Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Sparks

I had some time to play with my newest chunk of hardware, the spark core.  It is a sweet little board embedded in a breadboard for prototyping fun.  It also connects to Wi-Fi and has a cloud to support it.  You can read about it here.  Of course a picture is warranted:

Registration begins with a smart phone app that assists in Wi-Fi registration, much like chromecast but not as smooth.  Nonetheless it did connect after some handstands - hint you need WPA-2 not WEP and this finally moved me to upgrade my home network!  It is a good thing. 

The spark core folks include in their smart phone app tinker which lets you do elementary operations on the pins.  You can flash an led from your iPhone and more.

More on hacking with it later in the week.  Later, and Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Killer UX

I just got finished reading Killer UX Design by Jodie Moule.  (Please note that O'Reilly provided a copy of this for free through their review program, which I recommend by the way.)  The book has several features that make it ideal for someone who is interested in usability or has been doing it for a few years.  What is unique about this book is that it provides a very comprehensive case study and weaves it into a thorough usability process.  This book is a great complement for more encyclopedic books such as Designing the User Interface or User Interface Design and Evaluation.  At the end an app, cook,  is produced and I actually downloaded it from Apple's app store.

The book takes the reader through the process using the app to illustrate the steps in the process: Research, Insight, Concept and Design.  Throughout she provides sage advice on when to delve deeper and when to let it go.  She also focuses on behavior and behavior change.  A quote from page 125:
Based on what we know about the users and the environment, what does a [new way of living and behaving] look like?
This illustrates the constant strong emphasis on behavior change and not just cranking out an app.  The book is lavishly illustrated and I do recommend it highly especially for folks interested in usability or in their early years.  Do not get it if you want a comprehensive survey of Usability.  Do get it if after reading the comprehensive books listed above you want to then actually focus on usability in your next project.

Bottom line is that I do highly recommend it.  In fact, I am going to use it in my HCI class in 2014.
It has been a while sicn eI posted on this site, hope to do better!  Later.

(cross posted - also on my Software Universe blog)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tighten your bolts

Just a post wishing everyone a Happy Halloween and hoping you avoid zombie processes and scary code.  Continuing from my post last weekend the UDOO is quite a board.  More on it soon, later!

And this is my 2014 rendition of halloween:
Hop eyou enjoyed your halloween!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

UDOO? Well I do.

So I received my UDOO last week which I snatched during its kickstarter campaign.  I was surprised at how easily it booted once I found the nearly appropriate power supply should be 6-15 volts dc at 2 amps, I found one at 9 volts 1 amp.  My next amazon order will include a 2 amp 12 volt power supply.

Here are pictures of the board and the initial screen.  Unlike rasbpi you do not get all of the gruesome but useful details of the boot - at least for their ubuntu OS variant, which is unfortunate.  I will probably boot android next and determine whether there are more initial diagnostics.

One immediate bit of advice for the aging hackers among us is to come prepared to create an .Xresources file and add this line:

xterm*font: *-fixed-*-*-*-18-*
Turns out the xterm in UDOO Ubuntu is initialized in 6 point font!  Very painful for my reading glassses.  You will have to reboot to make it so. 

I ran the old Byte nbench benchmarks and got some interesting results with what I am sure is not exactly a tuned kernel.  For example the numeric sort was 492.92 on the UDOO using gcc 4.4.1 while a 3 Gig Xeon ranged from 684 to 973 depending on the gcc version (not as recent as the UDOO version).  According to a post on the raspberry pi site the rasb pi did score was 200.4.  Not bad for a $100 quad sporting an arduino!  I will keep you posted on my adventures with more extensive comparisons to the raspberry pi and beaglebone black.

