Kevin Flores

Product Manager, UI/UX Consultant // working on mobile and connected products // info-fiend who strives to know a little something about everything

Jumping on the Internet of Things Bandwagon, finally

About a year and a half ago a colleague introduced me to Arduino and Raspberry Pi.  But, knowing my own predilections, I resisted the urge to start checking them out at that time.

Well, I finally gave in a few weeks ago and validated my assumption – I was hooked!  With a background in industrial design and a career in technology, it was only a matter of time before I would start experimenting with software AND Internet-connected hardware.

What product and tech obsessed person wouldn’t be thrilled by the potential of connecting everything?  The Arduino and Pi platforms are common starting points for this generation’s inventors – those Internet of Things DIY Makers and hardware hobbyists.  For me, prototyping with an Arduino seemed closer to how real electronic products are architected, so I put off the Raspberry Pi for a later time.

I began by playing with the Arduino Starter Kit and tutorial sketches (the Arduino name for a computer program).  I admit to the inner glee that came from wiring up a breadboard, uploading some code and making LED lights blink in sequence – I had happy 80s flashbacks of K.I.T.T. and Cylons!

But, I was hungry for more, so quickly ordered a few add-on components and advanced “shields”.  What could I do with a camera, GPS, data storage, bluetooth and wifi?  After a few more sessions, I realized:

  1. This takes patience and more than a few hours on the weekends.
  2. Soldering is freaking harder than it looks!
  3. Oh right, I’m not really a programmer.

That’s OK, I wasn’t deterred.  I got better after more practice.

While I felt a little dorky walking around my backyard with laptop in-hand connected via USB to an Arduino, mess of wires and a GPS shield, I located myself in the world with coordinates fed into Google Maps.  And, I eventually soldered up a proto-board and programmed a mini War-of-the-Worlds looking digital camera (saving a LOT of selfies in the process…).

Breadboard prototype version of Arduino Digital Camera

Pre-solder breadboard prototype of my Arduino-powered digital camera

Where to go from here?

I have lots of ideas for motion and light sensors, chaining up hardware units to Internet services such as IFTTT and, eventually, building a drone.

As I said, I’m hooked.  I’ll definitely have to make more time for my new hobby.

A few highlights from Distill 2013

Distill Conference 2013The first Distill Conference put on by Engine Yard was quite a pleasant surprise. It was billed as a developer conference featuring topics such as best practices for application architecture and user experience.  The event was hosted over 2 days at The Winery SF on Treasure Island, which was a lot of fun.  All-in-all, Engine Yard put on a great event that was, at its core, a very social experience – they encouraged attendees to mingle and meet throughout the event.

The event had an amazing keynote each of the 2 days and presented 2 tracks of talks by about 20 presenters.  Nearly all of the talks that I attended were rewarding.  Below are a few of the standout keynotes and talks that I saw:

 

Keynote by Nolan and Brent Bushnell – Growing up Creative

I knew Nolan Bushnell as the founder of Atari, but didn’t realize he went on to found Chuck E. Cheese (and about 20 other companies).  While he’s still working in the game area – he’s now applying “brain science” in educational software.  His son, Brent Bushnell, is CEO of creative company, Two Bit Circus.

Their presentation was dynamic, funny and personal as they shared anecdotes about growing up in a creative family (which included 8 kids!).  Here are a few practices that they’ve applied from their family life to their professional lives:

  • Stimulating Environment: have a rich environment that encourages kids to build and make stuff!  Passive is the enemy, active is the goal
  • Project-Based: When kids have personal projects, they become invested – Brent and his brother invented a sci-fi card game as young teens that they sold to TOPPS.  They were pulling all-nighters as teens!
  • Brainstorming: Exhaust “all” ideas, then ask for 20 more.  THEN, turn that list upside-down and challenge how to make those craziest ideas work

 

Keynote by Michael Lopp – Stables and Volatiles

Michael Lopp is a Silicon Valley author and technologist, an 8-year Apple veteran currently working at Palantir.  Lopp gave an inspiring presentation on Stables and Volatiles.

  • Stables: Appreciate plans and schedules; carefully work to mitigate failure; process-oriented to create predictability and measurability; play nice with teams; no drama
  • Volatiles: Prefer to define strategy rather than follow it; can’t conceive of failing; find thrill in risk; don’t build predictable or scalable things, but build a lot, could care less about how you feel (!)

