Author Archive: Chris Gallo

March 27, 2015

Building “A Thing” at Hackster.io’s Hardware Weekend

Introduction to Hackster.io

Over the weekend in San Francisco, I attended a very cool hackathon put together by the good folks at Hackster.io. Hackster.io’s Hardware Weekend is a series of hackathons all over the country designed to bring together people with a passion for building things, give them access to industry mentors, and see what fun and exciting things they come up with in two days. The registration desk was filled with all kinds of hardware modules to be used for whatever project you could dream up—from Intel Edison boards, the Grove Starter Kit, a few other things that I have no idea what they did, and of course, plenty of stickers.

After a delicious breakfast, we heard a variety of potential product pitches by the attendees, then everyone split off into groups to support their favorite ideas and turn them into a reality.

When not hard at work coding, soldering, or wiring up devices, the attendees heard talks from a variety of industry leaders, who shared their struggles and what worked for their products. The founder of spark.io gave a great talk on how his company began and where it is today.

Building a thing!
After lunch, Phil Jackson, SoftLayer’s lead technology evangelist, gave an eloquent crash course in SoftLayer and how to get your new thing onto the Internet of Things. Phil and I have a long history in Web development, so we provided answers to many questions on that subject. But when it comes to hardware, we are fairly green. So when we weren't helping teams get into the cloud, we tried our hand at building something ourselves.

We started off with some of the hardware handouts: an Edison board and the Grove Starter Kit. We wanted to complete a project that worked in the same time the rest of the teams had—and showed off some of the power of SoftLayer, too. Our idea was to use the Grove Kit’s heat sensor, display it on the LCD, and post the result to a IBM Cloudant database, which would then be displayed on a SoftLayer server as a live updating graph.

The first day consisted mostly of Googling variations on “Edison getting started,” “read Grove heat sensor,” “write to LCD”, etc. We started off simply, by trying to make an LED blink, which was pretty easy. Making the LED STOP blinking, however, was a bit more challenging. But we eventually figured out how to stop a program from running. We had a lot of trouble getting our project to work in Python, so we eventually admitted defeat and switched to writing node.js code, which was significantly easier (mostly because everything we needed was on stackoverflow).

After we got the general idea of how these little boards worked, our project came together very quickly at the end of Day 2—and not a moment too soon. The second I shouted, “IT WORKS!” it was time for presentations—and for us to give out the lot of Raspberry Pi we brought to some lucky winners.

And, without further ado, we present to you … the winners!

BiffShocker

This team wanted to mod out the Hackster’s DeLorean time machine to prevent Biff (or anyone else) from taking it out for a spin. They used a variety of sensors to monitor the DeLorean for any unusual or unauthorized activity, and if all else failed, were prepared to administer a deadly voltage through the steering wheel (represented by harmless LEDs in the demo) to stop the interloper from stealing their time machine. The team has a wonderful write up of the sensors they used, along with the products used to bring everything together.

This was a very energetic team who we hope will use their new Raspberry Pis to keep the space-time continuum clear.

KegTime

The KegTime project aimed to make us all more responsible drinkers by using an RFID reader to measure alcohol consumption and call Uber for you when you have had enough. They used a SoftLayer server to host all the drinking data, and used it to interact with Uber’s API to call a ride at the appropriate moment. Their demo included a working (and filled) keg with a pretty fancy LED-laden tap, which was very impressive. In recognition of their efforts to make us all more responsible drinkers, we awarded them five Raspberry Pis so they can continue to build cool projects to make the world a better place.

The Future of Hackster.io
Although this is the end of the event in San Francisco, there are many more Hackster.io events coming up in the near future. I will be going to Phoenix next on March 28 and look forward to all the new projects inventors come up with.

Be happy and keep hacking!

-Chris

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January 27, 2015

Hello, IBM Bluemix!

Developers, if you'd prefer to focus on building new applications instead of customizing your own unique cloud infrastructure, IBM Bluemix provides building blocks to rapidly develop and deploy applications on the Platform as a Service (PaaS) level to make life easier for you. It’s an ecosystem of services based on Cloud Foundry, an open source project designed to make deploying and scaling an application as simple as possible. Leveraging an existing project like this is a large part of what makes Bluemix so easy to use.

Bluemix integrates with Jazz, IBM’s DevOps service, to help manage code, plan versions and release, and actually push code to production. You can still use it with your github projects, so no worries there.

And as a SoftLayer customer (or potential customer), you can rest assured that Bluemix projects can run on SoftLayer’s hardware and network.

Core Ideas

The Application
This is your code. Bluemix comes with a number of predefined buildpacks to get your language of choice up and running quickly, but you will still need to actually develop your application. Bluemix hasn’t solved that problem yet.
Buildpacks
A buildpack is a collection of scripts designed to set up your container and all of the application dependencies. If Bluemix doesn’t have a buildpack that suits your needs, you can always create your own. Extending a buildpack is pretty easy. Simply clone an existing one to use as a base, make your changes, commit it to your github repo, and then tell Bluemix about it so it can build your application properly.
Services
Bluemix has a long list of services you can bind to your application. Instead of making a MySQL server yourself, you can just bind the MySQL service to your application and start coding. Along with many of the standard services expected from a CloudFoundry project, there are also some IBM specific ones, like Watson as a service. While I haven’t had the time to learn about Watson personally, everyone I talk to says it’s a rather neat thing to have on your application.

Getting Started

I recommend reading this tutorial which will get you to a nice “hello world” application. Overall I found that going from “I have no idea what Bluemix is” to “I’ve created my own Bluemix application!” to be a rather pleasant experience.

Creating your first Bluemix project is only a few clicks away. A Bluemix 30 day free trial should give you plenty of time to get an idea if Bluemix is the right fit for you.

Bluemix is absolutely worth checking out. So, what are you waiting for? Give it a go!

- Chris

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