On a totally unrelated note, one of my friends Allan Wilks is walking from Scotch Plains to Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  You can follow him on the link I provided and his adventures are truly inspiring.  Allan is one of the nicest, kindest folks I have ever met and if you are along the way, please offer, if you can, to have him stay at your place for the night.  You will be rewarded with an evening with an outstanding and brilliant person.  Allan Wilks along with Rick Becker and John Chambers invented the Statistical package S - you may be more familiar with the open source package R.  If you are not along the way, check out the blogging on his site.  It is interesting and inspiring.

Much more in my queue but no time for now.  Hopefully more in another week.  Later!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Kid's say the darndest things

So I am up a week on iOS 7 and overall I like it.  From an Aging Hacker perspective the white glare caused by the thin fonts, results in a bit more page glare than I'd like An option to soften the white background would be great.  It gets tiring to read after a bit.  The bright colors will require an acclimation period too.  My least favorite iOS 7 converted app is the New York Times.  Absolute;y hate what they hav edoen with it, but not enough for me to unsubscribe.

But the best comments come from my favorite class of early adopters, kids.  Art Linkletter had a show with that title and he would ask children questions and would receive some stunningly honest and comedic answers.  This frank approach to life makes children intriguing for product feedback.  Therefore it was not totally a surprise to me that one of the members of my google group software-universe posted this comment:

To give you some background, my older daughter is 5 now and has been using my iPhone (and later iPad) since she was ~1. 

I upgraded my iPad to iOS 7 over the weekend. When she asked to play with it, I handed it over expecting her to react to the nice new wallpaper that I set up and new look for the lock screen. Instead, she was confused and no longer knew how to unlock it. Watching this unfold kind of soured the update for me...makes me think that there are fundamental issues with the design cues.
But then she acclimated:

...She hasn't had any trouble since that initial reaction, and is back to finding her Minnie Mouse puzzles and interactive books without issue.
Thanks Sean Kilpatrick for letting me blog those comments!  Another group member, Brad Bershad, creator of ZUMIC, pointed to this video of a child's reaction to the change.  Change is difficult!

On the hardware front I supported a project on indiegogo, $9 arduino leonardo compatible board (which was actually $11, I got 2, but he threw in some leds, buttons, a small breadboard, misc resistors, diodes, ..., and cables) from borderless electronics.   I took it for a spin this weekend and really liked it.  Looks like there is nothing in the way of moving to some Christmas lighting projects.

Sorry it was so long between posts, but I had a rough September.  Hope to do better in the coming months.  Later!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Fruit Pi, Clouds and a Snake

Okay, so maybe I went overboard on the title!  If you are interested in effectively using the Raspberry Pi and also working with admin on the open source cloud software,  OpenStack, one of the best languages to use is python.  Even if you are not interested in clouds or raspberry pi's, python is just a blast to use, so long as you pay attention to white space.  I am brushing up on my python and was pleasantly surprised when I supported a kickstarter  on a python course.  Real Python and Real Python on the web are superb courses.  The style quickly whisks you through the knowledge with lots of examples very efficiently.  These course/books should be a model for future language texts.  Highly recommended!

Although I have not been fortunate in generating much discussion, hope springs eternal.  My topic for this post is, "What version of Python are you using?"  I have been sticking to 2.7 since OpenStack uses it.  Would anyone recommend learn 3+ or should I wait?  Later!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Twilight of Operating Systems?

Steve Crandall sent me a thought provoking pointer this week to a blog post by Benedict Evans.  The gist of the post is that Windows as an OS is declining in influence.  This is backed with some nice analysis and charts.  He contrasts this with the, "exploding sales of the new wave of mobile UNIX devices."  Somehow I do not think that I would call iOS and iPhone and iPad a Unix device.  However I think he is correct in suggesting the diminishing influence of the Windows OS, but I would extend this to all traditional OSes including linux.  Simply I think a much smaller portion of the public will be interacting with an OS that supports command lines, editors and file systems and more will be interacting with information appliances (old school term but still relevant).  Increasingly more folks are puzzled by a dos woot t-shirt I wear and I think this is indicative of the trend Evans discussed.  However I think the same could be said for classic unix prompts, $ or #.  Folks are interacting more with apps than OSs.  Within a decade, the number of folks who can work with OSs may approach 1970s levels.  This of course is good and bad but I am beginning to feel like the old auto mechanic bemoaning the days of strictly mechanical cars that could be repaired without use of logic probes!  I would be interested in your thoughts.

