So I’m working on my desktop computer (with hard wired mouse) and every once in awhile the computer operating system (Windows 10) will start making notification noises and the mouse freezes up. Drives me batty. But I keep working on. Occasionally the cursor will freeze on the screen, so I place the computer into sleep mode (with a quick push on the power button) and then wake it up after a minute or two. That frees up the cursor.

But the problem doesn’t go away, it just gets worse. And I’ve already bought new mice over this in the past.

So today, I try something different. I take the mouse apart. I use a pair of tweezers and a vacuum cleaner to remove all dust dirt and HAIRS (2 each) from inside the mouse. Put it back together and presto! No more issues. I think one of the hairs got trapped in the top scroll wheel just enough to play havoc with the optical rotary encoder the operates from that wheel. Total easy fix. No more woes.

Hmmm.. So I’m checking my local Craigslist, looking for some wall mount speakers with the search terms “wall speakers”. Lo and behold, in my results I’m getting a whole bunch of ads from a Scuz Bucket selling artificial turf. Huh? So check the ad, and at first glance it’s pretty innocent.. a few lines of text advertising artificial turf. So wait a minute, how did that one pop on my search? So I do a Control-F search, and zing, there are displayed a huge amount of spam search terms hidden away in the ad. It seems the guy hid a bunch of stuff in a


way off to the right margin. There seem to be over a thousand words there.

Clearly a violation of Craiglist’s terms of service. The terms of service clearly prohibit “spam; miscategorized, overposted, cross-posted, or nonlocal content”. So yeah, the guy is an unscrupulous businessman. Would you buy anything from someone who thinks its okay to break the rules? Do you think these guys have an ounce of integrity? Someone you’d trust?

I was playing around with an idea for an application. I was interested in engaging customer input. I came up with this as interesting concept. It’s an online calculator to determine the volume of water in a swimming pool. The user types in an address, then creates a polygon that surrounds the pool. Add an average depth and its an easy determination to obtain the volume of the pool in gallons.

Pool Calculator

Try it yourself!

And if you are a pool supply company, this one’s for sale to you, cheap. Contact us from here…

A couple of notes:

  • It’s been a long while since I’ve looked at Google Mapping applications. I was pleasantly surprised to see the costs for these services VERY reasonable. Google has clearly adjusted pricing downward in the past few years. Kudos to them!
  • I set this up for US only. Obviously that can be enhanced.
  • The other surprise is the Google GeoLocator API key is available for server use only. You’d have to write a REST API server to perform the lookup correctly. I’m currently running a client API key, authorized for this domain only. This works temporarily but it’s really a hack.

.

BarbieGumby2

I’m working on repairing a laptop for a friend. She has very minimal needs, but reliability is one of them. I’m asking her to try Ubuntu Linux for a while. She’s totally open to the suggestion.

Here’s my question: How would you (simply) explain the difference between Windows Operating System and a Linux O/S to a total non technical person?

The only thing I could come up with was this:

Windows is like a Barbie Doll. She plays with Ken. They do cool stuff. You can dress her up, move her, do lots of different things. When you lose one of Barbies shoes, you really can’t buy just one more. If a dress rips, oh, well. There are a whole lot of accessories you can buy for Barbie. She’s way cute. She is fun to play with.

Linux is like a Gumby Doll. You can pose him, do different stuff. He plays with Pokey. They do cool stuff. He doesn’t come with many accessories, so there’s nothing to lose. Gumby costs a lot less than Barbie with all her accessories. He’s also VERY reliable. Not much to break, nothing to lose. He is fun to play with.

Anybody have a better way to explain the differences?

Barbie and Gumby image courtesy of Trash-n-Treasures Antiques & Collectables

So I happened to be looking at a SoundCloud website while chasing down a particular image. I opened the site in Chrome and then opened up the dev tools elements in Chrome. At the bottom of the screen, in the console, I was surprised to see

You like to look under the hood? Why not help us build the engine? http://soundcloud.com/jobs

The only folks who would even see this message is somebody looking at the details of the code. Way cool.

I often find myself looking at the details on large volume production sites as a learning experience…

  • What tools are they using and why?
  • Any special JavaScript libraries?
  • Is it organized well or obfuscated and ugly?
  • How many visible errors are there shown in the dev tools panel?
  • Are there any tools there that will help me become a better developer and service my customers better?