While his talk did make Volatiles out to be more glamorous, he threw out a qualification that often each type is critical to success.  Of course, Steve Jobs is the go-to Volatile example, but an audience favorite anecdote was that we would have never had Flying Toasters without a Volatile!  Lopp had a bunch of great stories – I’ll have to go read his blog or check out some of his books, such as Managing Humans and Being Geek.

 

James Whelton – CoderDojo

Dude, Whelton is a 20-year-old programmer in Dublin. He founded CoderDojo, which is now a global movement to make programming more accessible to kids via volunteer coding clubs.  Makes the rest of us look like slackers, for real.

 

Matteo Collina - Internet of Things

Collina, a  PhD student in Italy, gave a great talk on the “Internet of Things”; specifically the communication between real-world objects. While he was proposing a common communication protocol – he got the audience excited about his open-source hacking with MQTT, Arduino and Twitter to let anyone in the world turn a light on and off in his house in Italy!  Just tweet: “@mchubot turn light on” or “@mchubot turn light off”. See the live webcam here: https://cloudup.com/cECuYCqRvgT.

 

Ed Finkler – Open-sourcing Mental Illness

Wow – this talk was such as surprise.  Ed Finkler is a developer and has been on the conference circuit sharing his very candid and personal experience dealing with depression.  His stories range from growing up with extreme anxieties, being diagnosed and treated, how he copes in his family life and professional life.  I encourage you to watch a presentation at his website, funkatron.com.  Engine Yard has also put up a website to spread the word about mental health resources and involvement in technology: http://prompt.engineyard.com/.

 

I saw a few more talks, but these were the ones that left lasting impressions!

 

It’s hard not to be intrigued by Google Glass…

Google Glass

I have to admit that I’m getting more excited about the idea of Google Glass. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen something really revolutionary in how people interact with information and each other. The whole “wearable computing” promise is already old and Google Glass is a fresh attempt at something new. Yes, there are some smart watches out there, but their interfaces, so far, look like hobbled smartphone experiences. Google has started back at square 1 in designing information consumption on Glass.

They seem to be taking great care in how they approach the definition of Timeline Cards – the term they use for Glass experiences. They’ve also just released documentation for the Google Mirror API, the interface that developers will use to write web service based applications.

In addition to concise videos on different aspects of the API, Developer Advocate Timothy Jordan also presents the Four Guidelines for developing for Google Glass:

  • Design for Glass (a unique platform – wearable, mobile)
  • Don’t get in the way (appropriate experience, user’s life comes first)
  • Keep it timely (specific information for “now”)
  • Avoid the unexpected (and unpleasant)

Give users the functionality and information promised and expected.

Getting back to the development aspects, the process looks straight-forward – apps are essentially standard RESTful web services. This should result in a great deal of experimentation by the developer community to create experiences for Google Glass.

One thing made clear by Google “at this stage” is that developers cannot charge for apps and cannot implement any type of ad serving.

This is the very early stage of a complete new technical form factor. Google wants developers motivated by this exciting new human/data interface and itself needs time to see how the whole platform evolves. The physical form factor and Timeline Card paradigm dictate a very tight focused user experience. Advertising would interfere with its principle four guidelines. Also, advertising is a significant source of income for Google itself.

Although most hype/criticism around Google Glass has been: will people adopt it (it’s a very expensive, showy fashion accessory) and how much privacy will be compromised (will people take your picture or video you without your knowledge?), I’m surprised that I haven’t seen as much coverage on how valuable the data collection will be to Google itself.

Maybe it just goes without saying?

h/t The Verge
Photo: Google Glass website

What motivates renown Designer, Milton Glaser, at 83

I heart NY

 

This video teaser with Milton Glaser speaks directly to my own motivations and curiosity.  I look forward to the full Point conference interview.

Favorite quote (on why he still gets up in the morning to design, at 83 years-old):

“What is most significant to me is that I might do something that I haven’t done before and I might learn something that I didn’t know before.”

Glaser is a renown American Graphic Designer whose studio counts many large brands as clients.  Most famously, Glaser is behind the iconic “I <heart> NY” logo designed in 1977.

h/t Creative Review UK
Image via diffusor

Kids CAN gain superpowers – Help them learn to code!

Kids CAN gain superpowers – help them learn to code!

Check out this great initiative at http://code.org