On other fronts my quadcopter has passed all the checkout tests and should be ready for first flight this week, I just have to pad some wire/frame interfaces so that the wires do not fray.   I will regale you with video when that happy event occurs.  Later

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Facebook versus Google+ Zeitgeist

My perception is that Google+ and Facebook are used differently by folks.  Overall there is a more scientific, engineering and "let me impress you with my knowledge,"  slant on Google+, whereas Facebook reflects more of folks lives and aspirations.  This impression was enforced a bit by a personal tally on Birthday wishes to me this week.   I received 23 on Facebook and 2 on Google+.  Of course it just may be that my friends differentiate the two but I suspect that is not the case.  I would be interested in your opinion of the uses of each.

On the hacker front I am in the midst of building an adafruit power supply board, I am hoping to finish it today, since I want to replicate the LED candle that I built and see if I can then flash an  8 bit atmel to replicate it.  Seems like a gradual way to move into special purpose boards.  By the way I have found adafruit kits to be well done with clear instructions that  explain the purpose of each component on the board.  This also is my 5th project using the Aoyue 937 solder station and I am really impressed.  I use a soldering temperature of 370 C and it heats rapidly and maintains the temperature.  Highly recommended. 


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pre Singularity, Post Life Bit Distribution

I have purchased a considerable amount of digital music and digital books from Amazon, O'Reilly, Apple and Barnes and Noble.  Digital music is especially close to my heart since I was involved in a very early digital music effort, a2bmusic at AT&T, which really was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

In order to determine whether I could distribute my books to relatives, friends and institutions after my death I wrote an email to each of my content providers.  Here's the text:

This may be a crazy question but I have a substantial number of <insert name> ebooks.  Can I bequeath them to someone or to some organization?  I know I could just will my login and password but that is not the same since someone would have to effectively become me.

So do you have some policy to point to or do the books go away when I go away? 

Thanks and sorry if this is a creepy question but I am trying to sort this out.
The responses to this email were interesting (for amazon and apple I included music too):

  • First Barnes and Noble had zero clue and  basically sent me a form response detailing how I could loan an electronic book.  
  • Apple stated there is no iTunes policy for donating purchases, and it is not possible to transfer purchases, however they would be willing to transfer ownership if the account owner died, but the relatives would have to provide the necessary documents.
  • Amazon, actually called me, it was a baroque process, I had to provide a phone number and they would call me within the minute and they did.  The service rep was great and she suggested just having the relative go into my account and change the email address.
  • O'Reilly sent me email that they were going to discuss their policy and get back to me.   Given my experience with O'Reilly I know they will and I will let you know how that goes.
  • (updated December 26th, 2013) O'Reilly has a policy on their web page that addresses their policy - essentially you can give your ebook to another person with some caveats. The policy can be found here.  This is the key text from that link:


    Lending: If you buy an O'Reilly ebook from, you may lend it to another person, provided that you do not retain any copies of the book after you lend it. This is the same as the situation when you lend a used print copy—when you lend the copy, you deliver it to the buyer and no longer have a copy in your library. If you have bought a hard copy/ebook bundle, you may of course retain the hard copy, if you lend the ebook.
    Resale: If you buy an O'Reilly ebook, when you are done with it you may resell it, provided that you do not retain any copies of the book after you sell it. This is the same as the situation when you sell a used print copy—when you sell the copy, you deliver it to the buyer and no longer have a copy in your library. If you have bought a hard copy/ebook bundle, you may of course retain the hard copy, if you sell the ebook.
    By the way, because the lifetime access is a special benefit available only to those who purchase ebooks directly from us, the lifetime access benefit is not transferable to the recipient of your used ebook.
So basically you can transfer all of your bits to another person with varying degrees of difficulty.   However you can not divide your digital assets, so for now best divide by bit provider - my son gets the Apple collection, my daughter the O'Reilly collection and my wife the Amazon collection.  Not great, but a beginning.  I will continue to advocate for a more flexible way of distributing our digital life to our loved ones and keep you posted.

