Global Azure Bootcamp – Two Area Locations

Global Azure BootcampOn Saturday, April 25, the Boston Azure User Group will be hosting the 2015 Global Azure Bootcamp at two separate venues in the area:

Each site will feature Azure experts presenting on various aspects of the Microsoft cloud platform and leading hands-on labs reinforcing those concepts. This free event is an awesome opportunity to get practical experience with Microsoft’s cloud and to network with fellow technologists in a casual environment.

RSVP at the links above, and plan to bring your laptop with the following already setup:

Each event is free of charge, and we’ll have a light breakfast and lunch available!

Chuck Norris and the Internet of Things

In my last post I covered my experiences setting up the Intel Edison board and interfacing with the LCD and temperature sensor, but ran into a #fail when trying to make a REST call on site at the Intel IoT Roadshow in Somerville.

The issue was certainly network related and site-specific – a redirection to what would probably have been a network credentials dialog – but it wasn’t happening to everyone.  My resolution then was to call it a day and give it a shot at home… where it just worked.

Chuck NorrisIt occurred to me though that getting the current temperature from a web service was booooring, so rather than show you that, I opted to build the first ever (?) Chuck Norris IoT device!

ICNdb

These days there’s an API for everything, and who’d dare deny Mr. Norris his spot in the cloud! Yes indeed, there is an API targeting – what else – the Internet Chuck Norris Database. It’s a simple RESTful API that requires no registration or API keys making it quite easy to access. For instance, in your browser just navigate to

http://api.icndb.com/jokes/random?exclude=[explicit]

and you should get back a bit of JSON that includes a short joke. Feel free to leave off the query parameter if you’re ok with potentially NSFW material being returned.

Invoking the API in Node.js

Node junkies know this stuff like the back of their hand, but I had to reacclimate myself to the purely async nature of the execution flow. Basically, you provide the URL you want to fetch and then a callback routine that processes once the request has completed.. like:

  • linifyJoke takes the joke string and divides it into an array of strings that are no more than 16 characters each to facilitate display on the LCD.
  • outputLines takes that array and the current line to be output and successively writes the lines to the LCD with a delay so you can read through the joke.

There’s nothing magical about that code (and I covered writing to the LCD in my last post), but if you want to view all the gory detail, I’ve included the entire script in this gist.

On-demand Joke

Once you’ve heard one Chuck Norris joke, you’ll find you can’t get enough of them, so I realized I need to beef up my implementation to allow you to request joke after joke.

Enter the button sensor from the Grove Starter Kit. The button returns a high voltage (1) when pressed and low (0) when released, so getting the button state is a simple read from the GPIO context that’s exposed by the mraa interface.

You’ll need to continuously poll for the press though, and when pressed carried out the desired action – perhaps ignoring, as I do, subsequent presses until the current request is complete.

Here, processingRequest is a sentinel value that prevents reentry to showJoke, with the outputLines method mentioned earlier having the responsibility for resetting the flag once the current joke has finished displaying.

This is not Vaporware!

My IoT Weekend – Part 1

What better way to spend Super Pi Day than with 100+ technology geeks at a Hackathon… and that’s just how I started out this past weekend. Intel is hosting an IoT Roadshow at a number of cities across the world, and they were in Somerville this weekend at Greentown Labs for the Boston edition. It was a full house with many – me included – drawn by the free Edison board and Grove-Starter Kit offered to the first 100 attendees in line.

It's mine, ALL MINE!!!

I arrived at just past 8 a.m. and was about 50th in line… a line that didn’t start moving until they opened the space at 9. The photo below was taken about 1 p.m., at which time everyone had boards out, and table space was at a premium.

I’ve noted before a major irony of the wireless (and now IoT) age is that you need more room and more wires to get everything up and running or charged.  The Edison board, for instance, needs two USB cables and a power cord when you’re flashing the firmware.

Full house at Greentown Labs

This event was a hackathon, with cash prizes of up to $1500 being offered, but I knew I wouldn’t have the entire weekend to dedicate. Nor did I have any really inspirational ideas, and none of the few pitches I heard was overwhelmingly compelling to me. For my first foray into this hardware hacking, I was kind of itching to go it alone anyway, and luckily I had a duo of experienced Arduino makers next to me to get me over the few bumps in the road I encountered.