So I was talking to a former mechanic friend of mine. We were talking about tools. I was saying I don’t really understand why, but I just like owning nice tools and I really like that all the tools come from the same manufacturer. It’s like they’re an organized, integrated set. Yes I know that’s pretty anal… the sign of a perfectionist. (I always thought Snap On should give away a 15 piece tool set.. let folks get started and addicted. They’d make lots of money in the long run.)

Trucks in sandbox

But sometimes being really a perfectionist is a good thing, particularly where design and engineering come together. When you design something you really want it to be the best it can be. (insert your own rant here…)

The funny thing was, in talking to this friend, I was explaining that I was so anal that as a young kid, I couldn’t play with trucks and cars in the sandbox unless they were all the same scale. It just didn’t make sense that a Tonka Truck and a Hot Wheels car were on the same road together. Don’t know where that comes from, but I couldn’t have been more than six or seven. My friend, laughed and admitted he had the same scale issue when he was a kid.

Trucks in the sandbox image from Sandra Miller at ShutterBEANPhotography

So I’m trying to help a friend fix her Dell Inspiron N5050 laptop. The laptop has some odd operating system issues. It was a Windows 7 device, crashed hard. We’re trying to clean it up, get it back to Original condition (with the intent of a fresh install, then pushing Windows 7 –> Windows 10.)

dell-logo

Unfortunately there are no backup recovery DVD’s burned for this thing. Shit happens. So no problem. We’ll go over to Microsoft, and download the recovery disks there. At that page you have to enter the Windows original product key, to validate the .iso download. No problem, that seems more than fair. Ooops.

Error
The product key you entered appears to be for software pre-installed by the device manufacturer. Please contact the device manufacturer for software recovery options.

What the heck? The purchase of the laptop included the purchase of a Windows license, but we just can’t use it that way. So we move on!

I did find this article on recovery over at Dell and a link to the Dell Recovery Image. Wow. Can you imagine? The disk .iso files are available online. Way cool. Attaboy Dell! If this works, big kudos to Dell for doing this right, and making the software available… So we type in the Service Tag # to validate the download, and…

Recovery image not available for your Service Tag. Sorry, but a Dell Hosted Recovery Image is currently not available for the Service Tag that you entered. Please enter another Service Tag or contact Dell Technical Support for further assistance.

Well this is no fun. I’m on the phone with Dell. I can purchase the disks (ship only, not available via electronic data transfer.) They tell me that the download .iso file just isn’t available. Hmm.. they have the DVD’s but no .iso file(s). How do you spell customer service? Cost is around $25 or so and a delay of a week or so.

Mumble, mumble. I’m not happy. This makes me reconsider ALL of my Dell purchases. (I spent $1200 with them last year…) How can you take an idea, better customer service on the product and screw it up this badly? I can’t believe that the folks at Dell really want to be selling recovery DVD’s years after the sale. They’re not in the business of making profit from selling boot CD’s and DVD’s. They’re in the business of selling computers and awesome business and personal use products. That fact that they have a system in place to provide nearly trouble free support is awesome. The fact that they don’t bother to use their own system is a huge (negative) marketing thing gone wrong.

Here’s an image from Dell’s website:

customer engagement

customer engagement

This is terrible. How can you let customers down this way? What is the problem, converting DVD’s over to .iso files? Really? Hint: Consider an open source solution. Let us, the users do the work for you to make your electronic support systems better. Yes, it will cost a wee little bit for server storage, but I’m guessing you are saving those files somewhere within the Dell empire anyway.

Note: This whole thing is baffling. Why would Dell be selling DVD’s anyway? My worst suspicion is that Dell has sold the service contract (for much older computers) to an outside company, and those guys consider selling DVD’s at $25 a pop a major profit center for them. And part of that contract is Dell can not offer the product as an online download (Non-compete). If this is the case, shame on you Dell. You really suck. You need to treat customers with more respect and concern. Remember, the purchaser of the computer has already paid for a Windows Operating System license. Microsoft will give them access to the necessary software as a free download, but in this case Dell users are blocked, locked out of Microsoft, and forced to use the Dell service. Remember too, that every request for service is a failure (in hardware or software) somewhere along the line.

Dell, you have to treat customers better! When you treat us better we come back for our next purchase. When you push us away, we go elsewhere.

Note: Dell logo from Stefan Zaklin | Getty Images. Dell Customer engagement photo from dell.com

So I’ve been pretty excited about going to Hackathons. They are fun, you get to met new people, try different things, and have some fun. For those that don’t know, a Hackathon is sort of a contest between software folks to address a set of challenges to come up with something unique. Its an idea generation contest. It also provides a chance to learn what skills you don’t know, what you need to brush up on.