On the hardware hacker front I built a quick kickstarter, qflame.  The most interesting aspect is that I surface mounted the LED's and the solder joints held.  This was the first surface mount soldering I have done and it was a gentle introduction.  I do like the way the board was programmed and the flicker is very effective.  I know want to discover how to do the whole thing myself.  I also have an email into the kickstarter to see if he is going to sell kits or open source the design.  Note to self, need tweezers for next surface mount adventure or buy more bandaids.  Later!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Science Inspiration

Steve Crandall pointed me to an interesting kickstarter that essentially provides you with a controllable spacecraft destined for the moon.  What enthralled me about this craft was its plan to use a solar sail as propulsion.  Solar sails were the siren that lured me to science, in particular one marvelous science fiction story on solar sails by Arthur C. Clarke in Boy's Life, the US scouting magazine.  Thanks to google you can read the story that inspired me so many years ago, highly recommended.

Steve Crandall has an excellent blog called Tinglinde, also highly recommended.  Later!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

To the moon with Lua

On kickstarter I sponsored a linux game engine project, called Leadwerks.  At the level I sponsored the language it supports is Lua.  Since one of my principles is to learn at least one new computer language each year, I figured Lua's one of the selections for 2013.  I will chronicle my experience with Lua and also would appreciate any advice folks might have on learning it or their opinion of it.  So far my investigation revealed that it has heavily drawn from scheme, which is a plus in my book, but that you have to pay for convenient forms of the documentation.  While I really believe in supporting art, I would like to be convinced that it is art before I support it.  I also am considering including it in the coding modules of my Human Computer Interaction course at Stevens next winter and would appreciate your opinions on that.

Other progress my quadcopter kit is slowly progressing, not much motivation since the poor choice of batteries for the kit required me to order a charger from HobbyKing and that may take as long as 45 days!  Not good.

I have sponsored other interesting kickstarters recently too.   For those of you interested in the sous-vide cooking technique, I recommend a combo of kickstarters, one for temperature regulation, codlo, and one to accomplish really low budget vacuum sealing, thriftyvac.  As a bonus I have exchanged email with both of the kickstarters and they are really great folks.  If you want to dip your food in the sous-vide pool, this is an inexpensive way to begin. 

One other kickstarter worthy of mention is a fountain pen, visionnaire.  Being an aging hacker I grew up on the elegance of fountain pens and this seems like a great deal.  A fountain pen with a good flow  is more comfortable to use after all those years on the keyboard.  In this age of bits on the screen it is still great to receive an occasional handwritten piece of snail mail on fine paper, highly recommended.

Finally a bit of an announcement.  As of July 1st I am starting a book on Human Computer Interaction.  I will keep you posted on that progress too.  No working title yet, but I sure would like to work Humane into the title.  I was a fan of Raskin's principles.  I will try not to go so long between posts.  Later!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Droning on

Last week I finally received my quadrotor kit that i backed on kickstarter.  There are other available kits, with the LA Robotics Club.   I should begin assembly of the critter next week and I will keep you posted on my progress. 