Setting up the board was a great deal simpler than I expected, and Intel has assembled a pretty good set of tutorials and references on their Google docs site to follow. For Windows users, it turns out there’s a new installer that actually makes it even easier to flash the board, set up the drivers on your laptop, etc. – a fact that wasn’t clear until I was 75% through the manual process.

That said, the 90 minutes it took for me to work through the manual process gave me a much better understanding of how it all works together, from flashing the board, to using PuTTY and SSH to connect, to setting up ethernet over USB, to connecting the board to the XDK development environment (which, by the way is pretty slick, and has progressed nicely since I used it over a year ago for cross-platform mobile development demos).

Blinky Lights

XDK comes with a number of template applications for the board, so I started with the on-board LED Blink app,

XDK Templates

which consists of the following bit of Node.js code (yes, it’s JavaScript, Python, or C++ if you’re talking to the Edison):

Blinky Light Code

The mraa reference may look a tad arcane: it’s simply a C++ library with bindings to JavaScript (and Python) that enable low level communications with the board components. Upm is another interface, built on mraa, that provides a higher level interface, with methods and properties that are more specific to the type of sensor. Upm is what’s used in most (if not all) of the other samples on Intel’s Google Docs site).

To get from code to execution, it’s a simple matter of building and uploading the project to the board, which XDK makes pretty easy via its UI (below).

XDK Deployment

The end result of the app isn’t exactly photoworthy, so I’m sparing the bandwidth. Suffice it to say, ahem, the light bulb finally went on (and off… and on… and off).

Using the Temperature Sensor and LCD

The Grove starter kit comes with about a dozen sensors, so I thought I’d kick things up a notch by connecting the (analog) temperature sensor and displaying the current temperature on the LCD (I2C) sensor.

Not much code needed here:

to produce :

Temperature Sensor w/LCD

Adding Internet to my Things

My next step was to use one of the freely available web APIs out there to get the current temperature outside, compare it to the temperature inside, and then display the difference on the LCD.  There are host of APIs and API curators out there (Mashery, Programmable Web, Apigee, etc.), but the free one that caught my eye was WeatherUnderground.  You make a simple REST call and you get back some JSON with a bevvy of information about the current conditions at your location (specified via city name, id or lat-long). Yeah, you do need to sign up for a free account, but that’s pretty much par for the course these days.

The code to make a GET call in Node.js is pretty simple if you use the Request package… or so I thought!  My Node skills are admittedly rusty, but when the “Hello World” example wasn’t working, I knew it wasn’t me, and in fact there seemed to be a network issue that affected some -but not all – of the attendees. Every request being made from my board was getting redirected to what appears would have been a splash screen looking for network credentials, so while my HTTP requests were returning a success code, they weren’t really hitting the intended service.

After about an hour of back and forth with the awesome Intel guys on site, reflashing the board, and waving dead chickens, I decided to call it a day and hope for better connectivity at home.

New England GiveCamp 2014

Pay no attention to the mounds of snow; spring is on its way and with it comes the 5th Annual New England GiveCamp. Once again – from April 4th through the 6th – Microsoft’s New England Research and Development (NERD) Center will play host to 120 or so software developers, designers, project managers, and non-profit representatives as they convene for a 48-hour “hackathon” focused on projects to help the charitable organizations better meet their goals.

GiveCamp has been the success it is because of three main ingredients, giving each of us a chance to contribute:

Non-profit organizations. Each year around two dozen non-profit organizations are on site with project needs including website creation or redesign, mobile application development, logo and graphic asset creation, database design, and more. This year more than 30  applicants are already in the midst of the vetting process, so at this point any new submissions will be put on a waiting list.

Sponsors. The majority of the expenses for this event are the cost of food (six meals and snacks) and beverages (yes, lots of caffeine) to keep the attendees fueled throughout the event. We’re always looking for additional cash donations or donations-in-kind to defray these costs and enable more organizations and volunteers to participate. Please visit the sponsors page at the GiveCamp website for details on how you or your company can help.

Volunteers. Got the weekend of April 4-6th free and want to lend your talents to some amazing local organizations? Sign up as a volunteer, and you’ll be placed on a team of folks focused on a project for a participating charity. Depending on your background and project needs you might be able to assist on multiple projects! All we ask is that you bring your enthusiasm, willingness to learn (potentially) new things, and the ability to commit to participating for the duration of the event. You can even camp out at the facility – though that’s not a requirement!