The biggest Hackathon of the year is the AT&T Hackathon that takes place in Las Vegas the weekend before the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). This year there were quite a few sponsors and a whole lot of prizes. After looking at the sponsor list, I came up with an early plan. I’ve been playing around with different tutorials on OpenCV (Open Source Computer Vision) and thought that would be a fun thing to play around with.

Looking at the challenges on the Hackathon list, I saw a challenge there for “It Can Wait”… an idea to reduce distracted driving. I also saw a challenge for best use of Intel Edison board. That got me to do a bit more research.

I discovered the Intel Garage videos, where they hook up a web camera to an Intel Edison, and are able to use OpenCV on that platform. I was able to reproduce these demos with an old USB webcam I had hanging around.

  • http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/do-it-yourself/garage-content/garage-facial-recognition-video.html
  • http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/do-it-yourself/garage-content/garage-webcam-hook-up-video.html
  • http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/do-it-yourself/garage-content/garage-streaming-web-video.html
  • http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/do-it-yourself/garage-content/garage-audio-voice-recognition-video.html

Awesome. At first glance it should be possible to add OpenCV to Intel Edison. Time for more research. I did discover a Github submission that uses OpenCV to track pupil gaze. Its not the entire thing, but its a very decent start towards making a proposal for a box that sits on the dashboard of a car, looks at the driver and detects when they are looking down at their mobile phone. Awesome idea. Form up a team before hand, make sure we have all the necessary cables and bits and we should be ready to develop something.

So we go to the Hackathon. One of our team members gets way sick. He’s clearly the smartest of all of us, but oh well, lets move on anyway. So we get to the hackathon, and we’re talking to a sponsor. He asks us what our plan is for the event. We tell him. He tells us, wait a second, wasn’t that the grand prize winner for 2015? He tells us, wait a minute, here is the Youtube video of the project. Oops. In fact, big oops. We quickly realize, there is no way we can repeat something that has been done before. Ouch.

So what next? We’re sitting around the table, moping about the issue. We’re visiting some of the sponsors, looking for good swag. One of the items we picked up for review was a Freedom ARM processor board from the folks at NXP / Freescale, a FRDMK64F . Its an Arduino style board with decent processor and memory, and the kit includes an accelerometer, magnetometer and gyroscope input card. Very cool. We start playing around with the board, as well as some items from other sponsors. We add a Ublox GPS sensor and an Konekt Dash (a digital cell phone / sim card transmit device) to the mix.

ShockWatchParts

And we think we have a feasible project. A guy I met in line decides to join us. Later two international students ask if they can join our team. Sounds great. We form a five person pick up team and by get started on the project around 5PM on Saturday. Its late but what do we have to lose. We break the project down to little steps, divide up the work and move it along. Most of the coding was done in C using the Mbed online IDE tool.

We’re making a Shock Watch device. Its a small battery operated box that detects GPS locations and monitors acceleration loads (shock G loads) Its placed in the back of an 18 wheeler truck to determine maximum loads placed on products being shipped. I’ve worked with plastics before, and heavy impact loads, particularly in cold weather, just don’t play well together. Think of an entire load of large screen TV’s being shipped across the midwest in January or February in sub-zero temperatures. Cold plastic doesn’t take impacts well at all. Our shock watch device monitors the G-forces, sends out a digital message to the cloud every five minutes. You can determine the location of rough road areas via GPS location. You can even monitor the location of the truck during transport. All data goes thru the Konekt server with the intent of storage at AT&T M2X data storage in the cloud.

Click here for presentation slides.

Its not our original idea, nor is it our original team. What makes this way cool is this project wins a $5000 kicker prize from a sponsor for unique use of their product, the Konekt Dash.

Lessons learned:

  • Its okay to abandon ideas to try something else out when you hit a road block.
  • Never give up.
  • Get organized.
  • Everybody has something to offer, no matter what their background. The two international students didn’t do a bit of coding. In hindsight, their input was instrumental in the teams getting to a prize. They kept us on track ensuring that critical team management events were done on time. They also created a wonderful Powerpoint slide show describing the project, and did so without prompting. That presentation really made our idea stand out.