The proliferation of drones poses more threats on our privacy.  Yahoo news had an interesting article today on the issues involved with drones and privacy.  Highly recommended.  I do not think kits such as the one I am building are a threat, since the battery life is about 6 minutes but I can imagine commercial versions would have far greater operational cycles and pose a threat to our privacy.  Hopefully  organizations addressing aerial surveillance will be created and be the equivalent of Carnegie-Mellon's CyLab.  More on this in future posts.  Later.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Bequeath the Bits

I found this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that discusses preparing a Digital Assets Inventory for your estate.  If you are part of the 61% that does not have a will, this exacerbates the problems since there is no law that governs how digital assets will be distributed when one kicks intestate, sans will.  Even if you have user names and passwords, you may be violating the law accessing the account.  Fortunately many social networking sites do have policies for deceased users to provide family or executor information on how to access the accounts.  You may even be able to have your family collect your  frequent flyer points and get all those kickstarter arduino boards!

On less morbid fronts I finally have everything ready to start working with FPGAs  using my Mojo board.  Hopefully the next post will discuss my adventures.  It sure was harder than it should be to get the environment in place.  Later!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

You have potential and Mojo.

I am a fan of John Maeda's book, The Laws of Simplicity, and refer to it in each of my courses.  Recently I came across his most recent blog, always being told you have potential, and thought it was appropriate for all aging and not so aging hackers out there.  Well worth the read.

On the hardware front I am working to crank up my FPGA  programmer, the Mojo board.  Startup has been longer than expected, since I do not have a windows or linux machine.  I have temporarily opted to create a Ubuntu bootable usb stick for my Macbook Air.  I will acquire a real Windows machine this summer and perhaps get a ubuntu machine too or at the very least dual boot.  Raspberry Pis running debian are not enough for the IDEs of some of these boards.  Hopefully my next post will be on the Mojo up and running.

So until that next post know that you have potential!  Later.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Google and Death

Okay so I have your attention.  Actually google has done something very meaningful for all of us by creating the inactive account manager.  You can register with google using this tool and after your account is inactive for a specified period you can specify if folks should be notified and also whether they should be provided with aspects of your data.  You are notified too when you are nearing your inactivity limit.  It is explained very well in this public policy statement.  Thanks Amit Singhal for bringing this to my attention through your google blog post.

I will probably starting a new blog in  a few days that focuses primarily on kickstarter, a fascinating phenomenon.  Later!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Galago and Annika O'Brien's boards

On Wednesday, as promised, I received my Galago board.  Galago is a kickstarter project that provides a built in debugger for prototyping arduino boards.  It is on the small side about 1.5" by 2/3".  It is much smaller than Annika O'Brien's board but costs lots more.  Annika's is about $5 a board whereas Galago is 5 times the cost.  The key to the Galago is the debugger.   I experimented with it for about 30 min yesterday and it seemed reasonable.  Note that the debugger environment currently requires programming in C rather than the arduino mainstay, processing and the resultant sketches.  I ordered a 5 pack of Annika' s boards on kickstarter and can't wait to get them so I can do some "beyond the blinking lights and switches projects" this summer.   Something liberating about a $5 arduino board!  Of course a nice debugging environment also is liberating.  I will keep you posted on my progress.

Note that although the bulk of my posts have been on hardware that is not my overall intention.  I should diversify soon.  Later!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Solder On!

After my Maker post folks asked me how I reacquired my soldering skills.  Well they are not totally back but I am making progress using kits.  I first purchased  a learn to solder kit from amazon.  It was really a nice practice kit replete with bare metal pads to simply practice melting solder, really a good starting kit save for one element,  the soldering iron sucks.  I subsequently bought an iron at Radio Shack which was a bit better but my solder iron of choice is a digital soldering station.  It rivls more standard brands at almost half the cost.  The only downside is that the digital temperature you set is in Celsius.

The next kit I built was Conway's game of life kit from adafruit.  This kit rocks not only because it is very cool but also because the baord is well laid out with plenty of space between the soldering pads.  This is important for the novice.  I highly recommend adafruit, excellent service superb tools and kits.

The third kit for soldering tested my meddle.  It was a single board forth (yes forth) computer called the fignition.  Ignore the horribly designed website, it truly is a marvelous board for ~$40.  It has a supporting message board and folks are super helpful.  The challenge of the kit is that although it has a socketed IC (see picture) the soldering pads are rather close.  The fignition folks provide an extensive check list with a multimeter but I rolled the dice and turned mine on once finished and it worked!  One of the down sides is that input is done through chording of buttons on the board (see second picture).  However there is a keyboard kit coming soon.