It’s a fantastic event; you’ll make new friends and be a part of making a difference in the New England community at large. Be sure to follow the event on Twitter and Facebook, and if you have any questions on the event itself, reach out to the coordinators at negivecamp@hotmail.com.

Takin’ the Train

As I’ve been settling in to the new job and new location, I’m finding myself becoming much more of a consumer than a producer – application-wise that is. While I spent a lot of time at Microsoft building my own apps and helping others publish to the Windows marketplaces, I didn’t really have a ton of time to enjoy the devices and the apps out there. With my new job and a commute that has me taking the train and bus, I have to say it’s been kind of fun using Windows 8 and leveraging some of the content-focused apps out there.

MBTA

What I’m carrying…

Not driving gives me the opportunity to stay up to date with blogs, podcasts, and videocasts, and I absolutely love the Dell Venue 8 Pro that I got myself for Christmas.  It has a great form factor, slips easily into a bag while I have the earphones plugged in, and when I occasionally want to, say, review some code I’m working on, I don’t have that “oh yeah, I can’t do that on (Surface) RT moment.”

What I’m reading…

An inbox that went from 100+ work-related emails a day to (for now) single digits has given me a chance to reconnect with the blogosphere. My friend and colleague, Dave Davis, turned me on to Nextgen Reader, which is essentially a client app for Feedly. You’ll need to set up a Feedly account and manage your subscriptions there, but then you can let the app take over. Nextgen Reader makes great use of the share contract too, so you can quickly tweet an article or send it to the Reading List app on your device for later review.  (Feel free to download my OPML file to get started).

What I’m watching/listening to…

I have to admit, I was a bit surprised and disappointed that the built-in XBox music app doesn’t support podcasts, but there are several other options on the Windows Store.  Many are free, but I settled on podscout, which, at $4.99, is decidedly not free! It does have a trial option – a sine qua non for any priced application in the marketplace – but I was drawn to it by three primary factors

  • preponderance of positive reviews,
  • screenshots that evoked some thought to the user experience beyond the built-in Visual Studio app templates,
  • clear indication via the description that there’s been recent work (8.1) on the app and feedback is encouraged via Twitter and e-mail.

I’m still honing my playlist, but you can check out what I’m listening to now, and feel free to let me know if there are additional developer-focused series I’m missing.

What I’m learning…

The project I”m currently on is a fairly mature WPF/Silverlight app with about 40 projects, so suddenly TFS, custom content controls, and new features of Visual Studio 2013 (like Code Lens) are front and center. I’m in the midst of Pluralsight’s Introduction to WPF Custom Controls course now, but since my subscription is streaming only, and the WiFi on MBTA is spotty at best, I’m using the commute time to watch the lectures of the Coursera class on Programming Mobile Applications for Android Handheld Systems.

Where’s Jim?

I wanted to thank folks for the kind e-mails and comments to my last post and give you a quick update on where I landed. I’m a Senior Software Engineer at BlueMetal Architects in Watertown MA, working on the the UX/Mobility team. I just finished week one, and it’s been great to connect again with former co-workers at Microsoft and get involved with real projects leveraging the technologies I’ve been mostly just talking about for the past six years.

BlueMetal Architects

As I’m getting my feet wet in the new role and (re)learning what it is to be a consultant working on external projects, I expect my blog postings and community engagement to lag a bit. I am though looking forward to leveraging what I’m working on to craft deeper tech postings and presentations at user groups and code camps. For those of you looking to connect with me directly, I’ve updated my contact page and look forward to keeping in touch.

Boston Code Camp – Oct. 19th

Boston Code Camp

Boston Code Camp is just around the corner – another chance to attend your pick of nearly 30 sessions on topics ranging from Windows 8 to Azure to Neo4j and have the opportunity to network with over 200 area technologists.

This is the 20th edition of the Boston Code Camp, and like all its precursors, the event is completely free to attend, courtesy of sponsors such as ComponentOne and Microsoft. The event will be held at Microsoft’s New England Research and Development Center (NERD) on Saturday, Oct. 19th, from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and registration is now open.

For those traveling by car, note that the event coincides with the Head of the Charles Regatta which may result in additional traffic flow and travel time.  Additionally, the Longfellow Bridge is currently under construction and allows only one-way traffic from Cambridge to Boston (see detour map). For those travelling east on Memorial Drive and intending to use the left exit to Kendall Square, note that due to MIT construction, Wadsworth street is closed, but the detour on Ames Street to Amherst Street will lead you to the NERD building (see detour map).