot application were mixed: some of us thought, “that would be awesome!” while others thought “that would be awesome… but is it possible?” Tracy is a software engineer for Cray, a Seattle-based manufacturer of supercomputers, and has previous experience working on location-aware mobile applications. After our intrepid team of technical experts discussed the idea with her at length, we decided the answer to the question of “can this actually work?” was a definitive “probably.” But then, in Tracy’s own words, “awesome is sort of by definition outside of what is considered to be feasible.”