TeamShockWatchAwesome

Thanks and Congrats to the “Shock Watch Awesome” team (L->R):
LB Corney, Las Vegas
Dirk Schmidhofer, Las Vegas
Daniel Kunkel, Seattle Area
Kanat Mustafin, International Student from Kazakhstan
Poy Yeung, International Student from China

I’ve often been stuck between different operating system needs, Windows vs. Linux. Not everything works the same on those two system (nevermind the Mac/iOS stuff). I was normally a Windows developer, until I got burnt hard trying to use Meteor.js on a critical project. At that time, you couldn’t use Meteor and a remote database on a Windows machine without crashing. On the other hand, a tool I often use is Solidworks for CAD design, and there is no way to run that on Linux. You just can’t win.

So now that solid state USB drives have come down in price considerably, I thought I’d leave my laptop computer in Windows 10 and create a handy bootable 128GB USB flash drive with Ubuntu Linux. I’ve tried this before with very mixed results. I did see this recent posting over at askUbuntu.

128GB_Flash_Drive

The steps were pretty straightforward:

  • Create a bootable Live Ubuntu USB installer tool. I downloaded Ubuntu 15.10 desktop/laptop 64bit version to my desktop computer. I then copied that .iso file over to a flash drive using unetbootin for windows. The unetbootin tool is very handy for pushing any .iso file onto a USB flash drive.
  • Format a 128 USB flash drive as a single partition NTFS. I got stuck here on other things, the NTFS worked very smoothly. Definite No Go on exFAT… the linux live boot wouldn’t recognize the drive in that format.
  • Boot the laptop to the live Ubuntu install drive.
  • The next step is pretty important. Since native Windows 8 machines, the Windows hardware world has shifted from BIOS to UEFI for boot up control. I will admit, I really don’t understand the details, but I know I’ve wasted a whole lot of time doing things wrong. I was convinced for my machine, I wanted to be fully UEFI compatible.
  • Start the drive with the selection “Try Ubuntu”. After Ubuntu loads, open up a terminal window:
    [ -d /sys/firmware/efi ] && echo UEFI || echo BIOS 
  • Verify you have a UEFI response.
  • Insert your 128GB NTFS USB drive
  • When you’re ready to install Ubuntu, double-click on the icon on your desktop: ‘Install Ubuntu’.
  • At some point in the process you will be prompted for “Installation type”. Choose “Something Else”. When asked for a target device choose the 128GB flash drive.
  • IMPORTANT: In the option labelled location to install bootloader don’t forget to set it to your flash drive.
  • I’ve had issues before when doing this, where during the install to the USB drive, the grub will also detect all OS kernels on all attached devices (like your HDD) and add them to grub. This means an (unintended) modification to the hard drive. The only way I know to prevent this is to remove the hard drive from the laptop before performing the USB installation.
  • Note: for my install to prevent a black screen on initial startup, I had to add the ‘nomodeset’ option right before ‘quiet splash’ for my startup options.
    • I’ve now got a handy bootable Operating System that I can use almost anyplace.

I was talking with a potential customer who had need to manage a complex system for employee scheduling and timecards. It got me researching the topic to find possible solutions. I discovered a nice TimeKeeper project over at github. The TimeKeeper example creates a simple (mobile) web site form to add simple data. Data is stored in google sheet named “timeSheet”. It will add events to google calendar and email you every saturday a digest to help you keep track of time.

That example fully utilizes the tools Google has made available to the public, and offers a good chance for success at a very reasonable cost to the customer. I’d know Google is friendly to developers, but I’d never really knew the details about these tools, identified as “Google Apps Script”. It turns out Google gives you access to API’s and libraries that touch virtually all Google products. Access is via JavaScript code, but instead of the code running in the browser, the code runs on Google’s servers. Why does this matter? When the code runs on Google’s servers, it greatly changes the security model.. instead of passing Oauth tokens around, the Google Apps Script manages that for you. Way cool.

For anyone not familiar with Google Script Apps, there is a lot of information available online.

To run this sample: (reference)

  1. Open up your browser to google.com
  2. Ensure you are logged in to Google. (check upper right hand corner of the page.)
  3. Click on the 3×3 box icon, then select Google Drive.
  4. Select New –> More –> Google Apps Script
  5. Copy the contents of code.gs file from this repository to your script.
  6. In the script editor tool, choose File –> New –> HTML file. This will create a new tab in your editor.
  7. Copy the contents of index.html from this repository to your new html file.
  8. Save all files, give your project a name.
  9. “Once that basic framework is in place, all you have to do is save a version of your script, then deploy your script as a web app.” See instructions at https://developers.google.com/apps-script/guides/html/

 
(Note: I’ve suggested the instructions above be added to the README.md file on the github repository, but that doesn’t seem to be there yet…)

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