Several things have changed in thirty years.  The first is the push towards lead free solder.  Although I use it it does not have the same flow behavior as normal solder and I do prefer leaded solder.  However I am trying to be environmentally responsible.  The second change is my eyes!  I dearly need magnification and so far what I found most helpful was this lamp.  It really helps and I find it more comfortable than head based magnifiers.

I hope you find some use to this post.  Please let me know what kits and equipment you found useful.  My next kit has some surface mount devices on it.  I will let you know how that goes in a few weeks.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

HTML5 and JavaScript Books

A quick post on a request from my students for recommended HTML5 and JavaScript books.  I posted a list of my four favorites on my web site.  This is just the beginning of my  recommendations for JavaScript and HTML5.  I am urging all my students to become proficient in both.

If you haven't done so, check out JavaScript.  It certainly appeals to my LISP background.  I use the node.js interpreter to experiment with the computational parts of the language.  It has a simple yet powerful object model and is closely tied to HTML5.

If you have more recommendations on HTML5 and JavaScript books, web pages, references or recommendations for additional languages, I would appreciate it if you posted them here.  I encourage my students to learn at least one new language a year.

You can tell I was an OPS5/Clips developer for rule bases.  Two paragraphs beginning with "if's."

I hope to get a post later this weekend on kits that will hone your soldering skills and are fun.  Later!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Retro Sci-Fi

I just finished, The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov.  Many of the folks I have met in my hacker travels have been rabid sci-fi fans for example Bill "Ches" Cheswick and John Mashey.  I remember as a budding hacker walking to the library and finding what science fiction was available.

The Naked Sun is part of Asimov's robot series and like many of the classic age science fiction authors like Arthur C. Clarke he contributed much to science, in this case the laws of robotics.
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Every student taking my HCI class learns these laws since they apply just as well to software.  Although the Golden Age of sci-fi may be considered mundane compared to the Charlie Stross's  and China Mieville's of current sci-fi (more about them in a later posts) they are well worth recreading and have amazing currency to such things as Computer Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW.  Asimov in the book makes a distinction between "seeing" and "viewing" resulting in an interesting plot line strangely current with Yahoo and Best Buys stand on remote work. 

This will not be my last post on past and current scii-fi.  Later!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The maker movement has reestablished a connection with hardware that I think many of us had lost as things were mass produced and we no longer had to adjust the tension of tapes or exchange disk platters.  Somehow plugging and unplugging a disk drive is not the same.  I now have a serious soldering iron in my study and have breezed my way through several kits.  Haven't lost my soldering talent but I do have to use serious magnification when I do solder!

One of the tools that never leaves my pocket is is a Leatherman Squirt.  It is very handy when building kits, in fact I usually use it instead of going to my kit to get needle nose pliers.  It also has other attributes for the aging hacker.  If your hands are a bit sore after decades of emacs chording, the multitude of tools really helps from opening packages to prying lids.  As Jerry Pournelle would say, another aging hacker mainstay, highly recommended.

A future post will explore the interaction of STEM, the Maker movement, arduinos, rasp pis sensors, cosm and big data.  Later!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Digital Beyond

Getting this off to a joyful start, I begin with a recommendation of a blog that discusses issues with your electronic life and natural death, the digital beyond.  I will discuss this now and again but I would like to spend much more time on the living hacker.  In an upcoming post I will give you our strategy for recording important sites and digital signatures.  Nonetheless we have to devote some time for securing our digital life and legacy for our loved ones.  I would appreciate you sharing any advice you might have.  Later!
Welcome to the aging hacker chronicles.  This site is about mature hackers but should be of general interest because you all will get there.  For all of us who love computing and will not go gentle into that good night!